Tuesday, March 31, 2015

One Direction: A band, not a mandate for life


In other words, millennials don’t have a rigid template for conformity that compels them to live a certain way whether or not they want to.

Or maybe there is such a template, but it’s less mandated than in past generations. There are still plenty of people who reach life-changing milestones solely because it’s what they feel is expected of them.

I’m almost 35. It’s a weird age in many ways, even more so when you haven’t connected all the socially acceptable dots. Having not done so, I react with a wry grin whenever one of my 25-year-old friends panics about not having it all figured out/achieved/purchased by now. Just like a 45-year-old would no doubt smirk at my own age-related reflection.

(Though I guess in an age where the Internet repeatedly tells guys that they need a beard to be a man, it's understandable that an adult wouldn't feel like an adult without the metaphorical beard of responsibilities.)

I’m lucky that I don’t rue such things. I used to. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 18 and had one semester of college already under my belt. I had wanted a license, but my parents cited insurance costs and that one time I forgot to throw the car in park (because my brother yanked the driver’s door open while I was looking the other way at my mom overreacting to my parking job) to deny me. Starting at 15 (when I took driver’s ed) and continuing until that day, I felt considerable regret of what hypothetical fun I might have missed in high school by not being able to drive (I lived miles away from my school and most friends, and many found it an imposition to pick me up just to bring me back to their part of town). Nowadays, I find that ruefulness ridiculous. But that frame of mind at the time often overshadowed the good times I did have and the things I accomplished. So I don’t let things like that get to me anymore.

The truth is, there is no “roadmap to adulthood.” There never was. The (perceived?) difference today is that people have, overall, a greater courage in making a wider array of decisions. It’s OK if you don’t graduate from college and have settled into your career at 22. You’re not worthless if you’re not married by 23. You don’t have to be locked in to the rest of your life before you’re old enough to rent a car. (Fewer teens are getting driver’s licenses, even.)

Marriage, children, buying a home — these can all be wonderful things, but they shouldn’t be checkpoints of self-esteem.

I’ve always found it somewhat amazing that marriage/long-term companionship is such a common and expected achievement. Because when you think about it, finding a person who’s perfect for you in the long haul is really hard. And yet, it’s safe to assume past a certain age (not 25) that a given person is married or seriously involved.

A single person pining for that ideal could understandably feel worthless because if everyone can do it, why can’t they? But just as it was with my teenage frustration over not having a driver’s license, that’s a poisonous line of thinking. Moping over what might have been with your life is a fantastic way to not appreciate the good things that do exist. Besides, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side — oftentimes, it’s artificial turf.

The truth is, many people couple up out of fear of loneliness or out of a willingness to settle for someone less than ideal. Many people buy expensive cars or lavish homes in the hopes that they will make them seem more interesting to others. And again, others do all of these things because they are at a loss of what to do if their milestones don’t keep up with everyone else’s.

The good news is that more people of every generation are now doing those things by choice rather than by custom. Or, more to the point, they’re not doing those “adult” things that they don’t want to just for their own sake. So it’s not necessarily that people in past decades followed the roadmap more because of better character or other such nonsense, but that the people who suppressed dissenting desires then are not doing that anymore. That’s a credit to society today.

You know what’s great about a roadmap? All the routes you can take.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Table of contents


This article is of interest to me because of the contrast between my parents' furniture and mine. They have large, fancy and exquisite furnishings. Expandable dining tables and desks made from the finest mighty oaks (or whatever other wood is mighty for such items). Gigantic tables with heavy glass tops. Heirloom chests and sofas. Multiple cutlery sets. A four-post bed. Real classy and enduring things that fit right into a tasteful, suburban home.

My furniture is, well, not that. Mine is mostly sleek, modern and relatively cheap — at least as far as I've had a choice in deciding that. I have wood tables and shelves, but most of those aren't likely to carry my nieces' books, dinners and whatever technology they have decades from now. My couch is eight years old and I'll probably be its only owner. My bed is literally a frame with an older box spring and mattress on it. It's all eclectic, but so am I, so it works.

I'm currently sitting on a fitness ball as I type this.

There are practical considerations at play too: I've moved four times in the past four years (though this one has stuck so far), so it's nice not to have furniture that requires four people to pick up. Also, I (like many millennials) don't host formal dinner parties, so there's no reason to have all the trappings that go with that. And (this is only me) I don't want to gouge my eyes out on my bed, so I have no projectiles anywhere around it.

I would guess most millennials are in a more urban and/or transitive state than their parents (and will likely be so longer due to the economy), and thus what they keep in their homes reflects that. Add that to the ever-shrinking technology of the digital age and a general decline in consumerism, and younger people overall just need less stuff.

One point of disagreement for me about the article (and one that evidently most people share, according to the comments): I love old photos and documents. I will take all of them. I have old photos, driver's licenses, college IDs, car sales receipts and even accident reports. Those tell stories that don't exist anywhere else. I have as many digital files as anyone, but there will always be space on my eclectic shelves (and fireproof lockbox) for those items. 

Overall, I think the millennials are carrying on the fine tradition of filtering out what they want and don't from the previous generation. Our stuff says a lot about who we are and what we value, as does our choice in inheritance. 

That never changes.

An education on education


A thousand times, yes. Fareed Zakaria nailed this one.

It's not that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education isn't important — it is, in a big way — but it needs to coexist with the humanities, not replace it.

I'm a humanities guy and always have been. From an early age, I struggled with math and science but was off the charts on art, language and writing. Which meant I got to see the math kids bask in their triumphs on a daily basis while even my best compositions could be ripped apart by the teacher for some reason or another, or not suit the tastes of my classmates.

For you see, math has definite answers. The humanities are more arbitrary. The best mathematician or scientist can be quantified, and their critics easily validated or dismissed by their own relative knowledge on the subject matter (ahem, Jenny McCarthy). On the other hand, even the best writer or artist in the world will have many people thinking they're terrible, and those opinions are as valid as any fan's.

The economics of the respective disciplines work the same way: STEM is specific to many skilled fields, and thus the practical and financial benefits are apparent. Humanities degrees aren't as clear in that respect. Hence the "Do you want fries with that?" knee-slapper. Ho ho hee ho.

Zakaria's main point is that we need to foster creativity and critical thinking as much as we do technological know-how to keep economic pace in a challenging world climate. He points to Asian nations (which routinely top the world in STEM rankings) increasingly adding liberal arts to their curricula to begin channeling the creativity that is so often wasted there. They've figured out that there's more to humanities than fries.

To me, this common sense. Is a $50,000 degree in art history or philosophy worth the expense? Perhaps not. But that's a different debate, one that could swing in the other direction as technology evolves. All college degrees have some value, because earning them takes commitment, focus, sacrifice and a quick ability to solve problems. Which, really, is half the battle for anything.

The need for both STEM and the humanities is best driven home by how many straight-A STEM geniuses I've known who can make anyone feel woefully inadequate with their expertise, but who have begged for my help to craft a coherent sentence.

It takes all kinds.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Quote of the (15th) century

"Probably we should be debating a bill requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth ... That would never be allowed."


No, that would not be allowed, because the quirky thing about America is that we can choose whether or not to go to church. Half of that, in case you missed it, is that Americans can go to any church they choose. Already! BUT THEY DON'T HAVE TO. 

Anyway, Allen shouldn't want to force people to go, because isn't the point of finding a religion to give you some kind of personal, spiritual benefit? (Maybe I'm being idealistic here.) I fail to see how an amoral person who doesn't attend church being forced to do so will make that person moral. (It doesn't seem to help some people there already.) On the other hand, I can see how forcing someone to do something they don't want to do would ruin them on it forever, even if they might have been open to it on their own terms before.

Not to mention that if there was any talk of the compulsory church in question not being hers, Allen would be among the first to howl about indoctrination and the need for religious freedom because this is America, gosh-darn it!

(And why Sunday? Doesn't she know that not every religion's holy day is Sunday? What about Christians who go to church on Saturday because, say, they work on Sunday? Are they immoral? Am I overthinking this? Somehow, I doubt it.)

On the other hand, it might be worth it to see entities like the NFL, cinemas, bars and CBS Sunday Morning reclassify themselves as churches so millions of Americans can obey the law while doing what they really want to do on Sundays.

That's my hymn.

Would that be a particularly moral thing to do to our tax base? Well, who am I to judge?

If you need me on Sunday morning, I'll be either at the First Church of Bed or at the House of Tahoe. Morality!

A post about that poster

There's been debate about whether or not the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival poster is racist.

Because apparently a bunch of southerners hitched a ride in the DeLorean with Biff on his way back to 2015 from 1955 and brought their cultural barometers with them.

Seriously, there should be no debate about this. That poster is offensive. It's not even ambiguously so.  Even if the artist didn't have an ounce of racism in his heart, not one person who sees that won't immediately think of some astonishingly racist old-timey advertisement. This image does not help matters.

Only three types of people see no problem with such a caricature: 1) Older generations who grew up with such art on the regular and who have neutral or fond memories of it, regardless of their personal views; 2) Younger people unaware of the historical connotation that such art has; and 3) straight-up racists.

The first two can be helped with education and awareness. The third, well, we can try.

Context matters a lot here. South Louisiana's history, like that of much of the region around it, is one abundant with slavery and racism. It's one thing to see a riveting piece of art or read a compelling story about the era by a black artist (or by any other artist who depicts it with empathy); it's another entirely to see such from a wistful point of view. The caricature of fruit-picking, subservient blacks in the Old South is still very much a point of romanticism with many whites. There is a distinct look that such a caricature takes, a dehumanizing one that is entirely unnecessary to convey a pastoral sentiment.

So either festival organizers are ignorant of history, or they implicitly endorse said history. Either way, pulling the poster was the wise choice.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

#6WordLifeGoal

Stay out of jail and pits

Wikipedia, but for the right reasons

Your influence to last two lifetimes

Don't trip near a raging bonfire

As little Fox News as possible

Be better than your role models

Try not to break your bones

Pick only the best of battles

Understand bullies have very sad lives

Sin only in the good ways

Judge not, unless the call's obvious

Kids? Only if you want them

Not dying is a good one

All of the Atari high scores

Every Super Bowl, trust fund kid

To leave an appropriately worn corpse

Know when to hang it up

Just take good care of yourself

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sudden presidential thought

Why has "POTUS" become such a popular abbreviation? It's only four fewer letters than "president" and seems pretentious to me. Also, it seems like it's used mostly by people criticizing Barack Obama, but lacks the negative connotation that goes with other such references, so that's weird.

This is something I really want to know the answer to, if someone can clue me in.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Stephen A. Smith, car salesman

“We have two models on the floor today. One is the latest model of the make you’ve come to know and love. Comfortable, fuel-efficient, attractive, safe. And the price is right.”

“Yes, I’m quite impressed. My last four cars have been from this line.”

“Would you say, though, that you’d be open to buying another type of vehicle?”

“Absolutely, if it appealed to me more.”

“Because it’s not a perfect car.”

“No, it isn’t. It sometimes starts rough in cold weather. Every 5,000 miles, it’s another oil change. And one time I left a turkey sandwich in the back seat for a week and it smelled bad for a while after that.”

“Right, you’d think the manufacturer would do something about those things.”

“Well, some things are unavoidable.”

“Nevertheless, I humbly ask you to keep an open mind.”

“Sure thing.”

“Let me introduce you to this beauty of a beast!”

“It looks like a tank.”

“Yes, it does have a martial veneer to it.”

“It’s already rusting and dripping oil.”

“That’s to keep you from worrying about such things later.”

“The tires look stapled on.”

“They are.”

“Are those … jowls?”

“Standard equipment. And they sag more and more as time goes by. Six months from now, they’ll be scraping the pavement.”

“Says here this boat gets three miles per gallon. Highway.”

“That’s without the optional stack. You’ll roll so much coal with that, that you can blind both the Prius and yourself!”

“That sounds extraordinarily dangerous.”

“Dangerous? What are you, a namby-pamby?”

“I’m just saying, I have kids, and — wait, are those sharp spikes on the seats?!!”

“Yes. You can upgrade to not having spikes, but that’ll cost you.”

“I see. Well, obviously this car is a no-go.”

“Why?”

“It’s ugly and impractical.”

“Don’t believe the stereotypes.”

“Also, I’ve been hit by one three times.”

“It comes with a rebate.”

“Well … OK, let me think about it.”

“Don’t think! You should buy this car. Everyone should.”

“Why?”

“Because it would send a message to the other car company that they can’t get soft.”

“Huh. I never, ever saw it that way before.”

“Also, I make more of a commission if I sell this car. Have you thought about that?”

“No, I guess I’ve been selfish in what I buy for myself.”

“Damn right. It’s about time you start thinking of others. Like me.”

“I still don’t know, though. That one car offers so much of what I want.”

“But it doesn’t offer everything you want.”

“This one offers nothing I want. In fact, it introduces so many more problems that could hurt me down the road, that really, it offers negative benefits.”

“Well, don’t you think maybe having so much of what you want is making you slack off as a driver?”

“I really don’t see it that way. I chose that car, after all. It didn’t choose me.”

“What are you, a puppet? Do you know what this tank’s maker did for America? It started the industry! Fifty years ago, it was a dynamo, while that fruitcake car company that coddles you was just starting out. Think about that.”

“But now that fledgling company is on top and the other company is living off its past glory despite adopting an all-new philosophy in the ’80s that repudiated everything that made it good in the first place.”

“Stop living in the present.”

“I am not buying this tank.”

“You should take the tank precisely because it’s not what you want.”

“Why?”

“Because you are a misled sheep snookered by a car company that hooks you by offering you cars you like. This would send a message that you aren’t afraid to make bold moves, no matter how reckless. That’s your right as an American!”

“Your regard of my intelligence is insulting. I’m not a sheep by buying a car I like. In fact, I’d only become a sheep if I did the ridiculous, self-defeating thing you’re asking me to do.”

“Think for yourself! I demand it!”

“Any defiant thrill I get from buying this tank will evaporate the moment I realize I have to handle this albatross on a daily basis from now on.”

“That’s an epiphany most people have on the drive home, when it’s too late.”

“I’m glad I thought of it now.”

“Stop thinking.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Some tough talk for men

Listening to these two bros pontificate over what makes a man got me to thinking.

Manliness talk is cartoonishly idiotic.

Is there even a mathematical term for how infinitesimal a percentage of these conversations aren’t steeped in profound insecurity?

Fear of insufficient scruff. Fear of what other men think of his fighting and sexual prowesses. Fear of women or insufficiently manly men holding sway in any respect. Fear of feelings. All of these and more drive the macho-conscious to display the plumage of mascumale virility as loudly as possible, and to spew narrow, archaic platitudes of what a man must be.

It’s one thing to grow a beard because you like beards, or to heed fashion tips so you look maximally dapper in a suit. Learning self-defense is a sensible idea. Know how to change a tire and how to wield tools. But do them because you want to and because they’re useful, not because you need them to validate your testosterone.

Show me a guy who thinks facial hair and an expensive suit make him a man, and I’ll show you a guy who feels emasculated without them.

Man.

Just by worrying about this stuff, a guy shows he probably hasn’t got it. He’ll try to emulate Teddy Roosevelt in 500 ways, but not in the one way that matters — that Roosevelt most likely never paused to think, “Am I being enough of a man for everybody?”

Here’s how to be a fantastic human being: Take care of yourself. Work hard. Have fun. Be nice to people. See the value in them. Have empathy. Handle your business. Celebrate your strengths and accomplishments. Own up to your shortcomings. Pick your battles. Give appropriate weight to gripes and criticism and not an ounce more. Don’t be afraid of your feelings. Help others when they need it. Don’t be afraid to seek help when you need it. Make sure if someone has a problem with you, that it’s their problem, not yours. Be yourself.

Everything else is nonsense.

Now watch tough guy Terry Crews get it right:

Monday, March 16, 2015

Going off half-staffed

There’s a story going around Facebook from Louisiana that many people are hailing as heroic, but makes me sick.

You can read the firsthand recollection (from the initiator) here and watch video of the confrontation here. To summarize: A veteran drove by a McDonald’s near a town from where a couple of the Marines recently killed in a helicopter accident during training in Florida hailed. He saw that the restaurant had not lowered its flag to half-staff, as had been done at government buildings. He immediately called the McDonald’s and demanded they lower it, to which they replied they’d have to get approval from the local corporate office to do so. After a subsequent stalemate of an exchange, the McDonald’s worker hung up on him on her manager’s orders, which really drew his ire.

He turned his car around, entered the McDonald’s and confronted the clerk in an encounter his family caught on video. (He posted the worker's picture with his story, where commenters quickly demanded her name and job and everything else that comes with such cybershaming.) He demanded to know why she’d hung up on him, to which she replied, “Because you were cursing at me.” He denied that, then promised a massive protest and stood his ground, even after being left alone for several minutes. After yet another confrontation, the worker called the police. An officer (who said he is also a veteran) arrived and broke up the confrontation. The veteran then posted his story as an example of how McDonald’s is aggressively disrespecting the armed forces. And many, many readers agreed with him.

I guessed even before I watched the video that a significant factor had been omitted from this: that the man was in full-on intimidation mode. (He admits in his own account that he might have raised his voice, a telling concession.) There’s no record of the preceding phone call, but I’m guessing 1) it wasn’t overly cordial on his part and 2) it went on longer than necessary than needed to make his point. Then he went inside the restaurant and directly confronted the worker. He might not have yelled or cursed at her, but what he did was still terrifying and absolutely merited a call to the police. (Considering she had no idea what he was capable of doing, she’s actually admirably composed.)

It is the disturbance, the over-the-top fury in a place of business, that is the story, not that McDonald’s allegedly disrespects the troops. Being a military veteran doesn’t excuse this behavior any more than backing gay rights makes harassing a Chick-fil-A clerk OK. 

There are ways of handling perceived wrongs. Bullying is never one of them. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Um, no


Hah! Not by a long shot.

This is an interesting gallery and piece because it isn't in the same vein as Vice's "Your Town is a Paradise" series (which deliberately seeks the underground/underbelly of a given city, and which did a bang-up job in Reno). This one is from a business magazine that I wouldn't guess was into clickbait.

In any case, the photos in the gallery are from a project where a photographer deliberately went to Reno's downtown casinos during off-peak hours and either snapped deserted areas or exposed people out of the shots. I'm not a casino-goer, but I've been inside or passed by enough times at many different times of the day and night to know that there are almost always people milling about. (To say nothing of places like the Grand Sierra Resort and the Peppermill, whose massive parking lots always look like a mall's on Black Friday.) 

As for the Biggest Little City's reinvention as a bowling mecca, well, it's been that for years now. The real reinvention (at least in the business sense, and one completely overlooked in the business article) is that Tesla its building its battery gigafactory here, which is worth billions. When Tesla-type cars are the standard (which can't happen soon enough), the Reno-Sparks region is going to be a main player in their generation.

Reno is so much more than the gambling and divorce corridor that was cemented in the American mind back in the 1950s. It's a college town, it's near Lake Tahoe, there are lots of recreational/art/museum/sports opportunities and is in most respects the same as any other mid-size city, for better or worse. It's not without its problems, but that's true of every place, everywhere. Far from being the most depressing place on Earth, it's not even the most depressing place I've ever lived. And anything truly depressing wouldn't have functioning buildings of any sort, or likely living humans. First World Hyperbole.

Really, my point is less about defending Reno (which doesn't need my help) than about calling out journalism that's misleading and incomplete even by the standards of your typical Internet slideshow.

And now I'm off for another day in Reno.

Friday, March 13, 2015

When leads are buried


Ann Landers once said something to the effect of, if you're arguing with your spouse about where they're placing their shoes, your marriage is probably in trouble. This opinion piece reminds me very much of that. It's ostensibly about a revised class policy, but it becomes clear over the course of the column that she's bitter about so much more.

I can relate to the author in many respects. When I attended UL, students had to take the CAAP test to ascend into Upper Division (basically, to become a proper upperclassman). The test was essentially a college ACT (and in fact was an ACT product), meaning it cost money and you had to study for it. I took it in the summer of 2000, a semester in which I wasn't enrolled. I passed easily and that was that. That was the last time UL ever administered the CAAP. It had been the subject of debate for years (a front-page Verm headline sometime after I took the test was, "A pile of CAAP?"), and the school finally decided to ax it altogether. From then on, all you had to to get into Upper Division was accumulate enough credits. That was annoying to me, but also sort of amusing. I took it in stride.

Though I'm sure I might have felt differently if I'd had the feeling that I was in the exact wrong place and that I'd missed what I felt was a better opportunity. That's how Chelsea Yaeger apparently feels. Hers is less a column about the revised class requirement than about a much wider, personal regret. It's the university equivalent of arguing over the shoes.

I know that feeling too, though with cities instead of schools. If you like where you are, you can tolerate a lot. Hate it enough, and even the most trivial thing will set you off. The real litmus test is, how big a leap do you make from inconveniences to your unhappiness as a whole? Does every snag in your day make you think, "That is so typical of this town and its people and its culture as a whole?" If so, it shouldn't be too hard to see the solution.

This author says she applied to Loyola and called about scholarships, so she seems pretty serious about it. Word of advice to her and to anyone like her: Change of scenery can be refreshing, but it isn't a panacea. Some personal hangups have to be worked out no matter what. If you don't, you'll find yourself even more miserable when you realize everything isn't magically better because you're at the perfect private school. You've got to meet change in the middle.

Good luck.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cutting themselves on the cutting edge


My MacBook Pro laptop, which has been my faithful companion since 2009, has been under the weather for a while. So a couple of months ago, I popped into the Apple Store to see what was going on in the world of new MacBooks.

As it turned out, not much. The only significant difference I could ascertain was that the laptops were getting ever thinner and thinner. Which made them look cool, but mostly I noticed that the Airs lacked CD drives. I often play movies and TV shows in my laptop when I travel or clean my place, so I didn’t want to not have that. They also had only one USB port, which I could have lived with, but seemed low.

Then there was the non-Air MacBook Pro, the one exactly like mine, with multiple USB ports and other peripheral jacks, and a disc drive. It had an upgraded OS from mine, which I appreciated. But still, it seemed silly to me to buy that one and then have two fully functioning MacBook Pro laptops. On top of that, one of the store employees all but sneered at it, saying the OS hadn’t been upgraded in three years. He did say, however, that a new version was imminent.

I left empty-handed, apart from knowledge.

When my laptop’s keyboard shorted out in February, I went back to the Apple Store and bought — a new iMac. Yep, a desktop. The last time I had one of those was when my mom’s office threw an IBM away more than a decade ago. I used it almost exclusively for word processing and solitaire, and it was infected with the Melissa virus.

So why did I buy a desktop in the tablet age? Well, for one, it has most of what I need: USB ports, a fast (if not cutting-edge) OS, and a nice wireless keyboard and trackpad (still no CD drive, but nothing’s perfect). Also, it has a large screen and amazing speakers I still can’t get over. I can sit very straight and comfortably at this thing and create. And that’s all I ask for.

The latest MacBook announcement only confirms my decision. Do they look cool? Hell yeah, especially the gold one. But that’s about the only selling point. There is a single jack for everything now, which sucks. And supposedly, the OS is actually a downgrade. It’s basically Apple’s version of a netbook, or of an iPad with a keyboard. That might appeal to some people, but not to me.

(This has precedent for me: When I was shopping for my car in 2007, I knew that an all-new, as-yet-unveiled version would be introduced a few months later. Some suggested I should wait to buy until it did, because I might like the new one better. I really liked the one in front of me and had a feeling it wasn’t worth the wait. I didn't wait. Good move.)

Sleek is cool, but for me it’s always second to functionality. But sleek comes first on the new MacBook, which is why I won’t get the new MacBook. When its features once again jibe with my needs, I’ll be back on that train.

However, I will say this: Calling it a betrayal is a wild overstatement. It’s just another computer, guys. Many people will want it. That’s OK too.

If this is your worst problem, you’re doing pretty good.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Oklahoma! OK!


I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves “Sooners.” Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.

And Boomer Sooner goes the dynamite!

The thing is, I don't think this message should be limited only to whom it's directed; it's something everyone needs to heed. I've been a white person in the South, which means I've heard similar ear-assaults. The funny thing about white bigots is that, when they're among other white bigots (or assume that the white people in their company are fellow bigots), they'll really let that stuff fly. As stupid as they are for harboring that racism, they're not too stupid to hold it in in mixed company, or to write it off as a joke if they're caught on it. They know it's impolite, which somehow manages to make it worse than it already is.

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon video was leaked on Sunday, which was also the 50th anniversary of the Selma march, a pivotal event in the American Civil Rights Movement. Intentional timing? Who knows? But the contrast is stark. While the anniversary event brought out throngs of people and the original march itself drew a brave crowd, this video shows what happens in the increasingly small spaces where white bigots feel safe spewing their venom aloud. Those contrasting situations — and the respective reactions toward them — show where we're headed as a country, and also how far we have still to go.

At least we're marching in the direction of compassion and love.

Today in fake news

‘Selfie With God’ author admits book is fiction

NEW YORK — The publisher of the best-selling 2012 Christian book, “I Took a Selfie With God,” has decided to recall the title after its author confessed on Friday that he did not actually take a selfie with God.

Publisher Sharper Hillovich said in a news release on Monday that Benny S. Sooth, 11, admitted that his story of running into God in heaven after an accident left him comatose four years ago “was simply a figment of an active imagination.”

Pictured: The controversial book.
“I thought it was a cool story,” the news release quotes Sooth as saying. “My bad.”

The book had been marketed both as nonfiction and as an autobiography. Some bookstores had set up special “Absolute Truth, Light and Way” shelves to particularly emphasize the volume’s basis in fact.

In the book, Sooth, now 11, chronicles a trip to the afterlife he took following an ATV accident in 2011, when he was 7 years old. He wrote of “Flowing robes, grand trumpets, every loved one you could ever imagine and, of course, God Himself. And lots and lots of Legos.” Sooth also spoke of arriving at heaven via “a bright white light in the center of darkness, guided by voices urging me to to follow said light.” He also recalls feeling “happy.”

In perhaps the most-quoted chapter, Sooth bumps into God in a hallway, and asks if he wouldn’t mind posing for a selfie. “And God said, ‘Why sure, my son. Haveth you your cellphone?’ ”

Though the photo does not appear in the book, it is widely alluded to, and is represented as a drawing on the book’s cover. In the book, it is explained that the photo is not shown because it is too personal.

“It all seemed so real to us,” said contrite literary agent Dewey Collins, who was instrumental in getting the book published. “Benny was giving us a picture of heaven that couldn’t have been conceived of without firsthand knowledge. I mean, before he came along, who knew that the walls of the Pearly Gates were lined with Hot Wheels racetracks?”

Fans of the book expressed similar disappointment.

“When little Benny spoke of the devil making a visit, and he looked exactly like the cartoon on a box of Red Hots, I took that as a sign,” said Evelyn Carter, a devout Baptist in Chattanooga, Tenn. “Sooth’s story spoke to me in ways that no missive ever had before.”

Danielle Belcher of Harrison, Ark., said to the book had become a foundation of her faith.

“I’ve spent the last two years volunteering my time to care for the sick and elderly,” she said, “And all because of Benny. So why am I going to do it now?”

Still others claim they continue to believe the story.

“This alleged hoodwinking is clearly a test of faith by God,” said Earl Willis of Billings, Mont. “What matters is not what the world thinks, but what God thinks. And if God allowed this book to be published, well then, it must be true.

“Not like all the other pablum that only tells people what they want to hear,” Willis added. “This really reinforced my faith.”

Sharper Hillovich also confirmed Monday that The Glenn Beck Bible remains slated for an April release.

Blogger backs off of new food-porn policy

SAN FRANCISCO — Amid public outcry over what many critics deemed censorship, the popular blogging service Blogger reversed its new policy against food porn, the company announced Friday.

Pictured: An example of food porn.
The reversal came just days after the Google-owned firm announced that it would require all users to remove any food porn from their blogs. Though Blogger doesn’t disclose numbers, experts estimate this would have resulted in as many as 36 million bloggers removing up to 14.2 quadrillion images.

Instead, a company spokesman said, the platform will revert to its previous policy of allowing food porn if a blog is labeled appropriately, such as with a URL and/or a title.

“We realized the fallacy of our new policy and will instead focus on the removal of illegally posted commercial food porn,” the spokesman said in a statement. “That is, if a food producer objects to their product being promoted for free, or if a reader complains about seeing the picture. We have no record of either of these yet happening.”

Friday, March 06, 2015

A subpar showing


This one's easy. Golf is pretty much a one-percent sport at this point.

I wouldn't even say culture has as much to do with it as the simple fact that it's an expensive undertaking. Just to reserve time on a golf course is to take a substantial bite out of many wallets. For most people of modest means, like myself, it has always been out of the question. When I was growing up, we could strike up a game of street football or yard baseball, or any number of other sports and activities, anytime. All we needed was a ball or cheap racquet, or a viable substitute (I once made an adjustable hurdle out of three broomsticks and a couple of nails), and much fun could be had. If we were itching to play golf (which, granted, is pretty fun), well, we could fake that too, whether in the front yard (with golf balls or discs) or at a mini-golf course.

But as far as playing real golf goes, you need a huge plot of land and pricey clubs, to say nothing of golf carts, other equipment and exorbitant green fees. That's not casual stuff for many adults, let alone children. (Indeed, look at any rich-person sport such as polo, dressage or sailing, and the common thread is a steep entry level. There aren't pickup polo matches, and in one respect that's the appeal to its base. Golf, to its credit, isn't quite so steep in that regard — but in an economy where many industries are declining with little immediate hope of resurrection, it's no surprise to see golf slumping as well.)

I was probably 31 years old the first time I ever saw a green close-up, and I marveled then at how beautiful and well-maintained it was. It looked better than most lawns I've seen, which is saying something. That kind of care doesn't come cheap, or even moderately affordable for many people.

That elitism feeds upon itself, because few people will go golfing once; it's either a regular thing or never. Buying the equipment is expensive. Renting the equipment is expensive. Chances are, people who play golf want to be at least reasonably decent at it, which takes practice, which most people can't hack financially.

(Similarly, I'd love to take a crack at skiing. But I know next to nothing about it and it requires plenty of expensive equipment. And I suspect that I'd be as good at skiing as I am at skating, which is not very, since I am much better at sliding left than right. That hasn't kept me from skating, though, because it's fun and relatively cheap. I could probably get good at it without going broke. The idea of spending skiing money to suck at skiing is much more of a deterrent. Such is the case with golf.)

I'd love to see both golf and skiing become more proletarian, remote as that possibility might be. But for golf especially, a revamp might be what it needs to survive in a 99-percent world.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

23 skidoo

Last year, when the Saints got rid of Darren Sproles, Lance Moore and Jonathan Vilma, I (and many others) thought maybe the team was playing 11th-dimensional chess. The resultant season unequivocally proved otherwise.

So forgive me if I feel like releasing Pierre Thomas is the latest example of what is, in fact, broken Pong. I'd feel better about the whole age/cap thing if I thought something better was on the way. I'm not yet convinced there is. I think right now the organization is desperate to clear some salary space above all else. Between that and the Benson family turmoil, the Saints look to be playing seriously from behind right now. I hope I'm wrong, just like last year.

Did you know the Saints have never been better than 7-9 in any year ending in a 5 (and were usually much worse)? This year's team could be the best 5-team ever with a mediocre season. Small victories.

Maybe I should wait at least until the draft to harrumph, huh?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Pictures from Saturday's snowfall

Last Saturday, it snowed here in Reno, which doesn't happen nearly as often as it should. I took pictures, which can be seen in this gallery or right here. (Three days later, this snow is virtually all gone.)

Snow falls at Canyon Creek Park in northwest Reno on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015.
Snow falls among trees at Canyon Creek Park in northwest Reno on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015.
A playground sits empty on Robb Drive in northwest Reno on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015. 
Snow blankets a baseball diamond at Terrace Sports Complex in northwest Reno on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015. 
A trail is open for business behind Rollan Melton Elementary School in northwest Reno on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015.
Snowfall partially obscures mountains and a neighborhood behind Rollan Melton Elementary School in northwest Reno on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015.
Snow-capped rocks overlook a trail behind Rollan Melton Elementary School in northwest Reno on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015. 

Monday, March 02, 2015

Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue

A lot of people didn't like this Saturday Night Live spoof ad with Dakota Johnson and Taran Killam: 



It's not my favorite either (I own the Best of SNL Commercials DVD and have seen most of the others, so I have lots to choose from), but I think it's a success.

Solid satire will always have some edge to it. That's the point. In this case, the spot mocks overly treacly commercials that equate a product with serving in the military. The sketch injects that with recent reports of Western teenage girls joining ISIS. That second part might make this an artifact within a year (though it works now), but the first part will always be timely.

Some insurance companies cater to military families and thus incorporate the armed-forces element into their ads. Fair enough. Other product lines occasionally run a shout-out spot to the troops. Still, there's much fodder for satire any time someone uses the military (or any other patriotic trope) to sell things. Or even to sell itself, as is the case with the Kid Rock/NASCAR National Guard ad. (Seriously, that one's not far from the over-the-top Family Guy spoof that I'm pretty sure preceded it.)

For me, just as when an advertising campaign mars a formerly beloved song, so can it cheapen patriotism. The least we can do is joke about that once in a while, hit or miss. That's also very American.