Sunday, August 31, 2014

My 2014 Saints prediction

13-3, NFC South champions.

Deep playoff run ... at least.

Knock on wood.

The benefits of being tech-bereft in class


I had a dream earlier this week that I enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno. It was weird going back to school at 34 and on my own terms, but exhilarating as well. I'm not sure what major or degree I went for, but I recall putting on a Nevada Wolf Pack T-shirt, driving to campus and reliving the joy and potential of the first day of school.

When I originally attended college from 1998 to 2005, the quantum leap of technology we enjoy today had yet to happen. Sure, there were non-smart cellphones, laptops and iPods, but they were only beginning to be ubiquitous, and I was an even later adopter. I got my first laptop in 2006 and my first (and current) iPod in 2008, and didn't have a cellphone until Christmas Eve 2004. Given that I took no classes in the spring 2005 semester (it was my exam term), this means that I never brought anything more technologically complicated than a calculator to class.

That seems crazy to me now, but even though it wasn't that long ago, it was still a different time.

During my first semester, my English 115 instructor urged us to learn how to "compose on the computer." It was a foreign concept to most of us. Prior to that, I had always handwritten my assignments first — even if I was sitting in the computer lab to type it up, which I did only if it was required, which it usually wasn't.

That's right, the lab. I didn't own a computer. In the earliest days, if I wanted to type something up, I had to go to a specific lab that had a small section of Macintosh Performas with word processors (and we still said "word processors"), check in if space permitted and pay for any printouts I made. If I wanted Internet access, I had to go to another lab. It was in that lab that I (eventually) learned the art of typing as I went. 

Still, I figured out over time that the best way I retained information was to write it out by hand. Even if I'd taken notes in class, on exam week I would laboriously rewrite new, cleaner notes based on the source material, just to hammer in my mind what I needed to know. That, combined with my famously neat handwriting, led to classmates asking to borrow my notes during many study sessions. (This also saved me from explaining the numerous doodles in the margins, among which were piles of poop to mark an argument I didn't like.) 

I also had to write down notes during journalistic gigs. On the rare occasion I had access to a computer during an assignment, I found it more cumbersome to type than to write really fast. (I had recorders too, but transcribing audio is a massive time-suck on deadline, so notes were still the best.) Even as recently as 2012, during my most recent stint as a professional reporter, I'd still take longhand notes when interviewing over the phone and type in the article as I went.

These days, I take my laptop anywhere that I think I'll be writing, and compose on the keyboard. But I feel like if I ever went back to school, I'd revert to my stodgy, paper-based ways in class. A laptop or tablet, especially in the age of Wi-Fi, could be a huge distraction (also, I'm notorious for typing very fast and loud, which would annoy everyone else). And when I got down to study business, I'd once again dim the lights, put on public-radio jazz and start scrawling. A laptop is a glowing Internet temptress. 

I kind of want to go back to school now.

[Rifles through old college papers for something to illustrate this blog]

Oh, that's right. Never mind.

You'll play again, Sam

So the St. Louis Rams have cut Michael Sam.

I thought he showed pretty good game. He led all Rams with six tackles during the preseason, and otherwise showed tremendous drive and potential. The Rams have a deep defensive line, though, so cutting a talented 7th-round draft pick to shore up elsewhere is hardly unheard-of.

In other words, it was a practical football situation. And that's what great about it.

Sam's performance and release prove three things:

1) He didn't encounter serious opposition for being gay.
2) He didn't receive any preferential treatment for being gay.
3) Even if the Rams didn't need him, he is NFL-ready.

It's the ordinariness of Sam's pro journey that makes it so remarkable.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Elbows and their feud with the table

One of my Facebook friends mentioned this morning that she was trying to enforce an "elbows off the table" rule with her daughter.

This got me to thinking: I hate this "rule."

I was maybe 12 or 13 when I first heard of it, from reading a magazine. We didn't eat at the dining-room table much in my family, but when we did, I don't remember ever having to worry about that. I know I stuck my elbows where they didn't belong every single time, and still do.

The rule baffled me, because most forms of stuffy etiquette have at least some root in civility. When someone insists you not scrape your teeth on your fork or not bury your face in your plate, you can understand why such things are uncouth. But elbows on the table never struck me as particularly offensive.


OK, so it serves a practical purpose when you're at a trough, but at a reasonably spaced dinner table? Ah, the power of unquestioned tradition. 

Later, Mom actually did request that I take my elbows off the table. I said something like, "That custom comes from the days when people were so jammed together at medieval dining tables that they had to do that. It serves no purpose today." 

And she replied, "Really?"

Then I tried taking my elbows off the table and expended a lot of mental energy to not put them back there. It was tiring.

So if you ever eat with me, I'll likely be putting my elbows where they don't belong. But you'll probably be too busy balking at all of my other annoying mannerisms to notice.

Answering the A.V. Club: Hanson edition


A few days ago, I began writing a blog about lines I hated in my favorite songs, so this is well-timed. Honorable mention goes to any lyric that refers to love as a transaction or as an obligation. There are so many lame lyrics in great songs that this blog will always be incomplete, but these are the two examples that inspired my would-be piece:

• "Oh, I'll be workin' from nine to five / To buy you things to keep you by my side" — Michael Jackson, "The Way You Make Me Feel"

• "Look around for a wife to start a family, my boy" — Men at Work, "Settle Down My Boy"

But to answer the A.V. Club's question, "Man From Milwaukee" by Hanson immediately leaps to mind.

When Hanson first burst onto the scene in the summer of 1997, I dug them strictly on what I heard. By then I had stopped watching MTV and was too busy in the weight room training for football season (no, seriously) to interact with the 14-year-old girls (or even my 7-year-old sister, apparently) who could have told me this wasn't music 17-year-old guys were supposed to like. All I knew when I first heard "MMMBop" on the radio was that it was fun and catchy as hell. I went to the mall and bought the CD Middle of Nowhere with no shame, the clerk presumably waiting until afterward to laugh himself into six-pack abs.

Even after I figured out I liked every freshman girl's favorite band, I still listened, if I did keep it on the down-low. My dad heard them on a radio show and was impressed, so I figured they were just a good band who happened to be kids. Nothing wrong with that.

Anyway, "Man From Milwaukee" instantly became my favorite track on the album because of its riff. That riff would have rocked in any song. 



I'd still say it's one of my favorite tunes.

But there's one part of the song that made me cringe. 

The cringeworthy moment was the bridge, when this walkie-talkie exchange occurs between Taylor and 11-year-old Zac (or maybe it's just Zac, not sure):

This is Mother Bird calling Baby Bird 
Baby Bird come in, come in Baby Bird 
For the love of Pete come in! 
This is Baby Bird ... sorry I was watching Court TV 
Do you copy? Do you copy? 
Of course we copy ... 24 hours a day ... in color!

I was never in a position to judge this, because when I was 11 and younger (and older), I spewed similar silliness on tape all the time. It was fun. And I was already lip-synching to songs at school events and parties will full appreciation of detachment and irony. But at the time, I found this verse hard to justify, especially the Court TV line, because it was a reminder that if Hanson's musical abilities defied their years, ultimately they were kids still finding their lyrical voice. And maybe there was a bit of, "I don't want to be a 17-year-old laughing at childish randomness." I'd save that for when Family Guy began two years later. 

I don't cringe over it so much now, because I'm more mature, appreciative of art and have a to-hell-what-anybody-thinks-of-my-tastes attitude now. I feel a little guilty for citing it, really. But in doing so, I'm blogging about how I like a Hanson song. So there.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A relevant oversimplification about Ferguson

In January 2007, I flew to Missouri for the first time for a job interview. I was driven around that day by a future co-worker, and we hit it off quickly. He was from Texas, and at some point the conversation turned to the Midwest versus the South. I asked him how race relations compared and will never forget his response:

"The South has at least had to confront its racism. Missouri hasn't."

I'd later learn that the city of Springfield, where I soon landed the job, was infamous for a 1906 incident in which three black men were broken out of jail and lynched in the town square by an angry mob. As a result, most of the city's blacks fled and the area remains overwhelmingly white to this day. A large plaque in Park Central Square, in the shape of an open book, outlines a history of momentous events at the site, but doesn't mention the lynching. A smaller plaque just beneath the book, apparently added much later, admits that unfortunate chapter.

I witnessed some casual racism while living in Springfield. It was different than what I saw in the South, which is a more active prejudice. In southwest Missouri, it was more of a fear of the unknown, because there were so few minorities there and even fewer opportunities to mingle with them. But I found that when everyone came together, such as during the weekly flag-football games my friend and I organized, we were all friends.

Another former co-worker wrote online the other day that St. Louis (where he lived before we worked together) is the most segregated city in America. I'd say the city has plenty of competition, but he made a strong case. I know from living in another largely segregated city — Baton Rouge — that prejudice can fester until that single moment when something causes the tension to pop.

The tragic events in Ferguson have ripped open a lot of wounds, paramount among them racial conflict and the militarization of police. If what my first friend said is true, than Missouri might now be engaging in the brutal, shameful battles that the South once went through. It's an ugly way to open dialogue for something that should have been settled generations ago.

I only hope something positive arises as a result.

Offensive penalty


I don't care what the issue is — if your argument is that people are wrong for being offended, you don't have much fuel in the tank.

If you take offense to the offense, at least try to understand why someone feels that way. I consider myself very PC, but I've been accused of being insensitive at times. I've usually found those accusations unwarranted — and it's always shocking and hurtful, because not being that way is very important to me — but I've learned to check my ego and put myself in the shoes of the offended. Sometimes I reviewed what I said or wrote and thought, "Yeah, even though I meant this differently, I can see why someone would interpret it that way." Even if the person in question makes a point of being outraged by everything, I still take a look in case that isn't the whole story. Some allegations have merit and some don't. But I know who I am, and anytime I can learn to be better in expressing myself, that's a positive.

Yes, there are times when people are unreasonable with their offense. It's true that not every issue is tied to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. But when they are, that's worth talking about. The Redskins name carries specific racial connotations; even if you believe that it's a tribute rather than a slur, you can't be surprised that some people find it offensive. It's an odd choice for anyone to think, "People are too sensitive about this."

Change the name.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Slap Ya Forehead


Well, they're banning all the on-field sponsorships now for unrelated reasons, of course, but also because they claim "Slap Ya Mama" promotes domestic violence. Yeah.

The NFL muffed this move for a variety of reasons:

1) It happened right after Ray Rice received a mere two-game suspension for assaulting his then-fiancee, which actually is domestic violence;

2) "Slap Ya Mama" is a common Cajun expression used to describe food that tastes so good, you want to disrespect the one you love the most, which is otherwise unfathomable. Because what kind of Cajun slaps their mama? Not anyone with any humanity or awareness of the slap they'd get right back!

3) There's still a team called the Redskins, which (unlike Slap Ya Mama) is apparently consistent with the league's standards and messaging

It was wise, however, for the NFL to announce a blanket ban on the on-field ads. Because they know like we all do that Boudreaux's Butt Paste was waiting in the wings.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Football prediction

Even though Brian Hoyer has been named starter for the Cleveland Browns, Johnny Manziel will have several starts this season. Because it's looking to be a typical year for the Browns.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Teen Wolf Too, the rewrite

Two years ago, I wrote an Editing Room-style script treatment of Teen Wolf. Now comes the inferior sequel script to Teen Wolf Too. Why? Because the sequel came out two years after the original; Editing Room hasn't done it; and I was on a three-hour flight yesterday. 

Int. Dean’s office, HAMILTON UNIVERSITY

JOHN ASTIN is hiring PAUL SAND as a coach.

JOHN ASTIN
Who are you?

PAUL SAND
Uh, Paul Sand.

JOHN ASTIN
You weren’t in Teen Wolf.

PAUL SAND
Uh, the character that I now am was.

JOHN ASTIN
You look enough like Jay Tarses, but you don’t sound much like him.

PAUL SAND
There’ll be a lot of that in this movie, except for the lookalike part.

JOHN ASTIN
I see you were an apathetic and terrible basketball coach at Beacontown High whose only winning season was due to a werewolf. So I’m hiring you to coach that werewolf’s skinny, intellectual cousin — who we don’t know to be a werewolf — in boxing at the collegiate level, which he doesn’t yet know he’s going to do because this is all a wacky misunderstanding that apparently can’t be fixed. Not that this would make any more sense if they had recast Michael J. Fox like they clearly meant to.

PAUL SAND
This setup makes negative sense, but I don’t care, so I’m on board.

JOHN ASTIN
Oh, it only gets worse from here.

Ext. Dorm

JAMES HAMPTON is driving JASON BATEMAN to college. No effort is being made to hide that JASON BATEMAN is supposed to be MICHAEL J. FOX.

JASON BATEMAN
Do you think I’m ready for college, Uncle James?

JAMES HAMPTON
You’re more than ready, Michael, er, Jason.

JASON BATEMAN
Looks like I’ll be rooming with all of Michael’s best friends, who are also starting college. There is no reason for Michael not to be here. Oh well. Thanks for driving me here, Uncle James.

JAMES HAMPTON
You’re welcome, son.

Int. Dorm room

STUART FRATKIN
Hey, it’s Jason! We heard all about you from Michael, who you are most definitely a different person than.

JASON BATEMAN
Who are you?

STUART FRATKIN
Stuart! You know, Michael’s best pal from the first film. My name used to be Jerry Levine.

JASON BATEMAN
Good grief, you look and sound nothing like him.

STUART FRATKIN
I also act nothing like him.

JASON BATEMAN
Your transcript must be different, too, because you got into college.

MARK HOLTON
Hey, I’m Mark! I’m Michael’s chubby friend from the first film and played by the same guy. I’m a boxer and I eat a lot!

JASON BATEMAN
You are officially the first thing to make sense in Teen Wolf Too.

STUART FRATKIN
I changed all your classes to screw-off courses.

JASON BATEMAN
Why? And how? What kind of school lets that happen?

MARK HOLTON
The same kind that signs you up to be a boxer by surprise.

JASON BATEMAN
Wait, boxer wha?

STUART FRATKIN
Don’t worry. You can change your classes back if you have glowing, red eyes.

MARK HOLTON
And you could learn to be a boxer if you happen to be a werewolf.

Int. Registrar’s office

JASON BATEMAN is trying to change his classes. The REGISTRAR is refusing all change requests.

REGISTRAR
Sorry, NO CHANGES! Only wacky dorm-mates can alter your schedule.

JASON BATEMAN’s eyes glow red.

JASON BATEMAN
Give me ... a keg ... of class changes!

REGISTRAR
Your homage to the first film frightens me with its impotence. Consider your request granted.

Int. Classroom

JASON BATEMAN is in BIOLOGY class. He wants to be a VETERINARIAN. He is SERIOUS about school, because he is wearing GLASSES.

GIRLFRIEND
Hi, Jason, I’m your girlfriend now.

JASON BATEMAN
Hi, Girlfriend. I like your glasses. I’m a boxer, apparently.

PROFESSOR
Jason, you show lots of promise. Also, I hate jocks.

JASON BATEMAN
I look forward to the bond we’ll share after I blow off half the semester.

Int. Gym

The first BOXING MATCH of the season. It is SPARSELY ATTENDED. There has apparently been NO PRACTICE. JASON BATEMAN gets ready to fight.

JASON BATEMAN
This is ridiculous. I shouldn’t be here. Can’t somebody fix this bureaucratic mess?

PAUL SAND
Given this bizarro alternate universe, maybe skinny white nerds are the best fighters. Physics might be entirely different. Or not. Whatever.

JASON fights a JERK and gets his BRAINS BASHED IN.

JERK
I get all the girls.

ALL THE GIRLS
We love a man who can punch out a nerd!

JOHN ASTIN
That jerk sure bashed his brains in. Jason is the future of this boxing program!

Int. Classroom

PROFESSOR
Biology! Biology! Frogs!

JASON BATEMAN
I still kind of like biology at this point.

GIRLFRIEND
And you’re still kind of a human being.

Int. Gym

The SECOND FIGHT of the season. JASON BATEMAN is up to box. MARK HOLTON is there, which MAKES SENSE, but STUART FRATKIN is there too, which DOESN’T.

JASON BATEMAN
I can’t fight. I suck.

STUART FRATKIN
Please be a werewolf.

Jason IS. He wolfs out after being KNOCKED DOWN.

REFEREE
I didn’t see nothin’.

OTHER BOXER
I’m about to lose my sight, and the majority of my other senses, too, I fear.

WEREWOLF JASON BATEMAN beats the CRAP out of the OTHER BOXER. This makes him the MOST POPULAR GUY IN SCHOOL. He is invited to a PARTY, where he is the LIFE. Then he gets a SPORTS CAR from JOHN ASTIN and runs CYCLISTS off the ROAD. Also, he BEATS EVERY BOXER. At no point does the WOLF exhibit any NON-ARROGANT QUALITIES.

Ext. Hamilton campus

STUART FRATKIN
T-shirts for sale, because that’s a thing I do!

PROFESSOR
Why do they say, “TEEN WOLF TOO?”

MARK HOLTON
Because Jason is the second wolf.

PROFESSOR
That only makes sense if you saw the first movie, which none of us did, because in our universe that was real life and not a movie.

GIRLFRIEND
And it happened in Nebraska, not Colorado, where this film takes place for some reason, so we didn’t read about Michael J. Fox in the papers.

STUART FRATKIN
Also, he’s arrogant, so I’m not sure why there’s even a market for this stuff.

JASON BATEMAN
Anybody want to peel out in my car, the one I got illegally for being a student-athlete and has the license plate “WOLF TOO,” thus ensuring I will be caught red-pawed by the NCAA?

STUART FRATKIN
No, you are a jerk and I am studying because I am just completely out of character at this point.

Int. Classroom

JASON BATEMAN
I hate biology and class is for suckers.

PROFESSOR
I’m sorry you feel that way.

GIRLFRIEND
I don’t think I can be your girlfriend anymore.

JASON BATEMAN
Eh, I can have any girl I want. Why, you ask?

ALL THE GIRLS
Because we love a jerk!

Int. Gym

JASON BATEMAN is sad because NO ONE LOVES HIM ANYMORE. He is sitting in the GYM all alone in the DARK. JAMES HAMPTON shows up, because it’s not like he HAS A SON anymore.

JAMES HAMPTON
You don’t need to be the wolf, or a jerk.

JASON BATEMAN
Can I also not be a boxer?

JAMES HAMPTON
Oh no, son, you have to be a boxer. You can’t undo that.

JASON BATEMAN
Well then, I want to box as myself.

JAMES HAMPTON
Have you seen yourself box as yourself?

JASON BATEMAN
Yeah, but remember, this is Bizarro World.

JAMES HAMPTON
Ah, true. Well, it turns out that I was conveniently a boxer in college myself. I can teach you some moves, though it would make more sense if you simply remembered what you did as a wolf and do that as a non-wolf. When’s the fight?

JASON BATEMAN
Tomorrow.

JAMES HAMPTON
That isn’t nearly enough time. You’re going to lose.

Int. PROFESSOR's office

JASON BATEMAN
I’m sorry, Professor. I was a jerk. Can you bend the rules so I can take the test?

PROFESSOR
I hate jocks, but sure! Right before the fight, for dramatic tension.

GIRLFRIEND
I’ll help you study and be your girlfriend again.

Int. GIRLFRIEND’s room

JASON BATEMAN and his GIRLFRIEND spend all night studying, presumably after all the BOXING LESSONS. It’s implied that they MAKE LOVE.

JASON BATEMAN
Well, that took a bite out of my study time.

GIRLFRIEND
My glasses are all steamed up.

Int. Classroom

JASON BATEMAN takes the test. He PASSES, doing especially well on the FROG and SEX parts. He goes straight to the gym from there, because sports works like that in movies.

Int. Gym

The FINAL BOXING MATCH of the season is underway. There are NO MINORITY FIGHTERS of any importance. The GYM is PACKED TO THE RAFTERS, because this universe is WEIRD. JASON BATEMAN is about to fight the JERK as HIMSELF, which is STUPID.

JASON BATEMAN
OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW!

STUART FRATKIN
Not sure why I’m your trainer, Jason, but YOU CAN DO IT!

STUART FRATKIN is PUNCHED IN THE FACE by the JERK, and it’s FUNNY and of no consequence to the JERK.

MARK HOLTON sees the PUMMELING and throws a NUT at the BELL. The CROWD CRIES FOUL, but the OFFICIALS DON’T SEE NOTHIN’. This sets up a GENUINELY FUNNY EXCHANGE.

JASON BATEMAN
Coach, do you have anything to say to me?

PAUL SAND
Uh ... no.

JASON BATEMAN then returns to the ring, where he is PUMMELED some more.

JASON BATEMAN
OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW! OW!

JOHN ASTIN
What the hell, Jason? Don’t you want this car and free As and other NCAA-violating perks that I’m talking about all out in the open?

JASON BATEMAN
Take your keys back. This is my last fight.

JOHN ASTIN
Maybe you should take those keys and shank up your gloves, or something.

After about 150 more punches, JASON is knocked down. He gets up on the count of 9 because of his GIRLFRIEND’S LOVE and throws about FOUR PUNCHES to KNOCK OUT the JERK.

DON KING
Even I find this shady.

JAMES HAMPTON
GOOO MICHAEL! ERR, JASON!

PAUL SAND
Uh, you won or whatever.

SUSAN URSITTI
Whoops, wrong Teen Wolf!

JASON BATEMAN
I can understand your confusion. This movie ends exactly like the first one, down to me rejecting the bad-girl crush standing nearby for the love of my life behind her while a roaring crowd and James Hampton watch with approval. Except that here, the bad girl was the object of my affection for about two seconds, and only as one-third of a menage a trois, and I already made up with my girlfriend last night and just won because of her love, so the suspense is nil.

PROFESSOR
By the way, I’m also a wolf. See my tail? Grrr.

SHARK
I’m officially jumped.

END

Irrational nonsense erased my back pain

Satire is at its absolute best when it's able to make everyone laugh and say "heyyyy now" at the same time. Sacred cows are the enemy of satire, so it's good to see an empty pasture at the Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense (which is from 2010, but it's new to me).

Pretty much every weird thing (and every mainstream thing) I've ever heard anyone believe in is here. And though my stance on the universe is that everything is far more boring and pedestrian than people want to believe it is — and thus I believe in virtually nothing on this list — I can still see why even rational followers of the world's major religions might object to seeing their faiths lumped in with chemtrails and astral projection.

For me, though, the main point of disagreement lies in the "traditional bollocks" row of the "quack block." Among the dubious medical/mystical practices is the awkwardly named "chiropractic." I don't think it belongs there.

Chiropractors get a bad rap. I'm not sure why, apart from that it's a noninvasive procedure that critics don't consider "real" medicine. Or maybe it once had some mystical connotation that I'm not aware of.

But I can tell you this: in May, I went to see a chiropractor after half a year of crippling sciatic pain. I had to take caffeine-and-aspirin pills every six hours for six months just so I could move. After a single session with the chiropractor, I was able to stop taking the pills. Two weeks later, he declared me fixed.

In total, I had six sessions of 15 minutes or less each, in which he stretched me, employed lasers and percussive instruments on the afflicted disc and cracked various points on my body. Total out-of-pocket cost: $240. Considering the surgery and physical therapy I've had for the same problem in the past, that's a bargain. And aside from some minor nerve pain in moments of high stress (which has always happened), I haven't hurt since.

Much of what I experienced at the chiropractor's office wasn't much different than other medical procedures I've had. There was no spiritual mumbo-jumbo and everything done to me served a physical and practical purpose. It was quick, inexpensive and required no medication. Best of all, it worked. I wish more medical procedures could be as convenient.

So that's my beef with the Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense. But like I said, it wouldn't be as effective if we didn't all find something to object to.

Trust issue

A while back, Bill Maher appeared on The Daily Show and claimed, as a virtual afterthought, that Barack Obama is an atheist.

Obama critics seized upon this because to them it meant he was something far more nefarious than a Jeremiah Wright Christian-slash-evil Muslim fundamentalist: Someone who doesn’t believe in God at all! A heathen! Even some moderate and liberal Christians probably took exception to this.

I did, too, in one sense — I think Obama is more of an agnostic than an atheist. Like many Americans, he identifies as Christian, but isn’t overly, or perhaps even moderately, occupied with it in his personal life.

Otherwise, I agree with Maher’s overarching point, which is that Obama has played up faith as a politician in excess of his personal beliefs. Most presidents do that, except maybe for Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. It’s part of the game in a country where, despite the ever-rising tide of agnosticism and atheism, we still expect our leaders to listen to, or at least cursorily acknowledge, a higher voice.

By most (if not all) metrics, atheists are the least-trusted people in America. We’re willing to vote for a gay, black and/or female president now (in theory), but an atheist wouldn’t get elected dogcatcher running unopposed at an all-cat resort.

Why is this?

I think it’s because the prevailing wisdom about atheists is that because they have no god, they have no morals. No sense of right or wrong. Nothing to keep them from being uncaged, nihilistic animals at every turn. Funny how that remains conventional wisdom in an age where religious fundamentalists are the ones driving most of the world’s conflict and carnage.

The latter doesn’t describe all, or even most, of the world’s religious people. Likewise, anarchic animalism doesn’t describe most atheists.

My official stance on religion is, “I don’t know, and I’ll never know,” which I guess comes closest to soft/negative atheism. I don’t think gods exist, but I’m not certain of that. (I don’t think anyone has grounds to be certain one way or the other; if they did, there’d be no debate or plurality of beliefs.) What this means in my everyday life is that I practice no religion and don’t follow religious customs. You don’t have to, to have morals and empathy. In fact, some religious people possess neither.

When I make mistakes (which is all the time), I don’t worry about incurring the wrath of God; I worry about the effects those transgressions have on the real, living people with whom I share life. What they think, and feel, matters to me.

This is true of most people who don’t partake in faith. It’s not much different than spirituality, except that the root causes are more tangible. Humanity drives it, not fear of divine retribution.

That’s why, instead of stigmatizing atheism, we should all celebrate it, and should hope more of our world leaders embrace it. The most important thing to understand is this:

Atheists have nothing to die for.

No atheist thinks their tribe of people has a divine right not only to rule the world, but to kill other, “inferior” tribes. An atheist’s foreign-policy stance is not based on laying the groundwork for Armageddon. If anything, they’re the ones who most want to save this planet, because they presume it’s all we’ve got.

And for that, they’re the least-trusted group of Americans.

I see why political hawks might hate having an open atheist in charge, because fear and war are powerful economic engines. But the general population’s reluctance I understand less. Even most religious I people I know are OK with an atheist they know personally and aren’t necessarily down with the hardliners of their sect, but most probably would still shy away from voting for an atheist. Maybe it’s just that there aren’t enough confirmed atheists in the public eye — and those who are tend to define themselves by that characteristic (which can be as alienating as the strongest religious fanaticism) or are not in “serious” lines of work. In any case, secular humanism has a long way to go to reach mainstream American acceptance.

This could be because America is a country defined largely by antagonism and defiance. We cast off the British, enacted Manifest Destiny, nearly split apart over slavery and still fight over states’ rights. Many state and individual philosophies are based on a desire to not be treaded upon, and many an older person has pined for the days “when you knew who the bad guys were.”

Fighting is an intrinsic part of the American identity. We always need an enemy or, at the very least, someone against whom we can judge ourselves favorably. We like to be No. 1. The greatest country on Earth. Defenders of good, defeaters of evil. We want to believe we’re righteous in democracy, in spirit, in philosophy, in firepower. Hell, we even consider ourselves a First World country, because of course there has to be a ranking. We want leaders to ascribe to this philosophy, granted down from the heavens.

We see this in everything from flags to religions to politics to sports allegiances. We’re primally compelled to pick, and stick to, a side.

Atheism undermines that. Atheists are content to believe that everyone is on the same level, that differences are trivial, surmountable and/or the spice of life. They see the virtue of people living together in harmony, regardless of nation or other identities, because everyone ultimately wants the same things in life. It’s indifference to who has the biggest flag, a notion just as unpopular (or worse) as the aforementioned amoral barbarianism.

Of course, it isn’t just religion that drives world conflict, and atheists are just as capable of selfish and destructive politics as anybody. But that’s an issue of individual scruples. As a group, atheists don’t deserve the collective distrust that they get. And like any other group, they shouldn’t have to pretend to be something they’re not.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ear ringer

Seen on a Facebook group today:

I remember when men did not have any piercings and women only had two piercings, one on each ear lobe.

When I was 6 years old, I lived next door to a male college student who had an earring, a single star stud in his left earlobe. It was weird to me, but I was told that some men wore earrings, usually one, but sometimes more — and that that had been true since at least the hippie days of the late 1960s.

In other words, 28 years ago, I was told about a custom that had been around for at least 20 years prior to that. That means the writer of the post is nostalgic for, at minimum, 48 years ago.

Does the sting of something as benign as earring acceptance really linger for decades? 

In 48 years, I'll be 82, if I'm lucky enough to still be alive then. So I should probably start fixating on something trivial and long-accepted now. Perhaps, different-colored shoes? High hemlines? Beavis and Butt-head? Bungee jumping? Nirvana? Diverse groups of friends? 

Smartphones, most likely. "I remember when all your cell phone did was call people, and you held it to your ear. Your left ear, if you were any kind of lady or gentleman."

Yeah!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

First ears pop, then the question

I was just on a flight from Reno to Dallas, where a marriage proposal happened.

And then a yes, and then much applause, and then some champagne.

And my immediate thought was, "Coming from Reno?"

Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams and the sadness within us

Robin Williams can't be dead, can he?

I just saw him last night, in a promo for his TV show with Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Crazy Ones. It was during a replay of one of the NFL preseason games, in the form of those cross-armed in-screen promos that Family Guy so savagely skewered in an episode. At the end of this promo, something weird happened: it shifted to a larger mug of Sarah, then to Robin, and then Robin sort of flickered out (all in about a half-second timespan). It seemed to me like a technical glitch.

The show was recently canceled, as I've since found out, making the promo even more out of place. Huh.

It's often said that only the good die young. Well, sometimes they're 63 and still far too young. R.I.P., Robin Williams. You will always be one of the greats. Many of your films are on my shelf, even some of the lesser-beloved ones. They're still great because you're in them. And by all accounts, you were a loving and inspirational man as well as a rich, famous, hilarious and talented one. 

Just goes to show that depression doesn't discriminate. Some people likely don't understand what compelled the star, like others before him, to end it (which still isn't 100 percent certain, but police are investigating it that way). "He had everything! Why would he do that?"

I've never been diagnosed with clinical depression, but I've felt a few times in my life that there's no hope. This was usually because of difficult times in my life, but it's occasionally sprung up during some happy times. But my gloomy periods, I would guess, are but a fraction of what truly depressed people experience. Mine are mostly environmental, and are quickly dashed by exercise, reading or by the thought that someone cares.

Still, I think I can offer a (limited) hypothesis as to why someone like Robin would do something like that.

Three years ago, I wrote about what I call my surgery analogy:

(The surgery analogy is) the idea that nothing is too repulsive when the alternative is worse. ... At 21, I found myself facing back surgery due to a severely blown spinal disc. The idea of full-on invasive surgery, with anesthesia and an overnight hospital stay (not to mention the resultant bill) abhorred me. That is, until the pain from my back and leg reached a level so intense that I couldn’t move or even stand up straight without excruciating agony. ...

Up to that point, the idea of getting myself cut open seemed like a nauseating notion. ... Suddenly, the idea of not eating or drinking after midnight, putting on a hospital gown, taking a combination of Valium and morphine prior to full-on anesthesia, then conking out to have someone cut into my lower back didn’t sound so bad. In fact, it seemed like the most logical thing to do. Something to look forward to, even. Would I have objected before? Yes. Would I want to do it again once the pain was gone? Of course not. But at the time? Hell yes!

I was talking about poverty then, but I think it applies to intense depression as well, as least as far as mindset.

When you're in so much pain that dying seems like the best option, you're in a pretty dark place. Probably one where you're not thinking of the loved ones in your life, or accomplishments, or accolades, or fortune. It might be only for a few moments, but in that fleeting span, that pain is the realest feeling in the universe. Sometimes people regain their bearings and sometimes they don't give themselves the chance.

If you can't identify with this wave of emotion, consider yourself lucky. If you can but still find a way to go on, consider yourself strong. 

If you suffer from severe depression, please get help any way that you can. You owe it to yourself. You're worthy of being alive. As Robin Williams himself said, it's not your fault.

He showed that it can happen to anyone, a sentiment already known among those who know and love, or are, someone with depression. I've seen some genuine dialogue and sharing of help resources in the wake of today's tragic news. Lives will be saved. Yet another reason to thank a legend who has left us in the saddest way, but who will never truly be gone.

Seen inside a portable toilet at Lake Tahoe


Whoever wrote this is clever. Whoever added the last two items, isn't.

The second person either didn't read past the first three words and assumed this was a crowdsourced list of things people who write on toilet stalls hate, or did read it all and thought adding things they genuinely hated would heighten the gag.

Either way, FAIL.

This isn't a political observation (it would be every bit as stupid if someone had written "conservatives" or "Republicans") — it's simply a humor observation. The original joke is perfect by itself. Nothing can really be added to it. Adding something so left-field that it's obviously meant to derail the joke, like "bunnies," could be funny in its own way. But I've seen and heard enough "I hate libs" talk in the South to know it's never a punch line. Such sentiment against an ideological (or racial, demographic, etc.) group rarely is.

What I hadn't seen before is this joke, and I wish I'd come up with it. That, not the cropworthy addenda underneath, is why I felt compelled to share it. 

In a way that that isn't vandalism, of course.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Mingle manna


I like to ask people, "What are you into?" Because while a job is important and obviously how people spend much of their time, only a few are truly defined by what they do. I have many friends who shuffle files all day at a cubicle, and we didn't meet at the Paper Pushers' Club in college. Hell, I couldn't even tell you what many of my friends do to earn money. I could tell you about all of the enriching ways they spend their free time, though. That's what I like to know about people, and what most would prefer to talk about.

Even those with perfect-fit jobs tend to be more intriguing for the qualities that make them do what they do. 

To say nothing of people without jobs, who aren't necessarily any less dynamite.

Mainly, I just like to see people light up when they get in the zone of talking about their favorite things. This is something every single person can do, even if they don't think they have it in them. It's fun for them and I might learn something too. It's almost never boring.

Even when it is, though, at least it's not stilted.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Is it love, or the idea of love?

Note: This blog is not about anyone in particular. As with anything I write here, it’s a commentary on something I see in droves. In this case, it’s something very common in society but particularly acute lately among people I know.

Too many single people are in love with the idea of love.

What is the idea of love? It’s when you feel all the trappings of being in love, without an actual object of affection. It’s when you hinge your happiness on Mr. or Ms. Right without having met anyone who fits that description. It’s pining about the allegedly better life that comes with being in a relationship, raising kids and/or living within the perimeter of a white picket fence. It’s the giving of the heart to the hypothetical. I used to call it “having a lot of love to give,” back when I thought being single was a shortcoming.

The idea of love is not love. It’s a destructive impostor. It’s an abusive partner. It undermines your self-esteem, compels you to settle for less and, ironically enough, makes you less appealing as a person.

So, please, for your sake and the sake of everyone around you, end the relationship with the idea of a relationship. End it. End it end it end it. Now!

I’m not coming from a smug place of relationship satisfaction in saying that. I’m single, 34, have never been married, have no kids, work odd hours and live 2,000 miles from 90 percent of the people I know. My longest-ever relationships were eight months and five months, and those were 15 and 10 years ago, respectively. I currently have no prospects on the horizon. When it comes to coupling, I’m undoubtedly more pathetic than you.

But I don’t care. Not even remotely. My attitude is, if it happens, it happens — if not, at least I have my space and every cool thing I do. I did care once upon a time, but I changed my tune long ago. And I’m much better off for it. Here’s why you, idea-of-love lover, would be too:

The idea of love undermines your self-esteem. We all know (or are) single people who constantly complain about how single they are. Inevitably, they think this problem (of course it’s a problem) has something to do with them being inadequate human beings. In many cases, they’re actually awesome people with terrific personalities, fulfilling pursuits and a list of accomplishments that would move the needle on a scale. But they don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, so they think it’s all for naught. They bemoan what they don’t have instead of appreciating what they do have, and what promise the future holds in any number of unfathomable ways. Relationship scorecards can bring even the best person down for no reason. Are you one of them?

So you’re more likely to settle. When I think back to my favorite dates, not one of them came into my life when I was looking. Oftentimes, I was actively not looking. If you’re looking for someone, eventually you will find them. That’s the problem. Love is organic; it either happens or it doesn’t. When you’re trying too hard, you are less likely to end up with someone truly special, but rather someone you’ve convinced yourself is right. This mindset will let you overlook glaring compatibility issues out of the sense that you can’t do any better. Is that the kind of “happiness” you aspire to?

The idea of love, ironically, makes you less appealing. A common reaction to all of this is, “But I’m doing everything right and I’m still not finding anybody. Why can’t I?” Well, are you saying that to anyone who will listen? Desperation is a serious turnoff.

Much has been discussed on the Internet lately about the rampant idea that everyone is entitled to a significant other (a term I hate very much for a million reasons, but most of its synonyms are also stupid, so let’s go with it). Whenever I hear that, I think, “You really believe ‘I deserve love’ is attractive?” Many years ago, I pleaded for months to a girlfriend who had broken up with me. I played to my yearning, not to her needs, and couldn’t fathom why that didn’t compel her to sprint back into my arms. She never did, and I don’t blame her now. (We became good friends once I grew up.)

It’s one thing to casually mention in conversation that you’ve never been lucky in love (and even longing isn't that bad in small doses). It’s another to bemoan it. The bemoaning is what makes it a turnoff. It gives the impression that you are insecure and will thus glom onto anyone. You might be looking for the perfect person, but they won’t bite if they feel like you’re more in love with the idea of them than the actual person that they are. I want someone who likes me for me, rather than who likes me for being a check on a checklist.

All you can truly do to attract love is to be the best, kindest and most interesting person you can be. Do what you do. Control what you can control, and don't try to control what you can't. Be as upbeat as you can. Leave something mysterious. Don’t give a damn. It’s amazing what (and who) can happen when the pressure’s off.

Love is great, but the idea of love is an abusive partner. Break up immediately.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Lower that text drive

This morning, I saw a video aimed at teens discouraging texting while driving. For the most part I like these videos, because texting while driving is stupid and dangerous.

But even though teens are newer to driving and probably text more than anybody, I think we might be making this campaign too much about them. Some spots I've seen remind me of those late-'90s anti-smoking campaigns by tobacco companies — ones that boil down to, "Teens shouldn't engage in this activity because it's for adults, and you don't want people to think you're an adult, do you?"

Texting while driving is something nobody should do. Ever. It's not something that anyone ever gets to be a good-enough driver to do. Nor is it a necessity. Texting has only been around for about a decade, and hasn't made our everyday communication any less pointless. Telling someone "I love U" or "Nothin" can wait. For that matter, "I've discovered the cure for cancer is ..." can also wait until the next parking spot. Seriously. 

(Side note: Texting is not a valid argument for the crappiness of millennials. It's not as if previous generations suppressed it out of a desire to plow fields. Had texting been available prior to mandatory seat belts, it would have been just as embraced, and we might have gone extinct as a species.)

So, yeah, don't text and drive, no matter what age you are.