Thursday, November 28, 2013

10 things I'm thankful for today

1) These past few months. Brrrr. But, yay!

2) That Thanksgiving centers around turkey and football and not, say, mayonnaise and mixed martial arts.

3) That diamond commercials are on TV so I can turn them off.

4) That I'm still not being taken for my age.

5) That this year's biggest national problem, apparently, was a single, overwhelmed website. We've come a long way.

6) That I don't have time to come up with 10 things because I can't keep a friend waiting.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I like them apples

Occasionally, someone will post this question online: "What should I eat tonight?"

I don't care. Unless this is about us getting together for dinner, I literally could not care less what you decide to eat. And even then, the degree to which I care hinges mostly on where we're going, to ensure that it's a place we'll both like. After all, I do care about what I'm going to eat. Something you shouldn't care about.

Surprisingly (to me), people do care. Very much so. I've been to restaurants with people who insist on going through the menu with me, apparently forgetting that I'm a notoriously picky eater and an introvert. I know what I like. You know what you like. Let's eat!

My attitude about food (apart from that it shouldn't kill you in easily preventable fashion) is one of live and let live. Recently, Jon Stewart did a couple of segments on the Daily Show about which region's pizza was better. And of course, the New York guy favors New York pizza. But he spent most of his time trashing deep-dish Chicago pizza, which seemed excessive. I've enjoyed floppy pizza in New York AND I love deep-dish. There is no right or wrong here.

But the larger premise of Stewart's bit was that New York and Chicago were having a rhetorical fight over which city had the largest skyscraper in America. So it's understandable that he'd mine comedy out of that (and have it well-received by most). But I was straight-up steamed last night when I read this bit of pretentious slop:

Most of this article is the author presenting her narrow tastes as stone-chiseled, universal fact, which is itself deplorable. But these money quotes boost it onto another plane:

"If someone shows up at your Thanksgiving with an apple pie, you should throw them out of your home immediately."

There are people I'd throw out of my home immediately if they showed up on Thanksgiving. Strangers brandishing knives, for example. A friend with an apple pie will be accepted very, very warmly. Why? Because I love apple pie. Hell, even if they bring food I don't like instead, or nothing at all, they're still more than welcome. And not just on Thanksgiving, but any day. Because I'm not a jerk!

But apparently, I have misunderstood why Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday all my life:

"It’s the rarity of Thanksgiving dishes, the fact that we make them but once a year, that makes them taste so wonderful. Apple pie is not a special, seasonal, Thanksgiving-specific food."

Oh. See, I thought it was getting the whole extended family together to eat, watch football and play games. And that it was the one time of the year I was guaranteed to like most of the holiday spread, because I love turkey — a food that, like apple pie, I eat regularly all year long.

But no. Apparently, those good times were all illusions, and I should have chastised my hosts instead for not remaining true to the precise culinary spread mandated by fall, the pilgrims and L.V. Anderson. Duly noted for the future!

Seriously, eat what you enjoy on Thanksgiving, even if it's miles away from tradition. And be thankful you can. If you can't relax and enjoy yourself however you see fit, what's the point?

Life's too short to care what pretentious foodies think you should eat.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Where I was when JFK was assassinated

My mom had just turned 10 and my dad — a Dallas expatriate who'd suddenly lost his dad 10 months before — was 14. They wouldn't have me for almost 17 years. That's where I was.

But I can tell when I first learned about the assassination — it was in the fall of 1988. Dad had bought a book, Reg Gadney's Kennedy, that detailed the president's life, term and death (I still have it). I also remember the local cable-TV ticker promoting in its crude-yet-hypnotic computer lettering, "THE JFK ASSASSINATION: AS IT HAPPENED, 25TH ANNIVERSARY." For an 8-year-old, 25 years seemed like a lifetime ago. (Now that 25 years have passed since 1988, I can understand why that didn't seem so long ago then.)

Nevertheless, I became engrossed in the book, which favored Life magazine in its expansive photography and relatively short prose. The section that particularly mesmerized me — and read over and over — was the chapter on the assassination and the Zapruder film. Something about it fascinated me; I think it was the journalist in me even then, because the sheer depth of coverage of the event for the time was astounding. 

Six years later, in the summer of 1994, my family and I visited Dealey Plaza in Dallas, making a stop at the Sixth Floor Museum (the former Texas School Book Depository). We walked on the grassy knoll. I was very sick from food poisoning at the time, but still remember it vividly. It was the first time I was able to place myself somewhere I'd seen in my books. Dealey Plaza, as it turned out, is a real and unimposing place that happens to be where something historically horrible happened. It put the assassination, formerly mythic in my mind, in a real-live context. It was a real thing that happened to a real person in a real public area. That seems obvious, but I was still surprised when that realization hit me. (And it did hit, even though it was only a fraction of what the people at the time must have felt.)

So why am I recalling where I was when I learned about the assassination, when I've criticized similar stories about 9/11? 

In part, because the less-media-saturated age of 1963 means that there's a diversity of interesting stories in that regard. The audience of the Boston Symphony was informed mid-concert, and you can hear them at first shocked, then crying as the conductor launches into a memorial song. Breaking-news broadcasts were practically in their infancy, and it's as compelling to watch the process as it is gut-wrenching to soak up the reality. Personal stories, especially from children of the time, are poignant in the ground they broke. It wasn't just about loss of innocence; it was realizing in retrospect that there had been innocence to lose.

The extensively documented events preceding the Kennedy assassination highlight the circumstances that make it especially tragic. It had been a happy day. In some pictures, even after the first bullet, you can still people people cheering as it has yet to register. Afterward, there was a nearly universal outpouring of sympathy and revering of Kennedy even by his political opponents. Some argue that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed in part out of respect for his legacy. It was definitely a different time in D.C.

Today, we have 24/7 news, the Internet, Twitter and smartphones. We're used to unrest, political polarization and endless war and danger. Our hope every day is our leaders, not to mention the rest of us, aren't shot while going about the day. No tragedy is completely unexpected. And when it happens, conspiracy theorists will inevitably rise up and huff about us not knowing The Real Truth. We're all inherently jaded at the possibility of chaos. I'm too young to know for sure, but I suspect the events of 50 years ago represented the biggest leap toward this in our lifetimes. 

And yet, despite all of this, JFK's goodness also looms large in our public conscience. His murder was a big deal, but it shouldn't overshadow what he was about in life. What he thought we were capable of doing for our country. What kind of people we could be. The legacy he left that filled the rest of the book that I read so long ago. Let's not forget to read those pages too.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hurr, ha, hee, heh, etc.

I was all prepared to rip into this one with gusto. But two things got in the way:

1) I can sum up what's wrong it in a single sentence: I "needed" a car as a teenager, but I needed back surgery at 21. 

2) The comments are far more compelling, and not for the reason I expected.

Apparently, a lot of commenters believed that this was a real news item. That blows my mind, because it so obviously reads as a joke, and ends with a caps-locked disclaimer spelling it out for those who need that sort of thing. The Internet is littered with conservative satire vociferously defended by its target audience against liberals, who they say need to lighten up and have a laugh no matter what the actual facts are. Such works are made by righties, for righties. This one seems no different.

Which is why it threw me for a loop that its comment section is jammed with people who seem genuinely terrified and upset over this "news." Rather than take this as just another (attempted) deconstruction affirming their belief that Obamacare is a horrible thing and having their version of a laugh, they're taking it at face value. After thinking it over for a little while, I think I understand why.

Because they want this to be true.

They want to think that President Obama really wants to force everyone to buy a new car in 2014. They want to believe that the federal government will micromanage what drivers do with their vehicles. They want to believe that this is simply the latest phase of the evil Democratic Black Muslim administration's plan to enslave every citizen. They get a charge out of the outrage, and an ego boost from feeling like they're the ones who deserve to take their country back.

I hope I'm right, anyway. It's a more comforting thought than the idea that some Americans are just that gullible.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Questions with answers

No, it can't.

Look, I'm all for free speech and the legalization of marijuana (even though I don't use it). But it's a stretch to equate smoking weed with expression. In fact, doing so only hurts the cause.

The case for legalization lies in lightening the legal and financial burden on the U.S. justice system caused by possession arrests. It also lies in reversing the politicized criminalization of a substance that does less harm than many legal counterparts, and actually has legitimate medical applications. If and when marijuana is decriminalized nationwide, it will be because of those or similar practical factors.

The case doesn't lie in the freedom to smoke pot anywhere you want, at any time. That's not going to happen even if it's legalized. It's still going to be restricted by age and in most public places as cigarettes are. Employers will most likely still screen for THC. Even if pot use does rise after the fact, it'll probably mostly happen behind closed doors rather than turn the nation into a stoner comedy. 

Actually, I'm not sure legalization would change the culture much, because 1) anyone who wants to smoke pot already knows how to get it and 2) I can think of only one time I've heard someone say they wanted to try pot, but would wait until it's legal to try it. And she didn't live long enough to see the day.

As much as I love free speech, I also want to protect its definition. It's about expression in all of its wonderful forms, but not about every single action a human undertakes. Plenty of those actions are legal, justifiably illegal or should be legal, but they aren't First Amendment issues. What does count as legit speech must be governed by two principles — 1) equality of the right and 2) it must not infringe upon the rights of others or incite danger. 

Though the Supreme Court disagrees, I think equating money to free speech violates the first principle. Tying money to speech means that some people have more free speech than others. The second principle is evident in the notion that you can't yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. Smoking as speech violates this as well, because First Amendment protection shouldn't apply to blowing smoke in another's face. While I doubt the Supreme Court will ever consider drug use as just another form of expression, I shudder over the precedent that such a decision would set. If you can't curtail peaceful speech in a public setting (and you shouldn't), how would you be able to govern secondhand smoke? Or worse?

There are far better ways to argue for legalization that aren't as fraught with peril, or are as ridiculous.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Self-indulgent dream blog

I've written at least twice about this dream I've had for many years. It takes place in a giant room with a platform in the middle that's much like a treehouse, but with guardrails instead of walls. The walls of the gymlike room are lined with lockers, and the platform has couches, books, toys and games. I have a locker on the wall to the right of the main entrance, and it's filled with papers and clothes. It's a busy, yet fun, place, essentially a lounge.

The occupants are past classmates from different years of my school life. Sometimes we gather to renew our high school diplomas, but for the most part we're just there to hang out. There's always a strong feeling of nostalgia, even though I'm not that nostalgic for some of the people I see there.

Every time I have the dream, I'm visiting for the first time in at least a year. I have a feeling of guilt and neglect every time I open my locker, because there's always some unfinished business in there. Closing the locker is usually a relief. I feel better atop the platform, though sometimes climbing up to it proves to be tough (ladder or rope, depending on the dream). Sometimes people acknowledge me and sometimes they don't. The platform wraps around a pillar that might be a tree, and I can picture each of the four sides clearly — each one seems to represent a different vibe, perhaps because specific people have favorite sitting spots.

The dream I wrote about in 2011, where I finally conquered the elusive class assignment, was followed by several recurrences where I had to do it all over, with the same snags. For whatever reason, though, the consequences seemed far less pressing that time around. Mostly, I lounged and tried to organize my locker.

I had this dream again the night before last. For the first time, it was drastically different. 

Everything looked the same, but it felt like I was truly visiting without being an active participant. I didn't recognize most of the people there, and the ones I did were not people I grew up with. I went up to the platform first and observed it without the least bit of stress, like an alumnus visiting his college's lounge or student union — it's bustling, but you're apart from it.

When I climbed down and strode to my locker, it was no longer mine. As usual, a bunch of stuff was in there — old papers, unwashed pants, dirty sneakers, moldy food I forgot about — but the locks were off, and I had to take it all home with me. I could return any time I wanted, but my extended commitment was over. It felt like closure, and it gave me an inner peace.

That's when the most tedious part of this dream series reared its head like never before.

The combination lock that I used to secure my locker was mine. Specifically, it was a real lock I'd bought in 7th grade — serial number 904587, combination 26-12-22. For whatever reason, it was sitting among a pile of other, identical locks in my locker. Before I could leave, I had to find my lock. So for the rest of the dream, I tediously — and in vivid detail — checked the back of every lock for the serial number. Every time I thought I found it, the number would morph into a different yet similar number. My brain has a stunning capacity for generating random six-digit numbers, I now realize. 

Eventually, for some reason, I started to try 26-12-22 on every lock. Spin to clear, right two turns, left, slight right. And it worked on all of them. By this point, everyone in the room was watching the safecracker at work. Finally, I found the right lock, threw it in my box of stuff and woke up. That inner peace remained, as it tends to do after having a dream where my subconscious worked something out. But as usual, I haven't yet figured out what that is.

I guess I'll have to pay another visit to find out.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Older Musicians

Not to be confused with my old blog Aged Bands

Golden Spice Girls
Final Tap
Arcade Retire
The Early Byrds
The Greyhound Gang
Jowls Holland
The Bears Shuffleboard Crew
Jefferson Hairline
Lorde, Lorde, look who's 40
Ill Collins
Oran "Prune Juice" Jones
Crosby, Stills, Nash & OLD
Hall & Oat Bran
Elderly DeBarge
Ready for the Whirlpool
Grandfather Funk Railroad
Denture Brothers
Dan Fogey
Fixx My Hip
Bette Off My Lawn

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Things Nobody Said

The story

Random pirate thought

I wonder how much we'd romanticize buccaneers like Blackbeard (real) and Jack Sparrow (fictional, but based on a real-life ride) if they had had access to semi-automatic weapons, like today's pirates.

My feeling is, probably not nearly as much. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What Obama should have said

"If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan. Unless, of course, your policy is so cheap and bare-bones that it doesn't meet our new minimum standards (in which case, do you really like your policy?). And it's also possible that your insurance company will decide on its own accord to alter your policy, because they do that all the time, with or without reform. My point is, the government isn't going to forcibly take your existing plan away from you and force you into the exchanges. But you're smart, so I don't really have to stipulate all that, right?"

Perhaps President Obama shouldn't have been so absolute in saying no one's health insurance would change as a result of the Affordable Care Act. But did he really have to apologize? Are we such a sanctimonious populace that we're willing to be this stupid?

I remember years ago when Obama assured insured people that they wouldn't have to give up a plan they liked. It was a response to fears that Obamacare was going to be a centralized, government-run plan that everyone was going to be forced into. The remark was a clarification that the act was meant for those who couldn't afford or secure insurance before.

The debate is completely different now. People might complain about the faulty launch of, or worry about penalties for noncompliance, or moan about death panels if they're especially ignorant, but it's largely realized that people with insurance don't have to find new insurance.

As we've become more familiar with the ACA, our perceptions have changed. So should our understanding of Obama's words. It's not like he said them last week. Anyway, it's not like any adult should ever hold a politician to a literal promise of an unattainable prospect. To do so is to practically welcome disappointment. 

Count George Will among the disappointed. He's beside himself that Obamacare had a rocky start. He compares the website to Cash for Clunkers in the sense that both promised the moon and neither worked out. (Cash for Clunkers didn't? First I've heard of that.) 

I actually like this comparison in a different light — Cash for Clunkers took a lot of really bad cars off the road, just as insurance reform stands to end a lot of dirt-cheap-yet-ripoff policies. 

In neither case should we mourn the clunkers.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Why photojournalism matters

Yesterday, the Daily Advertiser ran this amazing photo of the aftermath of a kidnapping rescue: 

Here's another good one.
Family members of the victim were tipped off to an abandoned house, where they confronted and mortally wounded the kidnapper, who later died of his injuries. An Advertiser photographer was at the scene to record the victim's uncle carrying her to safety.

The Advertiser was met with considerable outcry for posting it online. Criticism (which made up most of the 200-plus responses) ranged from offense at the graphic nature of the picture to alleged lack of permission to even the length of her shorts.

I can understand all those concerns. But the Advertiser stood its ground, and good for them for doing so. Here's what I said on the Facebook thread:

What most people probably don't realize is that photojournalists already adhere to a code of ethics. This photo, taken as it was in the poignant aftermath of a major news event, not only falls within that code, but exemplifies what the craft is all about. It is in no way exploitative, prurient or invasive. But it does put in stark visual terms what people otherwise might gloss over in their minds. Some of the most arresting images in history, such as Emmett Till's disfigured corpse (which his mother wanted everyone to see) or Vietnam's multiple atrocities, are painful to see. But sometimes those images are what we need to see most. 

In this case, we see both bad and good news in the same shot. A variety of emotions. Far from something that should be censored over emotions, it's the essence of hard-news journalism.

We would lose a lot if visceral emotion and permission dictated what appeared in our press. Readers can always turn away if they so choose. But news outlets must never flinch. Kudos to the Advertiser for understanding this.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Very heartening news

I'm not sure if I can convey my glee over this in writing. It ranks between "Obama elected president" and "Saints win Super Bowl" on my personal list.

I hate trans fats so much. When I first found out what they were (artificially produced fats with no safe consumption amount that jack up bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol and provide a fast-track to fatal heart attacks), I immediately stopped buying any food with a listed trans fat value above 0 grams. The trouble is, that was in 2009. For me, that's 29 years of damage done (and it's still unavoidable sometimes). And it was a lot of damage, because for many years I doubled down on foods I know now were saturated (no pun intended) with trans fats. In the switch, I gave up a lot of my absolute favorite foods, and continue to watch nutrition labels like a hawk.

Products with trans fats tend to have lower saturated fat content, so it was understandable for many years that it was seen as a cheaper and safer food-additive option. But around 1990, researchers realized the opposite was true, and it wasn't until 2006 that the FDA required trans fat content to be disclosed on food labels. (Red meat still isn't yet required to disclose it, though the natural traces of trans fats there are a different strain that are apparently less harmful than that found in partially hydrogenated oils.)

Some areas, including California and New York City, have already banned or reduced artificial trans fats. Living on the Nevada-California border, I can tell you the difference is stark — a breakfast biscuit at Carl's Jr. in Nevada has 6 grams of trans fat, while the same item 10 miles away has 0. Why must the Nevada biscuit have that extra kick of heart attack? No reason, including taste and texture (in my experience, those qualities are overrated, and I've read that alternate oils can produce the same effects). Well, partially hydrogenated oils are cheaper, so I guess there's that. Totally worth it.

So the FDA wants to begin phasing out a food additive that is now known not to offer any nutritional benefits, but is one of the top contributors to the No. 1 cause of death in America, heart disease (which cost the U.S. $444 billion in 2010, 1/6 of all health care spending, a figure expected to triple by 2030). It's hard to imagine anyone would terribly object to this.

But of course, they do.

Beck, along with Rush Limbaugh and others of such ilk, insist that trans fats should be left alone and people be allowed to make their own decisions. I've had the same thought about plutonium.

The thing is, I know plenty of people, even health-conscious ones, who don't know the first thing about trans fats. They think it's cute/pathetic/annoying when I scour labels. I realize I'm more militant about it than most people (and possibly too selective over that one thing), but still I think most people aren't as informed about this as they need to be. And it's not as if restaurants or food manufacturers are dying to educate the public. So whenever I hear the free-marketeers defend trans fats as just another grocery choice to make like apples and chicken, I imagine that lack of awareness, just like I had for 29 years.

Diet and exercise are important. But it's also important that our food doesn't contain items that are dangerous to us. Banning artificial trans fats is a start. We still have a long way to go.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Hyperbolic title of the day

...but only if you think the metric of success and creativity is how many dollars change hands or how many Twitterers choose to follow you. 

That ties into what I call the pop-radio theory. In high school, I noticed that in most crowd settings (such as fundraisers) the radio would inevitably be tuned to a pop station. This was less about liking what was on the radio than ensuring that no one really hated it. It was a safe choice, in other words. I think the pop-radio theory is true of most pop culture — it has its genuine fans, but just as often, it's inoffensive to non-fans. To criticize it is to be overly petty.

Justin Bieber has millions of absolutely crazed fans and is his own industry. His personal behavior is fodder for the tabloids, but aside from that he's not overly provocative or controversial.

He is far more successful and beloved than I am. I would not trade places with him. Or with anyone else on the list. 

People like what they like and do what they do. As they should. Something should never be popular just because it is popular. There should be something else behind it for the beholder.

Truly good stuff is not always popular or even all that noticed. Sometimes the twain meet, like with the Beatles. Either way, never stop searching for (or creating) something meaningful. Whether it's on the clearest pop station or buried in the most remote depths of static, it's worth the airtime.

When words are weapons

Here's an interesting juxtaposition of sentences. And by interesting I mean, really, really sad:

"I firmly believe that all U.S. citizens have a right to keep and bear arms, but I do not believe that they have a right to use them irresponsibly," he added. 

Readers threatened to boycott the magazine and cancel their subscriptions until Dick Metcalf was fired.

This excerpt from Talking Points Memo makes it sound like the readers of Guns & Ammo were upset by an editorial urging gun owners to exercise caution. Which would be an irresponsible use of context if it weren't absolutely true.

In his editorial, Metcalf argues that firearms can be regulated because the Second Amendment has the word "regulated" in it. He makes a strong case for the difference between regulation and infringement, noting that the First Amendment has numerous exceptions against dangerous and inciteful speech. Furthermore, he contends, reasonable requirements are required for many pursuits (such as driving) that ensure public safety and don't result in outcry in the street over lost freedoms. Metcalf approaches his argument with the seasoned experience of a gun owner, user and advocate. At no time does he advocate confiscation, nor does he even call for more gun control. All he's really saying is that training is a good idea — or, more to the point, that training doesn't mean the end of freedom. As far as gun-control editorials go, it's pretty moderate.

Of course, that's the problem with it. Gun rhetoric is not about moderation. Anything to the left of all access, all the time, for everyone, is un-American. Gun enthusiasts have turned the Second Amendment into a bunker to hide behind, not welcoming even the slightest probe into its wording. Forget liberals and other gun-control advocates — these people can't even tolerate one of their own wanting to tap on the brakes ever so slightly.

But that's to be expected from the gun nuts. I expect better from the editorship of a magazine.

Guns & Ammo editor Jim Bequette issued an apology for the article, apparently sorry that reason infected its pages for once. He further announced that both Metcalf and himself are through after long tenures at the magazine. Bequette knows where the magazine's (and the culture's) loyalties lie — not with the truth, or with debate, but with complete reinforcement of gun owners' worst politics and worst fears. And also with the gun sellers that make their money off of these impulses.

The sadly ironic thing is, people like Metcalf are exactly who the gun movement needs to legitimize its cause. The culture is increasingly circling the wagons at a time when it needs moderate voices more than ever. In doing so, its motives become ever clearer — and off-putting — to the general public. The gun crowd may crow freedom, but its rigidity in deed screams the exact opposite.

No one expects Guns & Ammo to be a bastion of unbiased journalism. But it should have told the truth at least one more time.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

When locker-room culture curdles

Some anonymous NFL staffers apparently believe the worst part of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin row is that other people heard about it. Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter sums it up nicely:

The Dolphins have indefinitely suspended Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team because his actions, if true, are morally abominable and potential violations of workplace laws. Still, there are NFL personnel people and active and former players who believe Martin handled the situation poorly by allowing it to spill out of the locker room and into the public.

That's not to say they're defending Incognito. They're not in any way, shape or form. But they do believe there is an unwritten rule that player business should be handled in the locker room by the players themselves, particularly when the actions are as vile as those attributed to Incognito.

No stance could better confirm my belief that Martin did the right thing than this. Officials tend to want things kept private for one of two reasons, and one involves national security. The other involves insecurity. Exposure is worse than the crime itself only in the eyes of those who look bad as a result. 

You don't have to be a football player to figure that a locker room is not generally a fount of enlightenment. In my experience, it's every bit as grab-ass, testosterone-fueled and not the place for sensitivity stands as most would guess. I endured my fair share of locker-room teasing and bravado in high school, being as I was a small, first-year senior player with questionable skills and a reputation for being overly brainy. Did I ever rat out the guys to the coach? No. I handled anything thrown my way with wit, by standing up for myself and by dishing it out to those who shot first. Because it never went beyond simple ribbing (anyway, all of the players mostly had my back). But if it had gotten out of hand, and I felt the tide turning against me, I would not have hesitated to take it up the ladder. I felt comfortable with that option because I had a strong and friendly rapport with my coaches (who I'd worked with prior to playing) and had seen them intervene in the past when necessary. 

However, I can understand why a more macho man would be reticent to rat anyone out — especially in the pros, where jobs and reputations are at stake, and where a rookie is particularly vulnerable.

My guess is that Martin reached a breaking point that was a long time coming. Good for him. Anything that distracts from team cohesion — and the game itself — has no business in the locker room, on the field or online.

One hallmark of an abusive relationship is that the abuser, once caught, blames the victim. They'll claim the real travesty isn't the abuse, but that news of the abuse has broken. As if everything was fine before, but the victim's disclosure is proof that they can't "take it like a man/adult" or whatever equivalent insecure, crotch-strutting bluster applies.

I suspect the keep-it-in-the-locker-room crowd is mainly upset that they have to acknowledge that severe bullying exists in the NFL. And they're even madder that they have to at least pretend to stop it now.

The NFL has in recent years been slammed as the No Fun League. In many ways, it is. But behavior like Incognito's is one form of "fun" that anyone who values human decency should be all for abolishing.

Talk about identity politics

My opposition to voter ID laws is extensively documented. I’m against any regulations that make it harder for people to vote, especially when said regulations are a blatantly partisan attempt to disenfranchise entire demographics under the guise of thwarting a problem that barely exists in a statistical sense.

One point I’ve often harped upon is how difficult it can be for many people to obtain the specific form of photo ID that commissioners will accept. Even if access to DMV offices isn’t a problem — and for the elderly, infirm and transportationally challenged, it usually is — proper documentation and fees can be roadblocks.

I’ve often used my late grandmother as an example of the kind of person these laws would have kept from voting. She never had a photo ID, and she could walk to her polling place (which she very often did). But the nearest DMV was miles away, and the newer office is farther still. Sure, my grandfather could have driven her there, but that still would have meant a whole day in line, and that’s assuming she had her birth certificate from 1913 (and that it was acceptably certified). I’m sure she would have done it if necessary, but people like her really shouldn’t have to just to exercise a constitutional right that harms no one.

My grandmother died in 1999. But 90-year-old former Texas House Speaker Jim Wright is still alive. And he just experienced this travesty firsthand, in a way that’s even more absurd that I’ve so far imagined.

See, Wright is a legendary figure in Texas politics. He fought for expanded voting rights throughout his career, and presumably has voted a few times. Because his last driver’s license expired in 2010 — I assume because he decided he’s too old to keep driving — and because his TCU faculty ID doesn’t satisfy the stringent 2011 state voter law, he tried to get a new ID. And the Department of Public Safety turned him away. Harsh.

So what did Wright have to present where a not-so-expired ID and current wrong-kind-of-state-issued ID failed? A certified birth certificate. You know, to prove he hadn't morphed into zombie Molly Ivins in the past three years.

Take it away, assistant Norma Ritchson:

“I’ve been thinking about the people who are in retirement homes,” Ritchson said. “I’ve read that this is the lowest early voter turnout in a long time and I wonder if this [ID requirement] is the cause. We’ve tried so hard to make voting easy, and now the Texas Legislature has made it harder by making you have a photo ID.”

Opponents of tougher voter ID laws didn’t need a literal example of an elderly Democrat being nearly disenfranchised despite being fully entitled to vote, but we’ve got one.

What don’t we have yet? Significant proof of poll fraud.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Being an expert again on marriage

To say this blog by Seth Adam Smith has gone viral is to understate it. I think most married people I know have sung its praises by now. And possibly most married people in general.

I clicked on “Marriage Isn’t For You” because I wanted to know why marriage is not for me. I know it isn’t, but I was curious to see why he thought that was the case.

Spoiler alert — Smith says that marriage is not for you, because marriage is about loving and giving yourself to another person. So apparently this article isn’t for me, either.

I can see how if you love someone so much that you want to marry them, there’s an impetus to make your life all about bringing joy to their life. But when that someone special is hypothetical, it’s not an appealing prospect. Someone like me, who is used to self-sufficiency and having his own space, would have to meet someone very special to even think about completely shifting priorities. In the meantime, reading things like this, which can serve to make single people feel like self-involved assholes, makes me look around for the nearest insulin shot.

Also, I worry about what articles like this do for bad marriages. I don’t think it’s wrong to expect some reciprocation. Smith makes it sound like such give-and-take is an ideal, but is a bonus more than an imperative. (To his credit, at least he didn’t say marriage is actually all about God like this guy. I could write a book on that one.)

If I ever get married — and I don’t care if I do or not — I like to think that it would be because we’re good together and make each other better people. I don’t think such a partnership means people should forget their identities or sacrifice the things that sustain them. That seems so ... high-maintenance. Which I’m not, and the hypothetical woman of my dreams wouldn't be either. Most of all, I’m hoping we won’t think about this question too much. Anytime I have in the past, that’s when the relationship got weird (assuming it wasn’t already weird).

Overall, though, I agree with Smith that marriage is a serious commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. That understanding is precisely why I have never been married.

Feeling bully

I’ll bet Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins now wishes he’d lived up to his last name.

And I’ll bet I’m the only person making that joke.

Hazing is the stupidest, jerkiest behavior around that doesn’t (usually) involve death. I’m grateful that I can’t comprehend the thrill of taunting and torturing underlings and making them do things like carry my equipment and pay off exorbitant tabs.

It’s inhuman to make people demean themselves that way. And for what, so the victims make “buddies” with their tormentors and later have a chance to do it to others? Gee, what an incentive!

(It reminds me of how some rich people say, “you’ll see one day,” when explaining why the poor and middle class should support tax policies that favor the rich and soak everyone else. Because maybe you’ll deserve to soak someone someday...)

A lot of factors make a team (or other organization) a champion. Hazing isn’t one of them. It doesn’t make anyone better at their job and it doesn’t foster equal relationships. It exists solely for the thrill of the executor, who in most cases has had the same thing done to him previously. There are plenty of ways to foster team cohesion that don’t involve actions like Incognito’s. Maybe the Dolphins should try some of them out. Clearly, they need to.

Being hazed and/or bullied is not a character-builder. It’s not a necessary part of growing up. It doesn’t build character or grow hair on your chest. It isn’t a way of paying dues. It doesn’t make you a man on either end of it. Life has plenty of obstacles to learn to surmount already, thank you very much.

All bullying does is leave deep psychological scars. I should know. Whether it was having food thrown in my face in the school cafeteria, having my cap constantly stolen from my head on the playground, having girls pretend to like me only to humiliate me later, being shoved while using the urinal (and having to call home for new pants as a result), being pressured to give all my change to older kids, being set up to get in trouble with teachers and coaches or simply being taunted by richer, popular classmates, I had a long laundry list of insecurities that I had to work through, and still do every single day. I’m lucky that I came out of it a lot better than some others do, avoiding drugs, self-harm and violence. Would I be who I am now if many peers hadn’t given me a difficult time in that time of my life? Hard to say. But I can’t say I’m glad it happened. And I’ve tried really hard never to pay it forward. (I’ve no doubt failed at times.)

I’m lucky because, at the peak of this torment at 12, I had family, friends and teachers who I could count on to remind me that I’m a worthy human being. They helped me over that hump more than they probably know. Which is the No. 1 reason that this blog bothered me so much: “Why My Kids Are NOT the Center of My World.”

If you know a mother on social media, chances are they’ve helped Stephanie Metz’s essay go viral. It's mostly pedestrian parenting pap about Kids These Days and how parents’ only choices are to exercise extremely tough love, or to coddle children until they’ve weaved an umbilical cord that reaches into the basement. But Metz really veers into reprehensible territory when she says this:

“There was a time when kids got called names and got picked on, and they brushed it off and worked through it (ask me how I know this).  Now, if Sally calls Susie a bitch (please excuse my language if that offends you), Susie's whole world crumbles around her, she contemplates suicide, and this society encourages her to feel like her world truly has ended, and she should feel entitled to a world-wide pity party.  And Sally — phew!  She should be jailed!  She should be thrown in juvenile detention for acting like — gasp — a teenage girl acts.”

I think this was the attitude of some of the teachers I had who could have otherwise stopped some of the bullying against me. They apparently thought it was Boys Being Boys (or Girls Being Girls, since I was an equal-opportunity target) and perhaps even thought that it would be good for me. Fortunately, other teachers (and my parents) thought differently. I can’t imagine how further screwed up I’d be if my mom was as dismissive (even nostalgic?) about bullying as this woman is. I don’t agree with everything Metz says, but on bullying in particular, she’s just plain wrong. Even most of those who otherwise love her blog seem to agree.

Whether it’s the school playground or the turf of the NFL, an enforced hierarchy of fear and harassment is only damaging. Bullies have always deserved punishment — but in the online age, the consequences of letting such behavior slide is especially perilous for everyone involved. Bullied people deserve better and so do the bullies, who themselves have problems.

Let’s just all be better people, OK?

For all the short memories

“In Ankara, I made clear that America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam.” — Barack Obama, June 4, 2009 

Americans understand we fight not a religion; ours is not a campaign against the Muslim faith. — George W. Bush, Sept. 27, 2001

Saturday, November 02, 2013

A plea to the LSU community

No matter how you feel (or don't care) about the UL name issue, this opinion article is a disaster. In addition to its unbelievably snotty, condescending attitude (and possibly the worst choice of headline adjective possible in "uppity"), its facts are almost entirely wrong. It is beneath the quality and integrity of the Reveille, and it should never have been published.

I've been asked a couple of times recently — once from an LSU grad and again from a Louisiana expatriate friend who didn't attend either school — why many people in the UL community have a grudge against LSU.

This is why. 

When someone has lots of money, tons of clout and a solid reputation, they look incredibly small when they habitually pick on the little people. It reeks of bullying and lots of insecurity. Disparaging an entire group of people (inaccurately, at that) stretches it to an even more unnecessary extreme. It undoes every attempt to depict the home team as the superior institution of education.

I know for a fact you're better than that. Some of my best friends and many of my cousins graduated from LSU. I've met several inspirational faculty members. The campus is magnificent. I had a blast when I attended an LSU football game. For seven years working with the UL track team, I had a second home at LSU's indoor and outdoor track facilities. When I lived in Baton Rouge, I rode my bike around University Lakes every chance I got. So I know firsthand that the positive aspects of LSU far outweigh its negatives.

Unfortunately, such assets are often overshadowed by juvenile rhetoric as that spewed by John Ryan McGehee. Which is why I think every level-headed member of your community should distance themselves from this article and what it represents — bullying, ignorance and untruths. To your credit, many of you on the comment thread already have. I think the Reveille should take the next step and officially call for more responsible discourse.

We've disagreed much in the past and no doubt will again in the future. But I hope that such debates take the form of equals with differing opinions, rather than class warfare with different facts. 

Don't do it for me. Do it for you. Live up to your level.

Rage on, Tigers.