Saturday, May 31, 2014

When Will To Power taunted me from the charts

To conclude May, here's a story about a song that taunted me this month in 1988.

On May 2, 1988, the gifted students at my school took a field trip to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans (you'll understand why I remember the exact date in a bit). I couldn't wait because I loved the zoo — the prairie dogs in particular — and I had never ridden on a chartered bus before.

(Tangent: I was the only child not wearing a white shirt with art I'd drawn on it for the trip. My teacher deemed my design sketch too complicated and wordy, and I forgot to bring a shirt the day we transferred them anyway. I was too arty for art, it seemed.)

At the time, I was in second grade, and just six days short of my 8th birthday. Speaking of short, I was the second-shortest kid in my class (we'd measured), more wiry than some wires and was prone to emotional outbursts. But not on this day. This day was going to be glorious.

And, for the most part, it was. The ride over was a blast. I sat in the rear triple seat with my best friend (the shortest kid in my class) and a chaperone, who was a very cool guy. I had my new favorite book, Chocolate Fever, another kid's game of Uno, pals and scenery to keep me occupied. I was also particularly fascinated with the toilet stall, which no one had told me was a thing on a bus. 

Also, there was the radio, which blasted an excellent playlist of chart-toppers that I associate with the trip to this day. Among them:

• New Sensation — INXS
• Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car — Billy Ocean
• Wishing Well — Terence Trent D'Arby
• Girlfriend — Pebbles
• Shattered Dreams — Johnny Hates Jazz
• You Can Call Me Al — Paul Simon

The song this story is about was not among them. It hadn't hit the charts yet, which is why I felt like it was taunting me when it did. Given what I did at the tail end of our zoo trip, I had it coming.

As we boarded the bus back to Lafayette after a long and fun day of visiting the animals, I made the mistake of telling a friend that I had a crush on a girl in our class. Well, actually, I made him guess, and he went through every girl he knew in both of his classes before saying the right one at the very end out of exasperation, right as we passed through the bus aisle:

"I don't know, Milena? Who?!!"

"Yeah, Milena. I like her."

Other classmates heard this.

You can about imagine what happened for the next 100 miles.

"IAN LOVES MILENA! IAN LOVES MILENA!" sang by an entire bus full of high-pitched and oddly harmonious first- and second-graders, nearly all the way back.

I bawled. The chaperone with me patted me on the shoulder and assured me it was OK, but other than that, not one adult did anything about this.

I recall composing myself long enough to talk with a girl sent by Milena to relay her response: "She says you're too skinny."

"Tell her I'm 36 feet wide," I blurted, clearly on top of my game.

"Emilie wants to see you in a bathing suit, though," she said. OK, small victories.

Soon after that, the chorus resumed, and didn't stop until we pulled up to the school parking lot. It was interrupted by a teacher on the PA: "Is everything all right back there?"

"Oh, good," I thought. "Maybe she'll finally stop this."

"I hope you all had a good time at the zoo!" Damn.

I've never fully gotten that chorus out of my head. What probably cemented it was the song that began playing on the radio almost immediately thereafter. "Say It's Gonna Rain" by Will to Power.

The opening notes of this song, as well as the title vocals, sound exactly like "IAN LOVES MILENA." It hit the charts on June 18 and dropped off local radio by the end of summer, which meant it was in my life at the exactly the perfect time to taunt me, and never a moment longer. In fact, I only heard the song again after searching for it a few weeks ago. I never knew the title or artist (though I've long loved Will To Power's other hits), recalling it only as "IAN LOVES MILENA." Thanks, Internet!

(Aside from the taunting, I loved the song and even taped part of it off the radio at the time. Is that weird? That's weird. But isn't love?)


In recent years, a growing trope among Republicans is that the president should be an invisible and detached figure who loathes public appearances — a faraway, disinterested manager with no connection to the popular world who would consider it unseemly to opine on anything (jabs at Democrats excluded, of course).

George Will takes that trope to another level by suggesting candidates should elucidate with all the stuffiness and pomposity of Will himself. Which is totally in step with an electorate that twice elected Barack Obama in a landslide.

It's easy to see Obama's status as a young and effortlessly charismatic leader in influencing this view. John McCain and Mitt Romney likely would have seemed older and flatter next to older and flatter Democrats, but Obama was another force entirely. The GOP has reveled in its rich-angry-white-male base, and repeatedly doubles down on it. At the same time, it knows it can't win elections this way with an ever-changing electorate. Thus the emphasis on "constitutional" issues and its new disdain of "celebrity." Conservatives figure that if they can't hope to keep up on likability, they can at least insist that history's best presidents were all standoffish stoics.

They've come a long way from Ronald Reagan. Thanks, Obama.

Pleasure principles

This article takes a long time to get to the point in its title. And it spends much of that time crossing the line between being forthcoming about sex (good) and freaking out everyone within earshot (obnoxious). I learned about sex and reproduction at an early age, but at home through books and pamphlets, not through graphic discussions of genitalia at Piccadilly. Anyway.

The author's overall point is a good one. Sex education often leaves out the simple, yet uncomfortable, fact that adults most often do it simply because it's fun. This was largely missing from my earliest education. I knew the mechanics and the consequences of sex, but knew nothing of the allure. I didn't have any urge to have sex, and didn't understand that I wouldn't always feel that way. When I learned about teen pregnancy and STDs, I was left wondering why anyone would take those risks, and came to the conclusion that they were just bad, or weak, people.

This was exactly the same case with drugs. Drug education rarely, if ever, concedes that people take them for pleasure. I came of age at the height of Just Say No, coming away thinking that people who used drugs were Drug Abusers, a special class of Others who spent their time lecturing kids on the horrors of drug addiction when they weren't in jail or rehab or out committing crimes. What I didn't learn was why people would ever do a drug in the first place and risk ruining their lives. Maybe they were just bad, or weak, people.

In both cases, it's as if educators are afraid they will give children ideas if they admit that sex and drugs generate good feelings. But to quote Ann Landers, "the kids already have ideas, and many have put those ideas into action." 

The problem with overlooking the pleasure aspect is that it leaves a giant logical hole the first time someone tries sex or drugs and likes it. If they've never heard anything but the horror stories, they begin to wonder if everything they've learned is a lie. It isn't. But they aren't sure what to believe anymore.

Kids will learn about the pleasure aspect anyway, probably from TV, the Internet of the famed street of yore. This will seem rebellious by comparison, further making the trusted school advice seem one-sided and reactionary.

Honest, frank education about sex and drugs in the classroom would remove a lot of the forbidden aspects from both, while impressing upon kids the seriousness of engaging in them. That alone would slash the rate of both among teens.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Living loose

This Washington Post chart of tightest to loosest states fascinates me, mainly in how it quantifies what I've so strongly suspected for many years.

The study factored in the relative strictness of social entities, corporal punishment in schools, alcohol availability, executions and same-sex union status, among other things.

Louisiana, where I'm from and lived most of my life, is 7th tightest overall. I suppose the Cajuns docked it two spots and New Orleans dropped it another four. What keeps Louisiana high on the list is likely the obsession with rote social etiquette (the "Yes Ma'am, No Ma'am" rule in schools sums that up perfectly); the virtual consensus that spanking children is part of their balanced breakfast; and the all-but-unquestioned need for the death penalty.

When I first moved away from Louisiana, shortly before turning 27, I was immediately struck by how progressive the new state I lived in seemed by comparison. The people didn't judge anyone else nearly as harshly for holding different opinions or for leading nonconformist lifestyles (i.e., being single at 27). There was very little social pressure or allusion to unspoken rules. This place had a vibrant (and much-used) recycling system, bike trails and biodiesel-fueled public transit. My first food in the state was a sandwich at the new-to-me Jimmy John's, but I felt like I was breathing granola from the moment I got there.

And yet, Missouri ranks 13th — barely below Louisiana, just like the Show-Me State borders the South.

Now I'm living in Nevada, which is 47th on the list, a 40-slot drop from Louisiana. Ironically, that felt less like a culture shock than the 6-place drop I felt seven years ago. Maybe because I know now that the uptight social mores I never cared for aren't just a fact of life, so it's no surprise that other places are different. Over time and across three states, I think I've become a better person — more laid-back and empathetic. Or, to use the study's terminology, looser.

Yes, sir.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A letter to all the "nice" guys

Why am I putting “nice” in quotation marks? Because the kind of “nice” Elliot Rodger was is not nice at all. For him, like it is for many of you, his “niceness” was mostly a ruse to get sex. When it didn’t work, he became bitter and ... well, you know the rest. His (alleged) murder spree is the most extreme end of what is a sadly all-too-common behavior among many of you. And while I trust most of you will never come close to taking your frustration to bloody extremes, I still hate the effects your vile thoughts and acts have on society.

You probably don’t care what I think. Fair enough. But you should realize that being “nice” is keeping you down as well. Someone as catch-worthy as you deserves better, am I right? So heed the following points, and you might find yourself as attractive as you think you are.

“I’M NICE, DAMMIT!” IS NOT A PICK-UP LINE. There’s a saying that if someone is nice to their friends but rude to their server, then they are not a nice person. That absolutely applies here. If you broadcast to the whole world, “LOOK AT ME, I’M A NICE GUY,” then explode in disbelief and rage the moment you get friend-zoned, you’re not nice. You’re “nice.”

A man who is truly nice is that way without any conditions or ulterior motives. They might want love and sex as badly as you do, but they’re not going to go all Mr. Hyde if it doesn’t pan out. They will be rational and human about it. And maybe even nice.

THINKING YOU’RE GREAT DOESN’T MAKE YOU GREAT. As nose-deep as you are in your own hype, it won’t be quite as self-evident to other people. Women are going to judge you by what they see and sense about you, not what you think about yourself. So you’ll have to remember to be the person you claim to be. If you’re too wrapped up in your dysmorphic arrogance, you might find your perspective doesn’t at all match the sniveling little jerk everyone else sees.

NO WOMAN OWES YOU ANYTHING. No one is entitled to a lover. Not you. Not me. Not Brad Pitt. For any reason. Ever. Not for being “nice.” Or even for being actually nice. It either happens or it doesn’t. Even if you have won her over, it’s still up to her whether or not to stay with you. Every pairing from a committed relationship down to a quick hookup has to be an organic partnership, with mutual benefits. It’s not about keeping score of obligations or basing your life on ridiculous Hollywood imagery. Much of the groaning and anger among you “nice” guys would vanish in a flash if you would simply embrace this notion. And again, this would make you more appealing as a person.

WHO ARE YOU REALLY TRYING TO IMPRESS? If the answer to that question is any variation of “my dudebros,” then you’re doing it wrong. It should never be about what your friends think. (Hell, the whole idea of impressing is pretty stupid in general. Just be you and be good.) An entire community, “Pick-Up Artists,” has evolved around a culture of seduction. They obsess over “alphas” and “betas” and make a competition of coupling. That’s misogynist enough on its face, but it also convinces you “nice” guys that there’s something wrong with you if your life isn’t an ever-looping porn film. Because you’ve bought into the idea that women are yours for the taking with just the right recipe. But there is no right recipe, because women aren’t appetizers for you to sample. They are human beings. Are you?

“MEN’S RIGHTS” IS NOT A THING. This movement should be held in the same regard as white supremacy. It’s a majority power group bemoaning the fact that people other than them are people too.

IT IS NEVER TOO LATE. Don’t be too proud to grow emotionally. Don’t feel like it’s all over after 22. And, most important of all, don’t feel like you need a relationship to be alive. You don’t. Happiness lies within you. You alone owe yourself that. Make damn sure you collect.

Oh, and one last thing:

DON’T HURT OR KILL ANYONE. Good grief, this should be self-evident.

Are we clear? I hope so. Have a nice day.

— Ian

A dubious school of thought

One idea that's taken off in the age of spiraling student debt and poor job prospects is that college might be a waste of time. Those who adhere to the idea ask, is it worth assuming mountains of debt for a degree that's increasingly worth less as more people get them?

The most obvious answer to this is, of course it is. Even if the value of a college degree has been diluted, job requirements have gone up, so any competitive advantage helps. And even if you're going into the trades (the most-cited alternative to a degree), it helps to have at least some post-secondary schooling or certification. 

So in terms of who's arguing that college isn't an automatic option, tradespeople have a point. But their point — that vocational school is a viable alternative — really isn't that different from college in the broadest sense.

The worst anti-college argument of all comes from people like Peter Thiel, who encourage students to drop out because, hey, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg did it, and look at them now!

Where to even begin with that?

The same year I started college, I read a magazine article about a home-schooled girl who had been accepted to Harvard. It was part of a package on the viability of home-schooling, making a case that maybe this is what more students need to ensure Ivy League-level viability. But my immediate thought was, "This is so rare that it merited an article in Newsweek."

Speaking of Harvard, that's the school from which Gates and Zuckerberg dropped out. Just being there is generally a good sign that you're several levels above set for life. Gates quit because he had better computing equipment than Harvard and was already making headway into his burgeoning field. Zuckerberg quit because he was making millions redefining the interactive world. 

(As for Jobs, well, his was the perfect storm — a billion-dollar creation in a better economic age where college degrees still weren't all that common. Hardly a case for skipping school today.)

Thiel and others like him would have you believe that college holds everyone back like it did Gates and Zuckerberg. That's not just incorrect; that can lead impressionable students badly astray. Just like with the Harvard home-schooler, the examples are the exceptions.

The pro-dropout camp is fixated almost entirely on the tech sector, a fact that isn't always obvious in the discussion. It's possible even they aren't aware of their myopia. This list, linked by Griswold in her article, particularly hammers home that point. Every dropout on it is either a young techie or an older CEO. That proves a point, but not the one the dropout cultists want.

There's a huge difference between already having money and connections and launching a new billion-dollar tech venture, and thinking not going to college will make you a billionaire. If the pro-dropout crowd can't see that difference, perhaps some education is in order.

Aaron Brooks: No. 2 in my heart

Count me among the Saints fans who remembers Aaron Brooks fondly. Drew Brees gets well-deserved credit for energizing the franchise, but it's easy to forget that Brooks, in his first year with the team, did the same thing.

I remember 2000 very well, which started as frosty as every year had been since the seventh week of 1993. Truth be told, I wasn't even watching that much then. Jeff Blake was the new (old) quarterback for the new head coach, Jim Haslett. They beat Ryan Leaf's Chargers and that was it for awhile. Then the Saints got hot, winning six in a row. Then Blake got hurt against the Oakland Raiders, and Brooks came in with a deer-in-the-headlights look. They lost that game, but not before Brooks quickly got over his jitters. Then they beat the defending-champion Rams the following week. Brooks was off and running. ESPN did a segment about how Brooks and Blake could coexist as a two-headed quarterback hydra, and I personally heard friends express excitement over Brooks as the future of the Saints.

Brooks then drove the Saints to their first playoff appearance in eight years. He threw four touchdown passes to help them win. For the first time ever. Against the defending Super Bowl champions, no less. 

In fact, I don't recall any concerted anti-Brooks angst until Dec. 1, 2002, when the Saints hosted the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (a game that I attended). Brooks put the Saints well ahead (though they ultimately won 23-20), bruising his bicep in the process. Haslett replaced him in the final drive with Jake Delhomme, a local favorite, who tossed a game-sealing first down to Joe Horn. Somehow, this led many Saints fans to believe that Delhomme should be starting instead. Many fans blamed Haslett's choice to stick with Brooks for that season's collapse, though really I think they just liked the idea of Delhomme as starter (his Louisiana roots being among the more polite reasons).

The hatred of Brooks really took off in 2005, when a certain something happened that completely uprooted the Saints in unprecedented fashion, and they finished 3-13. Brooks' career died off quickly and as undignified as possible in 2006, with the Raiders, just as Brees became New Orleans' neuralizer. 

I've always found that unfair. Had Brees not obliterated every past metric of Saints success, I think we'd be looking back at Brooks more fondly. Brooks remains, in fact, one of the best Saints quarterbacks of all time. The things people criticize about him are mostly unfair.

Yes, the Saints often collapsed during Brooks' tenure, but many of those were defensive in nature or otherwise weren't all his fault. 

Yes, he often laughed after bad plays, but I believe him when he says he did that to keep it light and to keep himself focused. That's often what I was thinking as I watched it happen.

And yes, he threw that backward pass once. But he threw many more forward passes, including the aforementioned four-TD playoff performance, and started off and helped finish the River City Relay (also a much-maligned play due to the missed extra point, but actually one of the best plays in football history).

Statistically speaking (and from my own recollections), Brooks generally played well in his games. He was far from perfect and never won any titles, but this is also true of many quarterbacks who aren't nearly as polarizing. And it isn't his fault that he was quickly overshadowed by possibly the greatest man ever to wear a Saints uniform.

I'm glad to see Brooks looking good and living well, and I applaud his induction into the Saints Hall of Fame. He deserves it for being the catalyst that he was when he marched into town. And he helped me rediscover my passion for the Saints. We should similarly rediscover the passion we once had for him.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wash your hands of it, Washington

The NFL may have just inadvertently admitted that "Redskins" is a racist name. And it did so while going out of its way to not do that.

This week, dozens of Senate Democrats made a united plea to the NFL to change the mascot of the Washington Redskins. The league quickly responded with the expected courage-strong talk. But then there was this peculiar statement:

"The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently."

I could be wrong here, but it sounds like they're saying the name is OK because they don't say it a lot, and/or they don't mean it in a bad way. If that's the case, isn't that an indictment of the term? Words that are universally acceptable don't have to be qualified like that. If you're parsing any term as much as "Redskins" has been lately, then it's time to retire it.

Change the name.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To be fair, spelling isn't a major

This image has gone viral recently as proof of Kids These Days, and especially LSU Kids These Days:

There's a lot of debate over whether this is genuine stupidity or a joke. I'm firmly convinced it's a joke. It's one I've heard, and made, many times before. "College graduate" spelled correctly isn't something you often see scrawled across the rear window of a car, "Just Married"-style. And whereas "Jus maried" would just be an embarrassing error, "Colege gradute" is funny because it's ironic. 

So, sorry, people currently in charge of Louisiana's public education system. You haven't completely wrecked it yet.

Guns gone wrong

Hey, you guys who brought assault rifles into Chipotle.

You're not proving anything about freedom. You're terrifying people and making yourselves look like scared, weak little wretches.

I legally own a car, but I don't drive it into the lobby of Starbucks. Time and place count. Also, my car isn't a tank.

And yes, I realize that the right to drive isn't enshrined in the Constitution. That, too, is time and place, I suspect. Cars weren't around then. Neither were assault weapons. I don't think the Founding Fathers would have favored no restrictions on either, based on how much havoc you can wreak with both items.

Stunts like this undermine the Second Amendment more than the strictest gun control ever could. 

As for your group's remarks about women, well, there's never a time or place for those. Grow up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Wheel unfortunate

The best thing (and, eventually, the worst thing) about Pat Sajak's embarrassing climate-change tweet is all the Wheel of Fortune jokes that can be made. 

• Sorry, Bob Barker's sign-off is still the king.

• The "global warming" puzzle must fall under the new category, "Not a Thing." 

• Sajak apparently has fictional character.

• R S T L N Ehh?!!

• You have 30 seconds to ruin your reputation. Talk it out. Good luck!

• "Psst ... Pat ... the answer is actually, 'Morris the Cat.'"

• They're also racists? Is this tweet Before and After?

• In his defense, he didn't mean proper name.

• Somebody needs to spin again, and hard.

• Quite a bit of lost turns there.

• That comment was more white than Vanna.

• No, Wheel of Fortune's acronym isn't WTF. Well, it wasn't.

• Vanna turns the letters. Pat turns them into something awful.

• Vowels are worth nothing, consonants worth ... also nothing.

• All of Wheel's future puzzles will be misspelled like tea party signs.

• Nothing but SUV prizes from here on out!

• Immediately afterward, Bob Goen tweeted, "Right here, guys."

• Talk about bankrupt!

• I'd like to solve the puzzle as to why a mostly beloved public figure who hosts an awesome game show would post such a train-wreck tweet.

It's been common knowledge for a while that Pat Sajak is a strong conservative; after all, Rush Limbaugh was the substitute host for The Pat Sajak Show back in 1990. But I think even Rush just said, "Man, that was dumb." Or, even worse, not.

Are graduation speeches the future?

Every time I read about celebrity graduation speakers, or celebrity graduation speakers being thwarted by the librul agender, I ask myself, "What schools are these?"

I graduated three times, and I couldn't tell you who any of the speakers were. I'm pretty sure all three were in-house or lived next door to the house, and the speeches were see-before-me-the-future boilerplate. (The graduation the semester after my bachelor's graduation had a fundraising video in lieu of a speech — specifically how a few rich guys had given back — so I dodged that at least.)

The speech I remember the most is the one given at the Spring 2006 Louisiana commencement, where the speaker urged every graduate who could to live abroad for awhile. That's as edgy as UL ever got. And I still don't recall who he was.

So there's that part of me who's jealous whenever I hear about someone famous giving a speech. That's got to be a thrill. But then I wonder, would that actually be worse? 

Schools always take a risk in those cases, because public figures can be divisive. Politicians are inherently polarizing and might have half the grads facing away in protest, if not sparking outright heckling. That's not in the spirit of a commencement. Even where I like the idea, such as with Seth MacFarlane, I see how it could be excruciating if you don't get his references. 

A better question might be, should graduations even have speakers anymore? Are they seen as anything but a cliched formality with no particular upside? If those downbeat and smug pseudo-speeches trendily popping up online lately are any indicator, maybe graduations should become walk-and-roll. I'm all for honest, noncliched presentations, but some of those are just brutal. 

Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine commencement speeches vanishing entirely, and I think in practice people would miss them. I hope they stick around at least long enough for the millennials to eventually deliver them. They'll have something wise to say, no doubt.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


This is probably my young age showing, but I hate the notion that people have to be somber and serious to be effective adults. I'm not a particularly serious person, but I've done all right for myself while winding up in some wacky pictures along the way. Eliot Cohen would hate me.

In truth, all smartphone/character arguments are moot. Smartphones have only been around for a few years, so it's unfair to tar them as a sign of a society off its rails. I'm pretty sure the baby boomers, the Greatest Generation and everyone before them would have been all over smartphones had they been a thing in the past. Apparently Cohen and his ilk disagree, assuming that a smartphone in earlier decades would have been shunned because those generations were just too industrious.

Give me a break. Every generation has its Big Thing that previous generations hold up as proof that we're in decline, and every generation has its curmudgeons who attempt to apply that trend to the nation's leadership. I'm sure there was someone in the 1950s who thought Dwight Eisenhower smiled too much, which made that person pine for the salad days of Calvin Coolidge.

In Cohen's case, he seems to especially yearn for the presidency of George W. Bush, whose cowboy mannerisms, flight suits, watched drives, folksy nicknames and grim vice president apparently reflected a time of "gravitas, sobriety, perseverance and constancy."

I'll take the better president who takes selfies, thanks.

The revolution will not be ... a revolution

There's a lot to be said about any rally that calls to overthrow a democratically elected government. 

But really, 10-30 million people? Have these organizers ever put on an event, been to an event, read a Wikipedia article about an event or ever done basic math in their lives? Millions of people don't show up for any one thing; six digits is the stuff of legend. Even the Million Man March wasn't close, if you believe the official estimates, and million is right there in the name. A sensible, singular million.

Nevertheless, the Million Man March was at least somewhat close in estimating its own impact. Operation American Spring overshot not just the number of Americans wanting to take their country back, but also overshot physics. But even if all 30 million angry Americans managed to take time off work (or militia) at the same time and travel to Washington, D.C., that's still a minority of Americans.

Protip: It's better to lowball an event's estimated attendance so that, if exceeded, it looks like the movement is even more popular than previously thought, than vice versa. In this case, a better estimate would have been 10-30. Considering how legally dubious such a call to revolution is, that attendance figure actually is impressive.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A letter to all men

Dear Men,

How are you? I am fine.



Got it? Grunt.

Your acquaintance, 

Monday, May 12, 2014

The romanticism of Francis

I wish he wouldn't. But whether or not you're disappointed in that depends on how you view the pope to begin with. 

I, for one, view the Catholic Church as a traditional, patriarchal institution that has objectives with which I'll always be at odds. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI left me with the impression that not much would ever change within the institution, even in the face of a changing world (and a world static on the sin of child molestation). 

Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air. I have admired his stances on a variety of issues, many of which are downright progressive. He is willing to challenge the church orthodoxy on some contentious issues, not the least of which is the church's commitment to helping the poor. He deserves all the praise he gets in that respect.

But remember too that this is relative. Outside of the church, Pope Francis wouldn't be bowling over anyone with his views — he'd be viewed as a decent guy at best. That he's seen as groundbreaking is more a testament to the rigid institution he leads than to the man himself.

Don't get me wrong; I'm still thrilled that Francis is pope. I like him and his example and I want every pope after him to be successively more progressive (I can dream). But it shouldn't shock anyone when he occasionally sides with the status quo. He can't please everyone all the time. He's not God. 

He's human.

Kissing Michael Sam

Michael Sam is the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. Many people are asking, what’s the big deal?

Well, the big deal is that this has never happened in any major American pro sports league. Ever. Even in a country where gays have been acceptable targets of open bigotry (at least until recently), sports especially stands out as a bastion of gay-bashing.

It’s been less than a year since the first-ever active player came out. Given sexual statistics in America, it’s highly unlikely that no pro player in any sport was gay until Jason Collins came along. Indeed, several athletes have disclosed their sexual inclination after retiring, which proves that gay players have had to repress their true selves — and likely endure endless streams of insensitivity — to get by. They might have even felt pressured to join in on the gay-bashing. Such denial of self is never something to celebrate, nor should it be mourned when progress is made against it.

Every barrier broken against bigotry represents the positive evolution of society. Sam was drafted because of his abilities and potential, to be sure, but the fact that he wasn’t damaged goods because of his homosexuality is significant. That absolutely deserves to be celebrated. This time.

Next time, such a pick will be ordinary. Good.

And now, to address a few points courtesy of our enlightened friends here and here:

• Regarding Sam kissing his boyfriend upon his selection: I’ll admit that public kissing in general makes me uncomfortable. If the kiss is genuinely affectionate, I feel sort of voyeuristic. If it’s a case of trying too hard, I roll my eyes. Either way, I tend to turn my glance away. But that’s my issue, and I would certainly never suggest that people stop kissing in public because of it. (Anyway, no one saw my face at junior prom, so I relinquished that authority long ago.) So the short answer on the uncomfortableness of public displays of affection is this: look away if it bothers you.

If you were repulsed at the notion that Sam might kiss his boyfriend on live television after being selected in the NFL draft, well, you didn’t have to watch. You knew it was coming, and there are plenty of other channels featuring hard-line religion, monosyllabic mass murder and everything else apparently preferable to two men in love showing mild affection for each other at a life-changing moment. Or, there’s also not TV, since your skin is that thin.

I’m impressed that ESPN showed the buss; I honestly wasn’t sure they would. They could have easily capitulated to the Christian right’s intense persecution complex and censored themselves. But they didn’t because, like the rest of us, they thought it was a pretty watershed moment. For once, I was happy to witness a kiss.

• Oh, and don’t worry about the extensive damage the kiss did to your children’s psyches. They probably thought nothing of it until you raised a stink. (Come to think of it, racism starts the same way.) In any case, your children will grow up to think of anti-gay hate the same way we think of racial bigotry today: like a relic of a shameful past, adhered to only by those who insist they don't really feel that way.

• Michael Sam is not Bizarro Tim Tebow. Yes, people make fun of Tebow as they tend to do with public figures who give them fodder, but that isn’t persecution. Tebow is an insufferably sanctimonious Christian in America, where it’s socially acceptable to be an insufferably sanctimonious Christian. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was killed for being gay. Tebow would have been drafted that year. So spare me the comparisons.

But even if that comparison was justified, why would that make it OK for the right to attack Sam? Couldn’t that just be an example of how immature the left is, and how much classier the right acts? Apparently not.

Tebow and Sam do have one thing in common — their careers live and die by their skills. Being gay won’t save Sam if he’s a bust any more than Christianity saved Tebow. Because, ultimately, it’s all about ability. It always should have been. We’re one step closer to that ideal now.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Cultural dealbreaking

Today, the AV Club asks: What's your cultural dealbreaker?

I'll bite.

From about 7th grade through the first years of college, someone's taste in music could very much determine whether that that person could be a good friend or girlfriend. Not because I was ever a music snob, but because at the time one's taste in music often drove everything else about their personality. For example, I remember showing up to school on the first day of 8th grade (in 1993) all Zack Morrised out, only to see most of my classmates sporting long hair, flannel and Doc Martens, and most suddenly acting as morose as Kurt Cobain. This not only pushed me away from some lifelong friends, but also made me hate Nirvana for years (I love them now, further proving that personality can drive such taste).

As years went by and people forged more of their own identities apart from whatever music they enjoyed, it mattered less to me. I'd tolerate loud, crappy frat sludge or (to a degree) country music in my girlfriend's car if I liked everything else about her. As music faded as a dealbreaker, though, politics mattered a lot more. I felt that having political beliefs was a sign of caring about important things, and even if I disagreed, those beliefs made one interesting. During college especially, I friended and dated conservatives and even enjoyed debating them. More often than not among my friends, I'd be the only liberal in the room and they'd enjoy ganging up on me (this got uncomfortable for a while after 9/11). But more recently, politics has become a major dealbreaker — as much as I consider myself open-minded, I don't see myself spending time with anyone enamored with the tea party or with authors of a Glenn Beck ilk. Such ideology traffics in the premise that half of Americans (and, by definition, me) are vile people who want to undermine the country we live in. That's neither true nor anything I feel compelled to defend in most conversations. I don't think I could get over that like I could if their worst flaw was that they liked Alanis Morissette's "Hand In My Pocket." We can joke about bad music, but misinformed politics can damage someone's soul.

Also a dealbreaker: Anyone who tells me what I have to like or what not to like, hipsters.

Blinded by the white privilege

What he thinks he's saying: "Being white hasn't given me a free ride in life, any more than it gave my ancestors relief from their struggles to make it in America."

What he's actually saying: "Everything in the world wasn't handed to me, so racism doesn't exist, except for the racism against white people like me."

Tal Fortgang couldn't have missed the point more if he tried. And he might have tried.

White privilege is not about attending white meetings with all the white people and standing in line to be handed all of the keys to America that whites deserve based on their white pedigrees. (Man, he is an Ivy Leaguer.) White privilege is much more subtle than that, and Fortgang absolutely is a beneficiary. For that matter, so am I.

Four years ago during a hike in rural Missouri, a friend took this picture of me:

I wasn’t mad; in fact, I was having a great time that day in the crisp fall air. We were taking lots of pictures, and in this particular one I decided to look as tough as possible. I figured flipping on my hood and making as mean a face as I could muster would do the trick. But as you can see, I don’t look so tough. I can’t look tough. If anything, I look like I’m about to burst into tears from having my toy truck stolen by the big, mean bully. I'm just a guy who likes hoodies and who even at his angriest wouldn't likely be a target of harassment while walking through the suburbs at night. Even if I wound up guilty of some crime, this picture wouldn't go viral as proof that I (and everyone like me) is a thug.

There's a store in my neighborhood that has a sign outside specifically banning hoodies. I suspect this is because of all the teenagers who shop there. I haven't walked in there with a hoodie, but if my past experience is any indicator, no one would say anything if I did. 

I have been approached in dark parking lots in the middle of the night by young women asking me for directions. Police officers and security guards do not give me a hard time. No one ever thinks, "I won't hire anyone named Ian." No racist white person taunts me from across the street. In general, strangers aren't immediately suspicious of me. Even if I did give off a circumstantially bad impression, there would be at least an inkling of the benefit of the doubt. Basically, I have to earn any suspicion thrown my way — and even then, the threshold is higher than if it were someone with my same hoodie and my same baby face doing the same things, but with darker skin.

That is white privilege. 

White privilege refers to all of the subtle ways that life is easier for a white person in America, often in ways that go unnoticed. But it's so important to notice them. Not just because that's the key to understanding and eradicating prejudice, but also because it's how we put an end to myopic rhetoric like Fortgang's. The biggest obstacle to understanding white privilege is ... white privilege.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Relationship tips

By Society
Guest contributor

Avoid a man if:

He’s single. If he’s any kind of catch, why would he be single? Nobody wants this person for a reason. Heed the planet’s consensus.

He doesn’t have a beard. That means he can’t protect you against the bears. Indeed, you should look for primal, Darwinian characteristics in every aspect of his life. Is he muscular? Does he drive a 4x4? Can he chop down sequoia trees with a dull butter knife? Does he own 15 varieties of firearms? How’s his night vision? Is he undertaking advanced specialized training for the zombie apocalypse? You need all of these things to survive the desolate, frozen tundrascape that is 2014 America.

He doesn’t talk constantly about kicking someone’s ass. You’ll want assurance that, in every conceivable situation from muggers to rowdy children, the guy won’t be afraid to throw down a beat-down, or at least threaten to do so. Ideally, he should ponder this hypothetical every few minutes for no reason at all. It shows he’s on top of his game.

He shows emotions. This goes against the Macho Code. You can’t picture John Wayne or Ronald Reagan getting giddy about a new hat or horse, can you? Of course not. Because they were Men®.

He makes his own sandwiches. This is time he could spend getting someone to make sandwiches for him. Poor time management.

He takes care of himself and his stuff. A real man lets his person and possessions go to pot as a symbol of how he needs someone to complete him. Exceptions include his toilet, his guns and his car — but only if his car is a big truck.

He hasn’t put away childish things. Manhood can’t occur unless having fun stops. It is impossible both to be responsible and to enjoy video games. That’s simply physics.

He doesn’t have crippling emotional issues. You can’t take it upon yourself to singlehandedly fix a guy who isn’t broken.

Avoid a woman if:

Her father isn’t a dominating, imposing figure who sees himself as something between a bouncer and a platonic husband to his daughter, and who delights in intimidating all potential suitors. You should notice this in a woman before you notice her eyes. If her dad dominates the picture, it means that her/his standards are sky-high, and that if you want to be the new overprotector in her life, you’ll have to defeat her evil ex/him. If you’re able to do that, you’ll know that in earning his respect, you’ve earned her love. It’s a tradition as old as the Big Bang that he no doubt doesn’t acknowledge.

She doesn’t have a jewel-studded purse that reads, “High Maintenance.” These women are high-maintenance because, according to them, they are worth every penny. Market value is a very important indicator of worth, thus it goes without saying that friendship and affection are commodities to be purchased. So buy her that drink and that car already, cheapskate.

She tells you early on that she doesn’t need a relationship to be happy. Huge red flag. If she says she’s independent or picky, run. You want a woman who is willing to settle for the first person to gaze in her general direction, stat! That means she’ll put up with more, leaving you with less of a need to better yourself, which is a lot of work.

She has her own personality, passions and interests. When you think of garbage role models, think of Akeem!

She has learned from the mistakes of the past and/or has overcome tremendous adversity. She’s going to be wise to you.

Tips for all genders and orientations:

Declare a type, and stick to it at all costs. The last thing you want is an attractive, friendly and intelligent person with whom you click but who has the wrong hair color. You can bend on friendliness, intelligence and clickitude if you must, but not on anything visible to the human eye, such as height, weight, eye color or salary. Image is important.

Refuse to date anyone your age or younger. Because let’s face it — they’re all too immature, right? Skew older, because they know exactly what they want — someone immature.

Don’t talk politics or religion. Why mar a glorious budding relationship by learning that your girlfriend is a virulent racist, or by discovering your dude thinks there should be a minimum wage of 24 cents an hour for women? These simply aren’t subjects for polite company. Keep such sensitive topics under wraps until marriage, minimum. Don’t you want some surprises for the long haul?

Don’t give up. This is true on two fronts:

1) Don’t give up looking for that perfect relationship. It won’t happen if you aren’t desperately searching for it every damn second.

2) Don’t give up on that theoretically special someone if they aren’t into you. Forget that advice about wanting to be someone who wants to be with you — nothing changes someone’s heart like a rigid sociopath.

Read this advice to the object of your affection, and see how they take it. Really, you should do this first.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The inherent stickiness of tape

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has written a sharp piece about the Donald Sterling affair. He notes that the now-reviled racist was "congenial" to him when he briefly coached for the Clippers, but that a trend of racism later arose in Sterling's legal doings. It's because of this track record (which should been noticed long ago) and not one single outburst, Abdul-Jabbar says, that we should truly be outraged.

But then he says this:

"Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media?"

Angered? Possibly. Equally angered? No. 

For one thing, the taping was apparently mutually approved, and allegedly leaked by a third party. It's not as if a vengeful ex wore a wire and took his comments out of context to ruin him. (Indeed, V. Stiviano, the woman who made the recording, was said in the above link to be "devastated" by its leak.) But even if that were the case, Sterling's behavior would still be the primary offense. It's worthwhile to consider the implications of recordings and making them public, but putting that on equal offensive par with Sterling's racism is false. Especially considering that the recording didn't paint an inaccurate picture of Sterling — as Abdul-Jabbar says, it simply reinforced what he's put into practice for years.

These are two separate issues with different arguments and implications. It's legit to ask if we should have heard those comments in the first place, but we can't unhear them now. Nor should we. As Abdul-Jabbar said, "Racists deserve to be paraded around the modern town square of the television screen so that the rest of us who believe in the American ideals of equality can be reminded that racism is still a disease that we haven’t yet licked." He's right about that.