Monday, September 30, 2013

Dear Republicans in Congress

I imagine you fancy yourselves the New Orleans Saints of the federal government right about now, given how they shut down the Miami Dolphins tonight. 

You're not. You're an 0-4 team that decided to shut down the league rather than concede that you lost. And you want us to love you for it, when we really wanted to use those game tickets we worked so hard to pay for. 

Here's some advice: Instead of trying to do to the government what Bane did to the Gotham Rogues' stadium in The Dark Right Rises, maybe draw up a functioning playbook. 

Good teams light up the field. Bad teams stink it up. Few burn the field and shoot the lights out, and none would get away with blaming it on the other team.

All of these government shutdowns at your hand show just how inept you are at teamwork and acknowledging the rules of the game, let alone being any good at it.

Grow up.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Conversation with an outraged person

“If Obamacare is so great, why did Congress exempt itself from it?”

“Congress did not exempt itself.”

“Yes it did!”

“No it didn’t. In fact, there’s a clause in the Affordable Care Act that specifically forces congressional employees to use the exchange.”

“I’ll bet a Republican is behind that.”

“Well, yeah. Because those hypocrites were gonna use their own fancy health plans.”

“No one with an existing health plan has to give it up. Except for Congress, that is. They all have to use the exchanges now, thanks to Grassley’s bit of overcompensation.”


“So you can stop with that lie. Now you know.”

“All I know is that they’re hypocrites.”

“Um ... Did you just tune in to this conversation?”

“Congress had to be forced into taking Obamacare! If it was good enough for them in the first place, they would have taken it to begin with.”

“Sigh. Again, Congress wouldn’t need it in principle, because the point of the legislation is to provide options for those who don’t have them, not for those who do.”

“What business does Congress have, legislating our lives like that?”

“I’m going to ignore that goofy thought, just like you routinely ignore the idea that not every public resource is all about you and other people who don’t need it. You aren’t seriously considering giving up your current health plan, are you?”

“Actually, I had to. My boss cut my hours back to 30, thanks to Obamacare! He said he couldn’t afford the spiraling costs anymore.”

“That seems like an overreaction. Wasn’t he reporting record profits?”

“Well, yeah, but that was before he had to pay extra for his employees’ group plan to cover all those new people.”

“How much extra?”

“That doesn’t seem like much.”

“Yeah, but he had 100 employees.”

“Well, OK.”

“And he heard that it might go up next year. On average, which of course is what everyone pays. Maybe? I don't know. It's complicated. Damn bureaucrats.”

“At least now you can get a cheap plan even with your reduced hours.”

“Hell no! I’m exempting myself.”


“Yeah. I can take care of myself, man. I burden no one.”

“Don’t you have a chronic back problem?”


“So what are you going to do when your back gives out again?”

“Are you implying that I need to stoop to Obamacare?”

“At some point, you’re going to need health care, whether or not you want to be in the market for it. Like, say, when you’re literally stooping.”

“You can’t make me buy something I don’t want! If it comes down to a major problem, I’m just gonna go to the emergency room. It’s my business and nobody else’s.”

“Actually, it is my business, because I will pay out of the nose for your stubbornness. ERs are some of the costliest — and least cost-efficient — burdens to taxpayers.”

“Are you suggesting I don’t deserve health care?”

“I’m suggesting that you not try to get something for nothing.”

“Hey, I work hard. I’m not fully on my feet, but don’t you dare suggest that I’m some lazy cheat trying to game the system.”

“So you’re a hard worker who will inevitably suffer health issues, even though you can’t afford them at the moment. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to get care when you need it.”

“Of course.”

“And you’d like to have insurance, but it’s out of your reach right now.”

“I see where you’re headed.”

“You’re pretty much a prime candidate for Obamacare, aren’t you?”

“Look, I want health care, and no one should be left out in the cold, but ... but ...”

“But what?”

“Congress, man! Obama.”

“You should really see a doctor about that.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A test of my manhood

Deep in some parallel dimension, in the galaxy Nineteeneightyyuppie, there's a world very much like ours — with war, hurricanes, baseball and toasters — but where a subculture of Americans turned out very differently. A world where all men in their 30s are the upwardly mobile, upscale sophisticates whose dates will judge them harshly if their penthouse apartments are insufficiently stocked with the right brand of artisan-crafted salad forks. 

Of course, such people like this exist on Normal Earth, but in these recession-plagued and more enlightened days, such subcultures exist largely in major urban centers, where their inhabitants are allowed to reinforce each other's pretentious rat-racing.

But occasionally, the Internet of the alternate universe leaks into the real world, and we get a glimpse of how our counterparts live. And thus is born, 40 Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Should Own!

I'm 33 and I like to consider myself rather self-respected. So how would I fare in Nineteeneightyyuppie Earth's orbit? Well, I hope!

1) A tailored black suit — Nope. I own a suit, but it was off the rack and my grandmother's funeral card from 1999 is still in the jacket pocket (she was my tailor in life). As is my grandfather's from earlier in the same year. The suit is basically a museum to my pallbearing career. 

2) Black dress shoes — Yes. But they're actually Skechers in disguise, so I don't know if they count. Genuine dress shoes are murder on my feet, and even the Skechers tend to make them ache. Still, tally one for my self-respect.

3) Brown dress shoes — Yes. Tally two for my self-respect.

4) Stocks — Actually, I do. I own 20 shares of my community bank in Louisiana. I have no idea how the stock market works, but it still counts.

5) A tool kit — Most definitely yes, and I've used it a million times on a million different projects for a million different people. My toolbox, though, doesn't have a proper hammer. That was sold separately, which I hope counts toward this checklist.

6) A nice wallet — Yes. At least as defined as one not having velcro. Funny thing is, I was considering getting one of those paper-thin, recyclable billfolds laden with artwork for my next wallet. Thanks, BuzzFeed, for setting me straight and macho!

7) Cologne, NOT BODY SPRAY — I have both and use neither. I guess on Nineteeneightyyuppie Earth, women aren't most attracted to the scent of freshly soaped skin. Interesting world.

8) A watch — Yes, and I even used to own a Mickey Mouse one as shown in the article.

9) A proper bed with proper bedding — A draw. I have proper bedding in terms of matching sheets, pillowcases, comforter and even a bedskirt; but I made a conscious decision long ago not to own a proper bed (just a frame). Why? Because 1) Proper beds are heavy as hell to move; 2) and expensive; 3) I'm very likely to gouge my eye out on any superfluous projectile; and 4) I want women to like me for who I am. Justin Abarca would especially shriek if he knew I was currently sleeping on an inflatable mattress...shhh... 

10) A flashlight — This list already is an odd amalgam of ultra-pretentiousness and bunker function. What are the next two items, brie cheese and mousetraps?

MAN TALLY AFTER 10: 8 1/2 (Surprise!)

11) Duct tape —Yes. Sigh. Maybe this isn't as fun to make fun of as I thought it would be.

12) A weekend bag — YES! I mean, NO! Not in their stuffy sense, anyway. I actually used to have a pretty nice one, but now I'm currently using a backpack I bought for $5 in the French Quarter and one of the letters in its name has fallen off of it. It's perfect, both for my travel purposes and for rising up against the snobbery that's suddenly back in this article. You were slipping for a bit there, Justin.

13) Proper Glassware — Against properness in principle, so no.

14) Grooming Kit — Not a proper one (see above), but I have all the tools separately and occasionally throw them in a bag. I refuse to count that, because I believe a grooming kit is a conscious purchase often made in conjunction with Axe Body Spray.

15) Double-hinged wine key — I've had wine maybe eight times in my life, and at least three of those were sips from my mom's glass when I was 4 years old. Four other times, the beautiful blonde I was drinking it with opened it herself. The one time I've ever opened a wine bottle was at my brother's first wedding, and the picture of that is one of the strangest sights ever captured on film. So, no.

16) Multiple towels — If you own only one towel, sophistication is the least of your worries. 

17) A chef's knife — I don't think I do. I certainly disagree with the notion that "if you own one knife, it better be a chef's knife." Chef's knives are what you own when you own a hundred knives. If you own one knife, you're probably eating mostly peanut-butter sandwiches, so a butter knife would be a more viable option. 

18) A passport — If you live in Louisiana or any other gubmint-defying state, you'll need one to board a plane soon. That's why I got mine, but I live in Nevada now so it's not a problem. Alas, this list isn't supposed to be about actual things actual people need; it's about pretentious man-stuff. Focus, Justin! Say a Man Card at least.

19) A flask — No. Just, no.

20) Sewing kit — Yes. This list is getting too practical. Pretense! I want more pretense!


21) An umbrella — Yes. Couldn't he at least have said a Louis Vuitton umbrella?

22) Buy an ironing board, and an iron — Not yet and yes. This one toes the line, because it's one of those everyone should really have, but it also speaks to the galaxy where all men wear crisply pressed dress shirts in every conceivable situation. I hate wrinkly clothes, but I hate that too. Arrgh.

23) Jumper cables — Yes, and I've used them many times, but even if you don't have a car? Is that a pickup-line situation, because if I were a woman, I'd be creeped out by a guy who was carrying jumper cables without a car.

24) Undershirts — Yes, but they're usually overshirts that I start to wear as undershirts once the pits get yellow. It's called economics.

25) Playing cards — Yes, but I use them to play games, not construct elaborate structures to impress judgmental partygoers that I'll just knock over anyway (see "proper bed").

26) A lint roller — Yes. I hate having lint on my clothes just like the pretentious guys, from which I am an entirely separate entity. Right? Right.

27) A leatherman — No, but that looks awesome. Hmmm...

28) Sunglasses — Yes, because I like to look like a spy and sun gets in my eyes from time to time.

29) A record player — Yes, because my tastes occasionally cross with those of hipsters and sophisticates, both of which I really try hard to not be. Right? Right.

30) Football/soccer ball/basketball, etc. — Yes, and more, and I use them. They're not just for show. Hah!

MAN CARD POINTS AFTER 30: 21. I'm legal now!

31) A French press — I don't drink coffee. I have a standard percolator, but only because my mom drinks coffee when she visits. It's been used 10 times in six years. So no.

32) Good socks — Debatable. But I'll count it, even if they aren't 1,000-thread-count like manhood probably insists upon.

33) Good underwear — All of my underwear has holes. That's how I get my legs through. Oh!

34) A cast-iron skillet — No, just relatively cheap frying pans. They could break noses if it came down to it.

35) Multiple sheet sets — Technically yes, but only by default thanks to the passage of time. So, no.

36) A bar set — A particularly judgmental entry by Justin. No, I do not have a bar set, because I don't drink and rarely entertain, and even when I do entertain, I'm not tending bar. So my having a bar set would be as dumb as someone without a car owning jumper cables OOOOH.

37) Matching dishes — Yes. Though this says less about sophistication and more about how there tends to be a giant stack of identical plates at the plate store.

38) A decent car — Yes, and I agree with this one, because he said "decent." That can mean a '91 Tercel if it's kept up and not a 2010 Mercedes if it isn't.

39) A solid book collection — A must for anyone, though contrary to Justin's advice, I think it's best if you at least try to read most of them. Otherwise, you're Ron Burgundy.

40) A decent bottle of booze — Anyone who comes to my apartment expecting sophistication is probably already drunk. 


So I guess I fail, but I'm still more suitable for the alternate Nineteeneightyyuppie galaxy than I thought. That's to be expected when their need to fix things with duct tape is the same as ours. We're all brothers in this crazy universe, I've come to learn.

Still not buying the monogrammed flask, though.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Seven years ago today, happiness happened

Usually, I don't go for "where were you when..." stories about major events. They exist mostly for people to forge a bond to the events, but mostly they sound like this:

"I was going about my normal life, when I heard that major event happened. I and other people spent hours glued to TV coverage, our innocence shattered, knowing that things would never be the same again."

But I'll make an exception here and tell a short story. Maybe it's because this was a happy event that I feel differently, or maybe it was the timing. In any event, I feel compelled to share where I was and what I was doing seven years ago today.

On Sept. 25, 2006, the New Orleans Saints returned to the Louisiana Superdome for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. They were slated to play the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football, and the show made the most of the event. MNF kicked off its own (calculated) move to ESPN and the return of the Saints with an extended pre-game spectacle featuring U2 and Green Day and other entertainment.

In pure football terms, both teams were 2-0 and division rivals. So it would been a hell of a game regardless.

I remembered the last game played in the Superdome, a 21-6 preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens just three days before Katrina hit. I didn't even bother to watch, though I caught glimpses of it whenever I passed by my dad's den. It was one of those years, I admit, that I didn't see much to cheer for. Also, I was wrapped up in my own personal struggles that piled up right around the time that Katrina and Rita were causing much-worse problems for people not far from my orbit.

I watched only a couple of Saints games in 2005; once I realized that it wasn't going to a year of defiant redemption and in fact what most expected, I decided it was too unhealthy to continue. Between the effects of Katrina and Rita; getting violently sick from helping with evacuation efforts; getting dumped by my girlfriend; losing my truck, remaining part-time job and a cross-country trip; and not being able to land another job, I couldn't wait for 2005 to end fast enough.

But 2006, early on, wasn't much better. I endured numerous job interviews with some potentially great employers that ultimately led to nothing. A month in Utah also led to nothing, though the change of pace did perk up my spirits.

Through most of this time, I thought little about the Saints. I heard that they picked up Reggie Bush instead of Matt Leinart and that Drew Brees, an injured San Diego Charger, was going to be their new quarterback. Their new head coach was Sean Payton or somethingorother. I knew I'd watch, but not to get my hopes up after a 6-year drought. I was just happy New Orleans still had a team. And a city.

Then they beat the Cleveland Browns. And the Green Bay Packers. Both on the road. And I thought, maybe there's something to this team. Instead of just being a symbolic gesture, the home opener might actually count for something.

During the week before that game, I decided to swallow my humbled (yet still excessive) pride and apply for a warehouse job at a big-box store. That Friday, Sept. 22, they called me in and welcomed me aboard. I spent the day processing forms and meeting people and was asked to return the following Friday for my first day of paid training. That night, I went to a party, had a lot of fun and stopped by an all-night diner on the way home, where I met other friends and informed them I had a job. For the first time in 12 months, I didn't feel worthless. I was far from where I wanted to be in life, but at least my biggest insecurity was over for the time being.

Three days later, I hunkered down at home (I was living with my parents then) to watch the game. My sister, then 16 and not yet a Saints die-hard, was in her room with her boyfriend. Dad was watching the game in his den, as he preferred to do. Mom was still at work. A typical Monday night.

I thought about grabbing a snack from the kitchen.

Then, this happened.

Instinctually, I bolted across the house to my dad's room, yelling, "WHOOOA! DAD, DID YOU SEE THAT?!!" 

Our cheers must have rattled the house, because Keely ran out and asked, "Is the game on already? What happened?" She saw the replay and freaked out. I think it was the first blocked punt she'd ever seen. She and her then-boyfriend Bobby proceeded to watch the rest of the game with me, with Mom coming in not long after Steve Gleason's incredible block.

I must have watched the highlights a million times in that following week. I still watch the block all the time. It represents so much for the people of New Orleans, and for me.

All the 2006 Saints ever had to do was show up and we'd love them as we always had. But then they turned out to be good. Stunningly good, to the tune of 10-6 and their first-ever appearance in the NFC Championship Game. And I followed it all while undergoing a rebirth of my own.

I worked at Target from September 2006 to January 2007 — the period between this game and the playoff loss to the Bears. Almost exactly. It's crazy how that worked out. Having a job made me feel valued and accomplished. Being able to share this stellar season with my equally Saints-crazed co-workers made me look forward to Sunday afternoon shifts. I was as happy, energetic and fit as I'd been in years (even in better years). That year was a narrative, one that a lot of us (even those like me, who weren't directly affected by Katrina) were living parallel to the Saints' renaissance. Things were never going to be the same again, but neither would they be as bleak as we knew they could be.

Some might find it silly to tie that to a football game. They need only to listen to Jim Henderson's enthusiasm to realize what a pressure release one play could be to a region.

The effect hasn't worn off yet.

Monday, September 23, 2013

An unhealthy line of thought

There's a complaint about the Affordable Care Act that should be subject to a death panel:

"If Obamacare is so great, why does Congress/Obama want exemptions from it?"

I can't think of a better example of how hyper-partisan and ridiculous this debate has become than that sentiment.

The ACA is intended to give an option to people who can't afford or otherwise can't get health insurance. The president and members of Congress, like everyone else who has coverage through their employers or elsewhere, aren't in that group. Where, exactly, is the hypocrisy?

On the other hand, maybe it would be a good idea to offer up a health care overhaul that would incentivize our leaders to give up their health plans. And the rest of us too. One that would do away entirely with insurance and other financial barriers to health care. It could happen. But generally, it's those who crow the loudest about this imagined hypocrisy who keep it from happening.

I suspect these critics are aware of their clashing, hate-ACA-at-all-costs dynamic, but another part of me is left to wonder.

Why I prefer pro football to college football

For the past three weeks, college football has been dominated by games in which a small school falls by 60-70 points to a massive powerhouse. Everyone knows this is going to happen, but they play anyway because it leads to a financial windfall for the smaller school.

In the pros, scores are almost always closer because there's at least some monetary parity among teams, if not parity of talent and chemistry. The difference between the AFC and NFC is one of semantics, not caste. This allows for genuine competition and an ever-present hope that "this year is our year."

And that is why I prefer pro football to college football.

One reason of many, anyway.

Dumb dumbness about dumbity

According to this amusing chart, every state is known for something terrible. It's not as stereotype-driven as you might expect, so it has its share of surprises.

The worst thing about Ohio was nerdiness? Cleveland is there!
Most surprising of all — to me, at least — is that Maine earned "dumbest state." Really? In a country where nearly half of registered voters supported Sarah Palin, many specifically because she was anti-intellectual, people are dumbest in Maine? A blue state with a lot of rich people?

Hell no. Aaannnnh! (Is that how you spell a buzzer?)

This is where you probably expect me to rag on the South, with its weak education statistics, rampant poverty, self-destructive politics and proud adherence to traditional cultural norms like manners and racism. But I'm not going to do that, because the truth is that ignorance can be found everywhere, just as intelligent and caring people can be found even in the least likely places. Sure, such detritus is probably more concentrated in the Deep South, but not enough to where I'm willing to tar any particular state with the "dumbest" label. I'd get no satisfaction from doing that even if the criteria for such wasn't completely arbitrary.

Now, about that criteria — according to Policymic, Maine is the dimmest state based on average SAT score.

Watch this for a couple of seconds before proceeding.


Gauging education (and lack thereof) is dicey no matter what metric you use, as No Child Left Behind should make clear to all of us. 

But, really, the SAT? All that really proves is that prospective college students in Vacationland aren't filling in the blanks and circles as well as states where that's more emphasized.

Hell, I've never even taken the SAT. (REVELATION THUNDER) 

Why not? Because, in 1998 at least, most Louisiana universities required only an ACT score for consideration. And because tests like the ACT and the SAT (and the GRE, and LSAT, and I presume the PRAXIS and everything else) cost exorbitant amounts of money, there's no reason to take what isn't required of you. Like with way too many other things in the U.S., it's not about brains, but about the Benjamins.

So by the metric of the map, I'm dumb. As are entire states (no jokes, please; see above).

I'm not dumb, just to be clear. I'm goofy. There's a difference.

Of course, this is also wrong in a broader context, which is that American intelligence shouldn't be judged by the test results of teenagers who are probably hung over and who are definitely into twerking. Though a general sample of the adult population would worry me too. 


When it comes to who's dumbest, perhaps ignorance is bliss. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

When the Saints first won

Here's a fun chart I compiled during the offseason, culled from Wikipedia, that shows when the New Orleans Saints first defeated every NFL team in regular-season play (and how many tries it took).

It's astonishing how recently some of these inaugural victories happened (especially the Tennessee Titans in 2011, if you count them separately from the Houston Oilers). Also, the Saints went 13 years between games against the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts (1973-86). Weird.

Team      Year      Attempt
Philadelphia Eagles: 1967 — 1st
Atlanta Falcons: 1967 — 1st
Washington Redskins: 1967 — 2nd
Minnesota Vikings: 1968 — 1st
Pittsburgh Steelers: 1968 — 2nd
St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals: 1969 — 4th
New York Giants: 1969 — 3rd
San Francisco 49ers: 1969 — 2nd
Detroit Lions: 1970 — 2nd (1st was tie)
Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams: 1971 — 5th
Dallas Cowboys: 1971 — 5th
Green Bay Packers: 1971 — 2nd
Chicago Bears: 1973 — 4th
Buffalo Bills: 1973 — 1st
Kansas City Chiefs: 1976 — 2nd
Seattle Seahawks: 1976 — 1st
Cincinnati Bengals: 1978 — 3rd
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1978 — 2nd
New York Jets: 1980 — 3rd
Houston Oilers: 1981 — 4th
Miami Dolphins: 1983 — 4th
Cleveland Browns: 1984 — 9th
Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts: 1986 — 4th
San Diego Chargers: 1988 — 4th
Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders: 1988 — 5th (1st was tie)
Denver Broncos: 1988 — 5th
New England Patriots: 1989 — 6th
Carolina Panthers: 1995 — 2nd
Jacksonville Jaguars: 1996 — 1st
Baltimore Ravens: 2002 — 2nd
Houston Texans: 2003 — 1st
Tennessee Titans: 2011 — 4th

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Not advocating this

I understand the idea is to bring clout to an up-and-coming competitor in one of the few American markets where daily newspapers are still dueling. And I understand the allure of using familiar faces in a city full of colorful characters. 

But newspapers really shouldn't do this, insofar as politicians and business leaders are involved. It's one thing to see Drew Brees being stuck at ESPN's front gate while driving a float in a silly SportsCenter promo; it's another entirely to see the president of Jefferson Parish delivering the Advocate with a smile on his face. Newspapers are supposed to pledge allegiance only to the truth. Sometimes that truth is unflattering to newsmakers, and that's most often true of politicians. Many leaders often despise the newspaper for precisely that reason. At best, they understand that such scrutiny is the price of being a public servant. But when someone in that position goes so far as to actively endorse a publication, it makes you wonder how objective the publication truly is. The publication does itself no favors by making it official.

The Advocate has a reputation for solid journalism and has remained relatively healthy in an age of weak circulation. I worked there for two years as a stringer, covering council and school board meetings, and never thought twice about its integrity. As the Gambit notes, the newsroom and marketing arms of newspapers are separate. So what these spots appear to be is not so much questionable reporting or deliberate agenda marketing, but rather a misfire by the marketing team to get a leg up in the New Orleans newspaper wars.

It might very well work. But at what price?

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Starbucks is politely asking civilians to stop bringing guns into its franchises. And is getting static for it

In the United States of America in 2013.

Think about that.

Talk about a non-starter

I love cars. I enjoy driving my car and I like looking at classic vehicles at car shows. Want to keep me occupied? I'll comb through car pictures all day long. I even Google dashboards. I may not be able to carry on a conversation about specific engine modifications, but I know more than the average, automotively apathetic person.

But not everything about cars is awesome. They're costly in both dollars and energy. Most burn combustible, polluting, finite liquids that stoke wars all over the world. Many, especially older ones, aren't particularly economical or safe. While my car gets gas mileage north of 30 and is small, it also merits a 2 out of 10 on the smog scale (10 being the best) and it has mediocre side-impact ratings. I feel an inkling of guilt anytime I drive alone somewhere that I could conceivably reach some other way.

Here's the thing, though: I'm not proud of those shortcomings. But apparently some people are.

Here is a phenomenal vehicle photo gallery absolutely marred by each and every word. It appears on a conservative "humor" blog, so I guess it isn't surprising that each contributor has turned up the defiance dial to 10. The point is for these auto aficionados to express how they celebrate Earth Day by burning as much gasoline as possible, "a middle finger to Mother Gaia," as the blog puts it.

Now, I understand that not everyone believes that humans can affect the planet's climate. I happen to side with the scientists on this one, but not everyone does. It's hard to worry about global warming without feeling compelled to make changes in life, and that's too much for some people, so they don't worry about it. I'd guess that's at the core of almost everyone who doesn't "believe" in climate change, whether or not most admit it. Those with some semblance of a conscience, at best, carry on as usual. Quietly.

But some choose to brag about their fuel consumption, even making their vehicles dirtier. As much for spite as for performance. I'm all about live-and-let-live, but this is obnoxious. And these people vote, which makes it ever-harder to address the biggest overarching issue of our times.

Worst of all, they make me hate that I like cars. OK, that's not the worst. But that's still saying something.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Branding itself needs rebranding

Microsoft's Bing search engine has a new logo. It's not an improvement.

It's not bad, necessarily — it has a stylized symbol, at least — but to me it lacks the distinctive, playful vibe of the original. The top logo goes with Bing's trademark sound, "BING!" By contrast, the new one looks ... I don't know. Like every other blanded-up, generic-font logo revision that seems to be the rage these days.

So why did Microsoft fix what wasn't broken? Oh, this is golden:

Erickson notes that the logo takes inspiration from the bottom right of the Microsoft flag "echoing its role as a platform of information for the company." He notes that the small angular cut on the top of the ‘b’ mirrors the angle on the cut of the ‘t’ in the Microsoft logo as well.

"We’ve even aligned our kerning [the space between letters] on the ‘i’ and ‘n’ to match the kerning on the Windows logo," he notes. "The descender on the ‘g’ was modified from the original Segoe font to curve upward ever so slightly which led to a more welcome and open feel. These details together with working with designers and engineers across Microsoft led to the collective brand architecture to create a new look that’s simple, streamlined and beautiful."

I once read a magazine article by a former bodybuilder and steroid abuser. He said that when he first got into the pursuit, he didn't understand why everyone looked like a mutated freak — but once he spent enough time in the weight room, being swollen suddenly seemed logical. Intricate aspects of the craft that he'd never considered as a normal human being suddenly became mega-important in the drive to impress others in his niche. Branding is apparently a lot like weightlifting.

I've sat in many a meeting and press conference where branders have gone off in mind-numbing detail about what each tiny change to a design signifies. Because of course every curve and serif has to have some deep meaning that makes The Da Vinci Code look like Green Eggs and Ham. Somehow, those meanings are always news to me. Maybe I'm just not the target audience ever.

Not that I don't understand branding — after all, I've run a highly successful blog for the past nine years. As it often goes with megacorporations, I've changed my logo on numerous occasions. I've gone with handwriting to give an irreverent and ironic feel; studly Impact font against a blue brick wall to imply masculinity and an ever-unfinished job; baby pictures to depict my personal evolution (or lack thereof); a cross-promotion partnership with the year 2010; a banner that shows off my photography skills, growing recognition of my brand and the lushness of my then-backyard; and, of course, default text to offer promise of branding developments to come. In the early days, there were anniversary and gag banners too, for special occasions. My current banner, established circa 2011, brings the blog into the future with its mix of maturity and refined irreverence.

Of course, a lot of times, these changes haven't been for the better. Mostly I was bored and/or wanted to try something new that misfired. Sometimes the successes went away because I wanted change for its own sake, while bum banners stayed up for years at my insistence that readers warm up to them.

Does this all sound like ridiculous self-indulgence? Exactly.

There's only one reason a company should ever change its logo — because it created something that looks better. If all the micro-tweaks add up to an inferior sum, what's the point?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Was I right about this one?

While digging for links for my last, somber post, I found this New Rule from April 6, 2009:

Rule #89: Short and succinct 
The more you Twitter, the less interesting you are.

Somebody apparently thought he'd never use Twitter.

Thoughts about the Navy Yard shooting

Crazy gun culture. Nation of too many people with nothing to lose. Innocent people dead. Some arguing for more guns. Nutjobs crying, "false flag." Never the wrong time to talk about guns. And stuff. Yeah. Blah blah blah.

It's occurred to me that every time there's been a mass shooting in recent years, I write almost the exact same blog (occasionally shaking it up slightly). Because the thoughts rarely change, and neither does history, apparently.

Well, there is one new thing to say. My sister was one mile away from this one. 

I wish I didn't have to say that. I wish no one ever did.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How to be happy in life. By me.

OK, maybe not the buried kernel of truth that someone should have reasonable expectations in life and should do everything in their power to make things happen. But everything else is terrible.

It's terrible to deride as "flowers" and "unicorns" what most people call "a decent, minimum standard of living."

It's terrible to encourage Millennials to lower their expectations, when not only have most done that already, they were pretty much born into that mindset anyway.

It's terrible to reduce happiness to a static equation.

To say nothing of the acronym the writer employs, which is a racial slur to millions of people.

As someone who has two liberal arts degrees and has often struggled professionally, I'm more than used to smug comments about how I should have chosen a more lucrative field, and unsolicited advice about how I can become more like what they envision a successful person to be. In their minds, people who aren't like them are unmotivated and deserve to suffer until such time they decide to be motivated.

The thing is, I've never wanted to be like anybody who thinks like this. I don't begrudge them or their success, but I like being me. I don't buy the idea that life is all about wealth and status, or that hard work and riches are always directly correlated. 

Let's talk about motivation. A mother with a GED working two full-time jobs to feed her children is highly motivated. I'm motivated to excel in everything I do — my writing, my career, my friendships, my self-improvement — regardless of the financial reward involved. The people pushing the cruelest absolutes about success are motivated by a fat pocketbook and ego. Most people are brimming with motivation in some form. 

The question is, are we as a nation ensuring that such motivation is properly channeled? Are we making sure that anyone who wants to work can work, and that such work will pay off? Are we taking these, well, revised life expectations and aiming to meet or exceed them? If not, why not?

Many who push the it's-all-hard-work view actually don't want it to work for everyone, because that would cut into their pie, as well as dampen their sense that life is a competition that they're winning. Also, it's tough for them to contemplate the reality that hard work works for some, it doesn't for others and that some inherit success through pedigree and family fortunes.

All of this is why I believe that people should always aim high, pursue their passions and — regardless of circumstance — live their lives as best as they can. Money is important, but it's only one thing. You are so much more than what you do to pay the bills (though if you luck into something you love, that's great too). You are a human being. You deserve credit and decency, and shouldn't have to wait until you're 65 to enjoy life. Who knows if you'll make it there? So live a well-rounded life now, never stop fighting for your dignity and forget what the hyper-judgmental capitalists think.

Ultimately, they may just be jealous.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

When art meets police

Yesterday in Lafayette, Louisiana, downtown dwellers woke up to see the 9/11 Memorial at Parc Sans Souci defaced:

From KATC TV-3
I'm divided on street art. For the most part, I'm for it, in terms of free speech and its hand in improving urban blight. But I also hate vandalism.

Can this really be considered vandalism, though? Tasteless, yes. Conspiratorial blather, absolutely. But these were cutouts that were easily removed. I'm not sure that was worth an arrest. That could set a worrisome precedent. I don't know what the law says about that.

This issue ties into a discussion I'm currently involved in on Facebook about certain people getting arrested over ideological statements. My stance (echoed by others) is that the arrests are justified when a violation of public safety or peace occurs. Terry Jones didn't get arrested because of his views; it was because he was hauling piles of kerosene-drenched paper on public highways. Likewise, I imagine Salvador Perez was detained for defacing public property rather than for harboring crackpot beliefs. We can debate all we want about whether what he did counts as vandalism — but in any case, his arrest report won't say, "brought in on one count of expression."

Now that would be something to protest.

The free speech scoreboard

So yesterday in Washington, D.C., there was going to be this epic clash of the civilization titans. In one corner, you had One Million Muslims, and in other, two million Murrikan bikers. The bikers would rev through D.C., their 2-to-1 ratio meant to block out the "evil" horde, to show just who really epitomizes the spirit of American patriotism. The bikers were the underdogs in this situation because, supposedly, the Muslims had gotten a permit but the bikers were DENIED. How un-American of the big government! 

At least, that's how I saw it explained on the — well, let's say niche — news sources that salivated over the prospect. 

Of course, as is so often the case with such things, it fizzled out badly. One Million Muslims? More like Two Dozen Truthers. The biker run attracted more people, though not two million, and snarled D.C. traffic, so I guess they win? 

But what did they win?

Yesterday, I read cheering over this, as if the bikers had scared off the Muslims into even showing up. I doubt seriously that's the case. But even if it was, what's to celebrate about that? Any movement with passive-aggressive hate at its core is by definition violating the spirit of American free speech. Despite the benign front put forth in the above-linked news segment, the biker rally was (as are many movements like it) ultimately a reactionary assertion of majority muscle against a minority group. For whatever else those riders stood for, they also stood for intimidation. There's nothing patriotic about that. 

The purest form of patriotism, I think, is living your life as you see fit, without hate or harm to others. What makes America great is that we don't all think, live or look alike — and it's those differences that add up to something special.

If something must win, why can't it be that idea?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

If journalism is dead, it's one impressive zombie

The current editor of my college newspaper has written an interesting defense of her choice to pursue journalism. It's worth a read. It's also prompted my own thoughts about the field.

My stance arises from the experience from someone who has worked in the field, off but mostly on, in some capacity since I was 18, and currently does so.

I've had the same conversation that she, like probably everybody else, has had at some point:

Them: "Where do you work?"

Us: "The newspaper."

Them: "Oh, that's still a thing?"

Anyone who says journalism is dying is wrong. Journalism is not like a horse-drawn carriage, vaudeville or anything else rendered obsolete by technological advancement or changing societal tastes. If anything, more people read news and opinion than ever, and are more connected than ever. Far from being a dying art, journalism is rising as a craft.

So why do people think it's on its way out? Money. The prevailing wisdom is that no one pays for news anymore. That's partially true, because the Internet has significantly reduced the incentive for people to pay for what they read.

But that's true for a million other industries as well. Most fields are suffering, because we're in a lingering recession. A select few are thriving, but it's easy to understand how they wouldn't if present circumstances were different. If oil ever ceased to be profitable, people would stop drilling for it. If computers were ever supplanted by a more advanced technology, IT people would stop servicing them.

But no matter what happens on the ledger side of journalism, people will still get into it. Why? Because like teaching and similar pursuits, journalism is a calling. It's something that will be done as long as society exists (and even if anarchy were to reign). There will always be an audience for investigations, informed editorials, breaking news and other goings-on. And there will always be people inclined to seek out such information and present it in a professional manner.

Don't let the fact that the industry is facing financial setbacks — or, more accurately, that it is dealing with the ever-present encroachment of technology on what was previously a virtual monopoly — journalism remains strong and always will be. Keeping it profitable is a challenge, granted, but is not an insurmountable task. Mistakes might be made, but that's part of the process (and again, one that most sectors are also going through).

Journalism has long been out of the image of its so-called glory years — I've never encountered a gruff, hard-drinking, cigar-chomping editor, nor have the clacking of typewriters and footsteps of darting copyboys ever been part of my experience. But still, I've been privy to my fair share of major changes. It's part of the field, as well as life in general. The truly successful will embrace the changes and roll with the punches. That's what evolution is all about. In that regard, I think journalism is actually better off than many industries.

(If you doubt that, I'll put you on the line with people who get mad when someone gets it wrong. Trust me, they still care. A lot.)

Time will tell how it turns out. And we'll be here to tell you all about it.

I wouldn't buy that for a dollar

Yesterday, I went to Target to exchange an item. The woman in front of me was haggling the service clerks over a $160 baby seat, saying she'd seen the same seat at lower price both across town at another Target, and on their website. 

That price: $159.

That's right: she was haggling over ONE DOLLAR.

I understand the desire to save money; I've had entire years where a nickel can sometimes mean the difference between a candy bar and skipping a meal. But when you get into high-end baby seat range, and you're driving around two cities and spending 15 minutes in line haggling over what is ultimately a negligible amount of money, you're not being thrifty — you're being destructive.

Studies show that, for some people, shopping sparks the same rush of dopamine as narcotics. Combine that with J.C. Penney's findings that customers prefer the illusion of a sale to lower everyday prices, and it's not hard to see why some people relish the art of the deal. They're literally addicted to it.

She got her dollar back. I'll bet she told that story the rest of the day. Or maybe she was back at it an hour later. 

So much for "retail therapy."

Today in flawed absolutes

This article is a good example of using good points to make a bad conclusion.

The good: That schools need a mix of skilled, veteran teachers and promising up-and-comers who are dedicated to education for the long haul — and that schools are doing a disservice by hiring inexperienced, disposable transients strictly for economic reasons.  

Also good: That a teacher will realize that a child is not necessarily governed by the same rigid rules that govern human behavior as seen through the mind of an authority figure, but that they're OK anyway.

The bad: The insinuation that it takes firsthand parenting to understand any of this.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Parenthood isn't a magic key. Yes, I'm sure that there are things only a parent can understand, but it isn't anything this article mentions. Just as the U.S. military is run by a civilian, so can non-teachers be parents. In fact, in both cases, there are benefits: the president/commander in chief is expected to consider options other than military intervention in world affairs, and teachers are expected to be invested in their students in different ways than an emotionally involved parent.

The author of the article (Sara Mosle) says that parenthood made her a more understanding person with regards to kids. That's all well and good, but that says more about her personality beforehand than any innate wisdom that birth brings. She sounds like she might have been a cold, distant teacher in her early days. In my experience, those are the worst types of teachers, and parenthood won't wipe that out for everyone. 

I think anyone, regardless of their relationship or parental status, can be an excellent teacher if they possess the necessary attributes: wisdom, patience, competence, empathy and other qualities that foster an effective learning environment. Those are more basic than most people credit them to be, and aren't the products of absolute walks of life.

That's a lesson I hope Mosle has since learned.

Ian infects another film

The second entry in the Ian Video Collection is Pawn Shop Chronicles, in stores now. The film stars Brendan Fraser, Matt Dillon, Vincent D'Onofrio, Elijah Wood, Paul Walker and Ashlee Simpson. It's a very dark comedy with lots of gore, nudity and dark hilarity. As such films tend to be, it's very polarizing with the critics. Much of that criticism hinges on its similarity to the style of Quentin Tarantino — it's described by more than one reviewer as "a redneck Pulp Fiction."

Personally, it's one of my favorite films of mine that I've seen so far. And I'm not that big a fan of QT (though much of that is due to the man himself, so that works in this film's favor). The scene where the two methed-up white supremacists concede that they like blacks and Jews ("If I saw Jerry Springer, I would kiss his ass ... I have three Adam Sandler DVDs ... We worship the King of the Jews!") is alone worth the price of admission.

This movie shouldn't have been direct-to-DVD. On the other hand, maybe it is destined to be a cult film. I don't know. I'm the kind of guy who tends to like the flavor of chips they pull from the shelves due to lack of demand. I'm also heavily biased toward most of my own movies. Though again, this one is pretty strong by itself. And you can trust my word, because I'm barely in any shots here. Take a look:

Can you find me in this crowd suddenly wooed by Brendan Fraser's soulful faux-Elvis crooning, brought to you by the Debbil? Probably not. I'm in the back on the left, with my arm piercing the sky. Two friends of mine are in the front row, with whom I've appeared in several films.
Blurry face time is still face time. Fun fact: the woman with whom I'm dancing was a teenage extra in Everybody's All-American (1988), in which my dad and uncle were also extras.
I'm next to Brendan's bicep in this shot. This frame perfectly epitomizes Fraser's character. At the time, the director seemed unsatisfied with his performance, but we thought it was amazing enough. (Get it? Because he's singing "Amazing Grace"? Oh, forgot to mention that.)
Here's a post I wrote a few days later that mentions the shoot. It took place in Port Allen, Louisiana, and lasted all night. I held a box of fake (but actually buttered) popcorn all night that you can't even see me holding. Ah, high-budget Hollywood!

Check this one out. But not while the kids are around, unless you're a cool parent.

Stand your grace, Zimmerman!

By Earl “Clem” Bob
Tea party contributor

Oh George Zimmerman, how could you?

Threatenin’ your wife with a gun? What are you tryin’ to do, squander all that goodwill you’ve built up? You were my hero, man. You were a lot of our heroes! The way you ever-so-bravely Standed Your Ground last year against Trayvon Martin for givin’ you the finger on Facebook or whatever, he had that comin’. But all that fame and acclaim must have gotten to your head.

I guess it’s true what they say — pride goeth before the fall. And it is almost that time of year.

I’m outraged by your latest actions, sir. What kind of man points a gun at his wife? A defenseless, unarmed, non-threat? What did she ever do to you? I heard the 911 call. You punched her dad in the face and stabbed her iPad with a knife, then held your hand on your gun and told her to come closer. And I’m pretty sure that’s her sobbin’ on the tape.

It’s almost as if you have an itchy trigger finger and think you can solve all of your problems with violence and firearms. Where ever did you get that idea? Such a bad way of goin’ about things this time.

We all make mistakes. Even the best of us, like you, Mr. Zimmerman. It’s up to you to continue to be a role model for freedom-lovin’, defense-minded Americans everywhere. You slipped up this one time, but like the police, I guess we can forgive you. You said she was the aggressor and that you acted “in a defensive manner.” That’s good enough for me.

I promise you, though, if anything like this happens again, people are gonna use it against you. They’ll say, if you did this latest thing, you musta did that wife-threatenin' thing, too, because you sure are actin' like a guilty man. And then we’ll all say, “Remember when George Zimmerman was a hero? Now he’s a disgrace.”

You don’t want to be the next O.J. Simpson. That murderous thug.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The shockiest part of culture shock

One of the hardest parts of living far from my native base is apathy/hostility toward the New Orleans Saints.

Duh, right? It's Reno. Of course they worship Colin Kaepernick. They're 49ers fans to begin with, and he went to college here. I've already met one guy who has his digits.

(At least the Niners are good. In Missouri, I had to miss Saints games and conversations at a time when they were running the table and the Chiefs and Rams were/are wallowing in misery.) 

But it's sad in another sense. The Saints mean so much to south Louisiana. When New Orleans was underwater, the team became a rallying point for the city, a metaphorical and literal symbol for rising up. And part of that was that we'd stuck with the team for 40-plus, mostly losing years. Resilience.

Mention Drew Brees here and you might as well be talking about your socks. And sometimes, they'll hate your socks.

Otherwise, I really like it here.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Robocop: The (trailer) review

A remake of Robocop. Sigh.

You knew this was coming, because the laws of physics practically demand it. Hollywood is rebooting every movie made between 1964 and 2010, and Robocop falls within that minuscule timeframe. And like 99 percent of those, um, creations, they exist due to one overarching factor:

Movie studios are in trouble (or think they are) and need to make money. Robocop is a cultural icon (or simply a badass justice cyborg, depending on whether or not the person has missed the point entirely). Therefore, a Robocop remake will bring hero-obsessed fanboys to the cinema. And much popcorn and SnoCaps will be bought.

I remember the first time I ever saw Robocop. Not the movie itself, but the life-size cutout of Peter Weller that stood proud in the movie-theater lobby as I walked in the other direction to see Roxanne with my mom. (Also a great movie, by the way. Not disparaging it one bit. I consider it a lost opportunity that I spoke with Daryl Hannah last year and didn't say, "Earn more sessions by sleeving!")

I had to wait another year to see Paul Verhoeven's masterpiece. The night it premiered on Showtime, my dad taped it for me, because I have awesome parents. The next morning — my first day of third grade — he let me watch the first two minutes of it before catching the bus. That tease totally overshadowed school, and I couldn't wait to rush home and watch the rest of it.

The movie had a profound effect on me. And by that I mean, I incorporated unimaginable violence and profanity into everything I did that year. My brother and I accentuated our usual horseplay with pretend dismemberment, leg-shooting and curse words we didn't understand. A girl friend and I became a recess cop team like Murphy and Lewis, and I imagined us busting up mountains of cocaine in the schoolyard (there wasn't much). I drew pictures of bad guys getting mutilated by worse guys. I told my mom I wanted to grow up to be a "murderer murderer." That Christmas, I got a Pound Puppy and named him Clarence.

But there were positives as well. Combined with my newfound love for the Hardy Boys, Robocop inspired me to write (or at least draft) a series of police stories. I know who Lee Iacocca is because my brother laughed at "Lee Iacocca Elementary School" and I wanted in on the joke. I came to appreciate my family more because I realized they could get shot in the head at any moment by Kurtwood Smith.

Most importantly, I learned to avoid vats of toxic waste. That has served me well in life.

My point is, Robocop (and its sequels, which I also like) has a deep-rooted canon to me and fellow fans. The remake has a lot to live up to. Even if its story is entirely different, it should offer at least some glimpse of the brilliant satire that, as much as the cyborg itself, made the original such an enduring classic. 

Somehow, I doubt that will happen. Slam-bang is the rule these days, because robot explosions are the world's universal language.

Still, after watching the trailer, I'm actually excited about one aspect: this Robocop is not back from the dead and doesn't appear to have an erased memory. This offers a great chance to explore the dynamics of such an enduring familial relationship, as well as the politics of a megacorporation turning a human being into a drone.

But ultimately, this exchange from Robocop 3 will most likely sum it up:

Bertha: "Where the hell is Robocop?"

Moreno: "Well, we could drive around and listen for explosions."

Either way, and I almost hate to say it, I'll be there.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The peril of poor-people habits

I know all about poor-people habits. When I was less-than-scraping by as a movie extra, my refrigerator was often completely empty. I'd walk to the grocery store next door at meal time and buy enough food to eat then, sometimes spending no more than $2.16.

You learn to make it stretch. With $2.16, I could buy a single-serving frozen pizza and a bag of 99-cent chips. That bag could last through the next meal, so maybe next time I'd only buy the pizza (hoping the sale price didn't surge to $1.29), and maybe a fruit pie with the extra change. Buying a drink was too much of an indulgence.

Because I am educated and had past professional success, I fully understood how far I fell and how it affected me physically and morally. But a lot of people live their whole lives this way and thus can't see any bigger picture.

Now, I have a full-time job again. It pays the most money I've ever made and offers full benefits. I have my own apartment again. I don't have any kids or pets to feed. My bills are manageable and my debt is only to my mom. And yet, I'm still getting used to the idea that I can undertake a massive shopping trip anytime I want. It seems overly indulgent. Time was, I'd buy mostly healthy (expensive) food, but it's been two years since I had that standard of living. When I go shopping now, the guilt of recent setbacks is still there. I'm used to austerity and all the self-defeating trappings that go with it. I'm not sure the feeling will ever entirely go away. People I know who have made lots of money for years after decades of struggle still exhibit extreme thriftiness.

On one hand, it's absolutely vital to have a healthy sense of thrift and perspective, regardless of income level. You need to know where you come from and all the good and bad that goes along with it. On the other hand, you have to figure out how to jettison the worst, self-defeating habits.

Chris Rock said (I'm paraphrasing for my purposes) that when poor people get a lot of money, "it's just the countdown to them being broke." This is because people who never have money are wired to scrimp, and overcompensate when falling into more money than they can comprehend. 

In my experience interviewing successful business owners, most had any combination of capital, education and grounding. All of these external factors require, to some degree, not being hungry. Poor people are so often in survival mode that they can't even begin to ascend to that level of ingenuity without a lot of help. To quote Rock again, "Chris isn't dumb. Chris is tired."

I don't know if wealthy conservatives really believe that poor people are too lazy to be innovative, or if that's a self-aware excuse to gut the safety net. Either way, the playing field is not level as long as access to basic necessities is imbalanced. And it never will be if continue to abandon our worst-off. 

It's not about dependence. It's about making sure people are in the right shape to begin improving their lives — preferably in childhood, when the brain's wiring is still fresh. The poor aren't the enemy, but poor-people habits are everybody's worst enemy.

The most important tip for hosting a dinner party

J. Bryan Lowder's article at Slate is a pretty good primer on how to accommodate different kinds of picky eaters at a dinner party. It's mostly irrelevant to my life, given how little I'm invited to (or would likely go to) the kind of Upper East Side-type functions where cuisine is the primary focus. But the overarching point here is relevant to any party involving food — hosts and picky eaters must meet in the middle.

I do this everywhere I go. I'm a famously picky eater, though not of a traditional, quantifiable stripe. My biggest bugaboo is creamy, white food. Also, seafood. And trans fats. And many other random things that aren't your fault (for example, I love potato wedges but hate mashed potatoes). It's enough to where I sometimes eat nothing at a fancy function; at my brother's first wedding, I ate only grapes. When that happens, I know it isn't my fault, and never make any kind of deal about it. If someone asks, I'll say I'm not hungry, which will be true, because I'm good at deferring my appetite until I can get food I want. Anyway, most of the people with whom I mingle already know my proclivities and usually indulge them by leaving mayo off at least one finger sandwich.

Side bonus: they've (mostly) quit making fun of my plate, which tends to have much less glop on it than everyone else's. I'm not so into glop.

That brings me to an important tip, perhaps the most important tip, left out of Lowder's article:

Don't be pushy.

If I refuse something, leave it at that. Take no for an answer. Don't make me explain why I don't want it. And definitely don't insist I'll like yours because you made it. Oh please sweet Food Channel Jesus, don't do that! It only makes it far more awkward for both of us. I realize many foodies invest their self-esteem into their creations, but there are better taste buds to validate such items. Everything I tend to like gets discontinued anyway. So you should actually try to make me not like your food.

The flip side is that if something does satisfy all my quirks, I will probably love it and eat a lot of it. But again, that's up to me. I won't make a fuss if I don't like something. But meet me (and anyone like me) in the middle. Don't put me on the spot about it, and we'll all have a bon temps.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Belated Labor Day wisdom

I spent my Labor Day at King's Beach along North Lake Tahoe in California. I swam in the icy waters, ate a delicious pineapple chicken sandwich at a shoreside diner and realized how much wet sand looks exactly like a case of the runs.

Later in the afternoon, I strolled up to a corner of the pier and stood there for at least half an hour, totally zoning out to these waves. It might have been the highlight of my day.

I'm lucky to be so close to Lake Tahoe (this was my fourth trip there — and my third beach — since moving here a month ago). But everyone has a place where they can zone out. For me before this, it was an ant pile. I love watching ants live and work when I want to relax and clear my mind. The beach isn't bad for that either. 

No matter where that place is, though, everyone needs to recharge once in a while by doing absolutely nothing apart from just being. If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and find that place. There's always time for it, and it might make your time last longer.


The silver lining of Syria

I've been asked a couple of times what I think about the Syria situation. 

Well, when George W. Bush gleefully skipped into war in Iraq, I deplored everything about it. I thought he was basing his venture on flawed evidence and seemed too eager to get it going. Also, I worried that there was real connection to 9/11 and that it would strain our resources in Afghanistan. History, unfortunately, bore out those suspicions. 

I worry about the same effects of the Iraq disaster in Syria, just as I did in the Bush era when it seemed we might attack Syria then. Questionable objectives and alliances. Destruction. Death. Politics. I don't like the idea of America mounting offensives against other nations, and I believe war in general represents a failure of diplomacy. It should be the last, desperate resort rather than commonplace.

The one silver lining is that we have a president now who is measured and reasonable. Even if the decisions don't turn out the way I hoped, they'll at least be the result of contemplation rather than reckless cowboy tactics. And President Obama's decision to defer to Congress ensures that it isn't unilateral. Many have scoffed at that move, but I think it's what checks and balances is all about. The decision to strike in Syria is one requiring deliberation and consensus, and it won't happen without it. That's a sliver of progress from the past regime.

If nothing else, that's a plus.

A request to Comedy Central

I am a huge fan of your annual roasts. Comedy, by its definition, is hit-and-miss, but every roast has had more salvageable material than not. And even the disasters typically are entertaining in their own way.

But the roast of James Franco (which I watched part of for the first time last night) was by far the worst one yet. I wanted to give it a chance, even though I shuddered at the announced lineup. Sadly, the show exceeded (if that's the word) my lowest expectations.

The biggest problem with the show was one that sinks a lot of entertainment these days — self-indulgence. Unlike with most roasts, virtually everyone at this one was a close clique of best friends. And those friends were the Seth Rogen/Jonah Hill/Andy Samberg crew, the most self-indulgent of the self-indulgent working today. 

And yes, they're all working today to great success. That's another problem. These guys are young (many younger than me) and still climbing. Most of them are scandal-free, and Franco in particular is largely infamous for his inability to helm a major telecast. That's great, but it makes Franco an odd choice as a roast target. That, combined with their collective tendency toward lowest-common-denominator jokes, made the event an exercise in endurance.

They're all talented, and I have laughed at every one of them at one time or another. I admit I passed on an opportunity to appear in This Is The End and regret it now. I'll bet they're a blast to hang out with.

The problem is, these guys mostly hang out. That works in their movies, but not so much in the roast. Much of it felt like hearing inside jokes between hipster friends, where you don't get the references and they don't want you to get it, but they do want you to know you won't understand.

Samberg was always the hit-and-miss hipster of SNL, either killing it or copying a past success with diminishing returns. His routine was probably the single worst I've ever seen on a roast. It probably would have come off better as anti-humor if Norm Macdonald hadn't done it so much better on Bob Saget's roast. (I cried laughing then, and still do every time I rewatch it.) In Norm's shadow, Andy seemed like he was trying way too hard, and didn't help matters by making dick jokes instead of the overly inoffensive jokes that work better in anti-humor. Also, anti-humor needs a lot of funny around it, and a lot less self-indulgence, instead of vice versa.

I write a lot of jokes myself (not that most people ever see them). I'll often revisit past gags and realize that, while they were perfect for the time and place, they'd land with a thud if aimed at a national audience. My funniest conversations with friends would probably suffer the same fate. And they're hilarious.

It's probably no accident that my favorite performer of the night was Natasha Leggero, an outsider looking in. Jeff Ross' cornrows also deserved more airtime.

This group would be better off in a different comedy format, or apart. But the roast of James Franco didn't look or feel like a true Comedy Central roast. It was the Superman III of the franchise. My request is that you pick a better target next year and bring back more of the rotating crew of past roasters.

But that's just my self-indulgent opinion. See you next year!