Thursday, July 31, 2014

I'm (writing about) Batman


I'm not the biggest fan of Batman. He's cool enough, but a rich playboy vigilante isn't the most relatable character for me. I was more of a Superman kid; Christopher Reeve's Superman/Clark Kent remains my favorite cinematic superhero. He's sensitive, gentle and driven by empathy for the people, without delving into the jingoism that defined the character at its worst. Also, he works at a major metropolitan newspaper. Come on. (Yes, he's an alien, but aren't we all in a way?)

I've liked the recent glut of Marvel movies because they're closer to the Christopher Reeve-as-Superman mold than the Christopher Nolan-Batman mold. And yes, comic gatekeepers, I'm fully aware of the irony of this comparison.

But overall, superheroes aren't my thing. There's an inherent fascism in the idea that a person or entity is unstoppable to the masses. (And all too often, they appeal to a black-and-white dichotomy that is impractical and insufferable in real life.) The better books and films mitigate this as best as they can, but the principle always lurks. Batman, at least, is a regular human being, but he still requires a bizarro world (again, I know) in which he can function. But even that unreal universe needs to strike a balance to be effective.

This is why Tim Burton's entries remain my favorite Batman movies. 

(Full disclosure: I haven't seen every Batman movie. I've seen only the end of Batman Forever and was too busy with high school football and bad press to see Batman & Robin, and have watched only the hospital explosion from The Dark Knight. I saw Batman Begins, but remember exactly one scene from it. My knowledge gap is bridged by what I read about them, which obviously didn't motivate me to see them in full. I also saw the beginning of Adam West's 1966 film, but the DVD nearly shorted out my player a few minutes in.)

Burton's Batman was a more serious take on the character that hadn't been done before, but it's still the right amount of ridiculous. Because Batman, like all superheroes, is ridiculous. As a kid, I particularly enjoyed the Gothic set pieces, which were radically different than anything I saw in my everyday life. That helped to immerse me in the action and, more importantly for me, separate it from the real world. 

Many people prefer the Nolan films because they did the exact opposite. Gritty reboots are big these days, but most have skewed too dark for my tastes. They try to be true-to-life, and succeed. Too well.

For example, the football scene in The Dark Knight Rises takes place in a real stadium with real players and with real fans waving towels that they wave at real Steelers games. I find it hard to watch for exactly that reason. The scene is powerful and well-done, and makes you hate Bane as you should, but I start thinking of all the dead/injured innocents and get real-world depressed. I could never imagine myself in Burton's Gotham City, but I've been to many football stadiums. Also, I couldn't unread the many comparisons of Christian Bale's Batman to George W. Bush, who seemed to fancy himself a real-life superhero. That was hard for me to cheer for when so little disbelief was otherwise suspended.

Joel Schumacher took the opposite extreme, making his films way too campy and marketing-friendly, without the wink that made the West series so enjoyable. George Clooney supposedly refunds money to anyone who tells him they bought a ticket for his take. It requires a lot to make Batman bad, but for a couple of years in the mid-'90s, a nation saw it happen.

So given all that, the Burton/Michael Keaton Batman films struck the right balance for me. Batman is a uniquely quirky take benefited by its Edward Scissorhands-like anachronisms and its embracing of the limits of its reality. Batman Returns had an endearing quality as well, pitting the Bat against the Penguin and Catwoman. In an interview at the time, Burton called it "just one big animal movie."

That's the spirit.

Heard in a public place

A conversation between strangers:

"There are no good Muslims."

"Obama's part of the Muslim Brotherhood, you know."

"Mm-hmm."

Yes, Fox News was on nearby.

New SyFy Originals

Inspired by the @midnight hashtag and this classic cinematic moment
Vampire Batboy
Torricaño
Horror Roll
Dismembers Only
Amputate Crazy Nights
Sharks With Braces!
The Quicksandlot
Candy Hearts from HELL
Hotel Discomfort
Dead Meat at the Deli
E.Teen the Extra-Clearasil
Twerkicane
Anthraxhail
Ant Farmer's Daughter
Origaminami
Footballcano!
RoboCano
Man Rain
My So-Called Flood
Penguinzzard
BEAR COMET!
Ice Suns of the Moon
Solar Syrup
Selling Seashells at Satan's Seashore
Cold Front Full of Dolphins
Goatmeal
House of Horticulture
Geysers With Guns
Extremely Unsafe Deathtraps
Scissors Race

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

An interesting wager


Obviously, this is a provocative notion, one that I'm not even sure I agree with (I suppose it depends upon the market in question). But I like its overarching idea — that we make work pay. Lots of important, front-line jobs performed in the service of high-profit companies are seen as menial, minimum-wage work. No matter that they can be grueling and risky, often far more so than more prestigious jobs, and that society couldn't function without them — they're looked down upon by the public at large, almost as a penalty for lacking the connections/education/drive/whatever to get a better job, so those in them deserve whatever they get.

In fact, that's often how we view work in general, and it's destructive. When the workplace is seen more as a competition/value judgment than as a way to make a living, it's all too easy to forget that these people often struggle and that we foot the bill one way or another for their trouble.

That's what comes to mind for me when I hear people complaining that raising the minimum wage, or wages in general, would mean they would now be making minimum wage. I doubt that; in a market where even the lowest-wage work is competitive, higher-level jobs would have to offer more to keep up. But even if that didn't happen, so what? Why would a decent salary be so bad if it now be considered minimum wage? That would speak well of our standard of living. 

When people are competitively compensated for their jobs, they will perform better, out of senses of loyalty and stability. That helps the individual and the company alike, as turnover is less likely. It gives the employee more money to spend, thus spurring the economy and in turn the company, which leads to more jobs all around. That was true for America's most prosperous decades and it's true today.

So while $40K might be steep for a cashier in most places, it would be cheap not consider some kind of bump.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dog Movies

As seen on the @ianyourhead tweeter and here for the first time

The Truth About Cats and Dogs Should Be Obvious To Everyone
Dangerous Fleaiasons
A Hard Day's Bite
Fetch Lives
Happy Treat
A Fistful of Collars
Leashal Weapon
I Know What You Vacuumed Last Summer
Pit Bull Durham
Dachsund Hollywood
I Am Lifting a Legend
Beggin' 2: Electric Boogaloo
I, Ruffbot
Mange Max
Purina Luck
Hair EVERYWHERE
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Panting
Scootch Pilgrim vs. the World
That Thing You Poo!
Fifty Shades of Greyhound
The Fan (That's Terrifying)
The Good Son (Is the One Who Plays With Me)
Spaying Alive
In Heat
Without a Baggie
Who's a Good Boy, Charlie Brown?
Alpolice Academy
8 Heads in a Doggie Bag

Monday, July 28, 2014

When freedom is mandatory

One episode of the short-lived prime-time cartoon Allen Gregory had the title character’s school hosting a gay dance, which Allen’s same-sex parents had pushed for in the name of tolerance and inclusion. Which, on this show, meant that everyone was required to go with a member of the same sex, whether or not they wanted to. It was a ridiculous caricature of gay rights, much like the whole show was a ridiculous caricature of insufferably stuffy liberals (who actually are ripe for satire, if done right).

That episode came to mind for me when I read that the NRA suggested we have “gun-required zones” and make shooting compulsory to pass grades in school. Never mind the obvious peril of putting firearms into even more hands and the insistence that target ranges are financially feasible when many schools can’t afford new books — is a right really a right if you’re forced to exercise it? I’m all for the First Amendment, but if you want to not talk, that’s fine by me. No one can force you either way. That’s why it’s a right.

Another unflattering comparison that springs to mind is the dystopian Biff’s Pleasure Paradise from Back to the Future II. It’s easy to miss, but the casino has a sign at its entrance that says, “smoking required.” Some people (not me) will insist that people have a right to smoke in public places, but I’d imagine most of them don’t favor forcing everyone to light up.

I, for one, never want to step anywhere where guns are required. I don’t visit war zones and don’t want to see America turn into one at the hands of the paranoid. But it would be nice to see these guys’ sudden interest in funding schools and expanding government subsidies used for good. Like, I don’t know, feeding the poor. And education. Real education.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The buzz on happy

This article from the Daily Advertiser's Kris Wartelle credits Lafayette's top of the happiness charts to one particular thing:

I chalk it up to drive-thru daiquiri shops. All of the happiest cities in Louisiana have drive-thru daiquiri huts. ... We already know food makes people happy, and Lord knows we've got good food down to an art. But we also know people tend to get really happy when they enjoy a few adult beverages. And, well, around here it's hard to avoid those.

She's being tongue-in-cheek here, but she nailed it. 

There are plenty of ways to be happy and have fun without drinking, of course, but it's intrinsic in most activities, from festivals to road races to nothing at all.

When I first moved to Baton Rouge, I had this conversation multiple times (and also in Lafayette):

Them: So, what do you like to do?

Me: I'm into cycling, swimming pools, football, politics and comedy, and sometimes I like to hang out in coffeehouses and write. You?

Them: Drink.

South Louisiana is the only place I've ever gotten that answer, at least in that form. It's not like no one anywhere else drinks — of course they do, often a lot — but it's something undertaken during something else. Or it's a joking answer. It's rarely a serious answer to a question about hobbies.

I hardly ever drink, so any event where alcohol is the focal point is going to bore me. As long as there's something else going on, even if it's just relaxed conversation, I'll have fun. But fixate on the spirits, and I'm like someone at a Super Bowl party who hates both football and commercials. I couldn't possibly keep up.

Them: "What's your favorite microbrew?"

Me: "Uh ... Milwaukee? That's a beer, right?"

Them: "Why are you at my party?"

Drink-to-forget is something I have aimed to avoid all my life. Drink-for-fun is something I'm not into any more than horror movies or Truck Nutz (though go for it if you like it). Drive-thru daiquiri huts might make Lafayette and South Louisiana festive, but I'm happier not worrying about those when I'm behind the wheel.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don't get a big head over the swollen face


People really need to check themselves about this case.

The mug shot of the alleged abuser's beaten face has been clogging my Facebook feed, with lots of cheers and heavily implied fist-pumping. Because, hey, who doesn't want to see an abusive jerk get his comeuppance?

But this follow-up story reminds us that this is a real, and tragic, incident that was almost made worse by bloodlust. It takes a saintly show of humanity to halt your father from fatally stabbing your abuser, especially in the heat of the moment. That's about as high a road as high roads go. Fortunately, the victim's father took heed. 

The high road is often the hard road. It chucks vengeance in favor of being better than the bad guy. That's an ideal few of us reach even in the best of times.

The beating was a regrettable incident undeserving of all the accolades it's getting. I like to think the father would agree, even though he thwarted worse abuse. If you must cheer anyone in this incident, cheer the boy. Two wrongs don't make a right, but mercy in a time of anger just might.

Somebody teach Pharrell Williams to play accordion


In the 1998 film The Truman Show, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is unaware that his entire life is a reality show, and that his idyllic existence on Seahaven Island is but a sham on a studio set. To discourage him from catching wanderlust (and thus finding out the truth), his local newspaper routinely runs headlines touting Seahaven Island as winning the best-place-in-the-world award (yet again!), and his local travel agency sports pictures of plane crashes and other warnings of the dangers of going other places.

Like many people, I’ve jokingly wondered over the past 16 years whether my life is an engineered production just like Truman’s. (Sure seems like it at times.) But finally, I have proof that it isn’t.

The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch has declared Lafayette, Louisiana — my hometown — to be the happiest city in America. Which I get, because Lafayette is generally a pretty festive place. It’s not the best fit for me personally, but I can see why people love living there. It's pretty cool to see it excel for a nonbusiness reason for once. Four more Louisiana cities, including Baton Rouge, round out the top five, with Lake Charles close by at 8th and New Orleans at a too-low 59. That's a lot of Louisiana. Exclamation points!

Had this been released in mid-2013, right before I moved from Lafayette to Reno, Nevada (114th), or in 2007, when I first left Lafayette for Springfield, Missouri (237th), that would have been some Truman Show stuff right there. But with this show-unfriendly timing, I guess I can breathe a sigh of relief the next time I’m in the bathtub. Though there’s still the possibility that my life really is a reality show, and the puppetmasters want to make me feel bad by releasing a glut of Lafayette-is-the-best-place-in-the-universe stories since my move to Reno. In that case, sorry about the ratings plunge, guys.

For me, sliding 113 spots in the happy ranking was an excellent move. I love living out west, with mountains, bike trails, beaches, laid-back people and a distinct lack of oppressive humidity. I recently lived in two of the top five “happiest” cities, during which I tended to range from somewhat unhappy to catatonically miserable. My brother lived in a third city among the top five for a while, and told me I wouldn’t fit in in that one either.

Is my sense of happiness out of step with America’s? Well, probably, but that was a rhetorical question.

Lists like these are inevitably skewed. They imply that the key to happiness can be found in a particular spot. Conversely, if you don’t get along in those places, obviously there’s something wrong with you. Neither is necessarily true. You can happy in a toxic-waste dump or miserable at Disney World. Your particular situation matters for a lot.

So, continue to be happy, my Louisiana friends. I’ll be over here making Reno happier. You can probably watch.

Education, or competition?

(Inspired by this and this)

At the height of Bart Simpson mania in 1990, when I was in fifth grade, I had a green Bart cap adorned with a button that read, "Underachiever — and proud of it." It was a joke, but it turned out to be true in my academic life. Sort of. And, as it turns out, I am proud of that. Sort of.

One of America’s biggest problems, I think, is that we view education (among many other essentials) as competitive rather than as something to benefit everyone. We care more about how highly ranked someone is than about everyone doing reasonably well.

This mentality is a big part of what compels parents to send their children to private and/or elite schools — so the children can get a leg up against all the other children, so they can eventually get into an elite college ahead of all the other students and eventually land that coveted career position ahead of all the other applicants.

Whether this is the cause or effect of a broken public-education system is up for debate. Either way, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. When a parent looks out for No. 1, they’re less concerned about the system as a whole, if not outright scornful of it. How is the system supposed to improve amid such disinterest and disdain?

That cycle is one of the many hazards of applying capitalistic principles to the common good. It’s not about ensuring every child in America has a quality education; it’s about who can claw hardest to the top of the class. Those who make said clawing a priority give themselves permission to not care about those stuck on the bottom; after all, why don’t they just claw up themselves? Fie on them if they don’t play the game!

Even as a kid, I didn’t care for overachieving. I decided at an early age that I would involve myself only in that which I really wanted to do. Perhaps to a fault; one of my teachers’ most frequent complaints was that I wasn’t trying hard enough in classes outside my areas of interest. After an impressive straight-A and honor roll run in elementary school (where I was in gifted classes from second grade on), I transferred to another school in 4th grade and made honor roll the first six weeks. After that, I never made honor roll again until the first six weeks of 9th grade, and not again until the final six weeks of 12th grade. (Math was usually the culprit.) I was no stranger to Fs on my report card during this time, though those tended to be tied either to insanely hard gifted classes and/or classes where bullying was rampant. But ultimately, I did what I had to do and never failed a class (though I did repeat Algebra I for credit purposes).

Extracurriculars were a similar story; I did what I felt like doing and nothing more. In middle and high school, I wrote for the school newspaper in years I was eligible and ran track. In high school, I was also involved in football as a manager and as a player. I dabbled in many one-shot activities as well. I knew, and was sometimes told, that it was better to join lots of clubs, which many classmates did. But it wasn’t my style.

Eventually, I graduated 188th in my class of 421 (according to my report card), making honor roll only twice, as noted above. Most of my teachers still remember me fondly and most casual observers of the time would tell you I was pretty smart. But to paraphrase Richard Masur in Risky Business, I wasn’t Princeton material. On paper, anyway.

Part of my mentality was shaped by the fact that I lived just a few blocks from the second-largest university in Louisiana, which at the time had open admissions (not that I needed that). I planned to attend there and continue helping out at home. Second, I didn’t let my academic transcript validate me; I wanted to do as well as possible, but I knew who I was and what I was capable of doing. Third, many of my classmates were absolute grade-grinds — usually the ones from well-to-do families — and they seemed miserable most of the time. Who needed that?

For me, college wasn’t much different; my grades got better, mostly because they had to. I made the dean’s list multiple times and graduated twice, albeit with no honors (as if that mattered after the walk).

I might not have enjoyed the elite status that comes with good grades, mega-involvement, an Ivy League pedigree and deep pockets, but I never aspired to that. I got a damn good education, and know that life is sometimes a grind and a climb. To this day, I devote myself to a handful of enriching activities, not stretching myself too thin. I have friends who did attend Ivy League schools and genuinely made the most of it. I’m proud of them, but not jealous. Because, like them, I pursued what I wanted. There was no legacy guarantee for them, so they had to earn it as much as I earned my way. I put them — and myself — in higher regard than those who coast through the system for a name on a piece of paper.

If we made higher education better for everyone, then pedigree would matter less, and the prestige-seekers of the world would have to find somewhere else to be superficial. Which, given a genuine, earned education, they’d be smart enough to do (or, perhaps, smart enough to realize how shallow that is).

Anyway, having a degree doesn’t make you better than someone without one. Some, if not most, of the most hardworking people I know didn’t finish college. They’re smart and bust their asses every day. They deserve a fair shake too. Just like with college kids, it’s the work and the heart, not the letters, that should matter most.

Monday, July 21, 2014

My memory of the moon landing

(Actually, this is from July 21, 1969, but it all blurs together.)

More complaining about irrelevant stuff


Two spaces after a period is absolutely NEFARIOUS. The devil, I tell you!

I know people who do this, and I love many of them. But reading such copy is a mental case of the hiccups. Furthermore, editing extra spaces out of every sentence is a giant hassle, and is something that not even a group edit will always fix in full.

But what I like least about the practice is why people do it: more often than not, it’s because it’s what they were taught in typing class back in the typewriter days. It made sense back then, in the age of monospaced fonts, but it’s the computer age now. It’s just plain stubborn to stick to that.

Doing something strictly because it’s the only way you’ve ever done it is one of the worst reasons to do anything. There’s comfort in routine, sure, but sometimes it’s worth it — both for others and for yourself — to evolve.

Or, at the very least, break out the old Smith-Corona, which would be pretty cool.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Minding my Ps and social cues


For most of my life, I've gone by Ian McGibboney, save for brief phases when I introduced myself as Ian Paul McGibboney. For most of my life, I listed my initials as IPM, whether or not I was in a Paul phase (though now I stick mostly to IM, despite the inevitable questions of if my middle name is Bill).

But I have never, ever gone by Ian P. McGibboney. 

Paul is an awesome name. But P is a goofy initial. Try not saying it like Rosco P. Coltrane.

"Ian PEEE McGibboney!"

Nope.

Also, Ian McGibboney is poetry. As is Ian Paul McGibboney. (My high school friends often sang both versions.) Ian P. McGibboney, on the other hand, is two lines of verse separated by a speed bump.

Nope again.

And it's not as if I have to differentiate myself from all the other people with my name, like others do. "Oh, Ian P! I thought you meant Ian J."

Nope a third time.

Then there's the OCD aspect. P and Paul have equal numbers of syllables (one). By abbreviating Paul, I save no time or breath, and I'm axing exactly three letters from my name, further throwing off what is already a significant letter-count imbalance. If I'm going to write my name out, why not write out the whole thing? I'm so close anyway. Ian P. McGibboney. It's like an itch that can't quite be scratched.

Strike four.

Finally — and the NYT article talks about this — middle initials can be pretentious. Not always (there are practical applications after all), but sometimes. It's no accident that they're favored in settings where being esteemed counts more than being approachable. That works for some people, but as far as I'm concerned, everyone can call me Ian — friends, family, colleagues, strangers, mortal enemies, whoever. Maybe it's the millennial in me, but egalitarianism sounds pretty good.

You either respect me or you don't. No amount of P will change that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I'm supposed to be on IMDb, apparently

In December 2012, I worked for a few days on a film with the working title Boulevard H, but now is called Walk of Fame. This was possibly my best experience in films. In addition to getting what will have to be the most screen time I ever got (any reshoots aside), I also had the chance to mingle with real actors, some of whom actually gave me props. It was also the only film I've shot in a studio, which meant it actually didn't feel like New Orleans at noon for once.

What made this experience particularly interesting was that I was bumped up to stand-in for star Scott Eastwood, son of Clint (who was a good guy to me). Being a stand-in accounts to a break in the extra sphere; not only do you get a pay bump, but it's often a good way to get noticed yourself. As a crew member told me, many big stars started out as stand-ins for other actors. They actually wanted me to work a few weeks longer, but I was commuting to New Orleans each day from Lafayette at a time when the film was my sole source of income (theoretically, as it turned out). Anyway, they later flew in a professional stand-in for Scott. I did manage to get on camera as a drama student, but mostly served as a generic stand-in near the end of my stint.

One of the other stand-ins had gone to high school with me, but we didn't know each other then (though our brothers had played football together). She and I struck up a friendship. Yesterday, she excitedly posted on Facebook that she now has an IMDb page. Her first official credit? Stand-in on Walk of Fame. I was thrilled for her.

That's when I realized, holy crap, I might have an IMDb page too! So I scrolled down the full cast and crew list, not trying to get too excited, but also getting excited. Hey, I remember her and her and him and ... 

I'm not on there. Of course not. Bummer.

Then I remembered I never got my paycheck for the film, and that a complaint to the state board of labor got me nowhere. Then I remembered that I'd been a stand-in-stand-in for Beautiful Creatures, and never got credit for that either. I don't know if the nonpayment made the difference in this case, but clearly I had a bad-luck streak during my career as an extra. I guess I'll have to try harder in my eternal quest to land an IMDb profile. 

Nevertheless, I can't wait to see this film. I think it'll be an interesting, quirky comedy. I hope my face makes it in, even if my name never did.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Maybe if you squint...

One of the weirder byproducts of the Hobby Lobby birth-control debate is that it eventually prompted blogger Holly Fisher to pose with a giant weapon, Bible and American flag. Someone on the Internet quickly ran with this, finding a jihadist striking an identical pose.


The National Review has helpfully clarified the difference between the two women:

• The one on the right is a Muslim fundamentalist who killed people (or was a completely different woman who killed people, either way).

• The one of the left is a good, Christian American who never murdered anyone, but is simply mocking Barack Obama for his guns-and-religion comment by clinging to her gun and Bible.

So yes, there is a difference in terms of respective death count. That's one way of looking at it, I guess. But not the way I, and I'd assume most others, do.

I'm more concerned with the thought process that compels these women, or anyone, not just to possess assault weapons, but also to feel the need to brandish them on camera. And to do so while carrying holy books and standing in front of flags, allusions to the top two guises under which people feel most obligated to engage in bloodshed. 

Guns should be instruments of last resort, faith should be personal and patriotism should be lived, not flaunted. These images, and so many others like them, fail all three of those tests. In neither case am I reassured by what these women represent.

In that sense, there's no difference between the pair.

Friday, July 04, 2014

America!

Ah, the glorious Fourth! Happy it!

Americans define patriotism in different ways. Some will break out the American flags and bald eagles; others will add to that symbolism of our country's greatness having much to do with kicking ass, taking names and driving giant trucks. Others will go the opposite extreme and point out all of our nation's many faults.

I'm somewhere in between. I don't think patriotism is gauged exclusively by how vigorously you wave the flag or how many bald eagles adorn your social-media profile, especially at the obvious times of the year. It doesn't lie in how perfectly you recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing songs you learned before you were old enough to comprehend the lyrics. It's not about how conspicuously consumptive you are. It's not about keeping a scorecard of who's a prouder American, so everybody needs to keep up.

That battle's been won, anyway.
That's one way to do it. But plenty of people who wrap themselves in the flag hold beliefs that undermine what America stands for. They have an idea in their heads that there's one way to be an American, and of course it's their way. So they hold the ironic belief that their freedom is more equal than the freedom of those who don't fit the profile. Much repression and justification for vile policies occur under the guise of "freedom."

But neither do I go for the opposite extreme, where people spend the day pointing out every terrible thing for which America is responsible. Those things — genocide, slavery, racism, misogyny, inequality, arrogance, exploitation — are indeed woven into our fabric, and are worth remembering every day. But just as some Americans willingly forget that the United States has any shortcomings, others forget it has any good points. Neither is a particularly productive mode.

I think it's the day-to-day that makes someone a model American. Hard-working (or aspiring to work), compassionate, passionate, engaging in society at large, caring about current events and exercising your rights (with an understanding of how those rights work and pertain to others). Just being here makes you patriotic, because you're living in and shaping America every day. Sometimes it's awesome, and sometimes it sucks — just like the U.S. itself. But as long as you're doing your thing, whatever that is, and not hurting anyone, you're on the right track. Because ultimately, freedom lies simply in being yourself.

That's what I love about America. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Hobbwash

Since the Hobby Lobby flop, I've read the postings of many a friend or pundit defending the Supreme Court's decision. Some break out the joker card of "religious freedom." Others split hairs about the fact that the chain is not refusing to fund all forms of contraception, just the so-called "abortion ones."

None of that is relevant.

First off, religious freedom in no way entails the right to unilaterally assert that religion over the matters of others. Likewise, it is not religious persecution if someone is denied the ability to repress others in this fashion. 

Observant Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays during the Lenten season. They have every right to observe this custom. I have every right to buy a chicken sandwich at the deli on those Fridays. No one is being repressed in that situation. But if the Catholics insisted that I couldn't buy that chicken sandwich because of what they believe, then we'd have a problem.

I don't care that the CEO of Hobby Lobby has not disallowed his worker insurance policies to fund some contraception methods. I care that some are selectively not covered because he is a Christian.

The Supreme Court got that decision dead wrong. A business owner should not be allowed religious discretion over employee matters. Already, we're seeing how companies are trying to subvert equality laws by invoking various religious exemptions, most of which are dubious and practically all selective.

Religion is practically untouchable in this country. It's the "hands off" card. This fact is not lost on religious-conservative business owners, many of whom see an opportunity both to impose theocratic values on their companies and save money in one fell swoop. 

I wonder how many apologists of this practice would take working for an American company with a Muslim CEO (like, say, Ethan Allen) or a Christian Scientist CEO (formerly Goldman Sachs), if those CEOs suddenly decided to enforce parochialism on their health care policies. I don't doubt those defenders of "religious freedom" would be the first to hit the streets, crying about unfair it is that they have to live by someone else's arbitrary rules.

Well, that's exactly how I feel about Christianity in politics and in the paycheck. No one should have to know or care what the boss's religion is, because that's none of our business. Unless they make it our business.

A terrible precedent has been set, and even one use of it is too often. Bad show, judicial branch.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

A time-travel question

If you could go back in time (to live, not with the ability to change the course of history), how far back would you go?

I wouldn’t go any farther back than 2006.

Why? That was the year the FDA began requiring disclosure of trans fats on food labels. (Even then, it took me a few years to know exactly what trans fats were and why I should stop eating the unhealthy amount that I was.)

Does that seem nitpicky? My point exactly. For all the fondness people have about the past, you can always find something (or many things) that would make daily life miserable for someone accustomed to today.

Strange diseases. Less-safe everything. Different political climates. More rigid social mores. Entire groups of people without equal rights. Now-unacceptable language. Not to mention having to relive some terrible events.

As bad as today can seem at times, we’re at least aware of our problems, and that we might have more problems down the line. We don’t live in an era where people smoke everywhere and where processed food is universally hailed for its convenience. Gas-guzzling cars are rightfully criticized. It’s not cool to demean minorities and gays. Climate change is taken seriously by people with the potential to do something about it.

That’s why it’s a privilege to live today. We have the ability to take everything that was good about past eras and apply them to now, and leave the shortcomings behind. And if we’re good enough at it, a future generation will say, “Man, I’m glad we're not living in 2014.”

Wouldn’t that be great?

It's 11:30 to Beyoncé somewhere

There's a motivational maxim making the rounds lately:

"You have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyoncé."

I get what it's trying to say. Superstars make it big on the same calendar as we do, so why can't we? That's fair. But it should be phrased more accurately. Something like:

"You have the same 24 hours as Beyoncé. Just different talents, connections, circumstances and divergent statuses regarding worldwide fame. Indeed, the Gregorian calendar is about all you two have in common, and Charles Manson is on board as well."

But I suppose that isn't quite as motivational.