Monday, June 30, 2014

Here we gun again

Inspired by the Bourbon Street shooting (aka what that happens all the time in New Orleans but this time it was in the safe place!), I planned to write a blog about guns. I mentally mapped it out with what phrases and explanations I was going to use, only to realize that I had already written it nearly word for word late last year. But hey, how much is there left to say after so many shootings?

Come to think of it, I've probably said that exact phrase before as well.

And that one too.

Stop the madness.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

We're split on this


This is one of the subjects that, aside from me disagreeing with it, I just find weird. 

It's weird to me because I can't think of a time I've eaten out with any size group where I was pressured to pay exactly the same as everyone else. I've paid for what I ordered. I've paid for a friend or date. And sometimes for the whole group. But not that.

And I wouldn't. I tend to eat only small, low-priced entrees and don't drink alcohol. Anyone who expects me to subsidize their gluttonous tab probably isn't in my circle to begin with.

This must be one of those situations unique to metropolis-sized cities, where restaurant traffic and possibly cash-only policies come into play. I've never worked as a server, so maybe it's a convenience issue for them that I don't know about, but I can't imagine it's that much of a hassle to split tickets in the computer age, especially early on in the transaction. Whether it is or not, I'll make it up on the tip.

What I refuse to do is believe that it's my duty as a light eater and teetotaler to pay the same price as someone who gorges on food and drink, simply out of pretentious etiquette. This isn't like taxes, where we're looking out for each other; this is being cheated and paying for the privilege. And no, the others won't make up for it later, unless my tastes, stomach capacity and sense of propriety suddenly change. Even if that did happen, no one owes me for my indulgence.

Let's all split and have a fun time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Conversation with a paranoid Saints fan

“Ian, did you hear? The New Orleans Saints might have to change their name!”

“What?!!”

“That’s right! I saw it on The Blaze!”

“Oh. I thought you were serious.”

“I am serious! Look at what’s happening with the Washington Redskins right now.”

“What does the Redskins controversy have to do with the Saints?”

“It’s political correctness run amok! They don’t want any names to be offensive anymore, so you know they’re going to start going after the religious ones next. Saints, Angels, Padres.”

“Well, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure people are going after Redskins because it’s an explicitly racist term.”

“These do-gooders just need something to be offended about.”

“So you’re saying Redskins isn’t offensive?”

“No, of course it is.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“If you change it, then you open the door for other teams to have their names protested. Alcoholics will balk at Brewers. British-Americans will frown at the 76ers. Short people will want the Giants gone. People afraid to fly will object to the Jets. You know, where does it end?”

“It is a steep slippery slope.” 

“The slipperiest!”

“OK, so who finds Saints, Angels and Padres offensive?”

“Lefty loonies such as yourself.”

“I have no problem with any of those names.”

“You don’t?”

“No. And even if I did, it doesn’t matter, because Saints, Angels and Padres are not blatantly offensive names. They’re simply words that can be used in a religious context, and — this is key — still are used by polite society today. When was the last time you heard anyone say ‘redskin?’”

“The other night at a dinner party. We had red skin potatoes, and someone joked that they now had to be called indigenous-American potatoes. We all laughed so hard that someone had do the Heimlich on Tanner.”

“OK, but in terms of people?”

“Look, the point is, everything can be found offensive by somebody. Is that a reason to start changing names all willy-nilly?”

“No, but that isn’t at all what’s happening.”

“With the PC police like you, who knows?”

“I love Saints. It’s perfect for a New Orleans football team. I don’t have to be Catholic to like it any more than I have to be Scandinavian to be OK with the Vikings.”

“What does Scandinavia have to do with the Vikings?”

“Oh, read a book.”

“No.”

“Changing the name of one team because its mascot is racist doesn’t mean sports leagues are going to kowtow every time someone has a minor nitpick. Even if they did, though, that shouldn’t stop society from making social progress where overdue. Change has always faced resistance, but the worst-case scenarios of the objectors never come true.”

“Still, who knows what will happen if Washington changes its name?”

The NBA does.”

“And all their mascots didn't change in a wave of professionally offended fury.”

“Yep.”

“Hmmm ... Maybe I overreacted.”

“Perhaps.”

“Don’t tell anyone, OK?”

“Who’d believe me?”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Designated driver, not designated drag


This. A thousand times THIS.

I almost never drink. It's been at least a year since I've had any alcohol. It's almost been that long since I've partied at night (night jobs in new cities tend to foster that, as well as general uninterest). But even when I do go out, I very rarely partake. This really surprises people. Absolutely stuns them. 

I have no compelling reason not to drink. I'm not an alcoholic. I'm not morally opposed to it. I even hold my firewater relatively well. I just don't feel like I have to drink to enjoy myself. I can let go of my inhibitions in the right mood, and I like being able to snap back to sobriety before things get too ridiculous. Apparently it works, because friends who know full well I won't be getting blitzed still like to invite me out with them. Others have insisted I was drunk, because there's no way someone would dance like that otherwise. 

I don't judge others for choosing to drink; it's simply my personal decision not to, or to stop at one. But when the opposite courtesy isn't extended, it does get uncomfortable. So I hope those who would try to enforce their drinkcisions upon me (or other teetotalers) heed this Esquire blog. And then go bottoms-up, because we're still going to have a blast. Then I'll drive you home.

A take on the hostile takeover

We should go easy on Bobby Jindal saying the American people are ready for "a hostile takeover" of Washington. 

I don't think he meant it in a revolutionary, treasonous sense. (Even if he did, such rhetoric is all talk.) I'm more inclined to believe he meant "hostile takeover" in the predatory-capitalist sense, a more tangible and disturbing goal. That jibes more with Jindal's corporate mentality and singleminded desire to be president of these United States. Why would he want to overthrow the very system he wants to helm so very badly?

Let's not despise Jindal for a flawed interpretation of his remarks when there are so many other reasons to despise him.

That special McFly moment

Today in Nope


One of my favorite things about AP style is that it doesn't employ the Oxford comma. At least in most circumstances; sometimes the O-com has its uses, such as when a list has an "and" within it. OK.

But the clarity purpose only goes so far. Advocates of the Oxford comma constantly spout sentences such as "Her children, Odin and Barack Obama all got stuck in the storm" as proof that we need the punctuation mark. Wouldn't want anyone to think the subject is raising a Norse god and the president! Nyuk nyuk!

That's the thing about most of these examples — they're misunderstood only in humor. Even with no punctuation, it's clear that the children, Odin and Obama are all different people. If that isn't clear, then the person is either joking or they have a comprehension problem that an extra comma isn't sufficient to solve.

Even more importantly, they're badly written sentences. If they crossed my copy desk, I'd restructure every one of them to make them clearer. And I'd do it without needing the Oxford comma. Like I did with these examples.

It's important too in this debate to differentiate between styles of writing. Clark's example of a sentence needing the Oxford comma is an 89-word literary run-on, the structure of which he argues is necessary to convey the meandering of the river it describes. In other words, exactly the kind of discussion you'd have in a grad-school lit course. But no 89-word sentence is going in a newspaper except as several sentences. It will never need AP style scrutiny.

I've been through the English grad-school grinder and I've been active in journalism for the past 16 years. I once wrote an MLA-style term paper, a news article with AP style and a psychology paper (APA style) simultaneously. So I can tell you that journalism and literature (and, really most other forms of writing) are so far apart that they're almost impossible to compare.

Literature is wide-open in terms of style. Yes, it has its own style conventions, but ultimately it's a creative endeavor. You can write 20 pages about what a flower looks like. And you can Oxford-comma the hell out of it, because no one's asking you to be maximally concise. Sometimes, it reads better in a literary sense not to be tied to grammatical rules. 

But journalism favors economy. It's written in a concise style intended to fit in a certain space, and copy is aimed at people with a common reading level who might not read past the headline. AP style addresses those particular needs, just as MLA, Chicago and other styles govern other forms. Not just punctuation-wise, but in how words are written to avoid reader confusion. AP is not arty, but it is an art in and of itself.

I don't think AP style should apply to literature, and would never insist it should. Literary people should extend the same courtesy to us. That mutual understanding would make this much less of a debate.

Not friends, but friends

This past week, my next-door neighbor of about eight months moved out and to another town. She was young and (at least early on) single, and we talked frequently. Nothing too deep, but I ascertained that we had a lot in common. I wanted to get to know her better, but a combination of our conflicting schedules and my desire not to come on strong got in the way of that. Also, she met a guy. And the abrupt breaking of her lease didn't help.

We never exchanged phone numbers, social-media follows or even last names. I know her first name and where she's from — that's about it, and about what she knows of me. She said we were about the same age, but neither of us mentioned our ages (I'm sure 34 is far off for her). We promised to stay in touch, but that seems unlikely now. 

That makes me sad. But in a way, it doesn't.

My Facebook friends list is littered with people I met once, for about an hour. Some of those people I've gotten to know better online, but some are just awkward to even acknowledge now. It's easy to do in this day and age — you meet someone at a party or parade, and the first time you get to your laptop or smartphone, they're your online buddy. And you never see them or talk to them again. The basis of your instant friendship fades fast. Also, you might find out they think Sarah Palin should be on the $1 bill or that they loathe the idea of books, things you didn't notice when you were bonding over beads or beer. 

Pre-social media, it was easy to idealize people who came in and out of your life. You could be nostalgic about your interactions, and you could pine for the friendship or relationship that might have been. As great as it is to reconnect, it can also be the worst thing to happen to your memories. Nevertheless, in this connected age, it's virtually an imperative to fill in those gaps. We've certainly made it easy for others to do so.

Which is why I'm almost glad my now-former neighbor and I didn't swap information. We had a cordial friendship. She didn't overshare and, unusually for me, I didn't overshare. As it stands now, I'll likely never know more about her than the words we exchanged in person. She was in my life for a moment when I needed an acquaintance in a strange city (and vice versa) and moved on when her time came. It seems novel. Pure, even. In a world of excessive online branding, that's worth appreciating.

I'm still friending her if she finds me, though.

Patent ending

Yesterday, I had two friends — one conservative and one liberal — opine on Facebook that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office possibly overstepped its bounds in rescinding trademark protection for the Washington Redskins. Neither friend is keen on the name, but they are concerned (for different reasons) over the idea of a government agency making what amounts to a moral decision.

This led me to reconsider my initial approval of the patent office's decision. But ultimately, it didn't change my mind.

I don't think patent officials should be reckless with the "disparaging" label; after all, a John Ashcroft type at the helm could really run with that in a bad way. But this particular case deals with what, to me at least, is one of the most cut-and-dry grounds for revocation there is: racism.

Often, the question is asked: What constitutes a protected class? The most solid indicator is anything that a person cannot help, and which causes others to discriminate against them. This includes gender, sexual orientation and, of course, race. The targets of such discrimination are made to feel like lesser citizens in society, which by definition is a suppression of rights. To that end, laws should disallow every tangible form of discrimination possible. The state must avoid anything implying that it endorses such discrimination. That's why I agree that Redskins shouldn't be a trademarked term.

As I've said before, Redskins is a particularly acute slur because "skin" is right there in the name. You might debate the merits of the "Indians" moniker or whether or not "Braves" is derogatory, but "Redskins" is straight-up crude. The only reason this is the name of a professional football team is because it has been the name of a professional football team for a long time. No one would accept this name for a new expansion team, any more than people today say "redskins" in everyday conversation. Sentimentality is a tough nut to crack. Owner Dan Snyder has played that card every chance he's gotten. And why not? It works. Not much else does.

Government should stay out of the touchy morals game, but fending off racism and bigotry is a stark exception. This is low-hanging fruit. No one should be able to trademark racial slurs. 

Change the name. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Good call


Finally, Bush does something right regarding Iraq. Credit where due.

If only all of the other neocon warhawks would follow his lead, just as they so eagerly did back in 2003. Instead, watching the news this past week has been like reliving that bleak era. Same old faces. Same old rhetoric. It's almost impressive how little they've let themselves learn. And it's downright audacious of them to think they have any authority to weigh in. I might think differently if they offered at least some contrition or concession — but instead they're attacking Barack Obama for not making the same disastrous and preventable mistakes that they did. They might as well admonish the president for having nuanced thought processes and the ability to learn from recent history.

Bush gets it. If he hasn't changed his views regarding Iraq, he at least understands that he's better off out of the public eye. He knows on some level (even if he never says so outright, or to himself) that the American public sees him as political poison. To say that the wounds his administration inflicted through the Iraq war are still fresh is an understatement — they've haven't even stopped bleeding, and the veterans are still in the waiting room for treatment. To see Bush's face everywhere once again would be salt on those wounds.

At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, John Kerry (the loser in 2004) gave a well-received prime-time speech shortly before the Bidens and the Obamas spoke. Conversely, George W. Bush, a two-term president, did not attend either the 2012 or the 2008 Republican conventions. I thought that said a lot about both parties. And about each philosophy on foreign policy.

So good on Bush for his current reticence. If only he'd exercised it 11 years ago.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Parannoying

I was relaxing at the pool just now, and I noticed an airplane high up in the sky shooting off twin vapor trails. 

And I thought to myself, "I'm glad I'm not a conspiracy theorist, because worrying about chemtrails would ruin my day."

Though in all likelihood, if I was paranoid, my day would have been ruined earlier with my first drink of water, because FLUORIDE!

But of course, they want you to think it's all bunk. Shudder?

Today in convenient anarchy

Meet Xylie Eshleman and Dustin Rosondich, a couple that is also a band. They've been in jail for the past month because they had a made-up "nonresident" license plate on their car and refused to sign a traffic ticket because America doesn't own them! 

Some people have too much privilege. It shows in their philosophical tantrums. Tens of thousands of people each year brave treacherous conditions and potential legal repercussions to get into the United States, hoping America holds opportunity for them. But these kids had it handed to them and they can't be bothered.

Not in terms of obligation, anyway. They're all too happy to drive on public roads in a car that meets federal safety standards, and shoot music videos (with a non-exploding camera and probably a municipal permit) where they're walking on public roads, window-shopping at stores that aren't being ransacked by marauders and playing instruments they presumably bought with government-backed currency and not with pelts. And they do all this while reminding us to put down our egos, presumably because the fact that we built that can really get to our heads.

 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Match.complicated

"Man up." A phrase that always signals open-mindedness and understanding.

Manhood is one of those paradoxical concepts that slips away the more you try to get your hands on it. A real man isn’t fixated every five seconds on whether he is truly a Man. That’s not running the race; that’s looking over your shoulder. It’s insecurity.

Matt Walsh, my favorite blogger except for every other blogger and most of the more sophisticated spambots, is urging men to man up in his latest masterpiece. He says dudes must stop being fuzzy about the status of their relationships and call them what they are — sound, defined investments in the Bank of Marriage. Or something like that.

Walsh’s piece combines a mainlined shot of “man up” with a dose of “I know better than you do how to handle your specific, arbitrary situation, stranger.” So, as usual, it’s a winner.

He cites his own now-marriage as proof of what happens if you open up the channels of communication early on. Apparently, very early on.

With Alissa, things were pretty clear from the get-go. We had a relationship. A real, live relationship. A few months into it, I proposed.

Now, I agree that communication is important in a relationship. If you’re incompatible or otherwise clearly have divergent life goals, it’s best to get that out in the open as soon as possible so everyone can avoid wasting time and energy. But even the tightest couples are going to differ over some stuff. For example, how soon into the relationship did Matt and Alissa declare it a relationship? Right away? At exactly the same time? Was there no hesitation on either one's part, even if just momentary? I don't know for sure, given that I have yet to find that special someone who thinks every thought exactly as I do at exactly the right moment, with no hangups or ambiguities.

Planet Walsh is apparently full of these people. I’d say I’m jealous, but I’m not. Because for me, dating means spending time with someone fun and seeing what kind of chemistry, if any, develops. When it works, it’s a pleasant adjunct to life and can indeed lead to greater, long-term happiness. When it doesn’t, it’s broken off in favor of a mutually better situation.

For Walsh, on the other hand, all dates are preliminary auditions for Marriage Idol. There is no other purpose. You’re either fulfilling your holy Christian duty by connecting the dots of courtship or you’re engaged in a satanic orgy of sin. Even worse, you’re wasting your date’s time, because all they’re thinking is, “Man, I really feel like getting this marriage thing rolling. Let’s see, who shall I choose?” You’re the only one in society who isn’t thinking this. (Except for all the people Walsh is chiding, apparently.)

So before you work up the nerve to ask her out, fellows, make sure you’ve got an entire life plan mapped out for you and her. If your date isn’t purpose-driven like Rick Warren wants, what’s the point? Fun? You little boy! Be a man!

No wonder the young people aren’t in relationships or getting married anymore. Dang smartphones.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Redskins' weak defense

Here's a tip for anyone who insists that "Redskins" is not an offensive mascot: Don't try to find equivalents. Seriously, there aren't any.

"The Saints? That offends my Christian beliefs, ho ho ho!"

"The Cowboys might be offensive to the Marlboro Man!"

"I hear sharks are offended by San Jose's insinuation that they're fierce creatures."

"Next thing, MADD will want to do away with the Brewers!"

"Chargers? Think of the electricians!"

"Grizzlies is offensive to black bears. Hurr hurr!"

"Ooh, Why don't we change WHITE Sox too? I'm white! It offends me!"

Hush.



"Redskins" is a direct reference to the skin color of indigents who were virtually exterminated largely on the basis of said skin color. It's a word that hasn't been in polite vernacular for generations. It makes Indians and Braves look progressive by comparison.

Absolutely no other mascot outrage, real or imagined, even remotely compares, and it's pathetic to pretend otherwise.

Change the name.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How not to be someone to "deal" with


What she thinks she’s saying (maybe): “I’m not perfect. But those who love me will understand that and not be overly judgmental when I fall short.”

What she’s actually saying (and maybe knows it): “I have some reprehensible personality traits, and I’m not even going to try to fix them. Why should I? Then I wouldn’t be so adorably quirky.”

It’s one thing to have some personality flaws, because that’s every human being; it’s another to be fully self-aware of this fact and deliberately do nothing about it. That’s the sign of someone who refuses to change, and perhaps even enjoys the drama that comes with being rigid and unreasonable.

This is not a gender-specific characteristic. Both women and men are capable of circling their wagons around their worst traits, and insisting that others have a duty to tiptoe on eggshells around them when they're at their worst.

No, others don’t. In fact, a lot of emotional abuse is justified that way. All of the burden of compromise shouldn't fall on the person who must deal with a difficult attitude. Meet in the middle, at least.

Like all other humans, I’m not perfect. At all. While I like to think I’m a mostly radical dude, I have my fair share of wear and damage. Like Curtin, I have my 3-year-old moments. Hell, I have moments when even 3-year-olds would say, “Grow up!” I’ve lashed out at people for no fault of their own. I sometimes take things way too seriously and/or personally. I’ve buzzkilled a few good times with my histrionics.

But here's the thing: I hate those things about myself. They’re sources of shame. I see them, and the reactions they provoke, as signals that I need to better myself in some form. I shouldn’t have any authority to tell any friend, colleague or girlfriend, “This is who I am. Deal with it.”

Maybe I’ll ask someone to understand where I'm coming from. But if they don’t, I understand, because I’m similarly intolerant of such antics in others. I don't ask, nor do I expect, anyone to embrace these tantrums. This isn’t a litmus test for whether someone should like me. Oftentimes, I’ve improved my behavior precisely because someone refused to put up with it. Or maybe I realized on my own that I treated a good person poorly, even if they took it without visible objection.

People should always aspire to improve themselves. You can’t change the past, but you can improve for the future. In fact, you must. Evolution isn’t just some faraway macro-phenomenon; it happens within all of us, every day. If you’re rational enough to know where you’re irrational, then you’re wise enough to get to work on it. Become someone others don't have to "deal" with in the first place.

You should be liked for who you are, not tolerated for it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Finale finality

Right now on Facebook, one of the trending topics is, "Game of Thrones finale shocks."

Well, I would certainly hope so. If it said, "Game of Thrones finale exactly what everyone saw coming for months," that would be shocking.

What I find impressive is that the show traffics in shock and yet, still has the capacity to shock. (Disclosure: I don't watch Game of Thrones, apart from one early episode. I'm viewing this from an outsider perspective, much as someone indifferent to sports is probably seeing the World Cup right now.)

Back in 1999, I tried out (for the second unsuccessful time) to be my college paper's political columnist with a column about the nature of shock. My argument was that artists like Marilyn Manson can only go so far with shock as their schtick, because eventually people expect it, which defeats the purpose (a point the Onion brilliantly ran with two years later). 

Game of Thrones apparently defies this logic, at least for now. I can see why. "Which important character are they going to kill off this week?" is pretty compelling television. Though that can still go wrong if the showrunners are too reckless with the plot device. Because then it will eventually be, "Oh, more deaths. How hard will they try this week?"

One of my professors in grad school read a screenplay I wrote for her class — which followed several groups of people attending a movie screening — and decided it would be a lot better if everyone was brutally murdered at the end (her suggestion for most things I wrote, really). The reworked ending actually played well in a class reading, so she clearly had her finger on some pulse. 

A pulse that's pounding all over the Internet with outrage and shock!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The life lessons of death

On this day in 1986, my great-aunt, awesomely named Linda Hamilton, died. She was 80. I was 6. I saw it happen.

I had been very close to her; she lived only two houses down from me. She'd had a stroke a few months earlier, and had been bedridden at my grandparents' house next door ever since. It was sad to see a woman I knew best for putting her hands behind her back and asking, "Which han' ya want?" before handing me a fun-size candy bar, unable to communicate without a sign to point to. 

My grandmother (her sister) and their other sister were there in her final moments, as was my mom and grandfather. They had me go into the kitchen, but that was only a few feet away, so I stood and watched the whole thing. 

I remember her face well. She was in mild distress, but otherwise it seemed like she just went to sleep. To date, it's the only time I've ever seen someone die. (I was at the mall with my girlfriend when my grandfather died 13 years later, and asleep in the next room when my grandmother died five months after that.) I'm not sure I could handle it now, but my innocence helped me a lot then.

The immediate aftermath on that June 11 day taught me many things about life. Some poignant, and some funny.

When my mom came into the kitchen, I asked her if Ninnin (as we called her) had died. "Yes, she passed away," she replied. That was the first time I ever heard that expression. Well, misheard it.

"She passed out," I would say for several days thereafter. Kids say the darnedest things.

My other great-aunt made a long series of phone calls. "Ninnin died." "Ninnin died." "Ninnin died." It was a rhythm, and it helped the news sink in. And I thought, "Man, we know lots of people!"

Within an hour of Ninnin's passing, two men in black suits drove up in a hearse. I'd never seen a hearse before, nor did I know how they knew to come get her. I got in my head that these men in black just knew when people died, and drove around picking them up in their bizarre black car. (One of the men reminded me of actor Curtis Armstrong. I probably would have asked him if given the chance.) Later, I would be dazzled by the funeral home, and the limo with the digital speedometer I rode in from the funeral home to the cemetery. (The funeral home was also where I learned to chew gum with my mouth closed, courtesy of an aunt who offered me Freedent. It's a very awkward thing to try to do when you've never done it before.)

All of that was a lot to absorb, and I did so eagerly. I knew it was a sad occasion, but the new experiences it brought forth — and all the relatives I got to see — were still exciting to this 6-year-old.

But perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that it was OK to cry. Prior to the funeral service, I'd rarely, if ever, seen adults shed tears (and when I had, it was a private thing). But at her burial, everyone was, including relatives I thought of as grown, macho men. I'd always been a sensitive kid, so seeing that made me feel more comfortable with my own emotions. I may not have cried at that funeral, but I would at many more in the years to come. And on many other occasions. 

After the funeral, my cousins came over and we played Atari, hide-and-seek and the Wheel of Fortune game I'd recently gotten for my birthday. I remember those times fondly. Death is a weird thing, because it can activate life in its wake.

Still, death sucks. So appreciate life while you and those you love have still got it. 

Zone of contention

In the wake of the most recent school shooting (link not given lest it changes by the time I finish writing this), the comment I've read most often is a condemnation of gun-free school zones. That's long been a common refrain, but for some reason I've seen it more in the past couple of days.

The criticism is that, by labeling something a gun-free zone, we're advertising to would-be shooters that the people there are sitting ducks. I can point to multiple reasons why this is a wrongheaded line of thought, not the least of which are that most shooters kill themselves anyway, and that gun-free zones probably don't factor into the diseased thought process that is a criminal's target selection.

But my pressing objection is this: what exactly is the alternative to a gun-free zone? 

Well, to begin with, what is the purpose of a gun-free zone? My guess is that it's not to invite in lunatics, but to maximize safety in institutional settings such as schools. It means that unauthorized carrying of firearms carries a greater penalty because of the greater risk brought by their presence. It's a determination that multiple weapons among 100 adults and 600 children pose a greater everyday risk than any lone sociopath who might be countered by a good guy with a gun.

As distressingly common as these incidents are becoming, however, they're still statistically remote. And even if they were common, self-defense is far more complex, dangerous and skill-heavy than the pro-gun crowd likes to admit. Not to mention that the presence of guns skyrockets the odds of preventable accidents at best, escalated confrontations at worst.

But all we remember anymore is the shooter. So much so that we're collectively starting to think too much like the shooter. It's important to understand the thought processes of a would-be murderer, but it's also important to remember why we have things like gun-free zones (and, indeed, any law) in the first place. Criminals will break laws, but we still need laws to ensure safety and mitigate fear as much as human nature allows.

So, again, what is the alternative to a gun-free zone? Most campuses have armed officers now, so is it faculty and staff carrying? Even older students packing? I can't think of any school I've been to where I would have felt safer with guns around. I can think of many times when the opposite was true.

The movement against gun-free zones, however well-intentioned, is a case of rational people trying to out-crazy the irrational ones. They want potential shooters to think we're all equally ready to be crazy, making them too afraid to act on their impulses. (This attitude also infects foreign-policy debates.) But that does nothing to address or diminish those impulses. It also means that normal, innocent people are constantly cowering in fear. That's no way to live.

The problem isn't gun-free zones. It's that we're so free with guns. Address that first.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Condemn, new jersey: Are we not Louisiana?

Often the question is asked, "Why do UL fans hate LSU?"

Well, actually, most don't (and vice versa), so the question applies only to a small contingent of the Ragin' Cajun community against a small cadre of vocal LSU fans — and even then, it usually applies only in specific circumstances. But it's still a valid question. Yesterday, one LSU student interviewed by the Advertiser crammed every answer into one compact, money quote:

"I think I speak for a majority of students at LSU," he said. "Even though we can't stand Ole Miss, we have come to hate UL-L even more. For starters, we can't stand jerseys saying 'Louisiana.' You are not Louisiana, you are Louisiana-Lafayette. Stop trying to be bigger than what you are. They have little man syndrome, and it's annoying to LSU students. So as of now, Hotty Toddy!" [Emphasis mine, probably]

This. This right here. This is what UL fans hate about LSU. 

Everyone from both schools acknowledges and accepts that LSU is the top university in Louisiana. It's the biggest, the most prestigious, the most flagshippery, and it probably always will be. That hasn't kept some of LSU's faithful from being the vile yuppie who says, "It's not enough to succeed. All others must fail." Or from being the metaphorical runner who's a mile ahead of everyone else, but is still constantly looking over his shoulder lest anyone close in even slightly. Or from otherwise being the rich-camp/big-shot-overdog villain in every movie ever.

Apparently, LSU's undisputed spot at the top of the heap means that no other university in the state should ever try to upgrade itself. Because to do so, even to catch up to itself, is to mock LSU. There can be no other motivator.

These LSU fans are miffed — miffed, I tell ya! — that the UL community doesn't embrace the one part of its newer name that was legally obligated and does the least to promote the university. They are baffled that the state's second-largest student body doesn't collectively mope around like the second-class rejects they are, because that's a Ragin' Cajun's place in the pecking order.

And their heads hurt over the idea that a school would dare shorten its name for branding purposes. Only LSU A&M can do that, apparently.

UL's embracing of "Louisiana" in athletics serves one purpose — to promote the growing school and its surging sports teams. It has nothing to do with spiting LSU; the spite arises from the flagship's arrogant insistence that it has an authority and duty to stifle its neighbor. Far from being a case of "little man syndrome" on UL's part, it's a massive show of insecurity on LSU's part. A successful show of insecurity at that — UL might be the only college team in America not widely called what is on its officially sanctioned jerseys. 

It remains to be seen whether the Ragin' Cajuns' successful sports run continues, and if that will eventually enter Louisiana into the lexicon. I hope so on both counts. But if it doesn't catch on, I hope it's because of UL's own actions and not because of LSU's boot.

Geaux Cajuns! We are Louisiana!

Friday, June 06, 2014

Lafayette, the best/worst/something place (asterisk)

In the past couple of days, Lafayette, Louisiana, has been both hailed as one of the country’s best cities and as one of the worst ever. In between lies the truth, and we should all be happy about that.


I had just relocated to Reno. So I made this.
On Wednesday, the Advertiser erroneously reported that Lafayette had again ranked No. 1 in Area Development’s rankings, though it corrected that showing to No. 17 a little while later. In between, the article spread across my Facebook feed as proof that Lafayette is paradise on Earth.

For many people, it is. Food, festivals, friendliness. I feel it; I was born there and lived there for 28 years. There’s a very real and organic cultural allure. But this ranking has nothing to do with any of that. It was based on one thing — economic development.

Economic development is but one indicator of a city’s desirability. Lists like these are inevitably topped by boom cities like (in this case) Midland, Fargo and Bismarck, cases of going where the riches are ripe for the digging. Businesses can also be drawn to areas with weaker regulation, fewer worker protections and a low tax base. Those incentives are often at odds with quality of life. It takes a healthy balance between economic growth and quality of life to foster a thriving community. Lafayette strikes that balance better than, say, Baton Rouge, but the scales are still tipped toward industry — two in particular.

The Advertiser article cites Lafayette’s thriving energy and health care sectors for its high ranking. If you’re not in those industries, however, it can be a tough go. When I spent a year unemployed in Lafayette after graduating from college, eventually finding work stocking a department store (along with other creatives and grad students), I wasn’t thinking too highly of the Hub City’s economy. And, in turn, I began pining to live somewhere without so much humidity, and maybe with a bike trail or two, where I could also advance my career.

So, no, I wouldn’t say that Lafayette is the undisputed best place to live in America.

But it’s also not the hellscape recently portrayed by one visiting sports writer.

Mississippi journalist Matthew Stevens, in town to cover the Ragin’ Cajuns baseball team beating Mississippi State, went on an extended tirade about Lafayette, calling it “the worst experience [he’s] ever had as a beat writer. Worst. Worst.” He mocked people’s thick accents (while himself saying “peripheeal”), the safety of the city and said it might be “the worst place in America,” before deciding that it’s “not America.” “Food is all they know how to do,” he sniffed. He said that if Obama cuts Louisiana from the union tomorrow, “we are better off as people.” He also agreed with his co-host (who actually, seriously made a Waterboy joke in 2014) that Cajuns are the missing link.

Even controlling for sports hate and general radio buffoonery, this is extreme. I’m glad he got called out on it and issued at least a perfunctory apology.

Like Stevens, I can say that most of the worst experiences of my life happened in Lafayette ... but so did many of the best. I’ve ripped the city at times for its politics, its poverty, its conservative social mores, its excessively “pro-business” policies and a million other things. And, like Stevens, I’ve occasionally let a singular bad experience in someplace else I’ve visited cloud my perception of it as a whole.

But I would never suggest, even jokingly, that the people in those places are primates, or that the country would be better off if the locale went away. Especially if I was on the air in a reporter’s capacity. A city’s shortcomings lie in factors than be reshaped, such as expenditures and attitudes. Lafayette, as much as anywhere, has that capacity to improve. Its many strong points cannot be reduced to a spreadsheet. And even where it’s weakest, it’s still not the caricature depicted by the spiteful words of some radio bro.

What I love about Lafayette — friends, family, culture — will never show up on an economic-development chart. What I dislike won’t be fodder for an ignorant, stereotypical rant. (An informed rant, yes.)

Lafayette is not perfect. But perfect is overrated. Lafayette isn’t.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Decadence

Oh, Not Right About Anything passed the 10-year mark on Saturday. This is the first time I ever forgot an anniversary. Go figure.

It's been a long decade. At least things got smarter as time went by.

A few months ago, I considered ending the blog on this anniversary. In fact, I was committed to the idea for about two months before relenting. It's still a tempting prospect at times. But even if I'm mostly talking to a wall these days, talking to a wall is one of the things I do best. So this is likely to continue.

Carry on.