Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Halloween observation

In my experience, how much people like to be scared is usually in inverse proportion to how often they've been scared in real life.

My threshold is a high-budget haunted house.

Good perspective hunting

I didn't want the Boston Red Sox to win the World Series.

This sentiment was entirely territorial. The Sox were hipster-bearded New England overdogs, with whom I have about as much in common as I do with conservative, suit-clad southerners. 

The St. Louis Cardinals, on the other hand, were the relative underdog in a state I used to live in. Though the Cards have won Series titles in recent years, St. Louis isn't a city swimming in championships after decades of drought, long having lost any and all humility. So that was an easy choice.

On the other hand...

If the scraggly Sox go up against the mandated shavers of the New York Yankees, history's all-time Goliath, I will pull for (and pull) the beards every time. Also, Boston is yet another major American city healing from tragedy.

So I'm bummed, but I can't be too mad. Congratulations to them. Perspective.

I will not say this about the Patriots.

In defense of the wrong school

This editorial in the UL Vermilion has been getting some notice lately — enough to where I'm getting e-mailed or messaged about it at least once a day. In a lot of people's minds, it's very much like something I'd write.

Except it isn't. Not entirely.

I wrote the other day about the ongoing UL-ULM flap over UL's use of "Louisiana" to describe its sports teams. In a nutshell, I said that UL is absolutely entitled to use the state name, as they're already legally doing. My reasoning is that ULM has incorporated its city name into both its academic name and athletic logos, whereas UL carries its city designation only as an obligation and de-emphasizes it as much as possible. Also, UL was the first school to (repeatedly) apply for the name and, as the second-largest university in the state, had the most claim to it. At a time when the football team is getting national exposure and ESPN and others are often confused as to what to call us, it's time to codify it for good. It's not ULL, LAL, Lafayette or anything else outsiders call it that the school itself dislikes. Call it Louisiana. Just like the jerseys legally say. That's the case I think should be made. 

I understand that Katie de la Rosa is being satirical. But I'd honestly feel like a hypocrite if I laughed too hard. At times, her article is as condescending to ULM as LSU often is to UL. And anyone who knows me knows how often I've railed against that. Maybe it's that I'm too many years removed from school rivalries, or perhaps it's the little brother in me, but I don't think such gloating is in good taste (or in appropriately bad taste with a trenchant point). Picking on ULM for being a smaller school trying to assert itself can't be that satisfying. That's been us. It still is us.

But picking on them for having a Burger King that runs out of biscuits because they aren't used to serving a crowd of 30 on a Saturday morning? Fair game. (And true story.)

Picking on them for claiming that no school can wear "Louisiana" on its gear when they used to have it on their football helmet? Go for it!

Duck Dynasty references? Knock yourself out!

There shall be no cap on reminders of how much more culture Lafayette has than Monroe.

And, of course, the fact that they're just plain wrong on this issue, and that it's due to their own actions, can't be ignored.

But in our rivalry, let's no get too big for our britches. After all, we aren't the flagship.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Blackface: Yeah, that's pretty offensive

It’s nearly Halloween, and that can mean only one thing: blackface!

That’s what it seems like lately, anyway. Two instances of blackface have made news recently, one much more horrible than the other (though both were pretty awful).

Actress Julianne Hough turned in one of her lesser performances at a Halloween party this past week, dressing as a black character from the show Orange is the New Black (a title with no racial connotations, which is why this blog isn’t a thousand words longer).

I doubt Hough is racist. Stupid, maybe. Hers isn’t the blackface of 1880s vaudeville, but it is still a costume with an unfavorable upshot-to-outcry ratio. I’ve never seen Orange is the New Black, but I know the character Julianne represented is nicknamed “Crazy Eyes.” From that linked video, Crazy Eyes appears to be someone who could become a caricature in Uzo Aduba’s hands, let alone when mocked by whites. Julianne should have known to leave that one alone.

But OK. Maybe Hough thought she was just being realistic to the character’s appearance. Still a stupid choice that should been averted at any point in the obviously extensive planning and application processes, but she did offer a seemingly sincere apology. And hers is hardly the worst blackface we’ve seen this week. That dubious honor goes to this team costume, which might sweep every category in the Most Offensive Halloween Costume of All Time Awards:

Including Worst Actor, Worst Costume Design, Worst Makeup, Worst Supporting Actress and Worst Picture.
If these guys were on a Comedy Central show as an example of the worst Halloween costume ever, being presented as satirical specimens of how low humanity can go and getting a massive, well-deserved comeuppance at the end, it would still be hard to laugh at this. Regardless of where one stands on the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman confrontation, who on Planet Earth would think it’s funny to dress up as the overzealous watchman and the blood-stained, unarmed, dead teenager?

And that’s not even taking into account the blackface that would probably compel Al Jolson to ask that guy to tone it down a bit.

Blackface is rooted in stage shows from past centuries where whites painted their faces black (usually with exaggerated lips) to portray blacks as buffoons. It carries that connotation still and, most likely, always will. To the extent that it crops up in entertainment today, it’s to highlight how horrible it is. (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The Sarah Silverman Program feature inspired examples of this.) That satiric subtext requires a very specific context and setting, and that setting is never a party.

Halloween costumes generally aspire to be one or any combination of scary, funny and/or clever. By definition, a Halloween costume is something we wear to be something other than what we are — to be scary, funny and/or clever. When you make someone’s race the focus of your costume, you’re implying you view that race to fit those qualities. That it’s on the same plane as a pirate, a leprechaun, a goblin or sexy corn. Something other than normal. And that's truly disturbing.

“But Ian, you own White Chicks on DVD!”

Yes, I know. Shameful.

“Are you going to indict the Wayans brothers for their reverse racism? After all, they dressed in whiteface!”

First of all, the plot of the film is that they take the place of two white socialites, so they’re in full-body latex. And rather than mock white people, they actually can’t help being themselves, which is much of the point. A very different situation than blackface, which is also true of Eddie Murphy’s iconic turn as a white guy on SNL. In fact, there are few, if any, instances I’ve ever seen where minorities equivalently attack whites as whites did to them in pre-PC times.

Part of that is because they can’t. And the reason why is the same reason we don’t have things like White History Month and the Congressional White Caucus: because the power structure in America has always been white.

You could argue that it’s in poor taste for any ethnic group to bash another. But it’s especially vicious for whites — the group that has historically held all the cards and often played them brutally — to mock the groups that they oppressed (or worse). Humor that comes at the expense of the bullied is funny only to a select group of terrible people.

So I’m sympathetic when someone says they’re offended by a caricature. Whether it’s something blindingly obvious like blackface or something that requires more introspection, my response is never to “lighten up.” That increasingly seems to be the chorus of those who don’t want to think about these issues in the first place. It might be a while indeed before we work through these issues and define these boundaries in a way that accommodates everyone’s sensitivities.

But if that goal is the summit of this particular mountain, then blackface has to be the bottom of a trench at the base. Or the ocean floor. Maybe the core of the Earth. Somewhere we should be way, way, way above by now.

Get climbing.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Let's just say Louisiana now

Photo source
Kevin Foote of the Daily Advertiser knocks it out of the park today with an editorial about the UL athletic name controversy. It’s so thoroughly well-written that I don’t even care that he indicts people like me as well, who get annoyed when ESPN uses incorrect references during games. I see Foote’s point, but that’s not going to stop bothering me.

He cites some examples of colleges in other states that either don’t use their full, formal names or changed their names the way UL wanted to without incident. He could have added to that list Missouri State University, in my former home city of Springfield, which changed its name from Southwest Missouri State without having to appease Mizzou. I was impressed by that and frustrated that my two-time alma mater wasn’t allowed to take the same route.

Notice the site from which I’ve linked Foote’s article — it’s the UL Athletic Network, with a logo at the top left that promotes “Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns.” That designation has been the center of the most recent firestorm. I believe, as does Foote, that the university has every right to the designation and (as every school does) to strive for greater prestige.

Everywhere I’ve lived outside of Louisiana, I’ve had a conversation or 20 that goes something like this:

“So, where did you go to college? LSU, I assume?”

“No, UL.”

“In Monroe?”

“No, the other one.”

“Louisiana Tech?”

“Not Louisiana Tech. The University of Louisiana-Lafayette.”

“Where’s that?”

“In Lafayette.”

“Is that by New Orleans?”

“It’s about 115 miles to the west.”

“So it is close.”

“Close enough.”

“You don’t sound like you’re from there. Are you sure you didn’t go to LSU?”

When the University of Southwestern Louisiana sought to change its name to the University of Louisiana, first in 1984 and again in 1999, it ran into considerable static from other state universities. LSU in particular hated the idea because it considered the change a threat to its official flagship status. That sentiment helped to successfully stall the ’84 effort (though not before that year’s degrees went out) and forced a compromise in ’99: that another state school would have to adopt the same name at the same time. This led to USL becoming the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Northeast Louisiana University adopting the name UL Monroe. Thus the specter of LSU being forgotten about forever vanished.

Both ULs had restrictions from both outside and within as to what names and abbreviations to use. Many of them were ridiculous and convoluted, and few of them worked outside of their respective city limits. UL Lafayette in particular had to wear its city name like an albatross, for its sin of attempting to cement its prestige as Louisiana’s second-largest university. Consequently, ESPN never knew what to call us anymore.

But then something happened. UL Monroe — a school that once had “Louisiana” on its helmet — decided to run with its regional name. ULM, unlike ULL, became official. Those letters were emblazoned on its athletic logos. This left “Louisiana” wide open for UL to claim as a sports moniker. Just like the Cajuns wanted in the first place and, significantly, are legally sporting on their uniforms.

ESPN — along with everyone else — should give the Ragin’ Cajuns the dignity that they deserve. No more “Lafayette,” “ULL,” “LAL” or whatever else they use either out of ignorance, confusion or political pressure — call the team what’s on their uniform. Just like everyone does with every other team.


Because this is the conversation I want to start having:

“Where did you go to college?”

“The University of Louisiana.”

“Oh yeah, the Cajuns! I saw them on ESPN2 the other day. Awesome.”

Or, at the very least:

“Where did you go to college?”



“No, the University of Louisiana.”

“Ah, UL!”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Scratching what glitches

Ever since Jon Stewart's admittedly hilarious takedown of the Obamacare website glitches on Monday night, a lot of conservatives are suddenly lionizing him as this generation's Walter Cronkite.

The reference, of course, being that after Cronkite's famous commentary on the Vietnam war as "a stalemate, at best," President Lyndon Johnson supposedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost America." Similarly, President Obama's supposedly stewing over last night's segment, thinking, "If I've lost Stewart, I've lost the liberals."

Sorry. No.

First off, it's disputed as to whether Johnson actually said that. Though I'm certain he believed it.

Second, Stewart is no Cronkite (no one is). He's a comedian who, though personally liberal, has no qualms about skewering whatever requires skewering at the moment. That's why The Daily Show has endured while partisan ripoffs like The 1/2 Hour News Hour tanked — its first allegiance is to satire, not to Soros. If Stewart's agenda was to produce a Democratic show, it would stink. Such is always the case when the message comes before the comedy.

I don't agree with Stewart all the time. His recent interview with Kathleen Sebelius struck me as an exercise in stubbornness. Even though there were legit questions to be answered and Stewart often exceeds expectations as an interviewer, I thought he misfired by dwelling on a single, repetitive question instead of going with the conversation, and trying to get his answer that way. Instead, it was a futile, full-court press. But that's fine. His hits are far greater than his misses, and even his misses have value. I watch to be entertained and stimulated, not to be kowtowed to.

Third — and this is most important, going far beyond this particular clip — making jokes about (or otherwise criticizing) how bumpy of a rollout has had, or how clumsily some officials have attempted to rationalize it, isn't a condemnation of health care reform in general. This is an important point that everybody seems to be overlooking, and it's annoying. 

Are there legitimate gripes about how the administration went about setting up the technological infrastructure? Of course. Some of it is utterly facepalm-worthy. But this should be a relatively pedestrian, minor concern. However, just as wonky concerns like the deficit have now become emotional fodder in many American households, so has this bumpy debut become a grand indictment of reform overall — not just for its bitter enemies itching to pounce on every potential setback, but even for some who otherwise support the plan.

Whether it's Republicans suddenly loving Jon Stewart because he said something they agreed with, or supporters of health care reform who think one bump in the road marks the end of the road, a second look is a good idea. Because the health care exchange website isn't the only glitch in America right now.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why baseball has gone to the children

Jordan Ellenberg argues that baseball has endured over the years "not because of stuffy conservatism, but because almost any change would make it worse." He says it appeals to children in particular because it's an easy sport to grasp, and its institutional strength outweighs any potential corruptive influence currently living within it.

I agree completely. From the time I was 10 to 13 (and again during the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run race when I was 18), I was as obsessed with baseball as I am with football now. Despite not having a home team (I adopted the Milwaukee Brewers), I collected a million baseball cards, had several caps, T-shirts and jerseys of various teams and absorbed all the games, news and stats that I could. When Nolan Ryan notched his 300th win, I bawled, because even though he was one of my favorite players, he did it against my Brewers. My dad had to calm me down and put me to bed. The next day, when I saw an Advil ad on TV congratulating Ryan on his historic win, I screamed at the TV all over again.

But mostly, my obsession was a positive one. It gave me a focus I hadn't yet had in my life, and it made me happy. I started reading the newspaper every day because of baseball, and Topps Magazine inspired me to start my own baseball newsletter. I bought several baseball games and figurines that stimulated my imagination and trivia knowledge. I learned the value of a dollar by saving up for baseball cards and tracking their worth (which in turn taught me to organize and to handle things with care). And, above anecdote aside, I generally didn't hate any players or teams. I had lots of memorabilia on my wall of many different teams, and my allegiances would shift as necessary. I aspired to play baseball, though that never happened in any organized sense outside of P.E. class. (At least it kept me fit.) In short, baseball for me was an education on how to be a better person.

But I ultimately left it behind. And it's hard to go back full-throttle as an adult, at least in the professional sense; I still love to play, attend games and browse memorabilia. Baseball has a huge adult problem, and it isn't the drugs. Nor is it that the game is antiquated or regressive. It's the politics.

The NFL has measures in place — basically, socialism — that levels the playing field for every team. It doesn't make each team equal, obviously, but it ensures that a team's success or failure rides mainly upon how it conducts itself. Also, the league has been far more aggressive in testing for steroids, and has been more open to technological innovation. The NFL is far from perfect, but it's that aspiration to equity that separates it from other sports right off the bat.

Major League Baseball, on the other hand, is a stacked competition from the outset. Bob Costas once said that the league might as well have a two-tier structure with a few major-market teams competing, and the rest just selling ballpark ambiance. Owners are free to buy stacked rosters, which the then-Florida Marlins notoriously did in 1997, and the New York Yankees pretty much always do. Teams like the Kansas City Royals rarely inspirationally surmount such obstacles. They can't afford to.

That's too close to real life for a lot of us.

Baseball's best roots are in its pastoral innocence. Kids are innocent. No wonder it's their game these days. If only the sport itself reflected their sensibilities, it could be all of ours again.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The perks of being no spring chicken

Someone recently retweeted this comment (partially quoted here) that someone else left me on Twitter in June:

You are too young and illiterate to act this judgemental. Grow up,mature and learn .

So it's OK to be judgmental and a lousy speller when I'm old? Cool!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bowl world problems

So LSU lost yesterday. Again. 

I was working during the game, so I didn't get to see more than a couple of plays. But I know the Tigers lost because my Facebook and Twitter feeds are flooded with the misery. And what interesting misery it is.

Look, I understand if you went to LSU (or simply love the Tigers with a passion) that two losses seems like the end of the world. And when you're a major contender for the National Championship every year, diminishing odds for getting there seems like a letdown.

But grumbling that this means LSU is going to a disappointing bowl game, well, that's the No. 1 sign you're rooting for the overdog.

I've primarily been a Saints and Ragin' Cajuns fan all my life. Neither of those teams won anything since my mom passed her driver's test, but the hope and the fun always kept me coming back. Whenever they did show signs of greatness, it made a great experience even more wonderful. Now, they're both juggernauts — the Saints are perennial Super Bowl contenders and the Cajuns have won two consecutive New Orleans Bowls. But still, both feel like underdogs, small-market teams in their respective leagues currently having a run. There's always the feeling that the ride could be over at any time; but in the meantime, what a rush!

In 2010, I got my first taste of being a truly obnoxious fan. I know this because I was living in Missouri, where there were plenty of people around to not reinforce my Saints strutting. The Saints were no longer the lovable losers or scrappy underdogs; they were the defending NFL champions. Wins were expected and losses were all that much harder to take. Everyone gunned for them. It was a new angle of fanhood I'd never experienced. In a way, I'm still in that zone, as last week proved. I want my teams to crush their opponents every week, and that doesn't always happen. Oh, but only if it would!

But then I see LSU week after week, year after year, and I grudgingly start to appreciate those losses. The Tigers are the giants (though not the Giants) of college football. In a level of the sport defined by its utter imbalance, LSU rules the top of a very competitive heap. And that's exactly why it's harder for me to root for them.

It's not impossible, per se; I enjoyed the game I went to two years ago and I prefer them by far over any other SEC team. Many of my best friends and cousins went there, and one (a McGibboney, no less) even played for the Tigers under Nick Saban. But I'll never be a fanatic like I am for the Saints or for my alma mater Cajuns. There are plenty of reasons for this, many of which are only tangentially related to sports (and most of which involve the fans that even many other LSU fans can't stand). But the main reason nowadays is the team itself.

They win. Big. Almost every single week. They win and win and win and win and win and the cycle almost never stops. Fans speak of losing seasons in terms of eras, because it happens so rarely. That's exactly the conditions that lead fans to call for a coach's firing after the season's first loss, and despairing over the prospect of an inferior bowl after the second. Where's the joy in that?

Winning should be an enjoyable experience, even when expected. Too much a good thing — when the only question over the decades is, how thoroughly will we slaughter this week? — leads only to exaggerated heartbreak when they lose. And all that much more first-world-white-people-problem snickering from the outside world as a result.

The Cajuns and Saints better keep winning, though.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Condensed soup for the listicle-addicted soul

Back when I cared about that sort of thing, I once wondered aloud, "Why don't more people read my blog?"

The nearest person to me at the time replied, "You write way too long. People have busy lives and don't have time to read and comment." Thanks, Mom.

She's right, of course, if this hilarious site is any indicator of American attention spans:

I like BuzzFeed, but the site above makes a great point about the almost sublime vapidity of much of its article/listicle things. Let's be honest; they are getting dumber. Hurr remember Saved By the Bell and pants?!! Yeah, I do. Saved By the Bell still reruns on TV and many of the actors don't even look that different. And I'm wearing pants right now. Well, no, I'm not — but I could be, that's my point.

And that's all for today. There isn't much more than that since I took most of my pictures and documents out of my hard drive. Pop culture reference!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The honorableness of being mentioned

You're unlikely to read the Internet for more than a few minutes without running into some crack at "participation trophies." It's become an extremely viral catch-all for why people suck today (so much so, in fact, that which generation they're even talking about tends to be murky).

Blaming participation trophies always seemed so random to me. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. And it's what makes sense about it that should make it stop.

I have three participation trophies, three participation plaques and an uncountable ream of certificates acknowledging that I did things. What I don't have are any accomplishment trophies, and the amount of genuine awards I've won for any reason are slim to none. I don't think the participation baubles spoiled me, nor did they lead to my being too lazy and/or complacent to win anything real.

The mistake is to assume that, when I received the participation trophy, I thought of it as the championship cup. Even when I was six and seven years old, getting trophies for showing up for T-ball, I didn't think any differently of those than I did about my jersey and the team picture. It was just another cool, colorful piece of evidence that I'd been part of that team. 

In eighth grade, I received a participation trophy for running track. It was the only one they'd issued in my three years on the team, but I wasn't bitter that the 7th-graders were getting them too. I was just happy to have a token of all the work I put in. The same was true of the plaques I got from high school football and college track. They were never the reason I pursued anything, but they were pretty cool to hang on the wall. I could always say I was part of this and that team. I didn't mistake them for competitive awards, and would have been embarrassed to come off as doing so. (The one genuine championship I have to my name — a 2004 Sun Belt Conference title ring for cross country — I still got just for helping out the team behind the scenes.) More than anything else, these were testaments to my ability to see something all the way through the end.

In a sense, my college degrees are also participation trophies. I can't think of anything I won in college, and didn't graduate with high honors. But I showed up every day and worked my way through it. Does the fact that thousands of other people received the same degree the same day as me diminish my accomplishment? I don't think it does, any more than making the winning play in a title game or graduating magna cum laude would make me tangibly better than anyone else.

The truth is, most things in life don't lend themselves to awards and trophies. In fact, most of the most important stuff doesn't. And even among those things that do, well ... let's just say I don't think any less of myself for not winning any writing awards, nor do I automatically elevate another writer just because they have.

It's what a recognition means to you (and what you derive from it) that matters. In that respect, having real trophies can be every bit as entitling. Many people who grow up high on merit trophies and awards fall hardest when they realize that not every accomplishment in life merits one. They struggle when that motivation is gone. Some them miss that competition (and winning it) and thus try to make a sport of everything in life. That's one reason we have such miserable public policy regarding taxes, schools, health care and a host of other issues that pit citizens against one another. The goal isn't to participate in society, but to win it. How is that any less entitled than the alleged participation-trophy attitude? The influence of the competitive-trophy attitude is more apparent in society, for sure.

Ultimately, trophies don't matter one way or another. At best, they are satisfying reminders of a job well done. At worst, they spoil people into inflating their self-worth and dismissing the value of those around them. That's a function of the person, not the place. Instead of dwelling on trophies, perhaps we should mold healthy minds to begin with.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


The definition of theft has been stolen

But then I read this thing. And it reminded me why right-leaning libertarians are often their own worst case against their cases.

Matt Walsh calls himself "a heartless SOB" and "a cold blooded scoundrel" early on, but at the end suggests that charity should be up to the individual. In other words, his ideal solution is that people like him should give only from the hearts that they don't have. That sounds sustainable.

He calls all taxation "theft." But you can't have society without it. Taxes pay for public works. If that money also keeps people from starving to death, I'm fine with that. Not because I want them to vote Democrat, but because I'm a compassionate human being. Walsh radically overestimates how much someone like me is appalled by my tax money helping others in times of need.

Walsh claims to have been down and out and claims to care "deeply" for poor people. If that's the case, then he should know that poor people (and most non-poor people as well) don't think the way he does. When people are starving, they aren't going to find much nourishment in eating the well-massaged pages of Ayn Rand books. I'm not starving and it still seems appalling.

That's a problem with Walsh's view in general — it's vacuum-packed philosophy for a well-nourished, upper-class classroom. When you're starving, you're much less likely to consider any form of help to be evil. You tend to feel the same way if you possess empathy in general.

The only way this worldview works is if everyone were on the same plane and a rising subset of that group decided to be downtrodden just for the fun of it. That would make them a disruptive group that refused to play by the rules. And they would deserve such scorn.

But that isn't the case. At least, not with them. That scorn belongs elsewhere at the moment.

Monday, October 14, 2013

You're not you when you're hungry

This is a story I think has been misunderstood.

It's fair to say that these people should know that a limit exists, and that it shouldn't be abused if a glitch causes that limit to temporarily disappear.

But there's a lesson here for those who make a life's work of condemning poor people's supposed "abuse" of the system.

People are always looking to meet their needs. That's easy when you're living comfortably. 

But when you're poor, you're always at a deficit. And when you come into a larger amount of money than usual, those needs burn a hole in your pocket. Put another way: when you're starving, and you suddenly have lots more money to buy lots more food, you're going to binge. It can be a destructive impulse over time, but it's an understandable one in that mindset.

That's what I'm guessing happened here. EBT purchases are limited to certain food items and other necessities (a fact often overlooked by the flatscreen-outrage crowd), so it's actually poignant to see those food shelves cleared like that. I'm not overjoyed over some beating-the-system notion, because I don't condone that; nor do I condone the ignorance that led people to think they suddenly had a bottomless balance with no consequences.

But the lesson to learned is this: When the poor and middle class get an income boost, they go out and spend that money. When individuals and families can meet their needs, that makes them healthier and happier, and thus more productive and self-sufficient. The money they earn and spend then boosts the economy, benefiting retailers and the rest of the business community. It also shores up the tax base, which helps improve public services and infrastructure. Everyone benefits on every level.

This is elementary economics, and yet it's been lost in the past few decades. Why? Trickle-down policies, and a 30-year campaign convincing Americans that all will be well if we give all the breaks to the richest (who stuff it in offshore and/or long-term accounts) rather than to the "parasites" (meaning most Americans). Which is why so many working-class people will see those empty shelves and get angry at the cardholders, rather than at the circumstances that make those people so desperate in the first place. Because that campaign has worked. For some people, at least. 

The ones who never need to clear shelves.

When fight-or-flight fails, Patriots have already won

Yesterday's heartbreaking loss by the Saints to the Patriots was yet another reminder that I process heartbreak and disappointment the same way — anger at the karmic gods.

In a way, this was the worst way for the Saints to lose. Had the final score been 56-7, there would have been time to process it. As it was, I was already bracing for a potential loss, even though the Pats looked very vulnerable the week before. But it became clear quickly that the New England defense was out to shut down Jimmy Graham completely, and they did. Sean Payton should have seen that coming. And should have done something about it, but couldn't or didn't. On defense, Rob Ryan's usual adaptability was stymied by Tom Brady's hurry-up offensive scheme. In both cases, neither coach had a solution for what should have been an obvious contingency, and that's frustrating to watch.

Also, the officials seemed to be Patriots fans — at least until they started giving the Saints some shady breaks too, so maybe they just like corruption. 

Still, the Saints admirably overcame those deficiencies. Almost.

If the late rally by New Orleans had come up just short, I would have been upset, but proud of them nonetheless for climbing out of the hole. 

Even the last-second Hail Mary isn't unheard of. If it takes that play to win, one the Patriots are capable of making, the game had to be tight, which is something to celebrate.

What makes this one hurt so bad is the false hope of assured victory that was dashed, not just by Brady's bomb to Kenbrell Thompkins, but by the head-slapping stupidity that led to that play being possible.

The Saints caught three lucky breaks at the end, each time leading me to think, "This is over. Never say never, but this is under control." I was due to go into work, had everything in my pockets and my coat in my hand, ready to bolt as soon as I knew for sure. My duty yesterday was editing the sports section. That's always fun after the Saints win.

Then Sean Payton turned into Jim Mora.

Conservative play-calling has its place. But like with political conservatism (which also reared one of its uglier heads yesterday), it's a disaster at the wrong moment, and in the wrong hands.

Those wrong hands were Payton's. Being an aggressive gambler is his thing. And like most high-rollers, he's good enough at it to offset the risks. So it was absolutely stupefying to see him call some very conservative runs when the Saints needed to pound through the line, get one first down and go home happy. 

I hate those plays to begin with, so to see them contribute to the most heartbreaking, last-second loss since the River City Relay extra-point fail in 2003 (or even Tim Couch's Hail Mary by the Browns in 1999) is not just sad. It's mad.

The difference between now and past years is, the Saints know better by now.

Here's hoping they get back on track after the bye. I trust they will.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The second most offensive thing in D.C. right now

The ongoing debate about the offensiveness of the Washington Redskins' mascot would seemingly be proof enough that the name needs to be changed. You can claim all you want that something isn't really that offensive, but if you're having to do that, you've already lost. Arthur Blank doesn't have to constantly defend the falconry of his Atlanta Falcons, because the name isn't inherently offensive (that would be the team's play).

Nevertheless, there are ways owner Daniel Snyder could have justified his team's name in his letter to fans with some (tiny) degree of rationalization. One of the ways he tried, by soliciting the opinions of American Indians, is fair — though even there, he ignores the plentitude of tribes who do want it changed. But he truly dropped the ball with the two other approaches he took in the letter:

1) Citing tradition. Tradition has been used to justify every awful thing in American history. And, by nature, it defies the groundbreaking spirit that gives people traditions in the first place. In football parlance, a "winning tradition" means, "We used to win a lot. Remember that?"

Still, Snyder taps into the little kid in all of us by recalling his first experience at RFK Stadium, and how "the ground beneath me seemed to move and shake" when the home team scored. Hell, I know that feeling too and love it! Now I'm mad, because I don't want anyone taking that feeling away from me and future generations of fans! I know concussions are a big deal, but with a heightened sense of awareness, more advanced helmets and a better access to top-notch health care, hopefully we can enjoy football for decades to come.

Oh, wait, this is about that damn name. Snyder is equating the Redskins moniker with the feeling of being at a football game and singing songs and stuff. 

True, relevant story: I enrolled in the University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL) in 1998. USL had been its name since 1960, and even now some people still call it that. I was happy to be part of the school's centurylong tradition. 

Then, in 1999, the school changed its name to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (more commonly known as UL). This required the changing of the fight song, because "U-S-L" was the final, rousing line. Many people (including me early on) objected to the move, because change is scary. But it didn't take long for the name to catch on, and for the fight song to change to "GO... U... L!" And now, saying "USL" makes you sound old-fashioned and/or like a Baton Rouge resident. 

Also, another school that changed its name, Northeast Louisiana (now UL Monroe, or ULM) changed its mascot from the Indians to the Warhawks. Which leads me to my next point:

2) Missing the point that there's a difference between honoring a people and slurring them, and good intentions aren't enough. For the most part, people aren't demanding the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians or Atlanta Braves change their names. Why? Because they manage to encapsulate the "strength, courage, pride and respect" of America's indigents without dwelling on skin color.

(The Cleveland Indians' logo is a different story. That caricature should go. Conversely, the Redskins have an honorable logo and appalling name.)

One thing that doesn't help the Washington franchise's case is its role in barring black players from the NFL. In 1932, owner George Preston Marshall (whose new team was then the Boston Braves) refused to employ blacks on his roster, and the league followed suit the next year. More than a decade of leaguewide segregation followed. The team itself was the last to integrate, holding out until 1962, and caving only after considerable federal pressure. 

If "tradition" matters, then this doesn't speak well of the team's record of sensitivity. It's not a huge leap to think a racist owner who changed his team name from the Braves TO the Redskins did so out of respect for a noble people. (If Marshall really wanted to honor his handful of native players, he could have chosen much better descriptors, just as the team should now.)

"Redskins" is an archaic and unnecessarily polarizing name for a pro football team. The more Snyder digs in his heels and cites tradition, the more he (intentionally or not) reinforces the team management's racist past. D.C. fans are strong. They can adapt, just like they did with the Wizards (formerly Bullets). As it turns out, change (and adapting to it in the name of progress) is also a tradition.

Also, Indians to Warhawks? Not sure if that was an improvement.

It's always the End Times, isn't it?

Low-hanging fruit. But it reminds me of this quote from James Watt, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, from February 1981, when justifying his drill-baby-drill mission: 

"I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns."

Serious question:

Why aren't these people waiting it out in a bunker instead of holding high public office?


Even if they do expect Jesus to return to Earth in the flesh, do they really think he's going to say, "I have retu — oh, I see you haven't burned up all the gas yet. Carry on?"

In any case, I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of people who think the world will end soon shaping U.S. policy. And also not allowing the government to function. 

I'm more worried about them than I ever will be about some supernatural prophecy.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Empathy for the unempathetic

While reading Why the Rich and Powerful Have Less Empathy, I thought back to an old article I read the other day about Peyton Manning. It mentioned that he “doesn’t hang around riff-raff” and never did, even in childhood. He was (and is) drawn to “movers and shakers,” people who will “challenge” him.

I’m not singling out Manning, but he is a solid example of a prevalent strain of rich and powerful American — one who chooses to associate mainly with other rich and powerful people.

These people are right in the sense that you should choose your company wisely. No one needs to be around drags, killjoys, abusers, pessimists and/or enablers of bad habits. But there’s definitely some middle ground between the dregs and the Type-A, hyper-ambitious types. For example, people you like for their personality more than how much can they can help you grow your Q-rating.

It’s human nature to want to be around people like you, who reinforce you. The problem with getting too narrow with your tastes, however, is a mutated world view. As the richest and most powerful Americans increasingly isolate themselves from the rest of society, it becomes easier for them to dismiss all outside troubles. And as they encounter those troubles less and less, and surround themselves more with constant back-patting chatter, their empathy erodes as well.

The flip side of this is that everyone else increasingly sees the mega-rich as cartoon villains, only slightly discernible as human beings through the filter of socioeconomic distance. They are as much a derisive “them” to the masses as the masses are “them” to the 1 percent. Nobody wins.

I went through a phase when I associated mainly with people I agreed with. But after a while, we had little to say to each other. I came to appreciate differences in people. Those different perspectives are what help you learn and grow. Anyone who excessively limits their circle is not going to be well-rounded. And the longer that persists, the more being well-rounded seems like a bad idea to them. Put the people with those warped perceptions into power, and then we all suffer. They won’t care, because they ditched us “riff-raff” a long time ago. And we will get angry over it, and won't care what they have to say even when it's more reasonable.

In the nation’s best economic times, the financial gap between the top and bottom wasn’t nearly as massive as it is now. Neither was the social gap. And thus, what is often sneeringly dismissed as “class warfare” was less of a thing. We need to make that gap more of a natural one than it is today. Division is perhaps inevitable, but constant mutual resentment helps no one thrive.

If we had more common threads as a society, we’d be more understanding of that fact.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A short, sweet conversation

"My colleagues and I shut down the government, and we're proud of it!"

"So are you not collecting your salary during this time?"

"Oh no, of course I am."

"How come?"

"Well, you can't expect us to work for no pay."

"Or rather, not work for no pay?"

"I have expenses, you know. They don't stop just because the government does."

"Isn't that also true for the thousands of government workers on unpaid furlough?"

"Maybe they should consider not living high off the taxpayer hog. If they can't hack it, then they should move over to the private sector."

"I have a feeling that advice will come in handy for you soon enough."

"You know what else I'm shutting down?"

"This conversation?"


Thursday, October 03, 2013

A memory rarely filmed

For six years — 1999 to 2005 — I owned a not-so-gently used 1993 Chevy S-10 pickup truck. I was my first automobile, acquired for the princely sum of $900, and costing at least that much in repairs every six months.

It was my baby. I cared for it as well as I knew how, and treated every creeping defect as part of its charm — from the drooping top I eventually ripped out (and never replaced) to the windows held up with suction cups (which I could eventually lift up and down with one hand, without looking, while driving). Also, the radio faceplate was busted, so I covered the hole with a series of pieces of paper — the first drawn up to look like the real radio and the last that simply said, "RADIO."

Because of its distinctive green-and-tan trim, and my active community life, much of Lafayette associated the truck with me. At least twice, identical trucks got in severe accidents, and multiple people asked if I was all right. When the S-10 died on me for good less than a month after Hurricane Katrina, I cried. A month later, I wrote a long, funny eulogy blog for it.

And yet, I have maybe 20 photos of my truck from that entire period. Most of them aren't properly framed, many are out of focus and the best one is the only digital one — and it may be lost for good.

Here's the only one I know of online, posted to my then-new Facebook profile. It's the last picture I ever took of it, the day I said my final goodbye:

At this point, it had been sitting there a month, a tire was flat and much of the hood paint was gone. So, all in all, not much different than before.
By contrast, when I moved to Reno at the end of July, my mom took almost a dozen back-to-back pictures of me sitting in a hot tub. And of the highway scenery. And of the same casino signs. And of me driving. I'm often guilty of the same thing nowadays.

What happened? Camera phones.

Simply put, we have too much easy and unlimited photography available to us. And we're abusing it. For every old family photo that we have where I want to see more and know more, we have a current photo that I have to delete just to take more pictures.

During the truck years, I owned a Canon Sure Shot Owl 35mm camera that my parents got with Marlboro points. Like my mom, I was a shutterbug. But I had to be choosy with my 24 (or 36, if I splurged) exposures. Film and development both cost money. Sometimes I wouldn't know until getting the print that I blew the shot (like, say, a trash bag entered the frame, as seen above). Photo correction was not yet a thing known to me. So while in most ways digital photography is a vast improvement, it's also allowed an overuse that often cheapens the results.

There's a new commercial out now, I'm not even sure for what device, where kids are putting on a play and the parents are all jostling to film it with their tablets and phones like violent paparazzi. The purpose is to sell camera phones, but it also works as a PSA against them. That ad is what I thought of when I read this today. Valerie Alexander urges us to stop "capturing the moment" and, as George Carlin said well before the advent of camera phones, remember things.

Heed Valerie's advice and exercise discretion. Whenever I'm tempted to go crazy with the camera, especially at public events, I remind myself that those pictures will be less interesting than the memories. You might think you're saying, "Look where I was sitting when Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham connected on that touchdown," but really you're adding, "I was taking a picture of it. Hoping not to cheer too hard and ruin the shot." Don't worry. Plenty of others are doing it far better than you. And who knows — you might get in the professional shot too. That's something that will endure forever. Do you want to be remembered as a cheering fan, or as just another obscured face behind a smartphone?

I wonder if I'd had a digital camera during my truck days if I would have taken 10 million pictures of the truck from every angle. Probably. Then again, maybe not having done so is why my memories of it are so vivid.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Rob Schneider — the Hobby Lobby of Hollywood

Actor Rob Schneider claims he hasn't made a movie in California in seven years because of the state's restrictive tax code and that he moved his vitamin business out of state due to "over-regulation." Both of which he attributes to Democrats.

I'm going to avoid the low-hanging fruit here, tempting as it may be. Rob had a good run in the 1990s, or maybe I was just his target audience then. I don't know. It doesn't matter.

Two things stick out to me anytime I hear his argument:

1) None of the rich people who complain about high taxation and regulation ever seem particularly tempted to give it all up. Occasionally they'll whine about how lucky poor people have it; but at the end of the day, all the red tape in the world isn't going to keep them from their capitalistic pursuits. I can't think of a time it ever has. It's hot air. 

I don't see Schneider quitting acting any more than I see the owner of Hobby Lobby shutting down all his stores because he objects to having his insurance plan cover the Pill. They know making a point isn't worth giving up the meal ticket.

2) Modeling our system after their desires fosters a race to the bottom. Much of the attraction Louisiana has for film companies lies in tax breaks and lax labor laws. Last December, I worked three long days on a film for which I never got paid. When I notified the state Department of Labor, they threw their hands up, saying many others had complained. Oh, OK. (It happened again this summer, but by then I was too busy moving west to bother.)

Whenever I hear a conservative insist that labor laws and other regulations scare away employers, I think of those experiences. Texas Gov. Rick Perry's ongoing commerce campaign, which Schneider cites in the link, essentially comes down to: "You can do whatever you want here." Most such campaigns are the same way. It's utopia for businesses, dystopia for workers. It's no accident that the most "business-friendly" states tend to have high poverty rates and low environmental scores.


3) Just like with Louisiana State Sen. Elbert Guillory, I don't think Schneider really has had a political epiphany. He knows it's a chance to get on the airwaves. The closest I've ever heard Rob get to politics before was when he said that (theoretically?) he'd never work with Mel Gibson. So I'll reserve my inspiration for when Janeane Garofalo converts. That'll mean something. 

Oh, and two more things:

4) California, by all accounts I've read not written by right-wingers, is climbing back into solvency during the most recent tenure of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. As a now-frequent visitor to the Golden State, I also like other things about it, like its laws against trans fats in foods, dedication to environmental issues and decent infrastructure. Having arrived in Nevada from a Republican paradise where roads are crumbling, concern for health and the environment is for nerds and you often have to fight to recover your slender paychecks, I appreciate those touches. If it causes the mega-rich a slight inconvenience, eh. They aren't the only ones, but they can handle it the most painlessly.

5) Vitamins aren't the most regulated product to begin with, so something must be particularly sketchy if Schneider didn't want to comply with what regulations there were. That seems less like a hunt for freedom than a shelter search. Seems that California's main crime these days is that it isn't stooping to the level of so many other states in that regard. It's actually aspiring to be a decent place to live, rather than simply a place to do business.

A race to the top is refreshing after all this time. We can do eet!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

What a shame

On Sunday, the wife and 2-year-old son of a former fellow columnist (and close friend to many of my friends) were killed in a car accident.

Apparently, the driver at fault was angrily pursuing his wife and kids in traffic, and lost control while gunning his truck.

What a tragic waste.

Let's take it easy out there, OK? No squabble is worth it. Ever.

A dire day in the Dome (not last night)

I often search for old Saints games on YouTube. As you might expect, there aren't many to choose from, and most of them (also predictably) are ones us fans would rather forget. (Indeed, every good Saints game I've ever seen on YouTube has eventually been taken down, while the bad ones last much longer.)

So naturally, YouTube currently hosts what must be (but sadly, might not be) the most shameful week in Saints history — their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1977.

Tampa Bay had never won a game. Ever. They were 0-26 all-time. They hadn't scored in three weeks, and scored only seven points in the past five. They sucked.

So of course they thrashed the Saints, 33-14. In New Orleans.

What struck me about this video is that, even early on, there seems to be almost no crowd noise in the Dome. I thought maybe that was because of the technological limitations of the time, but the commentators note that there only about 40,000 fans at the game, just over half-capacity. And they aren't boisterous fans, either, even from the get-go. This isn't a fan base growing silent as the worst team in NFL history embarrasses their boys; it's a group already weary from 10 years of despair and ever-bleaker prospects, perhaps subconsciously aware that 10 more years of the same awaited them.

By contrast, last night's game was a joy to watch. Even if the Saints had lost, it would still be great to hear that boisterous Superdome crowd make the most of the acoustics. It's so loud, constant and overarching that it compares to radio static. It levels off mainly as a function of fatigue. Saints fans have been persistent and loyal over the years, but the vibe definitely changes when they're winning. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that. This video is a reminder of how far the team has come.