Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Must-steer-clear TV

When did Fox News become default viewing in every public place in America?

This isn't a political question — at least, not really. The channel of choice in communal spaces used to be ESPN. Even if you don't care for sports, it's hard to hate ESPN. Whether with volume or muted, it's perfect atmosphere TV. 

Fox News fails in that regard. At best (when muted), it makes for terrible atmosphere TV. At worst, it's divisive, factually dubious partisan fare. Everything like it tends to be avoided in mixed company. So who decided that it had to replace sports everywhere?

When businesses blare the radio, for the most part they adhere to safe hit stations. The object isn't necessarily to attract music aficionados so much as to avoid irritating anyone. I'd say flipping on Fox News is like blasting a divisive genre of music like country or rap, but those forms are often likened to the CNN of their respective camps — and Fox News is no CNN.

And it's certainly no ESPN. Hear that, lobbies of America? 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Observations ascertained from driving 2,100 miles in three days through the great American southwest

• Driving 2,100 miles in three days is an absolutely insane idea.

• I'm increasingly awesome at packing a car. I'm increasingly wanting to never pack a car again.

• By the time I got to Tyler, Texas, one of my rear bumper-skirt brackets had broken and was hanging toward the ground. I had come to terms with the potential severe damage that could cause to my (or someone else's) car before it occurred to me in Amarillo to Macgyver it with some plastic zip-ties. As far as I'm concerned, it's fixed forever.

• In Tyler, my mom and I ate at Bodacious Bar B Que, a joint I remembered fondly from going there once in 1995. Surprisingly, they didn't remember me. That hurt.

• The speed limit for most of the trip was 75. That's beautiful, as long as the wind isn't blowing. Everything has a catch.

• At our first hotel, the toilet flooded on the first flush. I called for maintenance, only to be told that there was no maintenance working that night. I asked for a plunger and the desk clerk said they didn't have a plunger. She offered us a new room. I accepted but informed her that the toilet was still surging and was likely to flood the room. After several seconds of thought, this clicked with her. "OH!" She rushed to find a plunger. When she returned a few minutes later, plunger in hand, she asked me why I was there. I pointed to the plunger. "OH!"

• On the highway in New Mexico, we passed a police officer with his gun drawn. The motorist he pulled over was dropping a handgun, presumably by request.

• My mom must have asked me 45 times how to spell Albuquerque. I happily obliged every time, because I know how to spell Albuquerque and I want everyone to know it. Thanks, Weird Al and Roxanne! Albuquerque!

• I learned the hard way (and almost the hardest way possible) that the 2 and L gears on my automatic transmission are for braking the engine down steep slopes instead of the opposite of that. By all scientific accounts, I should be stranded in New Mexico right now. (On the bright side, my car is officially through puberty now.)

• At some point, there was a freshly dead deer on the road. Mom wanted me to immortalize that.

• Arizona's definition of "rough road" is just adorable.

• My goal of reaching Flagstaff by the end of the second day of driving was nearly as dead as I was — that is, until we saw the motel options available to us where we stopped. The mental caffeine of fear that resulted was more than enough to propel us to the promised land.

• "It's not as if it's going to rain or something." Yes, Clark, it did. In fact, it's stormed both times I've been to Arizona, 14 years apart. After the downpour knocked out the hotel's wi-fi and I blamed myself for bringing the weather, the clerk thanked me because "we needed the rain." You're welcome, I guess?

• Mom and I stopped at the Hoover Dam, on occasion of my first-ever trip into Nevada. Because I had so much stuff packed in my car, buried under a Saints blanket, I was subject to a search by several security agents. As they approached, Mom began jokingly calling me Clark. (Griswold references haven't stopped yet on this trip, and every one of them is appropriate.) After I explained to them that I was moving to Reno and a closed box contained my modem and a Wii, they let me go. I parked in the wrong parking lot and realized afterward that it was in California. That meant a lot to me.

• Mom took a lot of dam pictures of me. She declined my offer to take any dam pictures of her.

• We crossed paths with a girl who collapsed from what I thought was heatstroke. As it turns out, she had injured her leg and was otherwise OK. "That's a relief," I said to Mom. Really, Ian?

• Despite its breathtaking mountain view, the stretch of highway between Las Vegas and Reno is a hellpit of despair and nothingness that makes you appreciate speed traps, the majesty of freak flash floods and the sensation of not-wind, just because they break up the monotony.

• During this stretch, my sister called and asked how the trip was going. "DON'T EVER DRIVE HERE!" I yelled toward the phone. "Fly in! FLY!!"

• At one stop, a woman who'd driven down from Reno strongly suggested I not continue my travels, because a hailstorm and a bad accident virtually guaranteed I'd get stuck in the void. Bummed out by this advice, I decided to ignore it. Aside from some initial concern and a police officer who waved me through some mud, I encountered absolutely no obstacles (and saw no wreck) and made it all the way to Reno. I learned something from this: never trust the locals. Sound advice.

• When your town's store's name is "The General Store," you're probably safe from encroaching Walmarts.

• I made only two wrong turns on the entire trip — until I got to Reno, when I promptly made 75. Our first peek at the bright casino lights of downtown Reno was when I was trying to find my way back to the highway, by which time Mom and I were both cranky as hell.

• Both Reno's and Lafayette's public-radio stations are on the same frequency — 88.7 FM. That's one fewer preset I have to redo.

• Everything in the mountains is beautiful. Everything. I'm excited to be here.

• We will never take a toilet for granted again.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The free price of friendliness

Yesterday, I found myself at a crowded walk-in clinic. It was so packed that some people were standing outside because, in their own words, they were worried about the fire marshal.

The check-in window had two lines. As I waited in the left slot for a friendly nurse to process me, a very grouchy woman beside her called for the next person. I stepped aside to let the guy behind me step up, smiling politely. The woman glared at me and barked, "YOU STAY WHERE YOU ARE!" Smile instantly ripped off my face, I stepped back exactly where I was going to step even before this grump decided I was an unruly 5-year-old.

It's not that I take it personally, because I realize this woman deals with calamity every day. But is it really necessary to act this way? I've been on her side of similar calamities in my life and I found that how it panned out depended hugely on my attitude. If I let things get to me, then I barked at other people; but if I made a point of keeping my cool, everything turned out fine, with the added benefit of lifting some people's moods. Which, in turn, would further lift mine.

Such surliness is an unfortunate consequence of economics, as I've seen time and again. The less privileged one is, the more likely they are to patronize overcrowded and underfunded facilities of any kind. There, the staff is likely to think of them as uneducated cattle in need of herding. This makes it a difficult experience for everyone involved. It's something that most well-to-do people aren't likely to encounter or understand. And yet, it's such an inextricable part of life for struggling people that its effect can't be dismissed. Such treatment is part of a reality where indignity is the price of being broke.

Being nice doesn't cost anything, but it might make life richer for those most in need of a smile.

New Rules

Rule #235: Race to judgment
If you're about to share an "unreported" story of black-on-white crime as a way of exposing the bias of the media, don't. This goes double if the picture shows the assailant heading to jail. The fact that such a picture exists is proof that it's nothing like the Trayvon Martin case. It's also telling if the crime is considered a "hate crime" when no suspects have been arrested. As determined as you are to make that point, you should at least have a story that backs it up (not just one you wish did).

Rule #236: Fantasy football
Everything the pundits are saying about the upcoming NFL season will eventually be ridiculously outdated. No one ever gets it right. Take it for what it is: time-killing conjecture by people who should get more into baseball.

Rule #237: The first rule everyone can agree upon
Spinal cords and nerves should be able to regenerate.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Live-blogging the royal birth

It's a hot day today in Lafayette. We've had some scattered showers and that only added to the stifling humidity. Just the act of hauling my bicycle from the car to the storage shed was enough to make me feel like I'd ridden it for 20 miles.

After that I visited my mom at work and discussed with her some pressing matters. Then I came home, ate a plum and read stuff on the Internet. But not too much stuff, because it can mess with your head, especially if you take it at face value. I often have to remind myself that the people most eager to rant online are those with the worst things to say. Come to think of it, I am the author of thousands of Internet pieces. What does that say about me? I can only speculate.

I have a box of Reese's Puffs cereal next to my laptop. It reminds me of Peanut Butter Crunch. Once in the 1980s (I think it was 1987), I got a new plastic foot truck and a box of Peanut Butter Crunch from Kmart. I spent the afternoon sitting on the truck, munching on the cereal and watching a rerun of Sanford and Son. Why do I still remember that? I can only speculate.

This box of Reese's Puffs had in it a Minion toy from Despicable Me 2. It's cute. I'm glad my brother has kids so I could know the joy of these films. 

Is it just me, or do sequel titles seem especially clunky this year? Despicable Me 2. Red 2. Kick-Ass 2. The Smurfs 2. Grown-Ups 2. I get that it's a brand thing, but all of those titles should have stood alone. I'm sure I could come up with better sequel monikers that pay tribute to and improve upon the originals, but this is supposed to be a live blog. For now, there's only time to speculate about those potential titles.

Speaking of titles: one of my first sports of interest as a kid was boxing. In boxing, when you beat the champion, you become the champion. So I thought all sports were like that. I wondered what the point of the Super Bowl was if the title would just transfer the first time the winner lost the next season. Fortunately my brother explained it to me before the World Series and the NBA Finals had a chance to make my head explode.

Oh, Dennis Farina died. That sucks. Such a great actor and only 69 years old. I remember some local band when I was in college taking a picture of Farina looking like the Dos Equis man and making flier art out of it. Made me laugh. R.I.P., D. You almost definitely outlasted that band.

Nate Silver is leaving the New York Times to work for ESPN. Why? Apparently we can only speculate. I, for one, am excited. His first order of business should be to tell everyone exactly how the 2013 NFL season will pan out. I need to know whether or not to buy the premium channels I'll need to catch Saints games this fall.

My guess on the royal birth: it will be a boy. Or a girl. No speculating there.

Talk about a twist

Good for him for helping those people. ABC's account suggests that he did so as a bystander and not as someone looking for extra press coverage. I can respect that.

But that's all there should be to this particular story. Anyone wanting to hold it up as proof that Zimmerman was a good guy all along should reconsider. I don't doubt he has a compassionate side, even if it's overshadowed by a tragic zeal. But I still think he wasn't held properly accountable for his admitted killing of an unarmed teenager. 

That said, the threats against Zimmerman are equally zealous. The system says he's a free man, at least for now, and two wrongs won't make a right. Place the blame where it belongs: with the legal system, not the man.

Either way, this story isn't a game-changer. It simply is what it is.


Anybody who knows me can tell you I'm no fan of the Oxford comma. (At least, those who language-know me, which is still most people.) If you don't know, the Oxford comma is the punctuation mark that goes before the final item in list of two or more. For example, "Red, white, and blue."

For most of my life, I preferred the Oxford comma. As early as second grade, when our teacher let us do commas either way, I was a fervent Oxford partisan. But beliefs have a way of evolving over time — sometimes — and upon entering the wide, magic world of journalism, so did my comma stance.

Print journalism adheres most commonly to Associated Press style, which snubs the Oxford comma in most cases. AP style in general (with a few frustrating exceptions) favors brevity in copy, and people in our field use that style over and over and over and over. After enough time both writing and editing, I went from loving the Oxford comma to wishing it would drown in its own ink. That feeling suited me perfectly for graduate school English courses.

(For those of you who have never taken a graduate English course, that was a literary device called "irony.")

The debate still crops up from time to time among my friends — many of whom are teachers, librarians and other language people — and I'm usually very, very lonely. I understand why, because not only does literature not conform to AP style, but the comma has uses in particular situations.

This Mental Floss article touches on some of the most-cited examples, pro and con. I see the case for the Oxford comma in the pros and its clunkiness in the cons. However, most of those sentences also aren't journalistic, and some need to be rewritten regardless of context. Here's how I would redo some of those sentences to avoid the Oxford issue in the first place:

Mental Floss: "She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president." 

Me: "She took a photograph of her parents as they met the president and vice president."

MF: "Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones."

Me: "Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones and the donor of the cup, Mr. Cupdonor."

MF: "Zinovieff shot over five hundred of the bourgeoisie at a stroke—nobles, professors, officers, journalists, men and women."

Me: "Zinovieff allegedly shot more than 500 bourgeoisie men and women. Among the victims were nobles, professors, officers and journalists."

MF: "There are certain places where for the sake of clarity and good form the presence of a comma is obligatory, but on the other hand a too liberal use of this form of punctuation tends to slow up the pace of the reading matter and to create confusion and hesitancy in the mind of the reader."

Me: "Oxford commas. Just more keys to stroke."

MF: "This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God"

(Family functions must be excruciatingly awkward.)

Me: "This book is dedicated to Ayn Rand, God and my parents."

MF: "By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector."

Me: "By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with an 800-year-old demigod, a dildo collector and Nelson Mandela."

See? Oxford comma or not, no confusion there. Writing!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

This is where I've been

I'm pleased to announce that I have landed an editing job in Reno, Nevada.

I'm officially back in the big leagues. 

And, as always, this blog is my thing and no one else's.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mind nugget of the day

People are like video games. And there are two types of video games:

1) The kind where it's all about getting the most points before the only possible ending, game over.

2) The kind with positive objectives where one can ascend levels, rescue things and win the day in the end. Points matter mainly in earning the objective.

Which kind of person are you?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On the cover of the Rolling Stone

The latest cover of Rolling Stone has people chattering:

This Newseum Facebook thread encapsulates the debate nicely.
Specifically, many are objecting to this suspected killer's face adorning a prominent spot on a popular magazine. Every time something of this magnitude happens, we revisit this debate — and given how often mass killings occur and how much media we consume nowadays, it's amazing we ever leave it.

For the record, I have no problem with this cover. Why? My reasons are best stated by countering some of the most prevalent criticism:

"Why put his face on the cover?"

Because he's more important of a newsmaker than Willie Nelson. 

"The photo makes Dzhokar look dreamy."

If that's an unretouched photo, they have every right to run it. Yes, it looks like he's a retro hipster icon, but maybe that's a point worth considering. The teaser's subhead implies that he was a popular American kid who fell into some destructive ideology. How? If only there was a way to find out...

"This guy doesn't deserve the attention he craves."

Investigative journalism is not a yearbook page — it's an acknowledgment of news and those who are behind it. When done right, it serves a vital educational purpose. The public deserves to know the particulars of any major event, especially tragedies, and the relevant factors underlying those events. To censor such over concerns of vanity is immature and insulting to society.

"This will just inspire copycat killers."

If Dzhokar Tsarnaev and his brother were sick enough to perpetrate a bombing, I doubt meriting the cover of Rolling Stone was especially high on the inspiration checklist.

"They'll run anything to make a buck."

If that were true, Rolling Stone would run gossip queens on every cover, because scandal rags are among the few print publications not struggling these days. Running a cover that might alienate thousands of buyers is the opposite of money-grubbing.

"Stick to music."

Rolling Stone never has stuck to music, either in its pages or on its cover. I subscribed for years mainly for its political analysis, which is some of the best in the business thanks to Matt Taibbi, Tim Dickinson, et al. (Taibbi even writes about the NFL occasionally.) I have some issues from the 1970s that are about the same content mix. The magazine may not be the countercultural force it was decades ago when such an impact was possible, but its heart remains where it always was.

Good for them. It benefits us all.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I guess that's technically true

From the Conservative Daily Facebook page
• Today's Republican Party has virtually nothing in common with the party of Lincoln's era. (That alone accounts for almost every "fact" on this graphic.) Lincoln today would be considered a pragmatic centrist and Frederick Douglass a liberal. Neither stood for the right-wing politics of today's GOP. 

• Martin Luther King Jr. was not a Republican, refusing to publicly endorse parties. It is known that he privately supported John F. Kennedy.

• The Democrats who most directly attempted to thwart the Civil Rights Act included Strom Thurmond and other conservative, southern Dixiecrats who defected to the Republican Party once the act became law.

• There have been only eight black U.S. Senators in history, with the first Democrat assuming office in 1993, not 1999. Of the four Republicans, two served during Reconstruction and one was a liberal Republican in the 1960s and 1970s. That leaves Tim Scott, who rode tea party support to the Senate in January 2013. So really, the GOP can claim seven months of black Senate representation in the past 34 years. A deceiving statistic overall (and not one that flatters either party).

• The first 23 African-Americans in the House were indeed Republicans — 22 of them serving from 1868 to 1901, and one from 1929-1935. Again, this was when the GOP wasn't the right-wing party it is today. In the 78 years since then, a whopping five black Representatives have been Republicans, counting Scott and the Virgin Islands' onetime at-large Congressman.

Graphics like these backfire terribly because they only highlight the contrast between what the GOP claims it is, and how it actually once was that. Even worse, it makes clear that the party's current guiding principles are what opposed such progress in the past. And that they'd rather live in the past and cook statistics instead of earnestly addressing the issue.

Good Republicans deserve better. Hell, everybody does.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A travesty for Trayvon

The news of George Zimmerman's acquittal came to me tonight as my parents and I returned to our hotel room from my cousin's wedding. Hitting me like a brick from the lobby's silent flatscreen were two words: NOT GUILTY. As we stepped into the elevator, a young black man walked into the lobby and said, "What? No." Were I a few feet behind, I would have shared my own, similar thoughts.

The verdict really upset me. It upset me because Zimmerman skated in large part due to flaws in the prosecution. It upset me because apparently only certain people are entitled to Stand Their Ground. It upset me because, for whatever racial motivations the defendant may or may not have had, race definitely affected multiple aspects of the case. It upset me because even if race played no part, the verdict validated aggressive vigilantes everywhere. Most of all, it upset me because there are some people who are actively cheering this as a win for the justice system.

To cheer this particular verdict is to assign to it a very ugly subtext. Letting an admitted killer go over legal nuances may be technically sound, but it's hardly the stuff of flag-waving. At best, it was a technical victory for Zimmerman — a decision for which its advocates should be quietly grateful with little fanfare and perhaps a little reflection.

I don't necessarily agree with the analyses of everyone who shares my despair over the outcome. But I'm uniformly disgusted at those who hail it. Such celebration only reinforces my view that the verdict was wrong. 

Whatever aspects of the system allowed it to be right, are also wrong.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A question I ask myself all the time

During my first semester of college, I shared a class with a girl who was from an upper-crust part of New Orleans. She had an air about her and dressed way better than everyone else, but otherwise she was friendly enough.

One day the topic of conversation turned to college food. Most of us talked about which fast food joint or cafeteria was our favorite, as freshmen tend to do. She piped up saying she tolerated her options at best. "I'm used to ... gourmet food," she said with only a slight sense of self-awareness.

That was the first time I recall hearing anyone say something like that. It wasn't the last. 

When I read "Where is my Army wife pay?" I thought of that past classmate, magnified her by 1,000 and subtracted all her positive qualities. Wow. Just, wow.

It takes a lot of social disconnect to gripe about formerly having the finest of things. I'm sure a lot of people aren't enjoying the best standard of living they've ever had (myself included). But most of us acknowledge that sometimes sacrifices have to be made — and sometimes giving up a material existence can even be refreshing for the human spirit. Not that those people would know most of the time, because with such disconnect usually comes an equally staggering ignorance of how life (and money) works.

I cannot read the phrase "in the manner to which I'm accustomed" (or any of its equivalents) without hearing it in the voice of Nancy Reagan as played by Judy Davis in The Reagans. It's such an entitled, aristocratic string of words, never spoken by those to whom a certain standard of living is necessitated (such as struggling parents). Just like with file-sharing, it's the rich people who complain.

Which is why the columnist's answer speaks for itself.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

DWI - Driving Without Intellect

Just stumbled upon this intellectual exercise in freedom:

This video was posted by Randy Stroud, a "TRUE Constitutionalist" who is running for Tennessee State House in 2014. He's all about he sovereignty of the U.S. citizen. And, this past Independence Day, he was apparently driving in inclement weather without headlights, in a car with a lapsed insurance policy. In many jurisdictions, that's known as "breaking the law." But these freedom-lovers will hear nothing of it. When asked for his license, Randy refuses on principle. Then he says he doesn't have it. Then he hassles the cop about this being America. Then the woman filming the footage answers a question about this being America or Nazi Germany by affirming the latter. The car has a decal on its side window saying that the driver does not consent to unlawful searches.

When the officer inexplicably lets them go, the girl exclaims, "Holy shit, that was badass!"

No, it wasn't badass — it was stupid. If these activists ever want to be taken seriously, they should pick better battles.

Public highways are governed by the rule of "implied consent" — that is, anyone using them tacitly agrees that they are subject to regulations of the road. This includes, among other things, traffic stops with probable cause, sobriety checks and other enforcement of vehicular law. In this case, the driver was not using headlights in rainy weather, which authorities deem a threat to public safety. When pulled over, the occupants declare that they don't have to submit to the police, because freedom. They're driving with their headlights off, the insurance is expired and the driver doesn't produce a license. Far from being unfairly hassled, they're actually (and aggressively) breaking several laws. Nevertheless, they're let go. If their point was that they stuck it to The Man, they failed miserably; the officer is polite and patient throughout, and even takes their word on the insurance alibi. The fact that they got off scot-free is discouraging in terms of serving the public trust. 

Are there abuses by police? Absolutely. The charge of "driving while black" comes to mind, as does the image of the corrupt Southern sheriff busting taillights. This, by comparison, is lame.

The car crew did get one thing right. As they pull away cheering their victory over the flatfeet, the passenger says, "You do need to turn your lights on, though."

You know, for safety. So it isn't a victim.

The only way to CD future

The first article of journalism I ever wrote was a piece for my middle-school paper about audio formats when I was 13 (which, to my surprise, is on the blog). While working on something else just now, I harked back to it and to what I was thinking when I wrote it.

At the time (1993), I was pretty sure CDs represented the apex of technology. Part of what compelled me to write an article chronicling the evolution of sound media was that I thought it was over. Though I wrote that the industry "will continue to rock" (a line inspired by a writing buddy), I was pretty sure all that meant was that CDs would probably sound better at some point. Even by 1995, while listening to Darius Rucker sing "nothing lasts forever" on Hootie and the Blowfish's "Goodbye," I remember thinking, "Well, CDs do." (Ironically, Hootie's Cracked Rear View is the only CD I've ever bought twice.)

I had a similar thought that same year when Louisiana upgraded its driver's licenses to the computerized, holographic stock. Before that, the licenses were basically Polaroid photos with information written out either in typewritten or dot-matrix letters. The change represented such a huge technological jump in my mind that I assumed they'd never change again. Where else was there to go?

As it turned out in both cases, there were plenty of places to go. CDs eventually gave way to mp3s, and nowadays physical formats of any kind are largely quaint. Louisiana driver's licenses advanced further in late 2001, with other states' Real ID-compliant cards making them look outdated now.

For better or for worse, change is all around us, and it often manifests itself in ways foreign to us just a few years prior. The job market is also morphing this way. Really, what isn't?

Our biggest collective mistake is to approach this world the way my 13-year-old self saw CDs — with the certainty that things had finished changing, and there was nowhere left to go. In the words of another Ian in 1993's Jurassic Park film, "Life finds a way." 

And always, so should we.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Phoning in the prosecution?

Why does the source of the scream matter in the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman 911 call?

If it’s Martin screaming, it’s obvious what happened. If it’s Zimmerman, he could be screaming because Martin temporarily got the upper hand in the fight (or to otherwise call attention to himself). Couldn’t it be both of them? People exchange shouts all the time in fights.

Each man’s mother insists they hear their son in the call. Audio experts say there’s no way to tell in this case. I say it doesn’t matter. Even if it’s all Zimmerman, I still want to know why an armed neighborhood watchman felt it necessary to stalk an unarmed teenager in violation of his authority. That would seem to matter more to me.

Racism: R.I.P., or buried alive?

Someone insisted to me the other day that racism is over. Finished. With an absolute straight face.

Why would anyone make this argument? Sure, we all want racism to be over. I, for one, would love to live in a world where no one faces institutional discrimination because of what they are. Unfortunately, some people want it to be over so they can get over so-called political correctness — so that their own racism isn’t racism anymore.

This is related to the stance that racism is the fault of those offended by it — which itself is pretty offensive. It’s a frustratingly common view among white people who don’t think they should have to confront their own prejudices. If anything, they think they’re the persecuted ones, because they aren’t allowed to spew racial slurs like those who’ve reclaimed them (subtleties apparently being lost on them).

Why do people want to be openly racist? Is that something to aspire to? I don’t understand. And I’m glad I don’t.


A couple of days ago, I tried something that left me literally nauseated. I tried to rank my Facebook friends.

The idea occurred to me after someone who I’d completely forgotten about posted something for the first time in years. I realized that though I have nearly 800 friends on Facebook, I interact with maybe 70 or 80 on a regular basis, if that. My guess is that this proportion is true for most people on the site, regardless of friend count. It’s inevitable when your friend list spans years and possibly all your life.

So I devised four tiers of friendship, in descending order of daily relevance, each with subcategories. I got about 250 deep into my friends list before a distinct feeling crept up — the one I get from eating too much of a favorite food. The feeling of purpose giving way to queasiness.

After enough names filled my list, I began to feel like I shouldn’t be ranking people. These were human beings with feelings, families and memories. People I like very much, and here I was reducing them to categories. Before abandoning the idea altogether, I chopped off the top tiers and focused on finding the most obscure friend I had. But even that seemed cheap, so I blanked out the list altogether.

I should have learned from MySpace’s top eight spaces.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

An offer I can refuse

From time to time, as I've chronicled before, I get unsolicited e-mails from "freelance writers" regarding Not Right About Anything and their desire to offer content to Not Right About Anything for the enrichment of readers of Not Right About Anything.

Today's offer was a unique business deal from someone with a famous name who is not her:

I am contacting you to see if you would like some fresh content for Not Right About Anything. If so, I would love to contribute to your site. ...

Because lack of fresh content is clearly a problem on this blog. 

This content that I would like to produce for Not Right About Anything would come at no cost, if I am able to mention one of my business clients. Any link to them would be subtle and in line with the content of the article. All my work is 100% original and would only be submitted to your site for approval and nowhere else.

So to recap, she will write the blog equivalent of an infomercial for her personal profit; I don't get anything but the privilege of not paying for it, aside from a ghostwritten blog that makes me look like a sellout; and this original masterpiece is doomed to the level of obscurity the readers of Not Right About Anything have come to expect from Not Right About Anything. Seems like a sweet deal all around!

Not Right About Anything. Where wheels meet deals.

Second thoughts on Snowden

I'd have a lot more respect for Edward Snowden if he did everything differently than he's doing it.

I get what he's trying to say: "LOOK AT ME, LOOKING OUT FOR YOU! I DO THIS IN THE BEST INTEREST OF AMERICA. OOPS, GOTTA GO." And, secondarily, that the U.S. government is keeping extensive records of all citizens' electronic communications. Is that latter point truly surprising to anyone? I can't say I'm proud of the idea, but it's not shocking news. It can be done and has considerable practical applications, so of course they're going to do it. We'd also be outraged if the government didn't do it, because we also want to be hard on crime. It's a no-win situation and collectively, we apparently like it that way.

Snowden strikes me as a professional contrarian. People like him make terrible whistleblowers, because it's too easy to question their true motivations. He's not doing himself any favors by threatening to spill more secrets unless some country grants him asylum; he should share the information out of public concern, not withhold it as leverage to improve his lot.

Not that I'd consider him a true whistleblower. Snowden isn't sharing a bombshell intended to startle the public without regard for personal consequences — he's telling us specifically classified information to reinforce what we already know, and is now trying to evade the fallout of that illegal action. There's nothing particularly courageous or enlightening about that.

People who hold up Snowden as a hero should seriously reconsider doing so. Whatever legitimate questions exist about the government's actions (and there are many), siding with the opposite extreme in an enemy-of-my-enemy approach is not the wisest move. 

There is room in this world for gutsy people exposing true wrongs. Those people, though they may face brutal consequences, deserve support and acclaim. But let's not be so desperate for heroes that we make one of the wrong guy.

Dear Blogger,

Your new insistence that I must fill out the title field before I can preview or even compose a blog in peace is highly annoying and pointless.

I realize there's starvation and war in the world and that I'm not paying for this service and its minor annoyances. But still, arrrgh.

Your longtime buddy,

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Middle names of presidential administrations

Presidents and vice presidents always seem to have regal and/or unusual middle names. To see if that hunch was correct, I checked all of them through American history. Here they are in reverse chronological order:

Hussein - Robinette
Walker - Bruce
Jefferson - Arnold
Herbert Walker - Danforth
Wilson - Herbert Walker
Earl - Frederick
Rudolph (born Lynch) - Aldrich
Milhous - Theodore / Rudolph
Baines - Horatio
Fitzgerald - Baines
David - Milhous
S - William
Delano - Nance / Agard / S
Clark - (None)
Calvin - Gates
Gamaliel - Calvin
Woodrow - Riley
Howard - Schoolcraft
(None) - Warren
(None) - Augustus / (None)
Grover - Andrews
(None) - Parsons
Grover - Ewing
Alan - (No vice president)
Abram - Alan
Birchard - Almon
Ulysses / S - (None) / (None, changed from Jones)
(None) - (No vice president)
(None) - (None) / (None)
(None) - Cabell
(None) - Rufus DeVane
(None) - (No vice president)
(None) - (None)
Knox - Mifflin
(None) - (No vice president)
Henry - (None)
(None) - Mentor
(None) - Caldwell / (None)
Quincy - Caldwell
(None) - D (possibly Decius)
(None) - (None) / Thomas
(None) - (None) / (None)
(None) - (None)
(None) - (None)

Honorable mention:
David Rice Atchison (Acting president for one day in 1849) 
John (None) Hanson (President of Continental Congress, 1781)

So parents, if you want your child to grow up and be president, middle-name them something odd. Or don't give them one at all if you live in the 18th century. Or, give them any woman's name.