Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nothing riotous about this

As if you didn’t already know, the video of a mother pulling her son away from the riot in Baltimore has become many people's favorite footage of the incident.


Before watching the video, I’d read so many chortling descriptions of it that I thought it might be light-hearted — like maybe there would be a lecture, or the kid turns sheepish. It can be amusing to see a tough-guy teen drop the act when mom arrives (that was one of my favorite parts of high school).

But not this. No. This is nothing to cheer or laugh about. This is upsetting.

At best, it’s a desperate act by a mother terrified that her son is about to be a statistic. Hopefully, it’s a move she’ll look back on with humility and regret, as something that transpired in the heat of the moment. (Which, to her credit, seems to be the case.) At worst, it’s a poignant and shameful example of how violence begets violence.

What’s also a shame is how many people watched this and proclaimed her Mother of the Year. Others countered with, “The real Mother of the Year wouldn’t have children at a riot.”

Neither one of these is true. Even the best parents can’t guarantee their kid will never make a mistake or associate with the wrong crowd. The power of a mob mentality, especially when politics, poverty and peer pressure are involved, shouldn’t be underestimated.

As for the Mother of the Year talk, that’s as ugly a manifestation of the fetish for corporal punishment as I’ve ever seen. Beating a child, regardless of the circumstances, represents a failure of some sort. It’s never OK. Nor is it OK for us to derive jollies from it.

Time out, everybody.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Riot acts

You know who doesn’t riot?

• People who are stable and happy.

• People who are invested in their community.

• People who sense the system is working for them and, when it isn’t, know that the problem can be alleviated through proper channels.

• People who are worried that the fallout from committing vandalism and other violent crimes would wreck their lives.

• People who feel like they have a stake in society, and who feel that society has a stake in them.

• Most people, including the majority of those peacefully protesting in Baltimore.

One of the most terrifying mindsets a person can have (both for themselves and for the innocents around them) is the feeling that they have nothing to lose. When they feel society has failed them, from economics to the police and everything in between, they see no alternative but to lash out. They see a way to get attention, completely unencumbered by any feeling of obligation or empathy to others. And why should they care? How well did that work out for them before? Anyone who loots and commits violence harbors that feeling to some degree, even if in other circumstances they’d see such destruction for the horror that it is.

I’m in no way defending anyone who committed these crimes. They were wrong, vicious and self-defeating, and deserve to answer for each and every act.

But we as a nation must seriously examine the nothing-to-lose mindset that allows for such violence to propagate. There are endless reams of value judgments but not enough inquiries of, “Why?”

Incidents like these don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s always a root cause, and that root cause is a foreign concept to many who have had the fortune never to feel marginalized, desperate and hopeless. When you’ve never felt it, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would and it’s very easy to dismiss those who do as stupid and uncivilized.

In recent decades, America has drifted from a “We’re all in this together” attitude to, “Every person for themselves.” We’re taught that competition is all but a sacrament and that others are always trying to take away from us. Furthermore, we’re told, if it’s not working out for us, it’s all our fault. That appeals to well-off people who enjoy patting themselves on the back for their circumstances, but it’s a powder keg for those who see right through it.

People who are robbed of all hope — be it through entrenched poverty, racial prejudice, the feeling that government and law enforcement are adversaries or any other form of endless desperation — will be less inclined to keep their grievances civil. Which then leads to acts that undermine and overshadow the cause.

The solution to that lies at least partially with all of us as Americans. We need to give the hopeless hope, somehow. The first step in that process is for us to acknowledge that some people really, truly have nothing to lose, because many of us seem to be in deep denial about that. Then we must ask what particularly is fomenting such an attitude, and consider the steps we can take to mitigate the injustice. Then, and only then, can we begin to reduce such senseless violence like we’re seeing in Baltimore, and anywhere else where people resort to such horrible acts.

Let’s try it, at least.

Failure fail


In my last semester as an undergraduate, I took a required media law course for the third time (I had made a D the first two times at the hands of a particularly tough professor, despite rigorous studying and liking the guy, and I needed a C or better for it to count). This time, I took it with a different instructor — an adjunct who was a practicing attorney in New Orleans and a had been a teacher at Harvard. 

He insisted on calling everyone by a title and last name (so I was "Mr. McGibboney") and also encouraged us to address each other this way. (This led to a weird and funny finals cramming session where nobody knew anyone else's first names.) His M.O. was to start class with a random question — "Mr. McGibboney, what is a precedent?" — and pepper his lectures with similar questions throughout the session. I sat in the middle of the front row, paid attention, enjoyed the class, made good grades on assignments and tests and was called on almost daily.

That last part wound up saving my skin.

Shortly after the semester ended (with B firmly in hand), I randomly met the mother of one of my classmates. That classmate was a friend and I knew she had worked diligently to earn a good grade. But the instructor had failed her (or had given her a D, with identical implications). When the girl asked why, he allegedly had sent her a terse email saying he didn't remember her. The mom also told me that this exchange apparently happened with many of the students.

That's when I realized how lucky I'd been — the instructor, who drove nearly all of the discussion and input, generally favored a handful of students when soliciting answers, and I was one of them. And I had suspected that he chose people for his questions based on, among other things, memorable last names. (There were few opportunities for open discussion.)

But I shouldn't have needed to be lucky. I shouldn't have been at risk of staying in school an extra semester over one class because the teacher passed or flunked based on some arbitrary factor. I hope everyone who got cheated appealed; I don't know how that went down. (I do know the instructor died just three months later after a freak illness.)

College grading can involve lots of politics. Because every class is different, and because people prove their mastery in different ways, there has to be a certain degree of leeway in determining who deserves a passing grade. The downside to this is that some instructors flunk students who should pass just because they can.

A lot of people are cheering the professor mentioned in the linked article because he really stuck it to the entitled generation or whatever. But if even one student he failed didn't have it coming (the professor said "a few" hadn't), then he deserves no praise. What lesson are the good students learning, exactly? That working hard and following the rules mean nothing if there are bad apples? That's some Full Metal Jacket stuff right there, minus the camaraderie.

Many college students do grovel for good grades, appeal to their parents, etc., seeking an out after not doing the course material. That is genuinely insulting to good students and deserves all the resistance.  Sticking it to them despite pressures is admirable. Punishing diligent students is not.

I wouldn't call this professor "psycho" as Gawker does, but neither is he a hero.

A handwritten blog

This:

Credit
Reminded of me of two things I've been told:

1) That neat handwriting (typically meaning legible print) is unprofessional.
2) That creative people are, by definition, extraordinarily messy.

I scoff at both of those, because they're way too absolute. Personally, I have what I think is fairly neat handwriting, and I prefer organization to clutter. (I'm assuming that I am somewhat intelligent and creative despite such, so play along with that.)

Having handwriting that rivals the busiest doctor's and keeping a workspace straight out of Hoarders aren't gauges of intelligence any more than owning a typewriter and having a beard make someone Ernest Hemingway. It's the work that matters.

The rest of this blog is handwritten for your edification.

Though, to be fair, I find this messy.

Friday, April 24, 2015

All the lonely people, where do they all go so soon?


After suffering a severe concussion many years ago, I heard a friend tell my mom in the ER:

"He doesn't drink or smoke pot, and he killed all his brain cells anyway."

Apparently, this is how life is. If you're lonely, your health suffers worse than if you have severe health problems. If you don't have pets or children, you die earlier. If your life isn't a never-ending parade of hugs and love and mobs of social mobbery, you will not last long on this cold, cruel Earth.

Which leaves the prospect that you can work out, abstain from cigarettes and other vices and still kill yourself through lone-besity and antisocial smoking. Even if it's largely beyond your control and you're not so unhappy about it.

Tuh-riffic.

I understand as well as anyone the crippling effect of loneliness (which isn't necessarily a function of place or lack of support). It messes with your head in sometimes very subtle ways. You may feel the need to reach out to your fellow human, but you also trust strangers less. You may seek out those with whom you share interests, but not bond with them. You want a break from your personal routine, but you tolerate others' quirks less and less. Possibly worst of all, you do lash out more (whether alone or with others) than you might if you felt more like part of society. You get caught up more in your own thoughts and criticisms, which can be mentally destructive if there isn't anyone around to check them.  If your circumstances don't easily allow for you to attend events or meet anyone, that can lead to a lingering depression. It's not a stretch to see how all that could lead to a shorter lifespan.

On the other hand, not everyone can easily obtain, or is cut out for, the kind of life that supposedly keeps people alive longer. Who's to say that handling a brood of children and creatures wouldn't drop me into the ground? To quote Ned Ryerson, "It's all just a big crapshoot anyhoo."

I know what's shortening my lifespan — reading about all the ways being yourself kills you.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earth Day: One day later

Yesterday was Earth Day, or as some people thought of it, Middle Finger to Earth Day.

Why is the environment even a political issue? You’d think if Americans of all stripes could agree on one thing, it’s that we shouldn’t be wasteful and overly pollutive. But no, there are camps on this! And it’s not like they’re disagreeing on, say, degrees of human impact or how we should proceed with alternative fuels. Instead, it’s:

“We should do more to protect the environment.”

“No, we should try even harder not to, because Al Gore is a nerd.”

No one thinks fossil fuels are going anywhere anytime soon. But they do pollute. That’s not just a fact; it’s common sense. If you can’t pipe vehicle exhaust into an enclosed room without killing everyone in the room, it stands to reason that trillions of belching exhaust pipes and smokestacks aren’t helping the planet either.

(And I think I speak for most people when I say I’d love to give up internal-combustion engines and anything else that requires fossil fuels in its production. Viable alternatives aren’t yet at that point, however.)

Fossil fuels are a necessary evil in this day and age, as are many things. If oil and gas is your livelihood, be grateful, but don’t be specifically gleeful about the carnage it’s wreaking on the environment. Pollution is not something to brag about.

Neither is telling the planet to piss off because you hate a politician for that time he said you should consider your carbon footprint.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Archery

The future of the iconic Reno Arch is currently being considered, including the possibility that it could be replaced altogether, which has been done a few times over the decades. This news, and a conversation about local hipsters, instantly inspired an idea* that I doodled down eight hours later after I took care of business. I drew it after everyone else was gone, and didn't sign it.

(*-Thursday update: I've been told that the mustache-arch idea was said during that conversation. If true, whoops! But the motto is all mine at least ... ?)

Drawing the dry-erase way is tough on a left-hander.
I woke up this morning to see this shared twice on Facebook, which was both jarring and awesome. It also inspired other arch ideas. That's all I could ask for.

So when the city of Reno erects this arch across Virginia Street, you can say you saw it before it went mainstream, you hipster!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

All hail Uber?

I’m about as likely to use Uber as I am to open an artisanal mayonnaise shop. Not just because I own a car, live in Nevada, don’t use my smartphone for most things, am ambivalent about the “sharing economy” in general and … well, I guess that’s it.

Uber is currently banned in Nevada because of its past disinterest in complying with regulations that govern taxis and other for-hire services. A bill proposing alternative standards for ride-hailing went down this week in the Nevada Legislature. So it’s likely that if Uber, and other companies like it, want to do business in the state, they’ll have to adapt the conventions of standard taxi companies.

But would they be recognizable afterward? Probably not. And that’s telling.

Uber users (including many friends and relatives of mine) cite the convenience, the cleanliness and the overall “ride with a friend” aesthetic that they say cab services can’t match. Critics of banning the services say that such a move is the work of entrenched cab services desperate to protect their monopoly.

Let’s take these points one by one.

The Uber app is indeed convenient, and is most likely where its future lies. Similar apps exist that will hail taxis from established companies; this allows the apps to be distinct products that separate themselves from the liability of driving people around. Though again, if Uber jettisoned its fleet and followed suit, its competitive advantage might disappear.

Convenience beyond the app: I have hailed few cabs in my life — usually while traveling in major cities — but I’ve never had a problem doing so. Indeed, the last time I did so was on my surprise flight home to Lafayette last Christmas, and it was a new company. How hard was it to hail? I walked out the airport door and there was an available cab three feet away. Boom. The driver was technologically savvy, professional and friendly, and got me home in less than 20 minutes. But even more importantly, he was a vetted employee and I knew exactly what to do if redress was necessary. And he knew it too.

Cleanliness: I enjoy a clean vehicle as much as anyone, as anyone who has ridden in my car will attest. It is spotless. It can be my version of filthy and people will still say it’s as clean as they’ve ever seen a car. (In fact, just this past weekend, a couple passed my car — which was grungy inside and out, and which I was directly headed to wash — in a parking lot and complimented it for being much nicer-looking than their identical car.) That said, however, I rarely notice the slovenliness of other cars I ride in, and as long as I’m not sitting in soup, blood or blood soup, it doesn’t bother me much. And, let’s face it, most cars are some degree of trashed. Most of the same people who love a clean Uber probably have at least one fast-food wrapper under their own seat from two logos ago. I suspect the cleanliness issue is a byproduct of middle-class people wanting to use public transportation, but not really. For whatever noble notions they have for hiring a cab, they nevertheless demand a gentrified version of it.

The “ride with a friend” aesthetic: Having to ride with friends is why I got a car in the first place.

Monopoly talk: The idea that entrenched taxi companies object to ride-hailing because they want to protect their monopoly is rooted in the classic, and true, American idea that competition is healthy. It’s also incorrect. No one seriously objects to Uber existing in the marketplace in principle. But in many places, including Nevada, it doesn’t want to abide by the same regulations by which similar businesses operate. Those regulations exist for a reason, and that reason is not to stifle innovation.

The rules exist because riding with a stranger is a dicey proposition. Passengers deserve confidence that the driver they call upon has passed rigorous background and driving checks conducted by a reliable firm, and that, as a representative of their company, the driver is working with a high degree of professional and personal accountability. Riders should be confident that the car is in working order, and that it is adequately insured in the always-possible case that accidents happen. They should also be able to rest assured that they know what they’re paying, and not be subject to the price-gouging that’s illegal everywhere else.

To put it another way: I’m free to open a hamburger stand and even charge 50 cents for a burger if I want. But if the reason they’re that cheap is because I don’t pay my workers a living wage and use horse meat, there’s a problem. If I set up my storefront in a McDonald’s parking lot, then I can’t dismiss their complaints as the babbling of a faceless megacorporation. If I hike the burgers to $4 because a parade is passing by, I shouldn’t be surprised if people balk. If my workers fondle customers, I can’t insist that they did so on their own time because they weren’t building burgers or punching register keys at that moment.

I see no problem with holding all hire-transportation companies to the same rigorous standards. If Uber chooses to comply, then it is welcome. If doing so would reduce its competitive advantages, then it can exercise its stated free-market ethos and adapt.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

This is what drought looks like

On Aug. 2, 2013, I visited Lake Tahoe for the first time, trying out the very rocky Commons Beach in Tahoe City, Calif. Here is a picture from that day:

Yep, that's me.
On Sunday, I went back to that same spot and snapped this pic:

Way more Neapolitan-ice cream-like this time around.
At Kings Beach a few miles away, water that was up to my shoulders last summer is now ankle-deep. Throughout Tahoe, rivers trickle or don't flow at all. The snowpack this winter was 3 percent of what it normally is. Restaurants there don't serve you water unless you ask for it.

The crazy thing is, the area's been in a drought for at least three years. They were talking about it long before I got here. But in less than two years, the difference has become especially stark.

Here's another pair of a nearby spot:

Oct. 8, 2013
April 12, 2015. They just call the restaurant "Ranch" now.
Dang millennials and their lyrics.

Feeling taxy today

Today is Tax Day, if you're a procrastinator.

But there was no need to wait until April 15. Tax Day can be any day you want it to be between January and April! It can even be Tax Week if you want it to be! 

Don't let The Man tell you when you can file your taxes before today. Freedom is what America is all about.

Also, America runs on tax revenue. So pay your share. 

Analysis of the Cleveland Browns' new uniforms

Glaringly lacks the elf. Otherwise, quite nice.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Millennials and their lone-star state of Textus


Ah, yet another article by a millennial alleging that millennials suck. With so many of these floating about, it’s a wonder millennials are stereotyped as the entitled generation. If anything, they’re the self-flagellating generation, at times sounding identical in their self-analysis to the smuggest, crankiest 70-something.

“YOU KIDS AND YOUR TEXTBOOKING!”
“Yes, us kids and our textbooking! Here’s 1,000 words about what’s wrong with us.”
“ONLY 1,000 WORDS? YOU’D NEED 10,000 JUST TO SCRATCH THE SURFACE!”

“True, but I’m lazy and I need to get back to texting.”
“SEE?!!”
“Yes.”
“GET OFF MY LAWN!”
“Yes, sir. It is a very nice lawn.”
“BOUGHT IT FOR 12 CENTS WHEN I WAS 16.”
“I could do that too if I got off my duff.”
“LIKE!”

It’s as if many millennials don’t realize there’s such a thing as the generation gap — the eternal friction between the older generation that sees the younger generation as hopeless and incapable children, and has the younger generation seeing its elders as unfair judges operating on stale cultural mores. Instead, the millennials skipped straight to the older role before there’s any future generation to judge. Instant gratification, indeed.

(Yes, I realize this probably doesn’t describe most millennials. Just all of the writers, apparently.)

OK, to get this blog started …

I am annoyed by people who bemoan how we can’t handle marriage anymore. I don’t think that’s true, but even if it was, so what? What’s wrong with leaving marriage to the people who can handle it? Marriage is not for everyone, and in recent decades, we’ve become more comfortable with this fact. Why is that a bad thing?

As I said recently, a truly worthwhile marriage is hard to pull off. Too many marriages happen for the wrong reasons, and too many become prisoners to the vows. (By that I mean, it’s true that a lifelong companionship takes work, and shouldn’t be abandoned at the first obstacle. But if a marriage is a genuine failure, there’s abuse, etc., then personal peace should take precedence over allegiance to words. Anytime the ideal exceeds the reality, it’s time to call it quits. Life’s too short to live a lie.)

That was true before texting and it’s still true.

(Side note: “Because texting” is the new weak fallback argument. It’s being blamed for everything from bad marriages to the smaller number of teens getting driver’s licenses. In my experience, texting hasn’t kept anyone from driving — not nearly as much as it should. Mostly, the texting argument is shorthand for how (not) seriously you should take an opinion.)

Chances are, if someone is so distracted by technology that they have intimacy issues, then they probably already had intimacy issues. I love the Internet as much as anybody, but if there’s someone around me to love, that’s an easy decision. (Not the technology, if the all-caps old man quoted above is reading this.)

The role of technology, as it is with everything, is incidental. You will always have both embracers and people who think it marks the downfall of civilization. They say that about smartphones now. Some almost certainly thought the same about newspapers or wireless radio. Like the generation gap, that will always be with us.

As will character. There will be always be people with it and people without it. No generation has the lock on either group.

I think millennials are as capable of enjoying solid marriages as anyone. The reason old people seem to be married longer is because they’ve been around long enough to be married for that long. That isn’t rocket science. I’m sure many millennials will eventually be married for 50 years, but you can probably ascertain the missing ingredient needed for that to currently be the case (hint: it’s not character issues).

Whether it’s marriage, mastering the technology-life balance or just getting by, millennials are going to be just fine.

Text that to the bank.

The NBA: Nothing but Net


It's not hard to see why basketball has one of the youngest fan bases. It's a sport that, more than any other, is especially cut out for the social Internet in terms of highlights and personalities. It's fast, fun to watch and especially conducive to mind-blowing feats of athleticism. Even those who don't care to watch a full game can be impressed with a monster dunk, or the seemingly endless and suspenseful final seconds of a game. And because basketball is played in close proximity to fans, they (and coaches and other support staff) are often a big part of highlights as well. Some of the best clips are only tangentially related to the action.

The NBA is very good at luring younger fans in whatever form that takes (for me in 1991-92, it was sports magazines and Saturday morning shows; today, it's social media). Moreover, basketball has the biggest transcendent stars of any sport — everyone knows Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley and LeBron James, even if they can't pick a basketball out of a lineup of hockey pucks. Outsize personalities seem to go with the territory more than with other sports.

My guess is that this lies in part with the NBA's greater willingness to let players express their personalities — at least compared to the NFL, which isn't saying much. (It could also be that basketball simply attracts a different breed of personality than other sports. I don't know.)

Basketball's surging popularity all over the world is an impressive testament to how much the sport resonates with young fans today. In addition to the aforementioned speed and video-clip advantages, it's also a cheap and addictive play, and currently lacks the controversies of other popular sports.

Football (my favorite sport) is under deserved attacks over inaction on head injuries, and its top professional league is plagued by corporate politics and a No Fun policy. Baseball (my tied-for-second-favorite sport with b-ball) has had substance-abuse issues for decades, suffers from a drought of genuine personalities and is too slow for many modern fans. Hockey, though its reach is getting wider, is still an alien sport to the lower half of the continent. All of those issues can be fixed or at least addressed; but for now, basketball, like the baby bear's porridge, is just right. 

Monday, April 06, 2015

This false equivalence takes the cake


(Headline presented in all its verbatim, clickbaity glory)

How does the whole gay-marriage pizza/cake issue manage to be both seriously relevant and utterly absurd?

It's seriously relevant in the sense that a business shouldn't have the "freedom" to discriminate against people with religion as the excuse any more than it has the "freedom" not to serve a group of people based on skin color. That is a gross distortion of the "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" policy, which is intended to thwart disruptive customers on a case-by-case basis based on behavior.

It's utterly absurd in the sense that a baker would think that making a cake, or a pizza, for hire is somehow a referendum on their personal beliefs, or that refusing to make them out of principle is a heroic stand. I'm sure at least a few people who made chicken sandwiches for me on Fridays during Lent thought I was hellbound, but they made them all the same. Similarly, during my own fast-food stint, I put mayonnaise on sandwiches when people wanted it, even though I'm certain that it's the devil's condiment.

As a slinger of foodstuffs (or other slingworthy items), your job is to sling and not to conduct presumptive analysis on the minds and libidos of the strangers who may (or may not) consume your product. If people walk in with money and aren't breaking laws or disturbing the peace, then you get them what they want, if you have it available. That's how free countries do free enterprise.

The only exception to this rule is, or should be, anything that promotes bigotry and other forms of hate. This subtle nuance is somehow overlooked in the trenchant investigative reporting linked above.

Let me say first that this particular case in Ireland appears to be straight-up trolling both ways. The linked blog claims that gay activists demanded a cake saying "Support gay marriage" from a Christian bakery, and then sued when they were refused. If this is true, then both sides lost — the activists for strong-arming the Christian bakery (especially given that there apparently 13 "gay bakeries" in the area, according to the writer), and the bakers for not taking the higher, arguably more Christian road and accommodating the request.

(Do people now routinely commission cakes with their political views written on them in frosting or in festive candy letters? I don't know; I haven't been to a party since 2014.)

In any case, the author's "shocking" effort to call up all the gay bakeries in the phone book to whip him up a cake that says "Gay marriage is wrong," and failing, is the most toothless move of all. To think that such a denied request is remotely akin to being refused service simply for being, is to subscribe to a poisonous untruth: That along with being liberal or conservative or religious or atheist or having red being your favorite color, bigoted is just another thing people are. How dare the forces of tolerance be so hypocritically intolerant of that?

(He does address this argument in his blog, but he does it by invoking Nazis, so Godwin's Law is in full dismissive effect. I'd also recommend putting down any cake you're eating before reading it, because he crosses every line of taste. Sorry if that warning came too late.)

So, yeah, don't overthink your food service, and don't underthink your equivalencies.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Ring around the dollar


Heh.

There are many problems with this article, not the least of which is that it's written by a man who directs something called the National Marriage Project (a fact mentioned only in the tagline). You might as well ask an Amway distributor whether you should get into Amway. Not surprisingly, there's more than a hint of a sales pitch here.

The author employs the typical simplistic picture: You're either a desperate loser living in your mom's basement going to dive bars every night, or you're a hardworking family man (and the sooner you make the jump, the better, because 19 is a pivotal age).

Or, according to him, you are a hardworking single man who takes care of business, but that isn't enough and you should be married to make more money to raise a family that costs more money.

To hammer home the importance of such, he starts one of his concluding sentences with: "The tragedy is, for all the good news we keep learning about the benefits of marriage, the institution is in retreat ..." Yes, it is a tragedy that more people see marriage as a personal choice than they used to. "Tragedy" is absolutely the right word for that.

This guy really, really likes marriage. 

That's not all that undercuts his case. The fourth of the four points he makes to bolster his argument is against the law, which even he acknowledges (and where he also points out, without really criticizing, the double standard that exists between the sexes in this regard). Typically, a strong argument isn't 25 percent illegal.

But is he really wrong?

I do think society favors the coupled. In general, America is a country that buys in bulk. Single people pay full price to go smaller, whether it's groceries or travel expenses or many other things in between. We pencil in many zeros on our 1040s where couples can write in big numbers. Beyond the monetary aspect, there is at least a subconscious suspicion of men past a certain age who aren't settled into the family life — the implication that those people are blowing all their money and wasting their lives, and probably have underlying personal issues contributing to their singlehood. (I'm one of those guys and even I've been guilty of that; it's that hard to shake.)

And I'm not going to argue that having a family isn't a significant motivator to do your best in the workplace. It absolutely is.

But you know what else is something of a motivator? Being responsible for yourself. One of the psychological trappings of living alone is that you check everything five times before you leave, because no one else is going to turn off your oven if you forget. Finances work much the same way for singletons.

Not to mention, there's personal pride. When I work, or do anything else, I try to do the best job I can. Everyone should, regardless of their situation. In fact, maybe that should be the thesis here: That working hard and smart is something everyone should aspire to, regardless of status.

But I guess then men wouldn't feel pressure to marry for the wrong reasons, and that would be a tragedy.

Friday, April 03, 2015

A blasphemous thought

(Less inspired by Good Friday than you might think)

I don't understand why people feel like they need to believe in myths, astral planes, fanciful creatures, elaborate conspiracies, spiritual miracles, the supernatural, etc., to make life interesting. 

Real life — the things that you can see, feel, hear, smell and taste, and everything else that's demonstrably tangible — is unbelievable. The beauty is more beautiful, and the tragedy more tragic, than anything anyone could fabricate. 

I've often said my favorite thing about magic is that it isn't real. The skill of the illusion is the most compelling aspect for me. "How did they do that?" Yes, how did they? Because we don't live in a world where rabbits can materialize from hats or where people can be sawed harmlessly in half and then be reattached. If we did, those wouldn't be tricks, would they? No, we look for the physics of our reality that would allow for such unusual, convincing acts to occur. That's the fun.

This is also why I prefer nonfiction reading, or real-world fiction, to fantasy fiction. A well-done fantasy story can be a rewarding read, but the fact remains that the author took creative liberties with the universe. To a degree, that diminishes anything spectacular that happens. How sustainably compelling is it to encounter dragons or spirits in a universe where such things are commonplace compared to, say, the guy who lived for 12 years after having an iron rod tear through his brain?

And since it's Good Friday, let's talk about Jesus. It's likely that Jesus was indeed a real person who taught a philosophy of love, compassion and forgiveness, and who was then executed for steadfastly sticking to those beliefs, allegedly turning the other cheek even as he died. That's an incredible story. And a believable one, because never in human history has it been a stretch to imagine good people exploited and harmed by vicious people. Jesus' story is a powerful testament to the virtue of taking the high road even in trying times. That lesson is universally inspiring. It deserves to live on. 

The bodily resurrection story, in a way, actually diminishes that message. There's a poignancy to keeping a message alive after its messenger is gone forever. Everyone we know eventually dies, and none ever return to us; they live on in our memories. That's why the memories are special. But the resurrection adds an otherworldly component that diminishes the message: Whereas what was most important was getting along in this world (and forever ruing the loss that results from not doing that), now it's about worrying about capital-H Heaven and Hell. It's about saying all the right prayers, singing the correct hymns, getting your tithing straight and reading the Bible to sufficient levels. Now it's about Jesus being an eternal judge of Earthen behavior to the point where he apparently has specific opinions about gay marriage in the United States in 2015 A.D., and employs an army of believers to browbeat everyone else into falling in line. Which in turn leads to others who believe differently to turn against them. Not exactly what Jesus had in mind, I imagine.

Why can't we just stick to what we know to be real? That's so much better. It always is.

Have a good Friday. And a good every day.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

I-blog

I was just reading a blog I liked about something I don't, and I began to cringe.

Why? Because the writer kept referring to himself as a form of "your humble correspondent" and as (shudder) the royal we.

Not once in a while. Not for humorous effect. But several times in nearly every sentence.

Gah!

Journalists hate the word "I" in reporting, and there's an understandable reason for that relating to the downplaying of the messenger. Fair enough. But sometimes, a first-person perspective is unavoidable even in hard news, and the rhetorical dancing that happens in that situation is a torturous stretch of the language.

There are plenty of ways to omit a first-person perspective from reporting. One decent workaround is, "told reporters." But if there's absolutely no way around it, embrace it, I say. The implication is exactly the same as the euphemisms (such as "this reporter"), but it's more direct.

Blogging is a more conversational medium, so there's even less reason to employ stilted rhetorical dances around "I." It veers sharply into pretension there.

Again, there's nothing wrong with using such terms occasionally for effect (or if, say, "we" actually refers to a larger operation). Hell, I've done it. But like with any device, it can be beaten to death. So, be gentle.

I haven't linked the offending blog here because I don't want to pick on it. (Suffice to say, it was from a massively popular site you might have read today.) What its writer did happens so often that isolating one piece would be beside the point. 

What I'm protesting is writing that distracts from itself. Flourishes should enhance what is being said, not draw attention away from it. I can barely remember what that blog was about (and I actively searched for its topic, so that's saying something), but the obnoxious overuse of cutesy second- and third-person sure stuck. 

So, we should think of a better way to do this. Ian thanks you.