Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The return of small-money ball

One of my main issues with professional baseball is its lack of parity. The NFL's revenue-sharing program ensures that every team has a shot every year — or, at the very least, that a few deep-pocket teams don't always have a built-in advantage over smaller-market teams. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, has widespread income inequality which, to paraphrase Bob Costas, means only a few teams are truly competitive and the rest are just selling ballpark ambience. In 2014, the Royals were 19th out of 30 teams with a payroll of about $92 million (the A's are even lower at 25th and $83.4 million, so maybe I should have pulled for them over the Royals). By contrast, the first-place Dodgers clobber everyone at $235 million (the second-ranked Yankees are near $204 million, and the figures drop off sharply from there). 

Contrast that to the NFL's salary caps: This year, the Bills lead all teams with $145.8 million and the Jets bring up the rear with $109.4 million — a total swing of $36.4 million. The top two MLB franchises alone are divided by $31 million, with another $23.8 million separating the Yankees from the third-place Phillies. Moneyball, indeed.

(Speaking of Moneyball, it's a film about how a poor Major League Baseball franchise can get the best bang for its budget, while Draft Day involves NFL teams all clamoring for the best picks with salary concerns far in the background. Very telling of each league's respective structures.)

During my time in Missouri, I remember the Kansas City Royals being the punch line for many a small-market joke. They were the textbook definition of a beleaguered team cashed out of competition. In 2011, the year I left the state, the Royals were dead last in the majors with a microscopic $36 million payroll. With that they had to play the likes of the $201 million New York Yankees. It's no shock that the most cash-stacked teams, the Yankees and the Phillies, had the best records that season.

Does this mean teams in the majors can buy championships? Well, it didn't help either the Yankees or the Phillies make it to the World Series in 2011. And the cash-strapped Tampa Bay Rays (second-to-last in payroll) fared well that year. But more often than not, the lack of parity goes a long way toward narrowing the playoff scenarios from the outset.

The Royals certainly had other woes besides a weak payroll that has kept them out of the playoffs since their World Series championship in 1985 — the longest drought in American pro sports. But the way baseball's finances are set up, it's no shock that something like that would happen, even if it's an outlier.

So, yes, I'm happy to see the Royals snap that streak with a win tonight and wish them more scrappy-underdog luck going forward. My dream World Series would pit them against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who at 27th and $78.1 million make the Royals look rich. I'd be happy if either team won that best-of-seven, but since Pittsburgh has advanced four times since the Royals' last stand, most recently with a deep run last season, my edge is to Kansas City.

Play ball!

Regarding Ebola

Ebola is not an airborne virus or one you get by eating tainted food. You contract it directly from infected bodily secretions or needles, and only then from a person who is in the infectious phase of Ebola sickness.

The person in Dallas who has been confirmed to be infected had traveled to Liberia, where an Ebola epidemic is underway. Because he showed no symptoms until back home a week later, the only people who have any chance of being infected by him are anyone who made contact with his bodily fluids during a time when he knew he was sick with something (all of whom are easy to account for). Now that he's quarantined, it's even less likely to spread. As the linked CBS article notes:

Before it was confirmed the patient definitely had the virus, Thompson spoke about the possibility of other North Texans being infected by the patient. “The key point is, if there’s been no transmission, blood, secretion, any type of bodily fluids by the infected person to someone else, then that [infection] risk is low to none.”

So for everyone in America freaking out about the possibility of catching Ebola, well, worry about any of the many other things that are much more likely to kill you. Or, better yet, follow the news and arm yourself with the facts so you aren't irrationally afraid.

Reconsider the spirit of the rules

I turned on last night’s Chiefs-Patriots game and had just enough time to whoop, “27-0? What?!!” before Tom Brady found Brandon LaFell for the Patriots’ first touchdown of the night. I immediately blamed myself. After all, the night before, I’d had my head up at work for every Cowboys score but for neither of the Saints’ touchdowns. I assumed that the Patriots would mount a historic comeback just because I had the audacity to turn on my TV. But as it turns out, even my jinxy anti-luck has its limits.

Just as I was starting to cook dinner, Chiefs free safety Husain Abdullah scored a pick-6 touchdown off Tom Brady. I cackled maniacally (because I’m weak) and didn’t even notice the celebration, and only paid attention to the flag until I heard the official say, “The touchdown is good...” Then I went about preparing my dinner.

So I was surprised to find out today that Abdullah was the one flagged for excessive celebration; I had to look again to even see what he did. And I was surprised to learn that his post-touchdown, post-slide bow was a Muslim prayer. But the biggest surprise of all was that the NFL said today that the penalty call was wrong.

The NFL did the right thing here. As someone who thinks league rules about celebration should be looser than they are, I appreciate that the NFL is distinguishing between a quiet gesture of gratitude and the showboating/taunting that leads to such stringent No Fun League rules in the first place.

Many people have contrasted Abdullah’s penalty with the fact that Tim Tebow wasn’t penalized for flashily kneeling after touchdowns — the implication being that it was OK if a Christian does it but not a Muslim. That is a debate we must continue to have in America, but I don’t think it necessarily applies here. Abdullah’s case appears to be a letter-of-the-law violation of the no-going-to-the-ground rule. That rule is also worthy of debate, because the spirit of it seems to be lacking. (At the very least, it should be enforced consistently. I don’t think Tebow deserved the penalty either, but if both drew the flag, that would at least be fair in its unfairness.)

I’m not a fan of the idea that deities have the time and ethics to intervene in sporting events, but simply showing gratitude to God after a giant play isn’t necessarily a testament to that. Witness Marques Colston — after every score, he makes a quick sign of the cross and points up. He’s not doing it for the crowds, nor does he pontificate about it off the field. Abdullah’s quick prostration isn’t about to be copyrighted either. Had he not drawn the flag for touching his helmet to the ground (the technical violation), it’s possible no one would have noticed. (Certainly no one noticed when I made the same celebratory move during flag-football games, with zero religious implications. Mostly I was out of breath.)

Could it be that the NFL is taking no action simply because it doesn’t want to be seen as favoring religions? Possibly. But I hope that it’s also a catalyst for the revisiting of what constitutes excessive celebration. Confine the flags to taunting and time-consuming routines. Stop penalizing quick, spontaneous shows of happiness and gratitude.

After all, football is entertainment. Let it be entertaining. 

Some (mostly) good advice

I don’t know if I’d describe this as beautiful. Practical, maybe. Advice for function more than fulfillment.

Most of what Mike Rowe says here is inarguable, and I certainly live by it. I’ve approached every job I’ve ever had like I was it was my dream job. I work long and hard and hate to do it wrong. That’s true when I was writing/editing articles and working on movies, and it was true when I swept floors. I know as well as anyone that there are no guarantees in life, but one thing you can control is your work ethic.

I also admire Rowe’s campaign to get more Americans to don the blue collar. Vocational work is very important, and more people should consider it as a viable employment option. In America’s most prosperous decades, the “dirty work” occupations were stable and proud ways to make a living.

And it goes without saying how heartily I endorse expanding your horizons if what you’re looking for isn’t right in front of you.

My only complaint about Rowe’s letter is this statement, coupled with another that he makes:

“Most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that's consistent with those beliefs.”

I agree that happiness does not, and should not, hinge upon one’s job. But still, you should generally gravitate toward jobs that, if they aren't want you want most, should at least not compromise your beliefs. That might sound overly lofty, but you’re not going to do particularly well, or stay at a job very long, if doing it causes you a crisis of conscience. It won’t do much for your health or interpersonal relationships either.

Rowe is right to say that jobs are but one aspect of your complete life. But it’s curious that he would say that and also this:

“You should learn to weld and move to North Dakota. ... Those guys are writing their own ticket.”

North Dakota is in the midst of an oil boom — and like with most boom areas, housing is scarce and rents are insane. Crime is rapidly proliferating. And once the area runs dry, there won’t be much to keep most of that workforce there. For whatever else the state offers, virtually all of the boom workers coming in are motivated solely by the paycheck. I’d imagine most of those flocking in aren’t pining for the quality of life that comes with being a transient worker living six apiece in an apartment commanding north of $2,000 a month, in a relatively isolated region where the crime rate is surging as a direct result of said boom.

That might appeal to those who decide that the money is worth working in such conditions (and if so, more power to them). But many people who take Rowe’s advice to behave in a way that’s consistent with their priorities might find that option less than ideal. Better to take from what he said that there are hot opportunities in many places ripe for the taking if you open your mind and do your research.

Now that's beautiful advice.

What that hole in the dome shows us

Yesterday, one of my Dallas-based friends posted a picture of Ray Charles on my Facebook wall with the inscription, "Saints looking good this year." You know, just to pile on my prediction.

This was my response:

He laughed, because he knows it's true.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Revised Saints record prediction, part II

After that ... thing ... against the Cowboys, I'm revising my ever-so-lofty Saints preseason prediction downward again.

5-11. Maybe.

We've all seen worse Saints games, but those were in worse eras. That's supposed to be the paper-bag past, not the Payton-Brees present. Even if they are back in the abyss, we as fans are not there yet mentally. The Super Bowl and all the playoff runs ... they were just here! What happened?

My wild guess: Sometime in the future, perhaps a year or two from now, we're going to find out about some deep rancor or something else very wrong that is now going on behind the scenes in the Saints camp. This isn't about lack of talent or drive; this is how you function when there's something mentally choking you. I suspect we don't know the half of it. That's the only explanation I can think of for the promise-to-reality ratio of this team that is rapidly approaching 1980 levels.

As I said in the last downward prediction, I hope I'm wrong. There are flashes of greatness and the season is young, and like most people I have no firsthand insight; this is simply my guess. But if I am right, I hope my guys can overcome it and go back to being the team they're capable of being.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Give up the Ghostbusters sequel (a fan's plea)

... And with it, spells out why there should not be a Ghostbusters III.

It pains me to say this. Growing up, I loved the original movie. And the sequel. And the book of the sequel. And the soundtracks. And the cartoon show. And the sticker albums. And my official Ghostbusters II suit. And the cereal. And Ecto Cooler. When I read in 1997 that Ghostbusters III was in the pipeline for 1999 and would star the original cast and Chris Farley, I couldn't wait. Even after Farley's death, any glimmer of hope for a sequel was good news. As long as the original cast had a hand in it, any new stars (provided they were as well-selected as their predecessors) would only help propel the franchise forward.

But 25 years later, Harold Ramis is dead and Bill Murray is a no-go. So it should not happen.

Here's why: At this point, any sequel will seem like a blatant cash-grab and star vehicle. The much-maligned Ghostbusters II, at best, delivered a decent story that stuck close to the source material and also to the time frame. At worst, it suggested that the well wouldn't be particularly deep for future episodes without some evolution. Reimagining the franchise with so many key players gone would practically constitute an act of hijacking, regardless of who the cast is. (It's entirely possible that the Murray, being the mischievous scamp that he is, is fully aware of this.)

Murray said he'd like to see Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Linda Cardellini and Emma Stone as Ghostbusters. That's some star power. But who could watch a Ghostbusters film starring McCarthy and Wiig and not think about Bridesmaids? (Or if, say, Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper got involved, The Hangover?)

Part of the appeal of the original Ghostbusters was that it was the first real chance to see the combined brain trust of Saturday Night Live and National Lampoon go nuts with their own material, unconstrained by the censorship limits of television. Most of them were big (or rising) stars at that point, but Ghostbusters was their statement.

Pretty much anyone cast for a Ghostbusters seqreboot would ether distract with their star power and underwhelm, or be unknown and underwhelm. There's no reason to do this. It's a trap!

Some of the reasons Weird Al rules

A couple of days ago, a good friend of mine noted on Facebook how sad it was that we all stopped talking about “Weird Al” Yankovic. I felt as if I contributed to his horrific omission by not finishing a blog about the famed parodist that I began in the wake of his massively successful new album, Mandatory Fun. By finishing it and posting it here, I hope to reignite the conversation that is always just bubbling under the pop-cultural surface. It’s the least I can do for humankind.

This will surprise no one, but I am a huge fan of Weird Al. I bought his newest CD, Mandatory Fun, on July 15, the day it came out. Yes, CD. I still buy CDs sometimes, but usually only for albums I want to experience as capital-A Albums, such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Mandatory Fun, like so many Weird Al works before it, definitely qualifies.

A picture of CDs, a DVD and records taken by an iPhone. The first time this has ever happened.
Owning Weird Al hardware is an enduring tradition for me, spanning vinyl, cassettes, CDs and DVDs. My collection is far sparser than it should be, but all of them have been played to near-extinction. I’ve only once given up an Al-bum, in 8th grade, and that was to trade a different one and an R.E.M. CD to be named later. I don’t regret that particular trade, but it’s not likely I’d do it again. Al for Al means loss of Al. That’s bad Algebra (get it?!!).

Weird Al is worth it. I’d go so far as to say he’s one of the most brilliant all-around artists ever.

Hear me out. If all Al had ever done was “Another One Rides the Bus” or “Eat It,” I would stop at “funny ’80s parodist.” But he’s so much more than the sum of his parts.

When I first began this blog, its title was, “All the reasons Weird Al rules.” But outlining all the ways Al is awesome is not physically possible on a medium as limited as the Internet. So here instead, are some of the reasons Weird Al is awesome.

He is not of any time period. Few refer to Weird Al as someone who was popular in the ’80s. Instead, they refer to him as someone who has been around a long time and is perpetually making a comeback from the last comeback. He rivals (and possibly exceeds) artists like Madonna in his ability to reinvent himself and stay current. And he manages to do it without it feeling formulaic — this, I think, is helped by his ever-increasing sophistication. Had Lorde been around in the 1980s, Al would have written “Foil” just about foil, and it would have been a hit. But today, the song is partially about foil and mostly about conspiracy theorists, and it’s even better. Weird Al’s enduring talent, and ability to seamlessly mesh with today, is why he’s the only person who could appear on both Family Double Dare and @midnight and have it make perfect sense both times.

He performs original music. Yes, it’s often a tribute to other bands and/or genres, but it’s there. And it’s good. “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” is a fine example. But don’t let that take away from the the fact that...

Good parody is difficult to pull off, but Al makes it look easy. Ever try to write, draw, sing or act like someone else? It’s hard as hell, and even harder to do well. Now add original, lampooning lyrics. If anything, Al is so effortlessly good at it that a million no-talent hacks (and thousands of some-talent hacks like myself) think they can do it.

From age 13 on, I attempted to ape Al on numerous occasions. One was a parody of Men at Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?” titled, “Why Can’t I See Now?” Another from 8th grade was a Michael Jackson parody called “Spam Jam,” in which I attempted to mock pop artists: “I asked my neighbor for Proclaimers/He said later ... Duran Duran and Tears for Fears/Make each song seem like it’s the last/But I like it! I like it!/Spam ... Jam!”

One of my favorites was after the Enron collapse, set to the hook of the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around”: “Run into the ground/That’s Enron/Stocks droppin’ down down/That’s Enron!”

And those are the pearls of my parody catalog. They’d be Weird Al’s mental outtakes.

Al can rap better than most rappers. “It’s All About the Pentiums” and “White and Nerdy” are stunning for their flow, never mind everything else that makes them stunning. And yes, “White and Nerdy” has evidence of audio clipping, but a lot of rappers employ that and AutoTune as well (which Al doesn’t), so it’s all good.

He and his band are top-notch musicians. Al’s versatile band — consisting of John “Bermuda” Schwartz, Steve Jay and Jim West — has been together since 1982. I read some random comment recently that Al fronts the best cover band in the world. Hear hear. The “cover” part optional.

He’s a shrewd businessman. For years, Al has exercised nearly complete control over his output, writing, producing and directing his own material. He keeps up with the times in an economical sense as well, with his recent declaration that he will focus on timely singles from here on out. Some have misunderstood this (along with everything else about him) to mean that he’s retiring. But if anything, it means he is attempting to gain relevance, not rest on his laurels. With his seven-videos-in-seven-days approach (which he did before BeyoncĂ©, contrary to popular belief), Al has shown that he can give a boost to the flagging record industry. By bringing back the single, he might resurrect it further.

He did "Albuquerque." A nearly 12-minute stream-of-consciousness rant that concludes (and prolongs) the excellent Running With Scissors, it tells the story of a guy whose hatred for sauerkraut leads him on a Pee Wee-esque journey through life. (The CD’s lyrics sheet runs out of room after the first verse, with the pledge that they’ll try a smaller font next time.) Only Al could have done it. Even he’s surprised by how repeatably listenable the song is.

His humor is clean, but just edgy enough. I love R-rated humor as much as anyone, but I personally admire Al for managing to keep it clean. Clean humor usually suffers for being clean, but dirty humor sometimes gets bogged down in its own profane tar pit. Good, clean humor that's also edgy and fall-down funny is some of the hardest humor to compose. It's rebellious in its own right. When Al TV "asks" Kevin Federline if the "F" tattoo on his arm stands for "failure," I never fail to cry with laughter. It needs no help from other F words.

Al’s simply an impressive person, even if you don’t care for what he does. He’s a funny, humble, likable guy who has carved out a career that has entertained millions and has stood the test of time. We should all be so lucky.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The dogma of smugness

This article at Slate urges atheists to stop ridiculing religion, a la Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins. 

If I've learned anything in the past 15 years, it's that being smug, confrontational and condescending won't convince anyone of even the clearest truth. That goes double with a concept as fluid as religion, where ultimately no one knows for sure.

Years ago, I caught part of a sitcom my little sister was watching on the Disney Channel. One of the main characters, a schoolboy, had decided to renounce religion. His reasons made sense, but he became more and more insufferable until everyone started to avoid him. Finally, he ran into a girl to whom he was close, and this approximate snippet of dialogue transpired:

Boy: "People who believe in that stuff are stupid."
Girl: "Do you think I'm stupid?"

That exchange gets to the heart of what's often so wrong with religious debate these days. Just as most atheists aren't nihilists looking for an excuse for their behavior and a chance to irritate churchgoers, neither are most religious people uneducated, pigheaded fanatics. Most genuinely believe in what they do as a way of making sense of a harsh world. It drives their love as surely as extremists use it to drive their hate. It's all too easy to judge a sect until you meet someone of that sect who bears none of those characteristics.

No street preacher who browbeats strangers with the Bible is going to foster much other than ridicule and perhaps a counterprotest. Similarly, a smug, know-it-all atheist can be equally detrimental to the philosophy they purport to espouse.

Atheism shouldn't really lend itself to the trappings of ideology. At its core, it's the absence of spiritual belief. It's like not believing in UFOs — there's no cult devoted to not sighting them. But unfortunately many atheist figures, like Maher and Dawkins, define atheism negatively, by what it isn't. That it is better, smarter and almost a religion unto itself. This is as bad as defining American pride by which countries we fight. It's destructive and serves only to make the adherents feel superior.

What we need to do is talk to each other. Some things are inexcusable — such as using dogma to justify abuse, bigotry, control and murder — but trashing someone who engages in none of those things as if they do is itself a form of fanaticism. The best thing atheists can do to gain acceptance in an increasingly agnostic nation is to reconsider their approach.

In general, we're more alike than different. Let's find similarities, not differences.

Selective salutations

There’s a video currently circulating the Internet that shows President Obama, coffee in hand, snapping off a rough salute to Marines as he exits his helicopter.

It’s been shared numerous times on Facebook by those who see this as a breaking point, when they had no problem with Obama before. None whatsoever.

On this Fox News segment, Sean Hannity asks, “Would President Bush ever do that?” Uh, yeah.  

I distinctly recall a comparison video when Obama first became president, where George W. Bush was halfheartedly saluting (with nothing in hand), and Obama paused and gave a snappy salute. I also remember some comments on that video from Bush supporters saying how he saluted mattered less than his policies and leadership.

Surely, Bush gave off many healthy salutes as well. Maybe it’s just a thing that presidents sometimes get sloppy with after doing a million times. Who knows?

It’s hard for me to get worked up over such a thing. I don’t judge someone’s love for country by how rigidly they adhere to symbolism, especially insofar as it involves a civilian commander-in-chief exercising protocol that isn’t even official. None of us should.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Adult education

As a kid, I worried about growing up. Adulthood, to me, seemed like a switch that had to be flipped, where you didn't play outside anymore or read the funnies or care about much besides money and drinking beer. Or maybe you still were a kid at heart, but you kept it to yourself or were looked down upon for it. Every time I pictured myself as an adult, I'd be wearing a suit or work uniform, an image that I couldn't reconcile with doing any of the things I didn't think I'd yet be ready to give up.

This image became a little more fluid as I entered my teens. The idea of owning a car and possibly a house and having a girlfriend or wife appealed to me, but wearing a suit, worrying about money and being serious still didn't. At that age, it seemed like there was room to be older and still be who I was.

Later still, as I grew to realize that being older is more of a gradual function of time than an act of switch-flipping, I decided I could just be me and chuck every other expectation. Yes, I would be responsible — I would work, pay my bills/taxes and take care of whatever needed taking care of. And I would never stop reading, learning and maturing. But other than that, I would still be the same person I always was — a kid who likes to ride my bike, collect license plates and write sometimes-ridiculous things. One who isn't overly obsessed with the things that earn one the Adult Card, unless such trappings converge with my wants and needs.

Many people, both my age and older, lament my line of thinking. They think that's today's young adults aren't sufficiently capital-A Adult, in life choices or mannerisms (and are torn on whether that's good or bad). Many times when I hear the specific criticisms, I think they could be directed at me. I couldn't care less. Some of it sounds out of touch, and some of it sounds like simple jealousy.

The way I see it, the alleged death of the adult is something to celebrate. It's admirable to hold on to what sustains you even when life, age and obligations get in the way. People are far more interesting when they don't, to quote the Bible and many a prude, put away childish things.

It's not OK

Despite living on the West Coast for more than a year now, I still forget how early Monday Night Football comes on. I turned it on at 8:45 Monday night and the commentators were deep into their post-game show. Ray Lewis was emotionally addressing the Adrian Peterson child-abuse allegations. Lewis hasn't been the most scandal-free player himself, but his points were pretty good. I was glad to see the ESPN team openly tackling controversial issues, just as other network personalities have been doing.

I'm also encouraged by the backlash against "my parents did it, and I'm OK." More often than not, when I've heard someone say that, it was with a combined tone of anger and defensiveness — a tone that suggests the person is anything but OK. They might be lovely, rational, thinking adults most of the time, but there's that terrifying lapse in patience that's ever-present. It can manifest itself in numerous ways. Spanking. Switching. Even harsher forms of physical punishment. Some exercise the mildest forms occasionally and regretfully. Others are harsher and see no problem with it. Still others boast of their use corporal punishment with inappropriate pride.

As someone who is opposed to spanking children, let alone the use of switches, I'm happy to see that Peterson has few apologists. Sure, people should have been outraged long ago, and many of us were, but all we can do now is stay vigilant about such practices in the future. Not because our pro heroes are doing it, but because anyone is.

I realize that many good people differ with me on the issue of spanking. But to me, the issue isn't the severity of the physical approach so much as the trigger in an adult's mind when they find it necessary to strike a child. It is against the law to strike another adult the same way, so why should we allow it from parent to child? And why be OK with spanking if the wounds Peterson inflicted to his children are so abhorrent? The anger in the adult and the trauma to the child are where the real scars form. So it all needs to stop.

The shame of manguage

During last Thursday night's telecast of the Steelers-Ravens game, CBS sportscaster James Brown addressed the NFL's recent scandal in handling Ray Rice's domestic-violence video. And by "addressed," I mean, "crushed it." Slate has it here.

What I like most about JB's short piece (and there's so much to like) is that he touched on how men often use feminine language to convey weakness and intimidation. I remember hating this as early as high school, where seemingly every tough guy would tell you not to be a pussy or a bitch, or not to get your panties in a bunch. Or they'd urge you not to throw like a girl. Considering that my cousin was one of the top softball pitchers in the state, I could only dream of throwing like her.

Still, sometimes I'd catch myself using that language. It didn't come as easily to me as those who thought nothing of plastering it on their pickup trucks, but it would creep out from time to time, subconsciously.

But the wrongness of it really hit home for me in college, when I knew a guy whose highest form of insult was, "You're worse than a woman." Most of my best friends at the time were women, so I'd think, "What's wrong with being a woman?"

I never have gotten my answer. Even if you go with the stereotype of women as overly emotional and irrational, well, that's nonsensical because plenty of men fit that description. Including the ones who say things like that. And definitely any "man" who acts like Ray Rice.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Crafting singles: A slice of American cheese

The subtitle of this article is, "More than half of people are now single. Is that because we can always swipe right, or because everyone else can, too?"

I'll admit I had to read on to understand the "swipe right" reference. Apparently it refers to the dating app Tinder, where swiping right means making the next stop on the virtual singles tour. And apparently apps like Tinder, according to Samhita Mukhopadhyay, are the reason why more than half of Americans are now single.

That's a misleading stat to begin with, because (as the author notes) that number simply counts the number of people who don't have a marriage certificate. It's like finding out a city has a 55 percent workforce-participation rate — it doesn't mean 45 percent of the populace is unemployed.

What compels me to comment on this isn't that stat, but another issue: Mukhopadhyay's (possibly tongue-in-cheek) assertion that the digital world has hindered us in finding love because of the perceived infinite opportunities.

I've often been asked why, as a theoretical catch, I'm still single. My short answer is, "inertia." My longer reply is that I am picky, because I think a decision as major as the person you most want to spend your time with should be informed by contemplation. For too many people, it isn't, and those couples are either miserable or (worse) they deny to themselves that they aren't living the best possible life. If there is, in fact, a rising rate of single people, that's less likely a testament to the prevalence of apps (always a weak argument in any case) than to the broadening acceptance of lifestyles. Fewer people are hitching up these days for the wrong reasons, which if anything strengthens the institution of marriage, and empowers individuals to have confidence in whatever decision they make.

In many areas of life, being picky to the point of taking no action is counterproductive. (Indeed, as I write this, I have five blogs backed up in draft for precisely that reason.) But when it comes to something as potentially life-changing as a relationship, a certain level of pickiness is good. Yes, it's possible that always thinking you can do better will leave you alone and unfulfilled. But that risk is preferable to settling for someone who isn't so good for you because you think you can't do better.

It's a big, bad world and life is short. The least you owe yourself is to be as genuinely happy as you can help being. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Surge to the future

They've brought back Surge. THEY'VE BROUGHT BACK SURGE!!

My enthusiasm is misleading. Mostly, I think this is hilarious. A social-media campaign successfully brought back the drink, which was sold from 1996 to 2002, though now it's available only through Amazon.com. Energy was expended on this. No wonder they need Surge.

I was 16 and in 11th grade when Surge arrived on the scene. It was much-coveted on the teen circuit partially because of its hip image and citrus overtones, but primarily because it contained an incredible (for the time) amount of caffeine. Monster wasn't yet a thing and Jolt was hard to come by, so Surge was the drink of choice for those who preferred to live life with, to quote the ads, a SURRRRRRRRRGE!!!

Ironically (and very weirdly), I had ended my brief infatuation with caffeine by age 16. I was drinking less soda in general, and was convinced caffeine did nothing for me. Mainly, I didn't like the dehydrated, sweetly queasy feeling I got from drinking large quantities of soda. Nevertheless, I did like citrus flavors, so I decided I'd try Surge. Also, all the cool kids were doing it, so I had to do it to ensure all the cool kids were doing it. Of course.

I had no problem procuring some Surge. One afternoon, my high school handed out cans of Surge to anyone who had two quarters to rub together. We even got to leave class to get it! Then, as now, I found it bizarre that a public school would hand out mildly controversial caffeinated beverages in the middle of class during a school day. The power of the Coca-Cola Company and its money.

When I reached the school lobby to purchase my can, a cute girl I'd known for years wrapped her arm around me, put her other hand on my chest and asked, flirtatiously, "Ian, will you buy me a Surge? Please?" With those eyes! So I did. And she thanked me and quickly left with it. 

Again, the power of the Coca-Cola Company and its money.

I brought my drink back to class (which was the newspaper class during a down cycle, so it quickly devolved into everyone obsessing over Surge) and took a few semi-reluctant sips. It tasted good enough, but I was determined not to let the caffeine get to me; after all, I'd told everyone that caffeine didn't affect me. In fact, it made me sleepy, because even my nervous system was contrarian.

And, in fact, aside from a slightly increased heartbeat, I was mostly lethargic after finishing the can. But that could have been the fact that I was stuck in a classroom with very little to do at close to 2 p.m.

I drank a few more Surges in the following years, but it wasn't a habit. I didn't notice until long after its demise that it wasn't a thing anymore, and only then it was because a friend was rehashing a complaint.

It's good to see it back, though, just because I love a happy story. I only wish they'd play the same EXTREEEME mid-'90s ads they did during Surge's earliest run. Let's get a campaign for that!

SURRRRRRGE!!! [Makes metal noises]

Today in no: Airline edition

J. Bryan Lowder at Slate thinks we should dress up when traveling.

No thanks.

To be fair, I do try to look good on a plane, train or bus. But only because I (almost) always try to look my best wherever I go. Granted, my interpretation might be different than the norm — for me, it usually means wearing an unwrinkled pair of khaki shorts or jeans and a clean button-down or T-shirt. I think I pull off this look, and I feel good doing it.

Isn’t that always what they say? “If you look good, you feel good.” I’m not the kind of guy who feels right in a spiffy suit. I dress up when appropriate (and look good or mostly OK doing it), but I don’t seek every opportunity to don dressy duds. When many people look at vintage photos from the early 20th century where everyone’s in their Sunday finest for a day at the beach, they pine for such a dapper era. But I tend to think, “I would have hated every tuberculosis-laden, segregated, rigid-social-mored second of it.”

The problem I have with Lowder’s pretentious screed is that it belongs in another decade, one without a 2 (and perhaps with a 5) in it. He seems to think that flying, especially, is the near-exclusive province of businesspeople heading first-class to their next business meeting, where even the plebeian coach seats are wide enough so that everyone has space for a dinner dish and an ashtray.

But the main thing that's wrong with his stance is that it isn't even rooted that much in personal dignity — it's more a case of, "Think of those around you!" Yes, the teeming paparazzi masses of judgment. Their flashbulbs are so bright that I barely notice how my slacks reduce my legroom by nearly a third.

I once wore slacks and a tie on a flight, but only because I was heading directly to a job interview two states away. Far from feeling like I classed up the express jet, I felt self-conscious when I saw an old friend in the next seat, who was heading to Atlanta with his band (and dressed the part). My getup fit for the interview (I got the job), but not so much for my perceived sense of style in transit.

That trip aside, I fly on my own time, from desert to swampland and back, in a country where you have to take off your shoes and pass through a metal detector and perhaps make friends with a wand to board your jet. Then you’re herded onto what is basically an air bus (and which was probably built by Airbus) and share closer microbe space with your seatmates then you have with some third dates. Sometimes the toilet stall works and sometimes it doesn’t. And you can get a free ginger ale if you want, but the snacks cost extra.

Flying might have been glamorous once, but that was when relatively few people could afford it (and before America lost its alleged innocence about five times over). I enjoy flying, but ultimately it’s just another means of conveyance. Just like I don’t care what fellow passengers are wearing, I doubt they’d even notice if I dressed better for a random plane trip then I do for work. If they ever do, I shall guffaw at their harrumphs.

Comfort level is something everyone should decide for themselves. If that means wearing your finest dress, go for it. If it means looking like me (or schlubbier), more power to you. But that’s your decision, not the one of a man who would deign to judge crowds of strangers. You’ll know him when you see him. He’s the one craning his head from first class to see if everyone’s noticing him.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Revised Saints record prediction


Without that pick-six of Drew Brees, the Saints probably would have beaten the Browns. But I'm convinced it's not a fluke. This defense is atrocious and there appears to be discord within the coaching ranks (and bad clutch play-calling in general). That's fundamental stuff that isn't solved with a turn of the screw here and a lucky bounce there.

I'm not sure where this came from, but it's hugely disappointing. This should have been the best Saints team ever, and yet they're looking like the worst of the Sean Payton era. That's some serious mental whiplash.

They're still going to have their moments, but they don't even remotely resemble a playoff team at this point.

I would love to be wrong.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Your sports theme is vastly inferior

You'd think this was a question I've mulled about 1,175 times in my life. But it's actually closer to six. The biggest obstacle to this one for me is that I don't generally come up with the aggressive music that such a question requires. Mine might say a lot about me, but if the purpose is to strike fear into hearts, well, the fact that I'm not especially intimidating is exactly what it would say.

I can tell you what song would have opened my hypothetical TV show, though: UB40's "Chronic." This song was the B-side on their cassingle of "Higher Ground" when I was in 8th grade (and wanting to start a public-access show at the station two blocks from my house), and to this day has few serious contenders, because I still have this hypothetical show to think about.

Now, on to sports. I am, after all, a juggernaut.

After attending a baseball game where someone's walk-up music was Men at Work's "Down Under," I thought that would be a good choice for me — except that the batter was Australian, which was the entire point of that. The closest I come to being Australian is having the name Ian and liking Men at Work.

I also dig the opening strains of Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" as a psychological sports play, but come on, psycho killer? I hear sports leagues really frown on that, levying brief suspensions for it and all.

MC Hammer's "Too Legit to Quit" would be perfect if this was 1991, which it hasn't been since 1992.

And I have an undying love for the 2-player Mystic Cave Zone music of Sonic the Hedgehog 2:

The opening strains of the Zombies' "Time of the Season" would also accurately convey my coolness under theoretical athletic pressure:

And Starship's "It's Not Over ('Til It's Over)" is my cliché choice.

But my left-field pick would be my all-time favorite intro to any song — the only one that, when it pops up on my iPod, I play the opening seven seconds of repeatedly before moving on with the rest of it. It's not the most intimidating set of chords ever, but it puts me in just the right mood for anything, including hitting a home run or nailing the perfect interception. Cutting Crew's "(I Just) Died In Your Arms."


Phew! Now that I've got that figured out, I can get to work on my budding pro-sports career. Never give up on your dreams, kids.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

In defense of emotion

Three times during the Saints-Falcons game, I was told either to calm down or was called a "questionable" fan. Twice on Twitter and once by my parents, who are in town visiting me.

(My parents asked me to calm down. They didn't question my fanhood. Just to be clear.)

It's not that I got angry (I've been far worse), but I did call the team "garbage" on Twitter and went for a walk at one point. Actually quite restrained for a Falcons game.

Look, I'll admit that a real-time medium is as easy to use as it is to misinterpret. And yes, I go overboard at times with the skewed perspective.

But I'm a fan and I have passion, and I won't apologize for that. It's a very narrow passion that comes out intensely at times. I loved when Marques Colston slammed his helmet after he turned over the ball in overtime, because that's what I wanted to do too in that moment. He was speaking for all of us. 

I've worked hard to tone down my anger and disgust when the Saints lose. But I'm not one to shrug it off immediately like many people do. I'm not wired that way. Good for you if you can do that. I can for most things, but a Saints loss, especially one like this, always stings.

This Saints team is not garbage. In fact, they could be the best team ever. They even gave us a preview of how it well it could all work in the first half. But it was nearly all downhill from there, spectacularly. It's like your new car falling apart when you get it home. It makes the reality so much worse. My hope is that the Saints learn from it and that the fact it was a Falcons home game had at least something to do with it. I want this team to succeed. 

Just like I always have and always will.

Monday, September 01, 2014

First World (no) problem

About two hours ago, I stopped at a Starbucks at Squaw Valley Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe in California to drink fluids and blog. After purchasing a hot chocolate, I realized that there were no power outlets in the building to charge my dying laptop. I had to go outside and use an outlet in a flowerbed, sitting outside in the blazing sun for 25 minutes while my laptop charged. It was annoying and I got a mild headache.

Then I realized that "First World Problem" doesn't even begin to cover it. I might as well complain that I got a paper cut from Jennifer Lawrence slipping me her phone number (this hasn't happened yet, just to be clear). 

I'm having a chill afternoon in one of the most beautiful places in the world. It's amazing that I've gotten to visit once, never mind many times. One of my biggest problems is letting little aggravations cloud the view of the good things that are happening.

Don't be that way. Accentuate the positive, wherever you are. 

This blog is to remind myself as much as anyone else.