Friday, February 28, 2014

Birthright isn't right

I just saw a pop-up ad for Target that showed video clips from a NASCAR racer's childhood, which of course he spent racing (and winning at racing). The Olympics had a bunch of montages and commercials as well showing home videos of the competitors doing their sport at a young age.

They're meant to be inspirational, I suppose, but in another respect they're depressing. 

Sports like those showcased in the Winter Olympics and auto racing (or sailing, polo, anything that involves expensive vehicles or animals) — as well as other pursuits such as acting and politics — are largely inaccessible to the general public. The people who do them have to start out as young as possible, and nearly all of them have the wealth, connections and/or stage parents to make it happen. Good for them, and the competitions are indeed interesting, but the tales aren't necessarily inspirational. I can't be moved to go back in time 30 years, relocate to Vail, have different financial fortunes and naturally excel at different things.

I'm just not a fan of predestiny in general. Give me a good rise-from-scratch story any day. Or, if I'm in a particularly morbid mood, show me someone driven by birthright who fell short. 

Even better, show me someone who took up their shining pursuit later in life. Plenty of people pack it in before 30 (never mind 40 or 50), so those who not only don't, but expand their horizons, are a genuine inspiration. While I begrudge no one's success, I'd also like to see more examples of people not born into it. We could really use that.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A fine line between distance and alliance

My friend on Facebook posted an intriguing question the other day. She asked why straight people who support gay rights feel the need to emphasize their heterosexuality. In her view, it's an attempt by that person to avoid being judged by critics as one of "them," and diminishes said support.

Here's the answer I gave her:

I do it because I know that it's an absolutely foreign concept to many people that someone can support anything outside their direct self-interest. Not just for LGBTQ rights, but for anything at all. 

When I say that I'm not gay but support gay rights, that I support marijuana legalization even though I've never used it or that I like Jesus' teachings even though religion appalls me, I do so to shatter those people's notions of self-interest — and I do it out of allegiance, not disgust. Whereas before those people might have thought that only LGBTQ people support the cause, they realize that isn't the case, and maybe they can support it too. It's an uphill climb, but in my experience, it works.

I know from experience that people often repress their views because they think only certain people (who they aren't) can hold them. This isn't limited to gay rights — I met people in college who truly, genuinely thought that any progressive ideas were the exclusive province of long-haired, anti-American, hippie activist stereotypes. When they saw that I was a clean-cut, friendly person, it shattered that notion for them. (Just like others dispelled some of my own notions in the past.) I'll never forget someone blurting, "You're so normal for a liberal!" It didn't necessarily change their mind about anything, but it challenged them at least for a split-second. Sometimes that's all you can ask for. 

Keep in mind, I never set out to do this, and it's a shame that it's even possible in this day and age. But it goes to show how deep perceptions can be in people, and why it's important sometimes to highlight that contrast. Far from being a divider, it can be a strong unifier, often in the most unexpected ways.

Dear Christians...

Hi! How are you? I am fine.

This letter isn’t for most of you. But “Dear Christians who think their rigid personal tenets should be the law of the land, the bedroom and the mind” is too bulky for a blog title.

It’s that segment of you that I want to appeal to directly. Because I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding, not just of how America works, but of how the human brain works. And you deserve to understand where people who disagree with you, like me, are coming from.

First, America: There has been a national push recently to enact laws that codify fundamentalist Christianity in everything from education to civil marriage. Many of them are blatantly unconstitutional, while others are merely covertly unconstitutional. This is because the Constitution is not the Bible. Not even close. Not one mention of God in the entire document. You have to go back to the Declaration of Independence to find any official Founding Father reference to a creator, and that one’s abstract at best. But if you fast-forward to the Treaty of Tripoli of 1796, you’ll find an explicit declaration that the United States is not a Christian nation and has no problem with Muslims. For all the convoluted interpretations of Founding Father rhetoric attempting to make a case for Christian government, that cut-and-dry statement so often gets glossed over.

The true miracle of the United States of America is that it’s larger than a single group, ideology or time. It’s a nation where people are free to practice religion, but aren’t free to force their faith upon others (and are thus free from having religion forced upon them). That has allowed multiple faiths to flourish, including yours, without the boot of big government tripping you up.

OK, you disagree completely. The government is trampling all over your religious freedom. I get it. This brings me to my second, and most important, point.

Your absolute moral certainty is working against you.

One of your worst aspects is that you think you, and only you, are correct. Even worse, you apparently think everyone else knows they’re wrong. That people who aren’t far-right Christians are that way specifically to spite you and to revel in godlessness. To that end, nothing is out of bounds when it comes to law, education, social mores, etc. It’s almost, dare I say it, crusade-like.

So when I hear people like you fret over the remote possibility of Sharia law, I want to shake you and shout, “Have you looked in a mirror?!!” Because, frankly, I don’t want a fundamentalist Christian code of law any more than I want women in mandatory burkhas. Strict religious law of any strain is dangerous, and it’s why America broke off from England in the first place.

Consider too that what you believe might not even be what other Christians believe. Many of you — the most rigid ones, natch — are hyperjudgmental of fellow believers for not adhering exactly to your dogma. This is especially disturbing (amusing?) when the particular beliefs in question are something I only learned about in adulthood. If it took someone like me that long to even be aware of a religious practice, it’s probably not the universal ticket to heaven you've been brought up to believe.

If I had 30 seconds on a rooftop to scream something to a massive crowd, it would be this: Everyone thinks they are correct! People don’t actively traffic in ideas they know are wrong. The only thing any of us knows for sure is that we don’t know for sure. You are no more correct than I am, just more certain. So let’s have a nation of practical and secular laws so we can get along, OK?

We don’t know for sure what, if any, spiritual path is correct. But some things are flat-out wrong — institutional discrimination, oppression and teaching creationism as science, just to name three. We can debate spiritual matters all day, but those things have real-world consequences, and that’s where it becomes a problem for the rest of us.

After all this, you might not think I appreciate the teachings of Jesus. But I do, very much. Humility, acceptance, pacifism, forgiveness — I’m all about those things. But sometimes I wonder if you are.

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Colossians 3:17)

It’s time to make the deeds match the words again.

Write me back!

Your friend,
Ian

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The luxury of bigotry

Matt Walsh claims that businesses should be allowed to discriminate against gay people. In his blog, he sticks up for those poor, persecuted Christian business owners who refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings because that’s akin to being forced to partake in the honeymoon. Clearly, these businesses are so flush with cash that they can afford to micromanage the moral tracks of their edibles. As least as far as gay stuff.

I don’t own a business, but if I did, I imagine I’d be too focused on making quality products and a decent profit to fret over who was doing the consuming — or, more specifically, what they do in the bedroom when they’re not preoccupied with my product. Sure, I wouldn’t want to sell to people intending to do harm — or harm anyone myself in the interest of the bottom line — but worrying what activities my pancakes (that’s apparently what I serve in this scenario) fuel would be too much of a drain. In short, it’s bad business.

That’s not to say businesses can’t take a stand. Indeed, there are times when it’s acceptable to deny service. Some examples include people who endanger the safety of others and customers known to skip out on the check. Also, groups that actively trade in hate and discrimination and intend to do so in your confines.

Did you note who’s not on that list? Gays. Racial minorities. Religious minorities. Women. Just to name four. Discrimination of people based on what they are is bigotry. It’s not on par with any legit reason businesses exercise discretion. And — I can’t stress this point enough — bigotry is not just another view in the marketplace of ideas.

Bigotry is a luxury, both in a financial and a literal sense. Businesses that actively discriminate this way are in a position of privilege, either real or imagined. They are perfectly fine with losing not only the business of the discriminated, but also any other business due to boycott. At best, they’ll solidify a customer base of like-minded narrow minds. At worst, they’ll go down proudly in the name of the hate. Either way, privilege allows that. No one truly invested in the success of their venture (and who faces dire consequences if it fails) is going to take that risk.

Virtually every one of these privileged businesses is white-owned. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. White Americans won this country before it was founded, and continue to revel in the jackpot every day. We have so many privileges that we’ve lost track of how good we have it. Even our hardships are relatively benign, because we still get to be white while dealing with them.

Despite this (or because of it), white people (especially Christians) are constantly looking down at others, and on the sides for phantom predators. Many see any advancement by a minority as a threat to their hegemony. They see granting equal rights as “special rights,” because they think certain rights should be special. It’s all ridiculous, of course, because whites aren’t about to lose “their” country. But even if it did happen (and would it be so bad if it did?), I doubt anyone would treat the whites as badly as the whites treated everyone else. Because those other groups, unlike whites, know what that feels like.

Bigotry is a luxury of people with so little sense of genuine repression that they have to invent reasons to hate others and, from thin air, fabricate a sense of persecution. Their gripes come not from loss of freedom, but from the loss of freedom to deny others freedom. There’s a marked difference between the two. Don’t be so privileged that you don’t see it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

She blinded him with the science light

By Earl "Clem" Bob
Concerned American

A lot of y'all don't know this, but I got a son. His name is Jim Bob Bob. He lives with his mama over in Birmingham. Which, of course, burns my outboard, because it's bad enough he has to live with that obstinate witch without also havin' to live in a city. Cities are festerin' hotbeds of subversive activity and Birmingham is the worst among 'em! They might as well call that place Librulville. I do.

When I heard the news about Michael Sam bein' the first openly gay man to vie for the NFL, I thanked the Lord Jesus Christ that Birmingham doesn't have a pro team, 'cause they probably would have drafted him just for his homo tendencies because that's Librulville for ya! Also, I can't afford no tickets.

Anyway, this past weekend was my weekend with Jim Bob. I get him one weekend a month and two weeks a year, which is why I affectionately call him "My Li'l Service Obligation." He don't get it.

So, I had him this weekend and he was all a-bubble about something his teacher'd gave him. It was a brand-new, advance copy of somethin' called Nature Geoscience. Like anyone would be, I was surprised.

"Jim Bob, you can read?" I asked in astonishment.

"Of course, Daddy," he said. "I'm 12."

"Huh. I didn't read until I was 16."

"Really? You couldn't?"

"Oh, no, I could, I just didn't. Exceptin' for comics and the Bible. Not books. Didn't have time, what on account of playin' in the street and not wantin' to be a nerd."

"Well, I really like to read."

"I done told your mama to take you out of that public school 'fore you wind up with a show on Bravo."

"Huh?"

It went on like this for a while. 

Finally, Jim Bob got around to tellin' me why he was so excited about the journal. Apparently, scientists are sayin' a crystal found in Australia is 4.4 billion years old, makin' it the oldest known piece of anything in the world. Apparently, that's the kind of thing Jim Bob really likes reading about, because why else would a kid read a book?

"Dad," he said excitedly. "Isn't that neat? The oldest thing in the world! Wouldn't it be cool if it could talk? What story do you think it'd tell first?"

I made sure to set him straight.

"Son, the first thing it'd say is, 'I'm Satan, and I'm here to tell you lies,'" I zinged. "'I want you to think I'm 4.4 billion years old so you get confused and renounce the Lord Christ Jesus as your personal savior!'"

"But Dad," Jim Bob said, "My teacher says the Earth is billions of years old, so this is plausible."

"SHE LIES!" I told truthfully. "Teachers have an agenda. They want to control your brain and make you atheist so you vote for Muslims and Communists."

"They do?" 

"Lemme ask you this, son. This teacher of yours, she ever get hush-hush with ya?"

"When she explains the Earth's origin, she whispers a little bit. She then says the Bible disagrees. She says that part louder."

"Did she give you that book in fronta everyone?"

"No, it was after class. She pulled me aside and said I'd like it."

"This teacher, you ever see her at church?"

"Uhh... no..."

"Well then, case closed!"

At this point, I expected Jim Bob to fall on his knees and beg for forgiveness about not believin' that rock was 4,000 years old or however long ago God made it so it could tell lies about itself if it could talk so my boy would blindly vote for Obama if he was old enough and the president wasn't a lame duck.

But then Jim Bob said something that made me wonder if it wasn't already too late.

"Well, Dad, I respect your opinion, and I believe in God too, but I'm convinced by the science."

You coulda knocked me on the floor with a feather. But then he hit me with a sandbag.

"In fact, I want to be a scientist when I grow up."

Speechless, I grabbed that book right out of his hands. I considered spankin' him with it, because I was spanked as a kid and I turned out OK, but then I remembered that's what the Bible is for, and I didn't have one handy. Not since I loaned it to my neighbor so she could strike her teenage daughter for saying that Sandra Fluke might have a point.

Instead, I hustled into the other room, Jim Bob's book in hand, and called his mama.

"How dare you let MY SON be indoctrinated by books like these!" I spit into the phone like the truth that it was. "It's underminin' his Bible study!"

"Clem, he's interested in science and he's very smart. What can I say?" that lying two-face replied. "Yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda deadbeat yadda yadda yadda." 

That's about what I hear whenever she flaps her lips.

But oh yeah, she did say something else.

"If it makes you feel better, Clem, the state legislature's actually considering a bill that would force students to pray to Jesus for 15 minutes every morning."

"Really? Can they do that?" I asked. After all, even with freedom of religion, the Constitution comes first. "I'm worried that that might interfere with the Pledge of Allegiance."

"I'm sure they'd just subtract it from classroom time," she said in an odd tone suggesting there was something wrong with that. "Not that it matters. That bill won't pass."

"See, that's precisely the problem with public schools! They insist on teachin' science and readin' and whatnot while treatin' religious dogma like it should left to the parents and the churches. Don't these schools care about the future? Why should I have to untangle everything my kid is learnin' when I see him?"

"Now do you see why you only get him once a month?"

Jim Bob ain't the only one gettin' smart in this family.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Keep calm and kill this meme

Is there a worse Internet meme than "Keep Calm and ..."?

Of course there are. Racist ones. Also, overdone and unfunny ones in general. But at least when you're reading those, you think, "That's worthless and/or inflammatory, but there is a meaning here that can be ascertained."

Not so with the "Keep Calm" meme. Its main purpose as a meme seems to be to say, "I'm aware that this thing exists." This thing referring to this:


Unlike many others who object, I'm not bothered by this poster's serious history as an alternate-universe reassurance for Nazi-occupied London. No, it's just that it's nearly impossible to make its copycat meme clever or even coherent, much less funny.

Some prime examples include:

• Et cetera

What, exactly, does keeping calm have to do with any of those things?

• "Gee, I'd love to love horses, but I'm way too uptight!"
• "You should really mellow out before hitting that bike trail."
• "Now, now, let's all take it easy before One Direction takes the stage. You should be quiet and respectful so you can hear them."
"The No. 1 thing to remember when twerking is to be really tranquil about it."
• "[Too hipster to even be hypothetical about]"
• OK, I get this one.
• Et cetera

Even when the meme occasionally works, it's because you can slice off "Keep Calm and..." and the statement will be exactly the same. So, really, it never works.

Indeed, to know how I feel about this meme, just consult this other meme:

And slice off the top half.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The limitation of term limits

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that members of the Reno City Council who have served 12 years cannot run for mayor due to term limits. This immediately reshaped next year's race, ending the hopes of the top two frontrunners (and several others in the hunt) and giving a big assist to many other hopefuls, including the man who brought the case.

Personally, I'm against term limits across the board. They're supposed to be a check against undue political influence, but they're political themselves. For all the arguments for term limits, there are equal and unsavory opposite arguments.

Term limits might prevent the phantom threat of the evil "career politician," but they also prevent the electorate from keeping competent and qualified candidates in office. And in places where term limits merely place limits on consecutive terms, a lot of ridiculous, pointless gymnastics can occur.

Even with term limits, has corruption stopped? No, it hasn't. I'm not sure it's even been reduced, because influence isn't necessarily a function of tenure. If we're replacing "career politicians" with upstarts from the farm teams of various lobbies, isn't that lateral change at best? 

The best check on politicians is an active and engaged electorate. Big stretch, I know. But that's the way it's supposed to be. Keep in the good, vote out the bad. Yes, money plays a part, but we're not yet at a point where candidates can outright buy a seat. Term limits plays into the same sense of citizen powerlessness that big money does — the idea that a citizen's vote is worth less than it actually is. In reality, it still is — and should be — the ultimate authority in determining who is in office.

We shouldn't have term limits; the limits should lie with us.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Obvious(?) thought of the day

Late last night, I popped into the store for two items. There were only two checkout lines open, both feeding from the same line. Both were going painfully slowly. 

The guy in front of me was a hipster stereotype. His cart was loaded with at least 142 items. I stood quietly behind him. When he got up to the conveyor belt, he shot me a look as if to say, "Your Monsanto stings my nostrils," and proceeded to unload his items.

There's something riveting about someone who has completely different thought processes than you. Anytime I'm in a line with 142 items (though it's usually closer to 14.2), and the person behind me has two, I offer to let them go in front of me. No sense in constipating the line, right? I prefer to jam the cogs of conformity, not the gears of the grocery line.

This isn't always how people think, and that's OK. It genuinely doesn't come naturally to some people, and it doesn't automatically make them jerks. But cases like this seem almost aggressive, and that isn't natural either. I'm guessing this guy gave up nature when it went mainstream.

Ooh, tired hipster joke. Maybe I'm not so saintly myself. Still, I try.

This ties into something I've thought a lot throughout my life — it's tough to be good. There really isn't much incentive to be good, because bad people are so much better at being bad. Being laid-back, humble or meek guarantees that you'll spend your life fending off type-A predators. (In America especially, being bad is often very good for business.) Conversely, virtue is its own reward. You can't expect people to reciprocate or pay it forward. All you can do is be the best person you can be and hope it rubs off at some point — all the while not letting others' shortcomings rub off on you.

It's hard, I know. But it's a better way to be.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Will to live

In the aftermath of tragedy, people cope in a multitude of ways. One way I wish people would stop doing so is to say, "It was just their time" or, even worse, "When God calls you home, nothing can stop it." 

OK, maybe it's defensible if someone is dying of old age after a long, fulfilling life. Not so much when it's people who died because they weren't restrained in a car

I grapple enough with the idea that there is a God. I'd like to think there is, but I'll never know for sure, let alone know the specifics of its form and its degree of micromanagement. Sometimes it's more comforting to think there is no God, rather than one who would deliberately inflict tragedy and heartache upon people out of tough love or worse.

Over the years, I've lost many friends and family. Inevitably, someone said it was their time. And I would think, "If God has someone for all eternity, why can't we have them for a little while longer? It would still be eternity after that." Also, I bounced around happily in back seats as a kid, and I managed to escape injury. Does that mean God had a plan for me, and not those kids? Or does it mean God didn't deem me worthy of heaven's ball pit? So many questions, so few of them comforting and so many troubling — and none with definite answers.

In any case, people on Earth are unambiguously real. Their actions have tangible consequences both on themselves and on society. Faith can be wonderful, counterproductive or destructive. Perhaps the people saying this accident was divine will are retroactively trying to reconcile the situation. I hope so, because otherwise I never want to share the road with them. Sitting back and accepting whatever God plans for you is a recipe for reckless living, and that affects all of us. What some see as fate, others see as preventable horror.

No one should ever dismiss a tragedy as destiny, or live as if God will declare their own lives over at any moment. Nobody should buy the idea that heaven is in constant need of fresh, smiling faces, selected in a Final Destination draft lottery. Even if that is true, it's a fate worth fighting. Do all you can to ensure that you and your family stay alive, always. Nobody's perfect and accidents happen, but we can learn from those accidents, rather than resign ourselves to them and offer perfunctory prayers after the damage is done. 

If there's a spiritual lesson to be learned here, maybe it's that.

For (what I hope is) the last time

Saturday, February 15, 2014

When give-and-take is take-and-cope

I've blogged a couple of times about the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullaffair. My take on it was that it's (to use a football term) a slam-dunk in favor of Martin. Of course, this being a macho locker-room story on the Internet, there's been a double-dose of blaming the victim. Subsequent coverage of their interactions was far more sympathetic to Incognito — because a broader swath of text messages suggested that the jabbing was more give-and-take — but more recent subsequent coverage swings the pendulum back toward Martin (because even more texts came out, this time unfiltered by Incognito's people).

Let's settle this now.

Abuse is complex. It's not defined exclusively by 100 percent satanic behavior by the aggressor and 100 percent cowering by the victim. The bullied often fight back, and even more often attempt to establish equilibrium. The aggressor also has moments of humanity. I'm not surprised to hear that Martin and Incognito occasionally connected as confidantes, any more than I am to see people in an abusive relationship getting along at times. 

It's also not shocking that Martin would sometimes react in kind via text message or social media — I'm familiar with the defense mechanism at play there. I was bullied as a boy, but there were times I laughed along with my tormentors or even instigated the attention. It was, on some level, an attempt to regain control. Nothing less, nothing more.

I don't doubt Martin did everything he could to handle his environment, but concluded that it was too much to overcome. Even sympathetic accounts of Incognito's behavior show him to be a casually racist and sexist insult machine who lasered in on people he deemed weaker than himself (sensitive players and team employees fearful for their jobs). In other words, a Class-A meatheaded bully. Even if turns out Martin was faking it the whole time (which he wasn't, because why?), Incognito is definitely in need of sensitivity training, if not much more help. Every time he opens his mouth or posts another macho, self-defeating tweet, he makes that clear. Anyone in a captive audience with someone like that is inevitably going to develop some coping mechanisms.

That, more than anything, is the huge takeaway.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Regarding gay football players

Football players who object to the hypothetical scenario of having a gay teammate should know this: It's probably not hypothetical. 

Lots of gay guys play football (and sports in general) and always have. This is probably news to players who don't recall any unwanted homosexual aggression getting in the way of the typical semi-nude locker-room hijinks, but apparently it goes undetected all the time. Why? Because, not being mindless sexual predators, gay athletes are fully capable of being focused, intelligent and respectful human beings. Indeed, they could teach a thing or two to their hostile (and ultimately insecure) heterosexual critics.

I played football for just one year in 12th grade — and I had a gay teammate. He came out to me five years later, after he read a pro-gay column I'd written in our college newspaper. Otherwise, I wouldn't have had a clue. 

How would I have reacted to the news had I known at 17? It's hard to say for sure. I'd had several gay friends by that point (some of whom had expressed affection for me), so I understood to a degree what they dealt with. But I was also a teenager in the Deep South, where the conscious and subconscious often conspire to cast others out. No teammate of mine knew definitively where I stood on the issue, and I'm not sure I did either. Even then, though, I assumed someone on the team had to be gay simply for statistical reasons. That didn't stop me, or anyone else, from dressing and undressing.

Michael Sam isn't the first gay football player, nor is he the hundredth. Had he not said anything, he would still be a gay man in a locker room, and no homophobe would be the wiser/dumber, just like it's mostly been since football's inception. If Sam makes it to the NFL — and by all accounts, he should — he will be the league's first active, openly gay player. It's a first only in the sense that it's now on the haters to learn how to deal with it. 

No wonder they're afraid.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Proof that Earth began perfect and has accelerated downward ever since thanks to this "progress" pap

Here's a nice video. And by nice, I mean ridiculous:



Every so often, you hear someone reminiscing about the Good Old Days while simultaneously bemoaning the Inferior Now Days. Everything's so not like it was these days, and increased safety is to blame! Seat belts. Safer cribs. Childproof caps. Bike helmets. Less-terrible food. Fewer fistfights. Kids not going to jail, apparently. And love that isn't even tough! Why, there hasn't been a cut or bruise on a child since playtime accidents were outlawed under the Participation Trophy Act of 1979. DARN YOU, JIMMY CARTER!!

No one says it in this particular video, but the usual refrain ending this rant is, "And I turned out OK!" Yes, indeed, you did. Because, as the video does say, you made it. You're a survivor — which is why they call this rose-colored thinking "survivor bias." 

Nostalgia such as this conveniently forgets all the kids who died or got disfigured because of these allegedly character-building hazards. Safety standards got more stringent for a reason, and not because government bureaucrats decided to invent safety in 1995 because they were a combination of bored and evil. In fact, many of them are the same people who grew up as tough customers.

This video is less an example of a world gone wrong than a personal refusal to mature. My dad tells fond stories of lying atop the back seat, underneath the rear window, of the family car with his brothers on long trips. But he still made me wear my seat belt. I considered it a blast to jump up and down on the backseat in my grandfather's station wagon, but in my teens I made sure to fix the long-broken belts.

Then there's the issue of children going out to play. They still do that; I see it even in the dead of winter at my apartment complex. Yes, it's incomprehensible these days to leave kids unsupervised all day long, but maybe that's always been a bad idea. And perhaps not locking your doors isn't such a great thing to pine for either.

Like most people, I remember my childhood fondly and subconsciously see that as how things should be forevermore. But you know what happens every time I revisit a landmark from that time? It's inevitably smaller and rougher than I remember it. It gets me to thinking what else I'm remembering too rosily, like history. 

I'm glad I made it too, so that I can dispel such nostalgic nonsense.

Monday, February 10, 2014

News that apparently traveled by bottle


I just found this out last night, via random YouTube comment. If ever I thought there was a piece of news I'd miss in the age of the Internet and me working in the media and all, it wouldn't be the sudden suicide in 2012 of a member of one of my favorite bands of all time.

"Down Under" has been one of my jams since it came out. I have a distinct memory of hearing this song's opening licks on the radio on New Year's Day 1983, and thinking, "Hey, there's that song I love!" I wasn't even 3 yet.

As years passed, I forgot the song, but recalled the memory. All I could remember was the song's famous flute work. Ten years later, while working on a Beatles report, I heard "Down Under" on the radio and felt the memories flood back. "You better run, you better take cover!" Mom told me the group was Men at Work, and a fervent fan was born. I boned up on the band and learned Ham lent the Men its most distinctive sounds.

Also, that we looked the same in 1983.
In 2009, the publishing company that owns the Australian classic "Kookaburra" sued Men at Work, claiming Ham lifted the flute melody from that song. The publisher won, and the band had pay back a percentage of the song's royalties as a result. This supposedly devastated Ham, who considered the cribbing an accident and imagined his reputation destroyed. And he took his life. Two years ago, that is, but it's fresh sadness for me.

A coworker friend remarked that it was a particularly cruddy move on the publisher's part to pursue action against a 30-year-old song for its subconscious sampling of a song widely thought to be in the public domain. I think so too, especially in light of the suicide it wrought. What a shame. A belated R.I.P. to an eternal talent.

Here is Greg gloriously hamming it up (sorry) on "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive." He loved the world, except for all the people.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Sad toys

(Inspired by @midnight)

Hula bureaucratic hoops
Philly putty
Building blahs
Hasbeenbro
Barbiennui
Easy Head in the Oven
Water balone
Solopoly
No Pound Puppies Allowed
Connect Forlorn
Lite Mite
Jigsaw muzzles
Tinkertoying with your emotions
Lincoln Slog
Nintendo OD
Louse Trap
My Little Alimony
Hot Wheels political race track
The version of D&D that allegedly sends heathen players straight to hell
Transfatmers
Splattergore-ies
Electric Swimming

Bad aftershows

(Inspired by @midnight)

Tuesday Morning Football
Watch What Just Happened Live Earlier
AfterMASHAftermath
CHiP.S.
Family Dies
Sixtysomething
The Bradys Break Up

High art

(Inspired by this)

One stereotype about writers, musicians and other artists is that they rely on heavy use of drugs and drink to fuel their creativity.

That's a, let's just say, creative excuse.

Or, to say it the way I really want to: It's HORSE CRAP.

It's not hard to see why this stereotype persists, though. Creating something is, at least in part, fueled by a dissatisfaction that it doesn't already exist. Naturally, then, anyone bitten by the creative bug is going to be adventurous or at least curious. These same urges sometimes compel people to start using (and abusing) substances. There's a reason creativity is said to be channeled — because all that energy and curiosity can just as easily destroy someone as make them better at their respective craft. Some artists manage to be both drug-fueled and productive, but they're lucky more than anything. And guaranteed, the drugs aren't what make their ideas any good.

Granted, many classic books and albums explore drug-influenced themes. But their creators were otherworldly talents to start with. Plenty of people who abuse drugs and drink don't have a creative bone in their sauced bodies. And many talents have either kicked drugs or had them kill them. So much for that theory.

"LSD opened me up to ... hundreds of millions of universes. So in that sense it was an incredibly positive experience. However, I can't take psychedelics and perform as a professional." — Jerry Garcia, to Rolling Stone

I imagine the Hemingway/Thompson stereotype of the grizzled writer hunched over his typewriter with a Scotch, a cigarette and a scowl perpetuates because writers, in their creativity, find the archetype cooler than the reality. Those people don't need to see me in my writing mode (sober, smoke-free, laptop, somewhat decent posture). By that standard, I'm not cool at all. 

But I am alive, and that's pretty cool too.

To be fair to the Beatles

I’m going to be really bold and defend the Beatles.

The Beatles rank among my favorite bands of all time. It seems cheap to say that since most music aficionados do, but John, Paul, George and Ringo hold up, all hype aside.

And I do mean all hype aside. I wasn’t around for Beatlemania. John Lennon was shot exactly seven months after I was born. My first exposure to the Beatles was through my long-dead aunt’s collection of early-period records and memorabilia. In general, I don’t subscribe to the idea that baby boomers had the only youth culture that matters. So when I say I love the Beatles, it’s because they earned it.

All sections of their catalog — from their earliest obscure recordings to their teenybopper period to the psychedelic masterpieces and beyond — are exceptional. Their outtakes are better than many bands’ glossiest material. Even when songs suck, they suck as creative attempts, which is the best way to suck. They’re equally fun in small bites and in extended, full-album listening sessions. Their movies and interviews are highly entertaining. Even as a child of the ’80s, I can see how exciting these guys must have been when they were emerging.

I bought two of their CDs a few weeks ago: Please Please Me and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Yes, CDs. Your move, every other band.

The Beatles are the only band that I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like — because they influenced nearly every genre of music that exists today, and certainly shaped pop stardom. Maybe disliking the hype is understandable, but again, I think the music itself transcends that. At the very least, it’s hard to argue that they were terrible, or that their impact wasn’t genuinely huge.

There won’t be another Beatles — not because nostalgia stacks the deck against today’s talent, but because there already were the Beatles. We don’t need to break that ground again; we simply need to enjoy the ongoing stream of creativity they helped spring 50 years ago. Maybe even be inspired to add to it ourselves.

Yeah yeah yeah.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

When Globetrotters play quidditch: Nye vs. Ham

I didn't watch the debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham the Creation Fan. But I am watching a Harlem Globetrotters game as I write this, so let me put it in those terms why the idea of this debate did nothing for me:

If Bill Nye is the Harlem Globetrotters, then Ken Ham is the Washington Generals ... if the Generals played quidditch instead of basketball.

If the Globetrotters took the court against a quidditch team, how compelling would that be? Only one side is versed in a real sport (albeit a more showy form thereof), and the other came to approximate a physically impossible game that exists only in a book. Even when you know the Globetrotters are going to win — and you're rooting for them to do so — you hope there's at least a pretense of equal competition. That's why they play another basketball team.

I like Bill Nye a lot and I appreciate his willingness to saunter into unfriendly territory and make his case. But as I've learned in my own extensive experience debating people, some methods of persuasion work better than others, and some don't work at all. Others backfire. If Nye's (or, for that matter, Ham's) intent was to persuade, this was the wrong way to do it.

Equating their respective views with each other is balancing inequivalent stances, a trend I often decry in journalism. Faith fails as science, and science does not rely on faith. They aren't two sides of the same coin any more than Harry Potter plays basketball. Let's not pretend he belongs on the court. Likewise, the Globetrotters have no business trying to play quidditch.

Leave the realism to the professionals and the fantasy in the fiction section.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Post-Super Bowl Gripebook

• I realize that, technically and statistically speaking, there have been worse Super Bowls than Super Bowl XLVIII. But this was the worst one I've ever watched live in my lifetime (this includes all or part of every game since 1989, and most likely earlier ones as well).

Why was this one the worst? In past blowouts, you almost always saw it coming. Routs such as the Bears-Patriots in 1986 and the Ravens-Giants in 2001 were mismatches from the start. Even when wild cards weren't a factor, like with the 49ers-Broncos in 1990, it was still a dynasty vs. a perpetual also-ran. This one, by contrast, had equal No. 1 conference seeds, two teams that demolished everyone all season long. It should have been epic, but instead we got the 2013 Seahawks against ... the 1989 Broncos playing in 2014.

• On Sunday morning, I made a graphic to post as soon as the Broncos won, where Drew Brees promises to tell sad-faced Russell Wilson all about beating Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. (Doing stuff like this early has never not been a jinx, so I apologize to all Denver fans.) I really, really, really wanted to use it. So much so, in fact, that I'm going to try to salvage it here with a couple of patches:

Yeah, not nearly as good. WILLLLSONNNNNN!!!
• Speaking of creativity going to waste ... I had a lot of witticisms ready if the Seahawks petered out. Two months' worth, in fact. Seattle has yet to play badly enough for me to use any of them. Rest assured, when the Seahawks eventually fall apart, I will enter Beast Armchair Comment Mode.

• I'm glad that a linebacker, Malcolm Smith, earned MVP honors. He had some pivotal plays in the game and defensive players are underrepresented for the award in general. Also, he's not Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman or the 12th Man, all of which are insufferable enough to Saints fans without the MVP nod.

• Some 9/11 Truther interrupted Smith's post-game press conference. I realize these nuts are generally not on the ball, but do they really think crashing unrelated events is the best way to get their message across? It's clearly the desperate act of people unsatisfied with the evidence because they just want to believe so badly. Smith showed remarkable restraint, I thought. I only wish he'd zinged the guy.

Derrick Coleman is an exemplary guy. No grudges against him.

• I kept an eye on the game with no sound while working, so I didn't watch any commercials. I'm sure they were clever/disappointing/cameo-filled and whatnot.

• One ad I did hear about was the Coca-Cola spot that featured people singing "America the Beautiful." Apparently, it really pissed off some people. Why? Because it was sung in eight languages. Horrors! 

I've been trying to wrap my head around this phobia of languages for years, and still I can't even begin to get a foothold. It's one of those points of outrage that I'm aware of only because others have complained about it. The only reason I can think of for people being threatened by a language is that they don't understand it. And that's their problem, not anyone else's. Languages aren't impenetrable vessels for secret attack codes; they are systems of expression that anyone can learn. 

Incidentally, I sang several American songs — including "America the Beautiful" — in French every morning in third grade. No one objected and we didn't become Commiebama zombies. But that was when Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle had our backs, so I guess it was OK.

Seriously, though, this is a big, diverse, culturally co-opting, melting-pot country with no official language and — I can't stress this enough — is strong enough to not have its freedom threatened by words. If there's a single argument against multilingualism that isn't rooted in bigotry, I'd love to entertain it.   

• Getting back to football: This game made me feel better about the Saints' losses to the Seahawks. At the same time, however, it also frustrated me that the Saints weren't there to blow out the Broncos. One more win on New Orleans' part could have reshaped the playoffs entirely. Oh well. Coulda shoulda woulda. 

• In any case, this football season is in the books, and I can close that book forever and go back to being a rational human being — at least for the next 213 days.