Sunday, May 31, 2015

Happy 11th blogiversary! (!!)

Eleven years ago at about this very moment, I began Not Right About Anything.

Eleven years! And four good!

I never do anything for 11 years, so that's quite a feat. It's been an eventful baker's decade (a term for 11 years I just made up). Lots of changes for the world and for me as well.

Here's to 11 more? Heh. We'll see. I think about quitting it all the time these days. But then what I would do? Write a book? Do productive stuff? Feel a loving touch for the first time ever? Naah.

Here's a picture of me when I was the same age this blog is now:

Actually, younger, since I hadn't yet hit my 11th birthday.

Well, that won't work

Seen in a restaurant in my hometown:

Source
A few things:

1) In Louisiana, like in many other states, debit cards have replaced old-school food stamps;

2) This is a system every taxpayer pays into, so yeah, you did work for that;

3) Not everyone pays and draws from programs equally. That's precisely why they exist;

4) Most people who use these work (sometimes full-time) and need them temporarily to make ends meet; and

5) They can't be spent at restaurants, so really, this is little more than a customer litmus test.

Given the online response, the sign underneath it is apt.

Caveat: I don't condone the calls to give fake online reviews and/or claim rat sightings. A simple not giving them money should suffice.

When hope needs to change


Shepard Fairey's comment that the president hasn't lived up to expectations is no surprise to anyone who saw him say on The Colbert Report in 2010, "You know, I'm proud of it as a piece of grassroots activism, but I'll just leave it at that." His comment drew a muted response from the crowd.

When Barack Obama first ran for president in 2008, many of his critics mocked the themes of "hope" and "change" as utopian concepts. Some supporters saw such themes as a practical departure from years of aggressive neoconservative policies. Still others supported Obama while ascribing the same utopian notions to him that his critics did. It wasn't hard to see even before Obama took the oath of office that the third group would turn on him pretty quickly. 

And that's because too many people, regardless of political bent, reject a very basic notion: That the president will never govern in a vacuum. Also: They are not you.

President Elizabeth Warren would have to compromise. She would inevitably fail to live up to some of her promises. She would not be able to control everything, because the U.S. has three branches of government with checks and balances. Even during her campaign, she would alienate her base at times as a function of trying to appeal to a nation of 318.9 million people. Same for President Rand Paul. Or President Rick Santorum. Or President Anyone Else. 

So it's a given that a president is going to fall short of lofty expectations. The question shouldn't be, "Does this president live up to their ideal?" The question should be, "Are my expectations reasonable?" Also: "Are the good things the president is doing exceeding the bad?"

It's not about lowering standards; it's about being realistic, even in excitement. It's not all-or-nothing. It never is. Anyone who insists so is setting themselves up for massive disappointment forever.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Funnel cloud


This piece reminded of several conversations I've had nearly everywhere:

Them: "So what do you like to do?"

Me: "Bike, swim, write. You?"

Them: "Drink."

Shockingly, I do not forge strong bonds with any of these people.

When I was in 9th grade, my brother, who was a junior at the time, related to me the details of a party he'd gone to, which even for him was over the top:

"They weren't just talking and holding a beer, they were going [makes chugging motions] gissssh, gissssh, gissssh."

I've always remembered that because the distinction is striking between drinking as a social mechanism and drinking as a fetish. Even though I almost never drink myself, I can be around people who are. If people are doing a thing and also drinking, that's cool. If drinking is the point, I'd just as soon stay home.

Whenever I went out, my hope was always for at least one of two things: to have good friends to hang out with, and/or activities. Some way to have fun. And because I'm adept at making a good experience out of most things, I did. And most people I knew, whether or not they loved drinking, did too.

So I did, and still do, find it weird that some people see college and drinking as virtually one and the same. It's not that I don't see the allure of partying it up with alcohol, especially at that age; I just don't get the attitude that college, or anything else, needs a constant stream of it to be any fun. Seven years of college proved to me that plenty of people, even those who like to drink, could spend lots of blast time not doing keg stands. Because like with most things, moderation is key.

Anyone who has to be told, "it really is possible to have fun without taking a drink," should re-examine their life and get any help they need.

That said, dry campuses (and counties) sound unbearable.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Many problems ... and counting

That whole Duggar thing. Man.

I’m pretty sure no one is shocked that a family of 21 (and counting?) would have some skeletons in its massive cluster of closets. It is, after all, 21 people, not counting cousins, spouses/side-huggers, grandkids, the TV crew, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Nobody’s perfect, but dozens of people are really imperfect — to say nothing of the parochial pressure they’re all under. I suspect there are many, many more revelations that will inevitably arise.

But, hopefully, there’s nothing else on the level of child molestation. I don’t think even the most hardcore rubberneckers expected that.

A few points we need to keep in mind:

No one should be gloating over this. Child molestation is a tragedy with few equals. I hope those of a typically compassionate nature don’t reduce this to a punch line.

But no one should be dismissing it either. One popular refrain has been that this news is driven mainly by a desire to discredit the Duggars out of jealousy or somesuch. Nonsense. It’s a case of a boy committing a crime and having his family cover it up with the assistance of a police officer (who was later busted for child porn), then lying about the counseling he received (helping build a house is not counseling). To say nothing of the victims (which none of them have).

The Duggars have built their brand largely on the specific political concept of “family values” and that their strain of patriarchal Christianity is the source of all that is decent and good. Josh Duggar was (until now) a top player with the Family Research Council, a political lobbying group that depicts gays as threats to children. During his 2002 campaign for U.S. Senate, Jim Bob Duggar called for incest to be treated as a capital crime. So for them to cover up sibling molestation particularly brings to mind the Bible’s advice about beams in the eye. 

And it illustrates one of the nastiest aspects of religion — the idea that the rules don’t apply to you because you are among the chosen ones. That you can claim forgiveness from Jesus so there should be no consequences. Because it’s different somehow.

Josh was a minor, yes, but he was a teenager. I knew when I was 5 years old (and possibly before) that you don’t do … that. By 14, I was versed in the finer points of asking out, making out and breaking up. Yes, the Duggars teach a polar-opposite approach to dating that mostly involves the bliss of ignorance. But that’s still no excuse for a teen to not know that there are at least 73 levels of wrong in fondling/violating your baby sisters in their sleep.

It’s unfair to jeer Josh’s past allies and defenders. Not because of this, anyway (the irony of politicians decrying a “celebrity” president embracing reality-show stars is fair game). It’s not as if they were aware of his past. What matters now is how they react now that it’s out. Many of them, to their credit, are creating distance.

But it is fair to raise eyebrows at those who are still on board. Some defenders of Josh, like Mike Huckabee and Matt Walsh (who wrote the Matt Walshiest column ever about it), are doubling down. Come on, guys. It’s not like he’s a close friend or relative and you have to wrestle with that moral ambiguity; he’s a celebrity. It’s OK to say, “I liked him before, but he has irrevocably disgraced himself and I will not rhetorically contort to embarrassing degrees to justify his transgressions.” See also: Cosby, Bill and Sharper, Darren.

This sad incident should put to rest the lingering idea in America that any group of people has a lock on morality. It’s weird to say in a blog, but deeds, not words, matter most.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day thought

A lot of people see today as a day for nonstop somber reflection

But I think back to my grandfather, who served in World War II, who spent most Memorial Day weekends barbecuing and having a good time.

Pop would talk about the war from time to time (he was a Navy Seabee who walked through Nagasaki after the bomb dropped there and never saw combat). He retained his rifles and other military paraphernalia (including a big box of dynamite we found stored away after he died). He had a huge stash of photographs — and also some undeveloped rolls of film from the war that he took to Walmart in the mid-1990s to see what they could do with them. (They came out great and they didn't charge him for them.) We had a long conversation about his service when I was in high school. That era of his life was a big part of who he was, and we was never shy about saying so.

One thing he never, ever did was lord his service over anyone. I never heard him complain about people not deferring enough, or about observing holidays in a certain manner. He never implied that enlisted people were better than civilians. He avidly supported our family members in the military, but never came off as hawkish. His attitude in general seemed to be that we fight, when we need to, so that we can continue to live the way we do. So we should live it up.

I saw a cartoon a few years ago that showed a man and his WWII-vet father talking as a young child played. The man said something like, "That kid has no concept of what you went through." And the vet replied, "That's the idea." That was Pop. Ever so humble.

Though he died several decades after the war, I remember him today. And everyone else.

And now I go off to enjoy what they've defended for us, just like Pop would want.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Today in "freedom"


I'm no lawyer (unlike the man who created these signs), but it seems to me that the notion of implied consent would render such signs moot.

When anyone drives on a public roadway in any state, the implication is that they consent to the rules of the road, which includes taking a sobriety test if officers have deemed it necessary. DUI checkpoints are often set up during times when police reasonably assume that a large number of drunken drivers might be on the road, such as on weekend nights during big events.

Personally, I have no problem with this. Intoxicated drivers imperil us all, and everyone is aware of the dangers of engaging in drunken driving. I don't find it a victory for "freedom" when people get wind of where a checkpoint might be (though if that information deters someone from driving, it might be useful). 

I also don't see the virtue in not cooperating. I've been through several checkpoints — including one that was set up near my home one night, which I turned just in front of to go to the store, hoping that the officers wouldn't take that as a sign I was avoiding them (I wasn't; I was stone sober and straight from work). All these times, it never occurred to me not to cooperate (then again, I was always sober), and I have a hard time understanding why someone with nothing to hide wouldn't. (Again, we're talking about the public roadways. I might feel differently in other situations.)

So I know checkpoints are a hassle. I know that like with anything law enforcement-related, there is potential for abuse. But all in all, I think checkpoints are an asset.

Traffic can be a dangerous proposition — drinking, gabbing, texting, fatigue, car trouble, general distraction — and the mistakes others make can be life-altering or fatal to themselves and to others. Because of this, I support the fair enforcement of traffic laws. Not abuse, mind you, but neither will I equate "freedom" with the "right" to avoid responsibility.

I hope everyone who shares the road with me feels the same way.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A lesson in schooling


Ronald Nelson is getting a free ride at the University of Alabama, itself no slouch in the academic department, and he can start saving up for medical school. He is doing this instead of incurring immediate, explosive debt for a name that may or may not hold the cache it once did.

He still gets to tell everyone for the rest of his life that all eight Ivy League universities accepted him — but that he made his own, prudent way. And he can rest assured that his case has further sparked national conversation about money as a barrier to higher education (and debt as a barrier to an entire generation's well-being).

Smart dude.

We can all learn from him.

Monday, May 18, 2015

If you have to explain the joke ... it's still funny

Before this weekend's season finale of Saturday Night Live (which I didn't watch at the time but have caught up on since), I was of the firm belief that Louis C.K. delivered the best monologues of the current era. In part because he is my favorite comedian at the moment. And also because I like actual monologues way more than yet another tired, pointless and meta musical number about hosting. (I hear the writers find the segment to be a chore to write, yet another reason a stand-up stands out.)

But after this most recent monologue, I'm not so sure...


... If Louis C.K. should always do the monologue, or merely do it every couple of weeks.

Because that was pretty much the perfect SNL monologue. Energetic, dangerous, not ready for prime time and — above all — onions-to-the-eyes funny. Billy Crystal has said that the show in its earlier days was like NBC had shut down for the night, and the cast got to turn on the lights and play. This is the first monologue in a while — at least since Martin Lawrence's in 1994 — that most closely reflects that aesthetic.

Not that I'm comparing Lawrence to Louis. Martin's extremely NSFW monologue was quite possibly the grossest combination of words ever spoken on network television. It was cringe-inducing and only sporadically funny, a textbook case of a provocative comedian trying too hard to be provocative. But the notoriety around it reminded us that SNL is the only show on TV where chances like that get taken. Any show that can be likened to the mice fooling around after the cat's gone to bed is going to have such moments. For better or for worse, that's what makes it worth watching.

Louis made that quality work for the better Saturday night with a monologue as hilarious (though C.K. might hate my use of that word) as it was dangerous.

To sum it up — and to paraphrase the critics — Louis joked about being mildly racist, compared his children's fights to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and found the humor in child molesters — all topics generally off-limits to comedy.

But Louis CK pulls it off like few others ever could. How?

Because of what the critics all seem to miss: It is Louis CK, not minorities, Israelis, Palestinians or victims of child molestation, who is the target of his own jokes.

His act, in large part, is the explosion of white (and male) privilege. He thrives on reflecting White America's First World problems back in its face with an "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" sneer. For example, he wonders how someone can hate Verizon because that one time the service wasn't perfect. ("It's going to SPACE! Give it a second!") He riffs on how much better things are now than they've ever been, even if we're too short-sighted to see that — and how it's good that nowadays we actually examine why people are they way they are.

Moreover, he sets himself up as the privileged, schlubby, social has-been, deeply imperfect father — a guy who means well, but who sometimes can't help his shittier side. When he slams white privilege, he never lets us forget that he's overloaded with it.

When Chris Rock (for whom Louis C.K. used to write) claims that no white person would ever switch places with him even though he's rich, Louis answers in the affirmative: "If it was an option, I'd re-up every year! 'Oh yeah, I'll take white again, absolutely.'"

"I'm not saying that white people are better," Louis says, "I'm saying that being white is clearly better ... And I'm a MAN! How many advantages could one person have? I'm a WHITE MAN! You can't even hurt my feelings!" 

There's often a fine line between biting satire and the real thing, a boundary so often overlooked in the rush to judge. But this is not the stuff a racist/pedo uncle would say at Thanksgiving. This is trenchant commentary. Just like the monologue, which is what SNL has needed for a while now.

There's nothing funny about racism, Middle East conflict or child molesters. But white privilege deserves all the punch lines.

So, yeah, keep holding up that mirror, Louis C.K. It should never be your last show.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The devil wears people

Remember that white woman last week who yelled that "all the black people" were leaving early from a graduation ceremony that she messed up?

She later apologized by saying, "The devil was in the house and came out from my mouth."

No, you don't get to do that.

I've heard this before. It's sort of a paradox, because it's how some very religious people account for transgressive behavior. Apparently the devil likes to occasionally invade the soulhouses of devout Christians and force them to spout views that diametrically oppose everything they stand for, even if such views are not all that surprising. Satan is evidently like Captain Chaos — not in here, but out there, until he stops by to occupy.

That's a Cannonball Run reference, because I like to stay relevant.
In my experience, you don't have an outburst like that if it isn't something you already feel. I get mad all the time, but I never spout racial slurs at any point, let alone have them be the first things that come out of my mouth. Maybe the devil just doesn't see fit to visit my mouthhouse.

One of my favorite Onion articles is, "I can't stand it when Jews talk during movies." It really speaks to how so many people couch their prejudices by criticizing something presumably more acceptable. Like, say, saggy pants. Or, in the now-fired principal's case, how she can't stand it when blacks leave during graduation.

Sorry, how the devil in her house can't stand it. Wouldn't want to blame the wrong person. Who does that?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

An interview with Tom Brady’s wrist

“Hi, Tom Brady’s wrist. How are you feeling today?”

“A bit tingly.”

“Why is that?”

“The NFL slapped me moderately yesterday.”

“I saw that.”

“The good news is, I can appeal and maybe they’ll take half the pain back.”

“They probably will.”

“Which they should. Ray Rice gets a two-game suspension for beating his fiancee on camera and I get four games for merely being aware that my equipment managers were altering the air pressure of my footballs for the AFC Championship Game and because I refused to cooperate with the investigation?”

“Yes, that does seem low. In both cases.”

“It’s like Roger Goodell is the Goldilocks of punishment: too cold one time, too hot the next time, except that his ‘just right’ moment is yet to come.”

“Brady should talk with you instead of with his mouth. You’re way more profound.”

“Thanks, but he lets his arm do his talking only on the field. Like with the Tuck Rule.”

“Understandable.”

“So what are you planning to do for the four weeks you’ll be inactive?”

“It’ll probably be two weeks on appeal.”

“Right, two weeks. So, what are your plans?”

“I will do things you can’t even begin to understand as a commoner.”

“Ah.”

“See, I could do far worse as far as football infractions, be disgraced for life, even, and my life would still be way better than yours or anybody’s.”

“That’s true.”

“I’ll always have a sterling legacy, as long as there are Patriots fans. They’re the best fans in the world. I’ve been here since 2001, and I can’t imagine the fever at any other pitch.”

“Since 2001, yes.”

“The NFL is the greatest sports league in the world too. It’s always got my back.”

“It certainly does.”

“That’s what will get me through this. That, and everything else. Because I’m the poster boy for privilege in pro sports.”

“No argument there.”

“But still, ow. That punishment tingled for a second. I’m always being persecuted, just because I’m successful.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s for being successful.”

“But I am!”

“You are. Which makes me wonder: Why would you do it? You guys blew out the Colts, and that outcome was never seriously in doubt. Why risk that with an unnecessary cheat? Why not just lean on your copious talent?”

“Coach Belichick has a saying: ‘It’s not enough to race a Bugatti Veyron against a Mercury Cougar. You should lower the Cougar’s tire pressure because every advantage counts.’”

“That sounds awfully familiar. Like I wrote that before.”

“He also says: ‘Don’t ever take the fall when your equipment managers can do it for you.’”

They were suspended indefinitely without pay. You’re OK with that?”

“Eh, those jobs are for teenagers anyway. They’re not meant to pay a livable wage.”

“I don’t think that’s at all true.”

“Let them get good at football if they want to succeed like me.”

“Seems like some of your success is reliant on them. At least, that's how it looks.”

“You sound like one of everybody.”

“Again, I can’t understand why someone of your talent play a part in such a ruse.”

“Er … what ruse?”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, sorry, forgot to forget earlier.”

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day haiku smorgasbord

I wrote a bunch of haikus for my mom today:

Ah, my mom, Karla
Being the middle child, I
Get called siblings’ names

I drew on the wall
And Mom was mad about it
I did it again

Sometimes we chat for
An hour-plus on the phone
It feels like minutes

My birthday falls on
Mother’s Day once in a while
I cannot compete

My taste in music
Is influenced by my mom
Michael Bolton rules

“Thank you Mom for the
Bologna and Monkees songs”
- Ian, age 7

One thing wasn’t cool
Mom never let me online
To be fair … eighties

I don’t always do
What Mom thinks I should do, but
“Don’t drink gas?” Solid

My mom used to drive
An ’80 Dodge Mirada
I still know the plate

“Hi Mom!” is what they
Said on TV years ago
On football sidelines

Mom puts up with me
I have no idea how
Although I’m awesome

Mom is so special
No matter how near or far
She’s always close by

Friday, May 08, 2015

On turning hurty-five

Today, I turn 35. The perfect age.

It’s always quoted when guys are losers: “You’re 35 already!”

It’s an age at which, as a kid, I pictured myself being preternaturally old. Monty Python corrected me on that when I was 15 and first saw Holy Grail. If 37 is not old, it stands to reason that 35 is also not old. Thanks, Dennis!

On the other hand, the swing between 15-year-old me and 35-year-old me is the same swing that’ll bring me to 55. Yikes. The year 2035 seems way off, but I don’t feel like 1995 was that long ago. I’m sure current 55-year-olds don’t think it’s been that long for them either, and would mock me for being daunted by 35.

I get that. Any friend of mine who kvetches over turning 30 makes me want to say, “When I was your age …”

And yet, most people who are also 35 seem older to me. Marriage, kids, mortgages and life take over for most people by that point. Many friends have drifted away as they’ve moved on.

And yet, people who meet me assume I am respectively blessed/saddled with such things. It’s a safe assumption, one I make all the time.

And yet, I don’t feel any more connected to settled 35-year-olds than I did when I was in college.

And yet, I don’t have much in common with college-age people either.

Too old to fit in and also too young to fit in. At least I have years of practice with that one.

Thirty-five years.

May it feel like 33.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Today in fake news

NFL legalizes deflated footballs

NEW YORK — The National Football League on Thursday legalized the deflation of footballs at the discretion of quarterbacks.

The ruling comes after a league report on Wednesday revealed that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady “was at least generally aware” that the air pressure in game balls had been illegally reduced during the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in January. Underinflating the ball makes it easier to catch and hold.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell justified the rule change, saying it “was in the best interest of the game.”

“Evidence in the report suggests that Tom Brady and the Patriots might have taken similar actions in previous games,” Goodell said. “Well, clearly, it works. Have you seen how good they are? They won the Super Bowl.”

Under the new rule, quarterbacks can consort with equipment managers and other team employees to alter the footballs at any point during the game, or do it at their own discretion with a portable pump that will be legal for the quarterback to carry on the field.

“We think this will make the game more of an explosive score-fest,” Goodell said. “That’s what the fans — and the quarterbacks — want.”

However, all deflationary activities must fall within the confines of the normal play clock, or the offense will face a five-yard delay-of-game penalty.

“Infractions have consequences,” Goodell said.

The rule also deregulates the NFL’s football chain of custody. Previously, officials kept watch over boxes of fresh footballs prior to a game, then allowed equipment managers to make specific legal modifications to particular footballs in a given time frame. 

“That’s complicated,” Goodell said. “And enforcing that protocol was taking the officials’ minds off what’s really important — making sure the quarterback is sufficiently protected from head injuries and fumbles.”

In creating the new rule, Goodell consulted with a wide-ranging group that included Patriots head coach Bill Belichick; Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft; Brady; and several members of the Patriots support staff.

“We deliberated until we were all on the same page,” Goodell said. “Consensus is vital to the integrity of the league.”

The rule will apply only to Brady.