Saturday, February 28, 2015

Church chat

Prudie's answer: Yes, because of enlightened reasons, but —

... you have a requirement he needs to fulfill. You want him to write an essay (minimum two typed pages) about the progression of his (dis)beliefs, and he must cite examples of people who have struggled with lack of faith—Biblical sources get extra credit. Then, if he takes this assignment seriously, release him. But say this doesn’t mean he gets to watch TV or play video games while his brother is getting religious instruction. Have your husband agree that Sunday will be bonding time for the two skeptics. Maybe when they hike to the top of a mountain one day, your son will look around and feel a spiritual awakening.


This advice is the equivalent of a particularly rude smoker who insists everyone else step outside the hospital if they don't like the secondhand smoke.

While I'm sure the kid (who is 12) could easily articulate his beliefs in two pages (or, for that matter, 20), why should he have to? After two years, it's beyond clear that church does nothing for him but make him miserable. That alone should be enough to seal it. Especially given that 1) the father no longer goes either; 2) attendance brings out the worst in him (and no doubt bums out everyone else); and 3) the mom herself admits she was bored by her church at the same age.

I see no reason why the kid should have to justify not going through the motions. Maybe his mom should write an essay about why she's made her son endure two years of living a painful lie. Though that might teach her more than her son.

Prudie's advice is especially puzzling given what she says right before proffering it:

There are some people who believe that one’s degree of religious belief has a large genetic component. That means in societies in which everyone appears to be pious, many are secretly saying to themselves, “This is a crock.”

Well said, though I wouldn't necessarily say merely "many" or even "secretly." It's fairly easy to tell between who goes to church because they want to, and those who go out of some family or social obligation. I'd guess the ratio is near 50-50. 

I'm a big fan of not doing something you hate for no reason. My stance, solidified in childhood, is that you should go to church only if you want to. It should give you something. If it isn't doing anything for your mind or soul, not only are you not benefiting, but you're probably harming yourself in the form of discontent and resentment.

Who knows? Maybe not going will eventually compel you back in the fold. But if it doesn't, so what? Then you can do something more satisfying with your Sundays. 

I don't think the deities take attendance. But if they do and your spiritual honesty gets you in trouble in the aftersphere, at least you'll get to hang out with me and some amazing bands.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The absolute final word on the color of that dress

The color of that dress is ... whatever the color of that dress is.

Hard to argue with that, right?

Also, it's blue and black, says both basic exposure technology and a woman who saw it in person.

(If only people could be this blind to color in society ... )

Well, back to the burning Team Edward/Team Jacob debate.

True of everything and everyone

If your ideology is threatened by education, thoughtfulness, exposure to other opinions, compassion, empathy and inanimate objects, you're doing it very wrong.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nothing weird about being weird

During the Oscars on Sunday night, screenwriter Graham Moore gave what I think was not just one of the best award speeches of the night (and that’s saying something), but of all time.

As quoted by the Chicago Tribune:

"When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong," he said, speaking without notes. "And now I'm standing here, and so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird. Stay different. And then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along."

I had turned on the telecast only shortly before and had barely paid attention to it until that moment. But his words caught my attention and I pumped my fist in response.

Moore’s sentiment is very similar to that of the “It Gets Better” campaign, which assures ostracized gay youths not to give up on themselves even if life seems hopeless at the moment. I love that campaign, because in a way I understand the feelings it’s meant to counter.

Not because I’m gay; I’m not. But I know what it’s like to be taunted and threatened just for being who you are. (And also what it’s like to be harassed for being gay, because sometimes you’re picked on for what you aren’t.)

Similarly, Moore’s speech wasn’t specifically about being gay (he says he’s not), but about other, undisclosed experiences that made him feel as worthless as our LGBTQ brethren often feel due to homophobia. Moore’s speech came from a very heartfelt place and was intended for anyone (including gays) who needs a reason to feel like they matter. That’s a pretty massive swath of people, many of whom suffer in silence.

It sure would have been cool for me to hear in 7th grade, when I was told on a daily basis that I was “the nerdiest of all nerds” and “a waste of air” (the latter comment courtesy of a kid who the originator of the first comment said was “even more of a nerd than you are”) and when I went home from school many days convinced that even my family was ashamed of me. When every single thing I did was magnified in my mind as the act of a nerd, which was the worst thing you could be.

(Incidentally, the girl who said I was the “nerdiest” told me years later that she encountered bullying of her own at her same-sex high school, after realizing she liked girls. She considered that bullying karma for how she treated me. I assured her I didn’t see it that way at all and felt bad for her.)

If I could, I would visit every school in the country and spread Moore’s message student by student. Like him, I see the terms “weird” and “different” as positive qualities, the quirks and talents that make people stand out and could define who they are (and where they go) as adults.

I would say that those telling them they have no value are wrong and are insecure themselves.

I’d tell them that what seems like reality now will be completely different (and most likely better) years later.

I’d relate to them how I haven’t seen 90 percent of my tormentors since 7th grade, and the ones I have seen always apologize for their treatment.

I’d admit my own failings in this regard and impress the importance of making things right.

I’d share with them how I eventually shook the toxic thinking with which my bullies infected me, and vowed all that much more to let my freak flag fly.

Not that I need to spread the word, though, because Graham Moore did it much better in just a few seconds.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Please address me as Ian. I insist.

In the Brady Bunch follow-ups of the 1980s and 1990s (The Brady Brides, A Very Brady Christmas and The Bradys), Jan Brady is married to a college professor named Philip Covington III, who is the Oxford Dictionary definition of uptight. A running joke is that when people (usually close friends and family) call him "Phil," he angrily corrects them: "Philip!" Many times, this exchange happens right after a moment you think he's finally let up on his ever-present pomposity. Philip's angst over his name is the perfect sitcom shorthand for how rigid he is.

As far as names go, count me on the familiarity side. My standing rule is that I want everyone to call me Ian, because that's my name. I don't feel right calling someone — say, my niece — by their first name while they feel compelled to call me something else. I don't object to "Uncle Ian," which is what she calls me (and is kind of cute), but I also wouldn't flip my lid if she dropped the uncle part like a lot of people might.

More often than not in my experience, people — regardless of stature — introduce themselves by what they want you to call them. I then can instinctually derive their place on the Ian-to-Philip scale. Whatever it is, I honor it, even if I wish the peg was elsewhere on the scale.

As deeply ingrained as it is in most people, it's weird to think about why we consider referring to someone by a title or by their last name as intrinsically more respectful than referring to them by their first name. I suppose it has to do with with establishing distance and/or hierarchy, which for many is synonymous with respect. But I've heard enough sarcastic and condescending "Mr. McGibboneys" to understand that respect is a much more nuanced notion than that.

Which is why, were I to ever meet the president, I'd call him "Mr. President." But if he said, "Call me Barack," I would have no problem calling him Barack, at least on a personal level. Either way, my level of respect for him is the same. Because I find it far more respectable to honor someone's wishes than to follow the rote assumption that they prefer titles.

What grates on me is when people insist on it. "I earned this title" or, "I command respect!" Another one of my personal rules is to ensure that if someone has a problem with me, that the problem is all theirs — in other words, that if someone disrespects me, it's because they're being a jerk, not because I did something wrong. That's not always the case, but it's my aim. When people insist on appropriate props via inappropriate pontificating, they cede that high ground. Think of the petty and ineffective Lt. Steven Hauk from Good Morning, Vietnam, who is constantly begging the men he works with to salute him or call him sir. He might be right in a protocol sense, but his petulance makes it all the less likely that anyone will genuinely respect him.

Of course, some would say that respect is mandated to a degree because age, titles and designations imply a wisdom that should be honored. That's true to a degree. But not to the one Michael R. Strain takes it:

And, ultimately, equality in all things is false. A PhD has added to the stock of human knowledge; an undergraduate hasn’t. A priest can transform bread and wine; a layman can’t. Chancellor Merkel can affect the near course of history; I can’t. My friend’s father has successfully raised four children; I haven’t. The way we address each other should reflect these differences because these differences are real and material, and obvious.

Ugh. Do I need to even get into how wrong that is? The idea that it's that black-and-white is exactly from where so many terrible philosophies emanate in the first place.

(Interestingly enough, Strain is a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, meaning he very likely voted for a president who not only repeatedly referred to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as "Angela," but also gave her an unsolicited shoulder rub. Which sort of undermines entirely Strain's criticism of Obama for doing the same, except for the rub.)

So maybe the answer isn't a return to hierarchic formality, but to treat all people with respect. Real respect.

Well, this post took a turn

Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the Miracle On Ice, the Olympic hockey game between the United States and the Soviet Union, which the U.S. shockingly won. It's one of the greatest underdog stories in sports history that's also a total historical artifact. Could there be any matchup with those ramifications today? Not likely. And I'm fine with that, unlike a lot of people who seem to think the U.S. is incomplete without a mortal enemy they can play in Olympic sports. But anyway. That's not even the point of this blog.

One article I read about the game — which one exactly escapes me — noted that U.S. team coach Herb Brooks "passed away in 2003." Which is a weird way to say that someone died in a car crash. I would think "passed away" implies someone dying of old age or otherwise after a lengthy battle with an ailment, rather than describing an unexpected tragedy.

But then, I'm not a huge fan of death euphemisms, either in conversation or (especially) in journalism. Though "passed away" is actually far better than many others, such as "went home" or "no longer with us" or "in a better place" or "is now in the joyous custody of their dear Lord." They may be meant to soften the biggest blow of all, but some are inadvertently amusing in how hard they try.

As far as death euphemisms go, I prefer "gone." Though many people who are alive are also gone, so maybe "died" is the best way to go.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What what it means to leave Louisiana means

I enjoy reading articles about what it means to be from or to live somewhere — mainly, I like contrasting myself to such lists. Here’s the latest one I’ve seen, 30 things no one tells you about leaving Louisiana:

1) Everybody will ask you what living in New Orleans was like

This is true in the sense that Louisiana is seen largely by outsiders as an amorphous wormhole. “I ate the most amazing Cajun food in Shreveport once!” More than a few times since I left Louisiana, people have asked if I'm from New Orleans. I always say, “No, I’m from about 100 miles away.” And they’ll say, “So, you are.”

Ian verdict: Absolutely

2) And you’ll forever be explaining that LA is not Los Angeles

It’s happened a couple of times, but I recall only one distinct instance — when I was on Lycos random chat sometime around 1999 (but I repeat myself), and somebody asked me where I lived. I had recently been to L.A. and fallen in love with California, so while I did correct that person’s misunderstanding, I also imagined how cool it would be to be a Los Angeleno. But that confusion isn’t common enough to where I forget a random incident from 16 years ago.

Ian verdict: Naah

3) They will try and fail to imitate your accent and it will be terrible

I don’t have an accent, and in fact that’s what freaks people out. They ask me why I can’t talk more Louisianan, to which I will reply in an exaggerated Cajun accent. They love it and I think it’s accurate, but actual Cajuns have told me it’s terrible. In any case, I can count on one hand how many non-Louisiana people can pull off any Acadiana dialect. I count myself with an asterisk.

Ian verdict: Yep

4) Then they’ll ask you why you don’t sound like their other Louisiana friend

This happens to me all the time. And like the Movoto article says, a 10-minute drive can make a huge difference. In my experience, so can blocks.

Ian verdict: Possibly the truest thing on this list.

5) Drinking on the street means brown-bagging it

I’m still weirded out by the idea of beer gardens, and I don’t even drink. Because south Louisiana at festival time, and New Orleans always, is pretty much a wide-open drinking area.

That said, I hardly ever saw brown bags and this entry isn’t even all that coherent. Drive-thru daiquiri huts being a thing of the past? Huh?

Ian verdict: Nope

6) When you say you’re from a parish, everyone assumes you’re super-religious

I’d say most people know that Louisiana has parishes instead of counties. And it’s not far off the mark for someone to assume a Louisianan is super-religious.

(Barely related side note: As a kid, I used to think parishes were everywhere and that counties only existed in the country. Thanks, Dukes of Hazzard!)

Ian verdict: Fail

7) You’ll have to explain the difference between Creole and Cajun

I’m usually busy explaining the difference between New Orleans and Shreveport, or LSU and Louisiana Tech, so if we get this far in the conversation, that’s a good sign.

Ian verdict: True

8) Small talk is the absolute worst

Well, that’s true everywhere. Being friendly does make that better, though.

Ian verdict: Fine, thanks

9) Everyone is an expert because they went to Mardi Gras on Spring Break

I’ve been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans only once — four years ago. I enjoyed it, but it did have a touristy vibe that was lacking all the times I celebrated it in Lafayette and Butte La Rose. So, yes, your experience may differ.

Ian verdict: Show me your truth!

10) You’ll never find decent boudin again

I don’t like boudin, so I’ll substitute this with Evangeline Maid bread and call it a point.

Ian verdict: Mmm-hmm

11) All other football fans are as fair-weather as they come

I’m sure every football team’s fan base insists the same thing. But I will say this: When I was a small child and I didn’t yet know anything about football, I knew that Saints game days were occasions for big parties. I had no idea they sucked, had always sucked and that everyone expected them to suck into the infinite future.

Also, I’ve been to Seattle for a Seahawks-Saints game, and their fanhood seemed to consist mostly of defacing Drew Brees portraits and smugly heckling Saints fans. Which isn’t necessarily an indictment of all fan bases (or all Seahawks fans), but I never miss an opportunity to recall that.

Saints fans love their team no matter how good or bad it is, and have shown how hard they are willing to fight to keep it. That enthusiasm doesn’t make all other fan bases fair-weather, but it is hard to match.

Ian verdict: Who Dat?

12) There is no replacement for Community Coffee

Another thing I don’t drink. But I used to drink Community iced tea and few teas taste like it, so let’s go with that.

Ian verdict: Bon

13) A whole lot of newspaper goes to waste

This refers to their use as tablecloth at crawfish boils, which to me is more recycling than wasting. Yet another thing you can’t do with a tablet.

Ian verdict: Docked for inaccurate wording, which I would have edited had it appeared in an actual newspaper.

14) Outsiders pronouncing Louisiana town names is endlessly amusing

Not just limited to outsiders, owing to Louisiana’s distinct regionalism.

(Anecdote alert: Once when a Lafayette radio station brought in a new DJ from out of state, a longtime local DJ grilled her on city names by having her pronounce what he spelled out. After getting several of them hilariously wrong, she caught on to the French tendencies. After getting the next couple right, she then was thrown “S-C-O-T-T,” which is pronounced exactly how it looks. She got it right, though I really wish she’d said, “Sceaux.”)

Ian verdict: Word

15) Everyone will think you’re calling them a famous singer

This refers to the endearing term “cher.” I learned surprisingly late in life how to spell this (either in middle school or possibly college), thinking all my life that it was “sha,” which is how my Cajun relatives pronounced it. (My mom also wrote it down for me as “Sha baby” when I was a little boy, so I took that as canon.) I was also surprised to find out it isn’t a widespread expression and, in fact, really really really pegs you as Cajun.

Ian verdict: Mais yeah

16) You have a much higher tolerance for creepy crawly things

I used to grab earthworms and millipedes by the handful and play with live crawfish, so yes. Though my tolerance for snakes is mostly born of learning how to spot the deadly ones during a hike in Missouri, so I don’t know if that counts. Later, I held a boa constrictor in Houma, so I’ll say yes.

Ian verdict: I’ll tolerate this

17) Tomatoes in gumbo is a crime against humanity

I don’t eat gumbo either, in large part because I like tomatoes in everything and find that elitist. Nevertheless, people tell me this is true, so let’s roll with it.

Ian verdict: Guilty as charged

18) You’ll long for warm summer nights at Louisiana music festivals

With all due respect to every other music festival I’ve been to, none as ever been as fun as the ones in my home state, which feel more organic somehow. Maybe it’s the lack of beer gardens and admission tickets.

Ian verdict: Allons a Lafayette

19) People are way too stressed out all the time

Depends. South Louisiana people can pass a good time and big-city people can be stressed, but I’ve lived in bigger cities where people are more laid-back day to day — and some of the most uptight people I’ve ever met live in Louisiana. In fact, I’d say that the state’s more conservative pockets put most major cities to shame with their social and financial pressures.

Ian verdict: Not

20) And no one knows how to celebrate the little things

Certainly correct in the sense that Louisiana has a festival for everything that has legs and/or can be consumed. But most other areas are capable of the same — the question is, will you, as an outsider, care about those little things? I can’t say for sure as a native, but Louisiana’s festivals seem to have a more universal focus than festivals in other states (which often require research on an outsider’s part to understand).

That said, this point is wrong.

Ian verdict: Little things mean a lot anywhere you go.

21) Ask your relatives to send you a king cake

A disastrous decision on my part this year, not doing that. Based on past experience, a king cake in a non-Louisiana newsroom is the fastest way to get everyone to like you.

Ian verdict: Yeah, baby!

22) You are not prepared for a real winter.

After living in Missouri and Nevada, I have a high tolerance for wearing shorts in cold weather. And by cold weather, I mean colder than Louisiana ever gets. I know how to drive in a blizzard and I can (sort of) put snow chains on my tires, two things I definitely did not learn in my home state. Hell, I didn’t even know you aren’t supposed to pour hot water on an icy windshield, because we used to do that all the time in Louisiana (because it wasn’t that cold).

The upside to Louisiana’s lack of real winter preparation is that, well, it’s almost never needed.

Ian verdict: The stone-cold truth

23) Rice and gravy is the perfect homesickness cure

Yet another Cajun staple I don’t eat. My uncle (who died when I was 10) had a running joke about this fact, working his attempts to get me to eat rice and gravy into every conversation. (For example, when he saw me playing Ms. Pac-Man, he said, “What’s she eating? Little plates of rice and gravy?”)

A better example might be every friend or relative of mine who ever lived out of state or country, who said they looked forward to rice and gravy or red beans and rice when they visited home.

Ian verdict: Rice on

24) Your Mardi Gras beads are the coolest gift ever

I don’t know about that, but the fact that this is an actual item in my closet …

… makes it hard to argue too vehemently.

Ian verdict: Throw that in the fact pile, mister

25) Louisiana snack foods are just better

It was a glorious day when I learned they sold Zapp’s chips in Missouri. Conversely, it was a sad day when I couldn’t get Hubig’s Pies even in Baton Rouge because the plant burned down.

Ian verdict: Mmmmffff

26) You’ll have to find a new way to fill any humid days

Or, even better, live somewhere where humidity isn’t a thing. Still, I was a porch child and miss that aspect of living.

Ian verdict: Six of one, half-dozen of the other

27) It’s hard not to go on the defensive

True in a sense. I used to be hyper-defensive even if someone said they were considering leaving. Then I left too, and realized there are some things worth defending and some not. As for living on floodplains, well, everyone lives somewhere dangerous, because all places are in some way. The question is, is it worth it? It usually is.

Ian verdict: Hey now … oh, right

28) It’s a whole lot harder to make friends

Absolutely the truth. Though it arguably makes for better friends when you do.

Ian verdict: Truesterisk

29) The hunt for a great beignet takes a while

Not if you realize early on that you probably won’t find one, and spend your time instead ordering Cafe Du Monde mix and making them yourself. Even then, you’re better off just traveling to the actual Cafe Du Monde.

Ian verdict: Beignets are delicious

30) You’ll realize just how beautiful Louisiana is

I love living in the mountains of Nevada and near Lake Tahoe, just like I enjoyed the mountains and crisp air of the Ozarks. But both of those places made me really notice the trees of Louisiana in a way I never did before. As much as I don’t miss sticky summer afternoons and thick clouds of mosquitoes, I still like trees and grass.

Ian verdict: Hug a tree if you’ve got one

Final verdict: 23/30, a good batting average. It’s nice to see a Louisiana list that doesn’t insist you have to be a gun enthusiast or a chemical disciple, or look down on everyone else, or be only an epicure, or be born in Louisiana, or constantly pine to go back, to love being from the state.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Throwing shades of gray

I have no plans to see Fifty Shades of Grey. I briefly considered it when I saw Dakota Johnson, but that fleeting glimmer of interest ended before I finished reading the name Dakota Johnson. Just like with the source material, there is nothing about this movie that intrigues me. Bondage does nothing for me, and the idea of an all-dominant man in any situation makes me want to burn every sepia-toned photo I’ve ever seen.

Fortunately for me, there’s a cinematic antidote! And unlike its corruptive counterpart, its title is as black-and-white as they come. Old Fashioned. It’s 50 shades of gracious!

Its trailer immediately states that it’s NOT based on Fifty Shades of Grey. Which, you know, phew. The two prime hallmarks of good entertainment are that 1) it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey and 2) it’s utterly reactive. That second point is why Star Wars’ “This Ain’t The Godfather” ad campaign put that franchise in the record books.

The Old Fashioned trailer goes on to define the protagonists by how much they’re not the protagonists of that other filthyfilm. Then there’s a scene where — no joke — Mr. Not-Grey makes Miss Non-Ingenue step outside while he fixes her stove because he refuses to be alone in a room with a woman who isn’t his wife. Because real men have firm foundations of faith that shred like wrapping paper if a woman isn’t cast on the other side of the screen door. Oh, and only the man gets a name in the trailer, during the card that says the woman can see him now. Somehow, old-fashioned doesn’t even begin to describe this.

Old Fashioned aims to rope us in with a budding relationship that isn’t built on the sociopathic tendencies of Bond, Grey Bond. Which is all well and good, except that it doesn’t do that at all. The couple in Old Fashioned isn’t any more of an equal partnership than the couple that employs blindfolds and binds. At least the latter has some modicum of trust.

To consider Old Fashioned the story of a healthy relationship is to employ the most binary of thinking: “Fifty Shades of Grey is bad, so this must be good!” It’s the same limited thought process that suggests all people are either single, hard-partying hedonists or responsible married people (I am a single, hard-partying hedonist, but that’s beside the point). It denies that there is middle ground or — dare I say it? — shades of gray.

Think I’m being too hard on this humble little flick? Well, check out this other trailer:

Yep, that’s aimed at dads who were apparently going to take their “little girls” to see Fifty Shades of Grey, but who should totally see Old Fashioned instead, because that choice will directly determine whether or not the girl chooses a husband that is sufficiently like her father.

That’s about 50 shady things to unravel right there. But I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Of children and choice

I dig Pope Francis. I think he’s the best pope since … well, ever. And he’s not just progressive for a pope; he’s high on that chart for any world leader.

But occasionally, he says things that remind me that he is the head of the Catholic Church, for which a line must be toed. Saying all couples must have kids is definitely a Catholic train of thought.

For everything it else it stands for, the Catholic religion is one dedicated to populating the planet. Perhaps the mandate to reproduce (and all the no-nos rooted in undermining it that keep teenage boys forever on their toes) made sense in a long-bygone era where conception was difficult and we needed more people to function — but in this era of overpopulation and rampant poverty, it’s irresponsible to sire a child solely out of social or spiritual obligation.

Couples who choose not to have children aren’t selfish. Far from it, in fact. Why should they be castigated by the pope, or by anyone else, for not making a choice on which their heart isn’t set? And who’s to say the opposite choice is never selfish?

Raising a child is a serious and life-changing duty. It’s not for everyone. It’s not even for everyone who has children. A neglected child is a burden on society as a whole, never mind the toll it takes on the kid itself. By contrast, the absence of a theoretical child harms only abstract and outdated dogma.

All children should be wanted and loved. Every last one.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The 24 stages of grief of losing Jon Stewart

(Only about five of which are represented here)

Jon Stewart has announced that he is leaving The Daily Show. I’ve been brooding for almost a day now over what to say, and I’m still not sure. First, the usual caveat: He owes me nothing, he has a right to happiness, thanks for the memories, blah blah blah.

But man.

This is like Michael Jordan retiring at the height of his fame — that is, if Jordan was being counted on to play in the Olympics the following year. An Olympics with consequences.

Losing Stewart so soon after Stephen Colbert is also, on an obviously smaller scale, like when my grandparents died five months apart. Too freaking soon! Stop taking wonderful people away from me, blasted year!

I rolled my eyes at myself as I typed that, just like you no doubt did when you read it. But, in a sense, it’s true. Stewart’s news yesterday made me realize something about myself that’s a bit unsettling:

The Daily Show is, in many ways, one of the few constants in my life over the past decade. It’s messed up, but it’s true.

In the past 10 years, I’ve lived in four cities and three states, often hundreds or thousands of miles away from family and friends. I’ve had great jobs, awful jobs and no job. I’ve lived on my own and at times I slept behind someone else’s couch. So many people have come and gone from my life equally fast. After 19 years of having everything in one place, the subsequent 16 years have been an era of new adventures and all-too-regular upheaval.

But no matter what my situation or proximity to family was at any given time, one guarantee was that, four times a week, I could watch The Daily Show. I first got into it during the 2000 election (though I’d known who Stewart was since his MTV days), and my desire to laugh, not cry, kept me a loyal viewer. I must have gone four or five years, at least, without missing a single episode. I eventually leveled off a bit, as I naturally do given my inclination not to be tied down, but it still remains a constant in my life. Even when I watched no other TV, I watched The Daily Show.

Back when people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, “Jon Stewart.” The show’s format and sensibility are basically what I wanted, and still want, out of life. It combines everything I’m into — current events, media, satire, intellectual jawing and the refusal to be taken too seriously. It’s ridiculous when it wants to be and on point when professionalism is in order. And, perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear.

Part of me wants the show to ride off into the sunset with Stewart, but I’d much rather it keep going with a new host, who will eventually mold it into their own. Because, really, the show should be bigger even than the man who propelled it into the stratosphere. But for that to work, it will need a host who is up to the challenge. Who? I don’t know for certain. While The Daily Show’s spinoff shows succeed via the quirks of their hosts, the show itself needs a chameleon leader, someone with real charm and a nose for news but without an overly distinct shtick. More so than its spinoffs, The Daily Show gets its comic mileage from the absurdity of real life, and Stewart’s everyperson reactions are absolute gold.

Of the correspondents on the show now, I think Jessica Williams could pull it off the best. But there are so many awesome options both within and in the wider world. The mind boggles. It’s a decision worth serious consideration. The wrong person could torpedo it. And that would be bad for America.

The Daily Show has endured because it is one of the smartest and most clever shows on television. It has had a select few worthwhile imitators and many more terrible ones. But its greatest gift to society is that it’s a guidepost (even if that was never its intent) in an age where people increasingly rely on their own facts. Far from being an artifact, the show seems to still be in its glory days — or indeed, to transcend the idea of glory days.

So, godspeed, Jon Stewart. Grrr, you lovable cultural icon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Unjust desserts

One of the first things we did when we arrived in New York City on a visit three years ago was eat a quick breakfast at McDonald's. And I do mean quick — there was a seating limit of 15 minutes, after which the sign promised hell to pay if we didn't keep moving. It made sense, because the place was small, but even for me that was fast-paced.

I try to empathize with the people working in restaurants. When I eat at one, I'm always nice and efficient and I tip well. Not because I have waited tables — I haven't, though I've worked fast food — but because I am (or at least try to be) a decent human being.

But one of my standing criticisms of restaurant writing is how accusatory and/or disdainful it often is toward its customer base. Not the bad apples, mind you, but everyone. And in cases like this, it's not even for doing something genuinely grating like hogging a table*, but for wanting to purchase something offered by the business.

(*-I define this as sitting at a table long after you've finished eating. Which is different than how they define it, but that's my point.)

If a restaurant doesn't want want people ordering dessert, then it shouldn't offer it. Or, short of that, it can perhaps offer a profit count and an acceptable consumption time limit on the menu for each dessert item. If you're going to make the hard sell of, "Think of us," the customer should at least be informed.

Of course, laying bare such unspoken rules would probably alienate people more than any rats ever could. I'll be as good a customer as I can be, but if I want pie — especially pushed as it is in so many places — I'm going to order it and savor it, then I'm going to leave. If I'm straggling after that, then deal with me. Not that I will.

There's a difference between hogging a restaurant's precious resources and being made to feel like an intruder every second you're there. That difference will determine whether or not I spend any money at all. The customer might not always be right, but they're not always wrong either. At least, not anywhere that's worth patronizing.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Kanye West, award hipster

Last night, Kanye West hijacked the Grammys once again.

(I didn’t watch, but I get on the Internet, so I didn’t have to.)

This time, Beck was his unwitting target. When the decidedly non-loser musician won Album of the Year, West jumped on stage, but then he left without saying a word, garnering laughter — and brownie points over the presumed self-deprecation (or at least, what passes for self-deprecation for him, because not poaching someone else’s moment is apparently too much to ask).

He really should have left it there. But he didn’t, saying after the ceremony that Beck “should have given his award to Beyoncé.”

OK, I realize at this point that awards-show douchebaggery is kind of a calling card for Kanye (whose outspokenness is refreshing when aimed right). But last night, he had redeemed himself (if unwittingly), and he blew it. It’s like when you think someone made a sophisticated and funny joke but then you realize they weren’t joking, and in fact they’re utterly oblivious. And not only that, but they had a chance to play it off, and they refused to seize it.

The only reason I care about this is because of the singular idiocy of it, which I (and presumably most people) have seen in life. It’s less Kanye’s words themselves that are compelling than the almost hilarious lack of perspective that drives them. To break it down:

Arbiters of taste are arbitrary. Everybody knows somebody who insists that their interests and tastes are the sole barometer of importance on the planet. It’s not just that they prefer certain things, but that those preferences are treated as absolute givens against which all must be judged.

One example is the aging baby boomer who not only pines for the 1960s, but can’t comprehend why anyone wouldn’t, even if they were born in 1992. Another is the pompous teacher who thinks their class — and subject matter — is all that matters in the universe, and how dare people enjoy football and not-homework!

Oh, and Kanye West. What he likes should naturally win awards every year, because he has correct taste. And if it doesn’t, to paraphrase him, the awards shows lose credibility. Which segues into the next point of pointlessness:

Awards, on a macro level, are not that significant. Awards can be personally gratifying and perhaps they’re a selling point, but other than that they’re an arbitrary indicator of merit. Even where awards are definitive, it’s simple math that not everything can win one. Anyway, winning an award doesn’t guarantee everyone will love your work, nor does not winning an award mean your work vanishes into the ether, unloved for all time. Like with most things, an award (or lack thereof) is what you make of it. In his case, Kanye apparently can’t listen to a Beyoncé album if it doesn’t get all the accolades, instead of just a lot. That poor, poor, award-starved artist! Speaking of …

It’s Beyoncé, for bleep’s sake. She’s an accomplished musician and actress, has tons of talent, fame, fortune and acclaim and she’s universally likable. I love her. You love her. Everybody loves her! She needs no defending from Kanye or anyone else (just ask her). I think she’ll be OK.

Anyway, it’s only music. I can’t for the life of me figure out why people are so fanatically blindered about music, as if a favorite song is like a Rigma from Saved By the Bell — you can only hang out with other Rigmas.

In early-career interview, Eminem said hip-hop was the only important form of music. Likewise, I’ve known country fans who can’t even be in the same room as non-country music, and will make those objections crystal-clear. (Actually, there are few genres of music I haven’t heard this about.)

Personally, I respect all forms of music, even if I don’t care for them, because I know to someone, somewhere, that sequence of notes is art. I like all kinds of different music (including Kanye West’s) for all kinds of reasons. I might like a song because it’s a stone-cold jam, or because it’s profound, or just because I was doing something cool the first time I heard it. It isn’t solely because of how it’s filed or because it’s an award-winner, for sure.

It can be a mystery why certain people like certain songs. But why even bother to untangle it, or care what others think? To quote a ’60s classic, “different strokes for different folks.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The right kind of rights

Let’s talk about rights for a minute.

What are rights? They are freedoms you enjoy, protected by the law. Some of the most basic human rights include:

• The right to free speech without government reprisal;
• The rights to a trial by jury, to face one’s accuser and to not incriminate oneself;
• The right to practice whatever religion one chooses, or no religion;
• The right to equal treatment under the law.

And so on.

Now, let’s look at what some are trying to pass as “rights” lately: 

• The “right” to smoke in public places.
• The “right” to not wash hands while working.
• The “right” to not wear a helmet or seat belt.
• The “right” to not vaccinate children.

Compare the top four examples to the bottom four. The difference, if you don’t already see it, is this:

Real rights don’t infringe upon others’ rights, or otherwise pose a burden to society as a whole.

Real rights empower human beings in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They don’t keep others from doing the same. (This is not the same as being criticized, opposed or offended. Sorry, religious right.)

But people who smoke in others’ spaces, don’t wash hands, refuse to practice traffic safety or (worst of all) don’t vaccinate, adversely affect everyone. They voluntarily introduce risk where it didn’t exist before, potentially affecting innocent people — which, by definition, hinders people’s basic rights.

And yet, many apologists for such “rights” insist that it’s those offended by secondhand smoke, filthy hands, unnecessarily gruesome accidents or measles outbreaks who should duck away. Because “freedom.”

As a society, we balance personal rights with the welfare of the whole. The classic example is the illegality of yelling, “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Few would seriously argue that doing such is freedom of speech. Similarly, if someone hurts or murders a store clerk to feed their family, the perpetrator still has to answer for the crime. We do that so as many people as possible can exercise their rights.

The real ones.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Correction from yesterday

The ending of Super Bowl XLIX was insane, and even before that I found myself genuinely cheering for the Patriots.

But mentally, it was not all smooth sailing. I spent much of the fourth quarter on the phone with my mom, talking about the game and other things (she was also pulling for the Pats). At one point during the conversation, Tom Brady got sacked. My first instinct was to cheer very loudly, but then I realized I didn't want that in the Super Bowl, so it came out sort of, "YEAOOOH NOOOO!"

On the final Seahawks drive, Mom and I engaged in a spontaneous duet of, "NO! NO! NO! NO!" When Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson's goal-line pass, it turned into a happy, "WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?!!"

(Side note: That play call was stupid only in hindsight. Even I thought as they lined up, "Watch Lynch run it in. This season would end this way." The Seahawks probably assumed the same and wanted to trip up the defense, and they almost did it. If Ricardo Lockette had made the catch, we might be talking about how that play call was on par with Thomas Morstead's onside kick. Or not, since it's actually a common play call in the red zone.)

The scrum after the Patriots' first victory formation reminded me why I generally dislike both teams, especially the Seahawks. But I absolutely can't judge that, nor can I pretend I didn't laugh a little. And Richard Sherman was a class act for reaching out to shake Brady's hand after the final kneeldown. And I can identify with Sherman's expression after the interception.

I thought I'd enjoy the Super Bowl entirely for cynical reasons. I still don't care for either team. But they gave us all a memorable game. So I stand corrected.

And now ... WHO DAT!

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Hopefully non-jinxy Super Bowl pick

I didn't think it was possible, but I've decided on who I want to win Villain Bowl XLAX. It took a lot of soul-searching (after a round of searching for my soul), some stat-crunching and a reconciliation of who I am versus how I view myself. And the answer is: 

The Patriots.

Why? Because if they win, it will be forever be tainted by scandal, and also the Seahawks will lose. 

Win. Win.

That's all I've got.