Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pet peeve

I'm not a pet person.

Don't get me wrong — I love animals, and animals love me (indeed, I've been called "-whisperer" more than you might expect). I've capably pet-sat on occasion for everything from chinchillas to Rottweilers. But the responsibility of feeding, walking and generally caring for a critter (or arranging for someone else to do all that in my absence) on an ongoing basis is just not a fit for my lifestyle. That's a personal decision and I don't judge others for not sharing it. The opposite is sometimes not true. 

Some people are really, really into pets, to the point of taking offense when someone doesn't have one. They share with the more evangelical parents a suspicion against those who choose not to assume the role of caregiver. 

Regarding both parenting and pet-owning, I've been told repeatedly that I'm missing out on a glorious bond that I can't possibly understand in my selfish circumstances (not in those words, usually). Granted, I do understand the joy that comes from playing with puppies and babies, and I see why a more permanent extension of that is a positive thing in people's eyes. But you're never going to convince me that poop, pee, sticky messes, gross odors and pet dander are anything more than necessary-evil byproducts of that bond at best. It's when people celebrate those nasty things on nearly equal par with the pets/babies themselves that I tune out.

That's why Patty Khuly really pinched my nerve with "Five reasons I don't trust non-pet people." The title's premise is bad enough, but she goes off the deep end with her virtual worship of pet hair.

I love my parents' and brother's dogs. BUT. I. HATE. THEIR. SHED. HAIR. Eight months after moving away, I still have hair in my car from putting something in there that had been somewhere that a dog had once been (this despite vacuuming my car more than some people vacuum their floors). And I have a blanket that's still half-dog despite several machine-washings and pass-throughs with a lint roller. Like man's best friend, pet hair is a faithful traveling companion.

Like secondhand smoke, pet hair is a nuisance you sometimes put up with to be around cool people, but it irritates your nostrils, is hard to wash off your clothes and you're always glad to not be around it when you can help it. And, like with secondhand smoke, many people are oddly surprised that anyone would find pet hair irritating.

Khuly's problem isn't that she loves animals and isn't bothered by pet hair — it's that her love for her pets overrides her concern for other people's boundaries and hygiene. For some people (and return desks), there is nothing "superficial" or "inoffensive" about unwanted animal sheddings. She doesn't have to agree with that, but she can at least try to comprehend it.

Just like most pet-owners (and parents, and smokers) do.

A product of being 19?

I find it funny how so much talk about Justin Bieber's arrest breaks down to this:

"He's just doing what any 19-year-old does, but with more money and fame."

I understand what people are trying to say, but it's a bit off. Most 19-year-olds don't get arrested for allegedly assaulting limo drivers or for drag-racing. (I knew one guy around that age who was convicted for his role in a drag-race collision that killed four people, but that's obviously a tragic outlier.) 

Yes, there's a certain immaturity that comes with being 19, being as it is at the awkward intersection of teendom and adulthood. But I remember at that age a distinct feeling that the rules of law and physics still applied to me. Like most people that age (and any age, let's face it), there are certain illegal-yet-victimless crimes I could have partaken in without anyone knowing — youthful indiscretions, I believe the presidents call it. (I didn't, though, because I'm a rebel like that.) But I didn't realize that such experimentation and retroactive forgiveness applied to absolutely everything. Man. Kids these days back then, or something.

I wonder at what age that immunity magic wears off. Is it when Taylor Swift starts feeling 22? Is it when George W. Bush turns 40, which is the new 20? Does life really begin at 50, thus restarting the process? That would explain why some rich old men drive Lamborghinis like Bieber's.

Hmmm. Maybe immaturity is forever after all.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Social media sadness

I wonder what compels some people to share only tragic stuff online. Heart-wrenching videos with sad conclusions, news of illnesses and deaths, a constant stream of people/animals to find/pray for, whether or not they know them. This is all some people ever do online. I don't see how they manage it.

Coping mechanism, I guess. Mine is humor, but we're all different. People are interesting.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Journalism 1, Jerk 0

Attention public figures: Reporters aren't there to make you look good, or to make you look bad; they're out to discover the truth. The good ones, anyway.

If the truth is that you're potentially corrupt, it's best to offer no comment and walk away, and — I can't stress this enough — not go back after you think the camera's off and threaten to assault the reporter. I'm guessing Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) thought reporter Michael Scotto violated some interview agreement that existed only in Grimm's head, but even that's no excuse for what transpired.



Bullying is horrible no matter who does it, but it's flat-out idiotic when a grown politician does it in front of a camera, as a response to feeling like he looked bad on camera. No matter what the ethical state of Grimm's finances, we now know for sure that he can't control his temper.

This is political behavior at its worst. And journalism at its best.

Why we need a minimum wage, and a better one

Some people say a minimum wage is unnecessary and even harmful. I say it's vital and doesn't go far enough.

Lots of figures and statistics abound to argue for either side. But for me, the need for the wage lies in a very simple argument:

A minimum wage consistent with a minimum cost of living is at least what we need to make work pay in America. Meaning people can pay off their expenses with little to no savings, which is a pathetically low bar. But it's a bar minimum-wagers usually can't clear (and even if they can, one unplanned event can wipe it all out). As long as work doesn't pay at the bottom (which doesn't stop at the minimum wage), then those people will have to rely on government assistance, for which all of us pay.

As long as people are able to work full-time and still be functionally impoverished, then we are failing as a country. We only make it worse by dismissing such jobs as the province of teenagers or dumb people (as if it's OK if they're broke). We can't be that judgmental in this economy, or in any economy.

There is no excuse for not raising the minimum wage substantially, apart from protecting greed. So, really, no excuse.

State of the Union-inspired thought

If one party is pushing for specific policies, debatable though they may be, and the other's response is to obstruct the opposition while offering nothing and speaking entirely in vague platitudes, then the latter party is in trouble, and is threatening the political balance in a way that's not healthy for anyone.

That's a nonpartisan point, by the way. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

How to drive in ice and snow (if you normally don't)

Louisiana's recent cold snap has both the public and the state deeply worried about traffic safety. Only so much can be done to make all roads safe and accessible in a timely fashion in a state not used to such contingencies (though more could be done) — but much of the burden relies on individual drivers as well.

I'm a Louisiana native who bought my first new car in the middle of an ice storm in Missouri seven years ago, and now that car and I live in the mountains of Northern Nevada. So I understand as well as anyone how to survive driving icy Louisiana roads and bridges. If you need to do so and are freaking out over the prospect, please take heed.

First off, calm down. You can handle it. Drivers do it all winter long in far more inhospitable places, with roads that actually have inclines and twists. And, contrary to popular belief and though it helps in many places, we don't all do it in 4x4s. Here in Nevada, cars can generally get by with tires rated M&S, meaning they have deeper treads for mud and snow. And that doesn't become an issue until we're several inches past the worst Louisiana has to offer. So, calm down. Unless your tire treads are down to the metal, you've got this.

Ice is worse than snow. Snow is light and fluffy, which has its traffic pitfalls — but ice is what'll have you struggling to keep your balance on your way to the car, what will freeze up your vehicle and what will pose the bigger hazard on the road. And remember — snow can turn into ice.

Don't pour hot water on your icy windshield. Get a scraper or something that can pass for a scraper, like a spatula. Turn on your defroster and let it run for a few minutes to help you out (assuming you're not in a place where carbon monoxide buildup is an issue). Hot water could crack your windshield, which might lead to an even colder ride (and definitely an expensive new windshield).

Carry granola bars. Or something like that. In blizzard states, they advise you to keep packaged snacks, bottled water, blankets, snow chains, kitty litter, a shovel and similar items in the car just in case. In Louisiana, you probably won't ever need the implements, but the food is a good idea if you could conceivably get stuck at a bridge for hours at a time.

Exercise common sense while in motion. Driving along inclement roads is more a matter of common sense than anything. Drive at a comfortable and appropriate speed; apply brakes sooner and smoother; take it slower on turns and lane changes; and be particularly cautious on and under bridges. Be especially attuned to what other drivers are doing. That's half your battle right there. 

You'll probably slip at some point. I've done this regularly in Reno and Springfield, where you expect it in some ice-covered turns. (Ironically, my worst-ever skid was in Lafayette, in the rain.) It can be terrifying for the split-second that it happens. The key is to steer gently where you want to go, while easing on the brake. Hopefully, your reflexes will do this for you. Panic will only lead to overcorrection. Breathe. You'll want to be emotionally available for the good feeling of regaining control.

To reiterate: Watch those bridges! Just like they can ice in cold weather, they can also turn into a bad carnival ride underneath. In Missouri after a fresh fall, police officers park underneath bridges, hoping they don't have to play catch. If you slow down as you go under, you'll be OK. Same goes for crossing bridges. Know the potential danger.

Also to reiterate: Drive defensively. Don't assume anyone else is being as cautious as you, or maintains their car as well as you do (right?). Give wide berths whenever possible. Actually, do this all the time, because traffic idiocy is evergreen.

Read more on the topic from the experts. If something they say contradicts me, go with them. And please tell me. The School of Slippery Knocks, where I got my winter-driver education, isn't fully accredited.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

No country for old excuses

I hate when people excuse bad behavior by invoking their ancestry.

"Yes, I'm loud and crude, but I can't help it! I'm Italian!"

(Yes, I'm sure you visit your kindred in Italy all the time, as opposed to never.)

Many people joke about this, and that's OK, but some are dead serious about it. That's dumb and irresponsible, but most of all, it's weird.

My mom often tells me that I have an "Irish temper." Which I suppose is true in the sense that, hundreds of years ago, some of my relatives lived in Ireland, and that many of us sometimes have tempers. But I'm always quick to correct her: "No, Mom, it's not an Irish temper. It's just a temper, a case of being overreactive to an unfavorable situation and exercising poor impulse control. It's a bad personality trait, something I need to get better at handling." Or however it comes out when I'm not writing it out.

This is the problem with heritage in general: At best, it's a historical curiosity. At worst, it's a crutch for people to excuse no personal growth in life. From what dock your 24-times-great-grandmother got on the boat to America does not bear on how you conduct yourself today. If having Old Country blood hasn't kept you from being a full-on 21st-century American in every other sense, it probably isn't endowing you with some holy bloodline birthright of a bad attitude.

You can't change anything bad your ancestors did, but that's no reason to adapt their shortcomings to your own life. Be proud, perhaps, but also be alive. Be better. Evolve. 

Or keep being loud and crude, and just admit you like it that way.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Not a black-or-white issue

Before posting yesterday's blog about Richard Sherman, I excised two paragraphs alluding to the racial aspect of the debate. They distracted from what I thought was the real problem with his post-game remarks: That a grown man who'd won a personal feud on the football field was continuing to taunt his vanquished competition. Such showings are always immature, whether it's Sherman on Sunday night or, well, any other time when a victor is a classless, sore winner.

But because the hot, racially tinged debate that sparked in the immediate aftermath continues to rage, I feel like I can't ignore it. 

As far as racial issues go, I'm sympathetic. America is still not a level playing field for minorities in many ways. Hatred and discrimination remain very real. I bristle at cries of "race card" anytime a cultural injustice is brought up. All too often, that tactic thwarts necessary discussion of worthwhile issues, to the detriment of progress toward equality.

That said, however, some things aren't about race, and considering them as such detracts from genuine racial issues. This is an example of that.

Yes, many whites did share horribly racist thoughts, but those people are bigoted at the core. For them, this wasn't a catalyst for those slurs, it was an excuse to share them. Their diseased sentiments are rightfully marginalized and impotent. They deserve to be recognized only as a reflection of how low some Americans still go.

Of greater concern is the declaration that all criticism of Sherman was rooted in his race. That we didn't want to see an African-American honestly expressing himself. That we don't condemn white people for the same behavior. Even that we didn't approve of a black man speaking that way to a white woman. 

I can speak only for myself, but absolutely none of that was applicable to my criticism (not that anyone accused me directly). None of it even occurred to me until I read about the backlash. Sherman acted foolish and invited grief just like anyone else would in that same situation. Giving him a free pass on that would be holding him to a lower standard, which is arguably actually racist.

Sherman has since apologized for his actions, which was the right move on his part. Because actions were precisely what this was all about.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The one thing Richard Sherman did wrong

I'm not a fan of Richard Sherman. After all, he's a superstar Seattle Seahawk in a year when the Seattle Seahawks have been superstars, steamrolling my New Orleans Saints twice in the process. The Hawks have been especially demonstrative swagger-wise in 2013-14, which is the last thing you want to see out of an unstoppable team when that unstoppable team isn't your team.

So when Sherman cranked it up to 12 in his interviews after the Seahawks clinched the NFC Championship last night, I predictably rolled my eyes. After seeing him pat Michael Crabtree's butt and make a choke signal following his role in the game-sealing interception, I was not at all surprised that he went full-on aggro in his post-game celebration.



Sherman’s speechifying mostly annoyed me in the football-hate sense, which falls on me, not him. I’ve always said that the NFL would be boring if all players were stoic and corporate, and Sherman is neither. I can’t fault him for being himself or for feeling like the best, grating though it is to my Saints sensibilities.

No, Sherman’s one legit transgression last night was this:

After winning his feud with Crabtree on the field, he prolonged their beef.

All week long, Sherman and Crabtree had exchanged boasts about who would triumph in their receiver/corner matchup. (UPDATE: Apparently, a tense encounter at a charity event also had something to do with it. And Sherman has penned his side of the story that, though mostly reasoned, continues to trash Crabtree with only the vaguest of background. Two opportunities for Sherman to be a better man, both squandered.) It was close, but Sherman ultimately came out ahead. That’s where such beefs usually end, and should.

But in his immediate postgame interview, Sherman went off, calling Crabtree "a sorry receiver" and later called him "mediocre." That's just being a sore winner. Not cool.

Tempting though it is to chalk this up to immediate post-game euphoria (if you can call it that), Sherman kept up the dissing throughout his media rounds last night. He graduated from Stanford in communications and is pursuing a master’s degree. He’s gone through the media training that all NFL players complete. In other big post-game interviews, he’s kept it together. So not only is he smart, he’s the specific kind of smart that’s supposed to check his worst braggart impulses.

It’s one thing to celebrate a win, and even to revel in your own greatness. Continuing to kick and insult your vanquished competition, however, just makes a guy seem small. And it has a way of pinning a giant target on your back. As Sherman well knows, when you’re the best, boastful and not particularly complimentary of your opponent, everyone’s going to angle for you.

In two weeks, we’ll see how well Sherman backs up his bluster.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

It's OK if you don't care for this

It amuses me how some people will make a great effort to tell you how much they don't care about something. 

Not in the sense of someone trying to thwart a personal conversation involving a topic one of them isn't interested in, or even posting online, "I'm sick of [whatever]" — I'm referring specifically to people who hijack Internet conversations to say something like, "Yeah, I couldn't care less about this."

Just like everyone else, I get tired of multiple conversations and posts about things I don't care about. At times, I'm even tempted to tell the especially overzealous to get a life. But then I remind myself that I can also be overzealous and that I have no life, so I let it go. No one cares if I don't care, and anyway, why should I care that people have passions about something that I don't? That's what makes life interesting. No point in being a drag about it.

This is something that activists should heed, by the way. Many get so singularly focused on their cause that they admonish others for indulging in what they see as frivolous diversions. Hijacking someone's conversation about football by saying, "football is a distraction to keep the sheeple occupied while Big Government and corporations tear up America," is about as counterproductive an approach as I can imagine. If you want to connect with people, find common ground with them instead of insulting the things that they enjoy. It's entirely possible to care about the troubles of the world and have fun in life. When people realize they can care and still be a regular human being, then the wheels of change really get rolling.

That's a thought worth caring about.

About pulling for the Seahawks...

Every year during the playoffs, some fans will switch loyalties to a team that knocked out their favorite team — the reasoning being, it will make the loss sting less if it's to the eventual champions.

I understand this view. But I don't share it at all. Whenever this happens, at any level, I always want that team to go down hard at the very next opportunity. That's the competitive fire in me, I guess.

If someone were to beat me up and steal my wallet, I would not pull for them to beat up more people, or to empty out my bank account, no matter how skilled they were at those things. I would want them stopped. 

That's a pungent and flawed analogy, probably, but you get my point.

To carry on my 23-year-running pregame ritual, No Go Seahawks.

My pick for least-insufferable Super Bowl

I've gone back and forth on this, at least on the AFC side, but I'm hoping for 49ers-Broncos.

Those are the two teams that didn't beat the Saints in 2013. But I also like the matchup because I'd like to see Colin Kaepernick and Peyton Manning battle for a title after each having lost in their last times out.

I could live with 49ers-Patriots, too. A sixth Super Bowl for Tom Brady? Could be interesting.

Really, I just don't want the Seahawks in it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dear Rob Ryan...

Don't ever cut your hair.

OK, you can cut it for Locks for Love or some equivalent charity. Or if it's a personal style choice. Maybe even if you lose a flashy bet. But please don't do it to appease some uptight team owner.

I figure you know this already, but bosses who obsess over hair length are generally not that much fun to work for anyway. You're going to be looking over your shoulder the whole time, subconsciously (if not consciously) suppressing everything that makes you who you are. And make no mistake — your personality quirks factor heavily into what makes you competent as a professional.

Professionalism is too often (incorrectly) defined as being cookie-cutter and bland. Competence does require discipline, training and experience. But it doesn't mean someone can't have long hair and/or be flamboyant, especially in a field that ultimately amounts to entertainment. Such attributes should come into play only when they become insurmountable distractions — but such distractions can just as easily arise from the deeds of the cookie-cuttered.

(If there's a safety concern, fine, ax the hair. But that doesn't apply to coaching football, unless perhaps if you're close to Jim Harbaugh during a moment when he really wants cake.)

We're well past the age where scruffiness should be so controversial. Hell, that was true when I was born. There are still plenty of very old-fashioned executives who feel differently, granted, but their breed is dying. Which is why you should continue to be you.

We need people like you, Rob, to remind society that genius comes in all sartorial forms. You will never be shut out of football as long as you continue to produce wins, so there's no need to ever sell out your individuality to anyone. They aren't worth your presence anyhow.

And while we're at it, can you please put off your head-coaching aspirations as long as possible? Is that too much to ask? No matter what you decide, though, Who Dat Nation digs you. And your majestic hair.

Party on, Ryan!

— Ian (A fan)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

ID laws rear their ugly photos again


Man, this one just has it all, doesn't it? Food stamp stigma. Noble-sounding-yet-horribly-discriminatory regulations. David Vitter. Phew!

Photo-ID laws such as this one and its ballot-box counterparts are intended to make life harder for the poor and minorities. Period. They rely on the difficulty of obtaining a photo ID for the impoverished, disabled and elderly as a means of effectively shutting them out of society. That's bad enough when it comes to voting, but it's downright cruel when someone's nutritional lifeline is involved.

As many, many comments point out, this law would make it impossible for people to use the cards to shop for their homebound relatives. So, bravo to Vitter for trying to stamp out that fraud, I guess.

The best part of this lunacy, in my view: The suggestions that exceptions could be carved out for those shopping for others, such as the use of release forms. That'll show Big Bureaucracy! Also fun: the suggestion that each card carry the pictures of everyone authorized to use it, Brady Bunch-style. Then we could really start saving precious taxpayer money! The mental gymnastics at play here are impressive.

Disgust for the poor is misguided, but it's also very strong. Proposals like Vitter's feed into that prejudice. Food stamps aren't even in the top 10 when it comes to profligate spending. So, yes, prejudice is exactly what it is. 

For too many, that's an even stronger drive than hunger.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chivalreally?


Chivalry is not out of style. I both see and practice it every day. 

What is out of style is the old-fashioned notion that women are delicate creatures who survive thanks solely to the grace of manly men. And that should be out of style.

When I hold open a door or give up my seat for someone needing to sit, I do so because of basic human decency. It has nothing to do with gender. Men have held doors open for me lots of times, and I for them. Same with women. In the latter case, I never let fear of a feminist backlash stop me. (By the way, is that really a thing? I've never encountered a woman who got mad that I held open a door for her, and at least a few were feminists. I'm guessing that's an anecdotal leftover from the 1970s.)

People should always strive to be friendlier, or at least cordial, insofar as functioning in a crowd goes. A truly decent person is going to be as accommodating as possible, particularly in a one-on-one situation. Hopefully, that comes naturally. If not, it can be learned.

But it should never be rooted in sexist thoughts.

Monday, January 13, 2014

If everyone else ate fresh, would you do it too?

This past weekend, I went to Subway for a quick lunch. As you're probably aware because advertising pummels you, it's JanuANY there. That means ANY footlong is only $5. It's a great deal.

Here's the thing, though. 

I don't get footlongs when I go there, because I don't typically eat 12 inches of sandwich. I did back when I was working vigorous physical jobs at 17, but not these days. (And actually, the reason I stopped buying footlongs was because they slice them in half after making them, with a knife that's been in every other sandwich and is usually dripping with mayo and tuna — which I despise harder than anything else I despise except racism — whereas 6-inchers get sliced open at the beginning, though that doesn't stop some sandwich artists from folding my sandwich shut with the communal barfoknife for some reason. Yeah, I should never eat out. Anyway.)

The guy really tried to upsell me on the sandwich. I politely declined, and after he asked me why, I replied simply, "Because I don't need that much sandwich." I suppose I could have saved some for later, but it would have sat on my desk at work all night. Also, barfoknife.

"Everyone gets the footlong," he said, unaware of how I'm me and I never care about that.

"I'll bet," I said. "It's a good deal. I know I'm weird [for buying just what I need rather than by being driven by the perception of saving money]," I said with a chuckle.

It took him a while to ring me up. He said it was because he wasn't in the habit of ringing up 6-inchers. I felt special.

This isn't to single out Subway; I love the place. Everywhere I go, I'm bombarded by deals, and the personnel are often surprised when I don't roll with them. It's how people shop at the expense of how they actually should shop. And yet, if the sale culture changed, like it did briefly with JCPenney a while back, people erupt.

Fortunately, I've long past gotten used to being weird.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Annual playoff letdown post

There’s something disheartening about seeing things unfold exactly as everyone expects, when you’re siding with the underdog. Especially when it’s a repeat of the first buzzsawing.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work, right? David slays Goliath. Rick Vaughn strikes out Haywood after several failed encounters when it matters most. Even the Saints beat the Vikings both to get to the Super Bowl and to exorcise 21 years of playoff demons.

But sometimes teams are just better than yours (or at least get assists from cruddy weather, an acoustically biased stadium and a rattled visiting quarterback). Still stings, though. A lot. I hate that everyone was right about this game. I hate being on the wrong side. I’m sick of hearing about how invincible the Seahawks are, and about Beast Mode and the 12th Man, and I’m doubly sick of them proving it all the time. They need a comeuppance, and though my Saints were not the team to provide it, I hope another will soon enough.

I wanted the Seahawks to lose as much as the Saints to win. This probably has to do with how my group and I were sometimes treated when we went to Seattle for the first Saints game in December. Seattle is a beautiful and vibrant city, with mostly friendly people, but they seemed intent on schooling Saints fans every chance they got. We were snarked at by tour guides, baristas and (naturally) random people hanging out the passenger side of their best friends’ rides. (This heckling was based mainly on the fact that we had on partially visible Saints apparel, not that we were starting anything.)

I remember in particular walking into one bar before the game, and a woman in a Marshawn Lynch jersey strode up to us and seethed, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave now.” It’s no wonder most of the Saints fans were crowded in one bar, the New Orleans Bourbon Street Bar, testing the fire code. And even the staff there wore Seahawks jerseys.

After the game, during our walk of shame, we heard lots of sarcastic “Who Dats.” This after a game that exceeded our worst forecasts, that was heavily slanted toward the Hawks from the outset. It wasn’t what I’m used to, being a New Orleans fan (a city that is generally more congenial to visitors). Just like winning isn’t what Seattle is used to.

Those are the fans that are happy this weekend.

I hope the Seahawks lose embarrassingly, and they very well might once outside their cozy, trick stadium. The Seahawks might want to take lessons from the Saints in that regard.

At least the Saints took down the worst fan base in football, that of the Philadelphia Eagles. Shayne Graham shut them up, just as surely as he did nothing the following week.

I’m hoping, as every fan is, that the Saints come back stronger in 2014. This past year is hard to gauge for me. In one sense, I think it was awesome. They benefited from the return of Sean Payton and the addition of Rob Ryan, and two playoff games is pretty good by any metric.

In another, it was incredibly disappointing. Because they were so predictable. Extremely predictable. If they were playing on the road against a good team (especially in the second half of the season), they didn’t have a chance. They rarely subverted expectations, and that was frustrating to watch. In those games, they barely looked acquainted with each other.

The defense under Ryan is looking great. The offense is schizophrenic. To me, this is a signal that the Saints must start considering the unthinkable — grooming a successor to Drew Brees. The receivers, backs and linemen have done mostly well in replacing old blood with new, and there similarly must be a QB in the wings to carry on the winning when the time comes. Brees has several years left, I think, but he’s always had one flaw — in bad games, he gets irrevocably rattled. He can come back from it, but when they lose, you usually saw it coming. That seemed to happen more often this year. It’s a team effort, of course, but this team lives and dies by Brees. Given his more frustrated and pressured state lately, that’s bad for both him and the team.

I hope 2013 wasn’t the Saints’ last best chance for a second title. I don’t think so, but it’s in the back of many of our minds. I just hope they address their glaring weaknesses, because they did so well addressing past weaknesses this year. And then I hope they crush the Panthers and the Seahawks the next time they match up. Because that should happen. My faith in justice depends on it.

The one silver lining left this year is that the Panthers and Seahawks can’t both go to the Super Bowl. One of them will fall, and I’ll enjoy it when it happens (hopefully twice).

Go AFC! For now.

Saints in 2014. For justice.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

You should go

Bob Mann has written a thought-provoking article: “Louisiana's young people are asking, ‘Should I stay or should I go?’

Mann’s personal story reads like so many others: Eager to find “opportunities, vision and tolerance,” he left Louisiana, only to return a few years later when he discovered what was really important in life. And we’re all better for it, because few writers better balance what’s great about Louisiana with honest and reasoned criticism. Perhaps because of his experience living in Washington, D.C., Mann broadcasts a genuine love for the state without being emotionally territorial about it. He understands the thinking behind both answers to his question, arriving at this conclusion:

Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles might provide you a better job, but Louisiana needs you more. You want to save the world? Well, you can do that here. Sure, there are hungry children to be rescued in Africa and India, but your hometown has plenty of them, too.

You're frustrated with the intolerance of this state? Will your leaving - taking your broadmindedness with you - make Louisiana any more tolerant?

Stay here, find like-minded people, organize them, expand your influence, demand change, but don't give up on this amazing, beautiful place. Its good people - flawed as we might be - are worth your efforts.

There may be no place in America that needs you more. We have so many resources, so much latent opportunity, and you have the minds to discover it and the talents to unleash it.

My generation has failed you, so I understand if you must leave. But if you do go, don't lose touch. Live, learn, explore and some day bring back what you've learned and put it to work making our government and other institutions worthy of the decency and goodness of their people.

My personal answer to Mann’s question, at least as far as unattached people whose best options are elsewhere, is: YOU SHOULD GO!

Even if you know coming back is in the cards, you should go. Especially if, I should say.

Mann’s advice about forging a group to make life better in-state is a good one, but it shouldn’t guilt anyone who wants to leave out of going. For too many young Louisianans, the price they pay for loyalty is underemployment or straight-up unemployment.

I should know. In the 49 months I lived in Louisiana after college between May 2005 and July 2013, I had a full-time job for a grand total of 11 (and that was split between two jobs, only one of which was professional). That dismal statistic wasn’t from lack of trying, either. Upon returning to Louisiana from Missouri in 2011, I looked for jobs in-state, because I wanted to be near family, friends, fun and football (alliteration accidental). But it became harder and harder to see the allure of the important things in life when other important things like financial independence and a sense of purpose were nonexistent.

It’s times like that when the bad aspects of the state become especially apparent to you. The dis-emphasis of education. The lack of economic diversity. Retrograde social mores. The bigotry. The poverty. The humidity. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to escape that, is there? That’s not a referendum on the culture or the other excellent aspects of Louisiana.

When I was 18 and about to start college, I wrote this down:

I am a lifelong resident of Louisiana, I love everything about it, and never intend to leave for more than a week at a time.

At the time, I meant it. I had zero wanderlust. My goal in life was to buy a house near my elementary school in Lafayette (in what I considered a posh neighborhood) and saunter into the scheduled 2008 time-capsule reunion bragging, “I walked here!” (Around the time I thought that, The Simpsons joked about Homer winning an award for “Least distance traveled to reunion.” I missed that episode.)

At my high school’s college fair, I went straight up to the then-USL booth, grabbed the liberal arts booklet and spent the rest of the time sitting and reading it (a picture of me doing this made it into the yearbook). Sure, many of my classmates were hellbent on leaving Lafayette and Louisiana, but mostly for Texas and Mississippi. To me, that’s what traveling meant, and I wasn’t keen on either state. Also, those kids tended to have money and connections, and sometimes the attitude to match.

I was perfectly happy staying at home, going to USL/UL (which was closer to my house than my high school) and eventually landing a job in town, possibly at the local newspaper that was even closer to home. I didn’t think twice about it.

But over the next few years, I did something I had done only intermittently before — traveled. I left the South for the first time. I visited California, Arizona and New Mexico, seeing the most breathtaking mountain and desert landscapes I didn't even know I'd love so much. I trod bike paths in Utah, where I also sat on a hill on July 4 and watched fireworks displays from seven different cities. I had conversations with total strangers who openly said things I’d heard only in whispers among friends in Lafayette. Later, in Missouri, I’d find a local university that changed its name to Missouri State University with no strings, because entrenched politics didn’t dictate otherwise. For the first time in my life, people didn’t ask me where I was from, or insist I go back there.

I’ve cycled through every emotion on the Louisiana issue: never wanting to leave, open to leaving, dying to leave, feeling homesick, returning, open to leaving again, dying to leave again, leaving again. As of now, I’m not sure I’ll ever be back. But you never know. Those of you on life’s road-fork shouldn’t let anyone tell you there’s only one acceptable way to feel; it’s up to you. Community is important, but ultimately, it’s your life.

There might be a time when Louisiana decides to be a better place to live in terms of politics and environmental and social conscience. That time, sadly, is not now. But sometime in the future, it could be. That will require people to make it happen who understand that the way Louisiana operates is not the only way anything operates. That’s a lesson best learned by hitting the road and seeing how others define reality. Traveling opened my eyes, even after I thought they were already open.

Moving is not for everyone; some get it right without leaving and others leave and get it wrong (like Bobby Jindal). But if you have an opportunity to ponder Mann's question, then go. At least for now.

Louisiana’s future depends on it.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Why Chris Kluwe is different than Phil Robertson

Chris Kluwe, fully aware of the professional repercussions he has faced and will likely face further, took a stand against bigotry. He called out coaches who either actively promoted hate or passively allowed it to flourish, and did so by relating only what he could cite exactly. He also gave credit to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf for standing up for him. Kluwe's defenders praised him for coming forward, even if they didn't necessarily think that his firing was unrelated to his performance.

Phil Robertson expressed a bigoted view with no apparent regard for the consequences. His condemnation cast a wide net, even wider than seen by most of his bigoted brethren. He cited the Bible as his "evidence." Robertson's defenders complained about his First Amendment rights being infringed.

Just like with Robertson, Kluwe's First Amendment rights don't immunize him from the consequences of his speech. (The same should be true for Kluwe's coaches, if what the ex-punter claims is correct.)

Both men have equal free-speech rights. The difference is that Kluwe is right. 

Let's not appear superficial here

Much has been made of how clean-shaven and yuppie-esque the Duck Dynasty guys were prior to being immortalized on A&E as grizzly, camo-clad rednecks. I've laughed about it myself.


But I don't think this is a case of hypocrisy as many are claiming. The guys in the above picture are more or less the same people below. They were probably just as rabidly right-wing in their views then as they are now. And just as concerned about image, albeit in a different social setting. That commands a sort of respect, because at least it's consistent. If these guys were former liberals who tossed their principles to appease their target audience, that would be pretty loathsome. As it is, these guys did what pretty much everyone does on reality TV: magnify their images. It's for show, after all.

We all do this in our real lives on some scale, whether it's wearing a snazzy outfit or just brushing your hair a certain way. Sometimes, guys grow facial hair and/or shave it off. Sometimes we adopt different looks entirely, and later disown them. Just in the past couple of years, I've cycled haircuts between 1990s grunge rocker and military recruit and back again. I (occasionally) dress more for what the world expects than what I'd rather wear. But the person I am doesn't fundamentally change. 

To me, what makes the Robertsons' metamorphosis funny is how extreme the change is; people rarely go from golf to grizzled with such ferocity. But the lesson here isn't that these guys are frauds, because they're not any more than all of us are — it's that appearance only matters so much.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Resolutions for 2014

Happy 2014! May that not be an oxymoron.

This is the first time in four years that my resolutions don't involve changing my whole life yet again. In a sense, being in a comfort zone has put me outside of my comfort zone. You know what? I’ll take it.

But first ... let’s see how I did on my 2013 resolutions. This should be interesting, given it was one of those bleak, nothing-to-lose eras.

Make a change. Yeah, that happened. Check!

Live my ideals again. Not entirely there yet, but making significant progress. Check!

Shed excess weight. Check in the sense of culling the computer and mailing lists. Not so much as I’d hoped in the literal toning.

Be more assertive in attaining what I desire. I decided this wasn’t important. I’ve never had assertiveness issues in getting what I want; I just didn’t want a whole lot at the time. That changed, and when it did, I was right where I needed to be. Asterisk!

Continue to be more positive and grateful. I’m getting really good at this. Check!

But not to a delusional degree. Oh no. It’s all real. Also, I get aggravated at least once a day, sometimes intensely so. You have to have healthy perspective, after all. Check!

Be grateful about the resolutions I don’t have to make. Truer than ever. Check!

Finally finish the Best of 2004 and Best of 2005 for this blog. Not accomplished. Though to be fair, I did work hard on both and might have even finished them. If they’re not up sometime this year, then I am officially awful.

So that’s 5.5 and an asterisk out of 8 for 2013. D equals diploma.

Now, onto the fresh set of resolutions for 2014:

Work out every day, or as close as possible. The ultimate cliché resolution, and one I never needed to make in the past, because it was my life. But after several years without a regimen, it’s time to find one again. I’ll be 34 this year. There’s no reason anyone ever has to guess that.

If my back stops being my back, that is. After moving to Reno, my recurring sciatica became an issue again. For the past few weeks, the pain has been particularly acute, affecting my left leg especially. I can’t currently afford therapy or (shudder) surgery, and it stresses me out at times, which makes the pain worse. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to work through it and not let it turn me into jelly. I suspect this flare-up happened because, for the past five months, I’ve been sleeping on an inflatable mattress. Which brings me to my next resolution:

Get my stuff, finally. Most of what I own has been in a storage unit in Lafayette since September 2012. My furniture, bike, books, lamps, CDs, DVDs, records, video games, personal writings, my bed, all wall adornments and so much more, locked up for the past 16 months. That’s a long time to be nomadic. I hope none of it has been eaten. Price and logistics have kept it all there this long, but I’m close. I’ve never been materialistic as an adult, but I’ll probably still cry when it all arrives. And maybe, just maybe, the bed will help my back. The mattress is hard enough.

Resume work on my book, or possibly another one. It’s been almost a year since I revisited If That’s What You Want. My mindset has changed in a lot of ways and I think that will make the story a lot better. Also, once I get my home office set up, I’ll have a lot of free time — and, at last, a desk — to go to Creative Town.

Be more conciliatory. Despite my best efforts, I find myself aggressively territorial at times. I hate that in other people and also in myself. It rears itself especially in politics and sports. But sometimes it doesn’t, and the results are happy. Ultimately, we’re all people. I have to remember that more often.

Let things go. This past year, I visited a college friend I hadn’t seen in a few years. As a fellow journalism major, she’d witnessed some of my angriest outbursts, but also a lot of good times. I told her I felt bad about the times I was less than mature. She said (paraphrasing), “You can’t change the past. All we can do is learn and grow and be better people now, and you’ve done that.” I felt a huge release after hearing that. My superb memory might ensure that I retain a lot of painful memories, but that doesn’t mean I have to let them get to me. The past is the past. The future is ahead.

Do something good for somebody. This tends to just happen.

I guess that’s it. I try to aspire all the time anyway, as everyone should do, so this is more of a refresher list than anything. I hope that’s the case for you as well. Strive always.

Happy 2014!