Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Allons of Base
Bay City Rouler
The Mamous and the Papas
Piggly Wiggly Azalea
Simply Red Beans & Rice
Brian May Gardez-Donc
Cher Baby
Booker T-Bob and the M.G.’s
Tim Mardigraw
AccorDion and the Belmonts
Perry Comosquito Bites

An unexpected consensus in a divided age

News weeks like this past one bring out both the best and the worst in people.

My social-media feeds cover a wide swath of views. Liberals, moderates, conservatives, libertarians, socialists, well-read people of all persuasions, people of all persuasions well-read in sites that give them all the doom they can eat ... it's an eclectic bunch.

As expected, they debated the Confederate flag, they clashed on the legalization of gay marriage, they came to blows on gun control, etc. etc. There were tons of celebrating and wagon-circling alike, and not always along the lines that you'd expect. They defended the defensible, defended the indefensible and vice versa and vice versa.

And yet, one thing struck me: Not one of these people had a single positive thing to say about Bobby Jindal. At all. Not even from the people who, regardless of party affiliation, voted for him twice (or three times) for governor. Not a ringing endorsement, nor a grudging, "He'll do." Nothing.

This in an age where you can say, "Peanut butter is delicious," and someone else will reflexively reply, "You're in the pocket of Big Peanut, sheeperson!"

That's really something.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Yay ... ?

So I just bought a new laptop after not having a fully functional one for five months.

Translation: You just might see more blogs here once again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Of heritage, hate and Hazzard

This week, there’s been a big backlash against the Confederate flag (or Confederate battle flag, if you want to split pointless hairs), and there absolutely should be. Why this flag wasn’t excised from every American flagpole before we got to years with 9s in them is beyond me. It is, and always has been, a symbol of treason and racism.

Others disagree, saying that it represents a Southern heritage that encompasses a multitude of cultural traits that aren’t the least bit related to slavery. Even if they were right (and they’re not), it would still be a good idea to reconsider its appropriateness at a time of inflamed, and deadly, racial tension. Just because we’ve accepted display of the flag to some degree in the past doesn’t mean we can’t ever move on. We need to move on. Now. Or, more accurately, generations ago.

I’d like to be able to say that I’ve always hated the Confederate flag and everything it stands for. Indeed, that’s been the case as long as I’ve been aware of its history. Furthermore, no one in my immediate family had any particular love for the banner, and it was always a given with us that the South seceded to preserve slavery and that was stupid. Still, at one point in my life, I equated the Confederate flag with one thing I liked. Again, not because of any of the so-called heritage or politics associated with it, but because of this:

Me at 17, pointing to what I already considered to be an ambiguous piece of Americana.
As a small child, like millions of other small children, my favorite TV show was The Dukes of Hazzard. The centerpiece of that show was the General Lee, a souped-up orange Dodge Charger sporting a giant, honking Confederate flag on its roof. The flag also showed up on the front license plates of police cars and many places where there were walls and banisters. But otherwise, it was rarely, if ever, talked about on the show. At best, it seemed to serve as a signifier that the show was set in the Deep South, as if that wasn’t already obvious.

I went through two phases of Dukes obsession: As a little boy during its original 1979-1985 run (I was born into it) and again as a teenager when TNN put it in heavy rotation (1996-98). I taped the 1997 reunion show and rewatched it until the tape wore out. The picture above is from Christmas Eve 1997, when my brother and I were both gifted General Lee models (and coincidentally was the day before Denver Pyle, who played Uncle Jesse, died). I still catch episodes on CMT occasionally and think they hold up, apart from the use of the flag and the car's name that have little to no bearing on anything going on in the stories.

Dukes itself didn’t delve into racial politics, consistently featuring black characters as friends and villains alike (among them, the only non-bumbling and competent lawman, Sheriff Little of neighboring Chickasaw County). The flag could have been excised from the show entirely and you’d eliminate maybe 95 percent of the show’s offensiveness (the other 5 percent, perhaps, being the characters’ reverence of Confederate figures). 

Between us as kids, my brother and I must have had about nine million toy General Lees (and one General Lee big wheel), every one of which sported the Confederate flag. Even as Southerners ourselves, neither one of us as young boys truly knew what that flag stood for, or who Gen. Robert E. Lee was. We just knew Dukes was a kickass show with a cool car and likable characters, and that playing with toy cars was a blast. (All race cars had loud designs anyway, right?) I vaguely recall a feeling later on that the flag wasn’t something acceptable anywhere else in our home but on the roof of the General, but otherwise it wasn’t a big deal.

I was more preoccupied with scrawling the General Lee's license plate number on a Yahtzee box when I was 4.
The second time around, I knew all about the Confederate flag, and didn’t like it. One of my short-term neighbors had hung a giant version from his banister during a Mardi Gras parade, when he knew a throng of our black neighbors would be standing nearby. The Klan in Akadiana, a KKK public-access show that made national headlines in the late 1990s, filmed a block from my house and employed the flag as a backdrop. Hootie and the Blowfish, a band from Charleston, S.C., and another obsession of mine at the time, had a song called “Drowning” with the lines, “Why is there a rebel flag hanging from the state house walls? / Tired of hearin' this shit about heritage not hate.” My feeling about the flag then was all but undistinguishable from what it is today. I still enjoyed Dukes, but it was a compartmentalized joy-slash-outrage that I chalked up to a pre-enlightened era. At least the show itself wasn’t pining for what many of the flag’s loyalists seemed to. That's why it remains mostly watchable and is probably why even in the less-enlightened late '70s, got on the air at all.

(Tellingly, the model’s box in 1997 had airbrushed the flag off of the car. The decal was included, albeit with one missing star, my brother’s theory being that then no one could say it was the real flag. I didn’t put it on mine. It’s also absent from the current AutoTrader campaign featuring Tom Wopat and John Schneider.)

So to the extent that I ever tolerated the flag, it was because I associated it with the show and its toy counterparts, and all the good times that came with them. Like those who revere the flag for more dubious reasons, I was born into it. But I quickly grew out of it, and now think of the Confederate flag as a stain on an otherwise enduring franchise, just like its continued presence on flagpoles and vehicles is a stain on America. If we could get more people to follow suit on that belief, we’d all be better off.

Take it down.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A hopeful lesson amid the Charleston tragedy

I try to be the best person I can be. My guiding principle is to be better than those who wrong us. I don’t always succeed, but living up to the such an ideal is an eternal struggle for anyone. It can be hard to take the high road, as it’s not always the sexiest or most satisfying route. Some days, there’s very little traffic.

After the Wednesday shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C., that left nine people dead, I admit my resolve faltered a bit. I looked into the dead eyes of that racist sociopath and felt a hate for him as acutely as he felt the hate that compelled him to infiltrate a church for the express purpose of murdering black people. Rarely in real life do you see someone whose every thought, and every cell, seems utterly irredeemable. It’s enough to challenge even the strongest senses of empathy and compassion.

So I could only imagine what the family and friends of the victims would have to say to him on Friday when they confronted him remotely from court.

“You took something really precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.”

“As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.”

“Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved, and their legacies were live and love. Hate won’t win.”

Holy Jesus. Literally.

That kind of resolve in the immediate aftermath of such a vicious hate crime might be the most Christlike thing I’ve ever seen. Or, put secularly, it’s as high a road as anyone can take. 

These comments echo what I saw in Charleston on the news in the hours after the shooting — people mourning and grieving, who refused to stoop to vindictiveness. Right or wrong, virtually everyone would have understood feelings of hostility and vengeance so soon after this deadly show of bigotry. And yet, even in their palpable grief, those closest to the tragedy showed a unified spirit of forgiveness.

Dylann Roof’s diseased belief was that the people he killed represented all that was wrong with America. But the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church took him in and warmed to him, because they were good people. After the shooting, more good people refused to feel the hate for him that he had expressed in violence. That takes more humanity, more courage, more guts, than someone like Roof could ever comprehend.

In an age where Christianity is so often used as a weapon of division, it’s wonderful to see its absolute best lessons lived out. I’m not religious, but today, I’m inspired by the example of those who are. If they can keep their heads straight even as their eyes are wet with tears, then maybe all of us should aspire to their spirit.

Beats the hell out of hate.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A cardiac arrest for trans fats


Trans fats are to me what vaccines are to Jenny McCarthy, except I'm not completely wrong.

For about six years now, I've been a trans fat hyper-vigilante. When I learned about trans fats and their effect on the human body —

To sum up: They lower your good cholesterol and jack up the bad, unlike all other fats; they are most directly tied to arterial buildup and coronary disease; though they occur naturally in trace amounts in red meats, a different (and dangerous) strain is created artificially through partial hydrogenation, mostly for the purpose of longer shelf life; they were considered a safe alternative to saturated fat for decades; they have only graced nutrition labels since 2006, and even now, a product can have up to 0.4 grams of trans fat per serving and still be marked 0g.

— I immediately gave up many of my favorite foods, and sought out alternatives where possible. It's been nearly six years since I've bought any food item with measurable trans fat. To this day, I continue to cut food items from my list, trying ever so harder to eradicate this manmade menace from  my diet. It's nearly impossible to avoid it altogether, especially when eating home cooking or restaurant food, but I do the best that I can.

What's interesting to me is how little most people still know about trans fats. They're literally the worst things in our food, and even many educated and health-conscious people don't give them a second look. 

Others are aware of them but don't care. Among that group are many people who boo-hoo this coming near-ban as nanny-statism. Let people have a choice, they say, as if everyone is fully educated on the matter and has a non-trans alternative for everything they consume.

The way I see it, a move such is this is what what our government does best: Protect us from health hazards when individual action is insufficient. Again, artificial trans fats were invented mainly to extend shelf life. It's a cost-cutting measure. But given that coronary disease is America's greatest killer by far, it's not exactly saving taxpayers money. And trans fats aren't exactly indispensable either — healthier alternatives exist to get virtually the same flavors and textures.

I like eating in California whenever I can (I live close to the state line) because the state banned restaurants from cooking with trans-laden oils years ago. I'm less afraid to indulge there. As far as flavor goes, some of my favorite entrees are at my usual California stops.

When I first moved to Nevada two years ago, my mom and I stopped at a fast-food place. I picked up a nutrition guide and noticed something incredible: their breakfast sausage biscuit had 6 grams (!!) of trans fat — in Nevada. In California, roughly nine miles away, the same biscuit at the same restaurant had 0 grams. I doubt most people would have noticed that; just a few years ago, I wouldn't have either. I wonder how many people would feel the same way if they knew more.

So I'm grateful for this move. Maybe I'll even start eating cake frosting again. Yum.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

To everything, there is a season (sort of)

Yesterday, I visited Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, where I often take seasonal pictures of the slopes, and attempted some trick photography:

Photo taken on June 16, 2015. Inset photo taken on Jan. 11, 2015.
Even in our ridiculously mild winter, there was at one point so much snow here that I didn't realize there was a concrete slab there.

I'm still getting used to seasons. And drought.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Now that's funny

I’m surprised Jerry Seinfeld of all people said this, as opposed to one of the Blue Collar Cable Guys. But I guess they’re too busy making millions of dollars playing to their throngs of adoring fans to notice that the PC mindset is allegedly rendering comedy extinct.

All political correctness is doing is killing off lazy jokes that punch down with no satiric or other redeeming value. And those should die. Faster, in fact.

The increased sensitivity of college students (and society in general, despite loud exceptions) is a huge positive for America. No one should lament the fact that we’re more accepting of people for who they are, and that we’re increasingly repulsed by caricatures and stereotypes.

Our comedy isn’t worse for that; it’s better. Louis CK, Amy Schumer and Key & Peele, just to name three of my favorite current acts, deal in the exact topics Seinfeld complains are off-limits these days.

If anything, race and sex are the biggest topics in comedy right now. We adore comedians who make us laugh about those things — as long as we know their hearts are in the right place and that the real butt of the joke might just be themselves — or us.

It’s tempting to say Seinfeld is out of touch with today’s comedy landscape. Though his remark that, “I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that,” is so evocative of Stephen Colbert’s “I don’t see race. People tell me I’m white and I believe them,” that I wonder if Seinfeld is angling to be Colbert’s meta-successor. Maybe the joke’s on us. If only.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

(Better) words for teenagers

Anyone who reads this blog, or talks to me on an intermittent basis, knows that I am not big on curmudgeonly generational condescension, aka "kids these days" talk. Older people only think younger generations suck because 1) older people romanticize the past and 2) they forget that their elders thought they, too, sucked. The generation gap is as old as humanity itself, because it's human nature to lack perspective.

I, for one, try to be cognizant of this, and wish more people tried too. You'll never hear me say music sucks now, even though I'm 35 and that's my birthright. Because, let's face it, many songs I love from the 1990s are considered dreck by those who didn't come of age with them as a soundtrack. If I was 15 today, flooded with endorphins from being able to ride with my best friend (who could DRIVE!) to the mall or skating rink to flirt with girls, I'm pretty sure today's hits would be the best ever to me. Because that's what a lot of music taste is, frankly. Nostalgia. "Man, this takes me back!"

The same is true with generations in general. Two days ago, I was swimming at my complex pool when a group of rowdy, barely teenage boys came in. They were jumping around, hooting and generally being balls of hormonal energy. My first instinct was to be annoyed, but then I thought, I was also an obnoxious shit at 14, a time I remember incredibly fondly. So I let it go. And then they and all the other teens and preteens got thrown out due to lack of parental supervision. They quietly grumbled, but obeyed. It happened shortly again thereafter, with the manager explaining liabilities and how everyone would have to vacate the pool if the teens didn't comply. One of them nodded at such reasoning and said, "True dat," and they politely left.

So, no, I don't worry about teenagers. They're not intrinsically worse than anyone else. Indeed, I'd worry just as much about a teen who wasn't naturally exuberant, or who didn't blink at being told they weren't mature enough to be on their own, as I would about one who was criminally defiant. Teens aren't getting stupider; it's just that we, as adults, have grown smarter. In theory, at least.

Another old-grump attitude I don't care for is the idea that every teenager is an irredeemable felon. I could always tell when a teacher or other authority figure had come up working with troubled teens, because they would often treat all of us that way. The worst ones would take pride in it, reminding us that they were doing us a favor by going hard on us. Which no doubt served its purpose with the problem cases, but was radically out of place in any class I was ever in.

Given all that, I bristle every time something goes around the Internet that's cruel in tone, but has thousands of people saying, "This should be given to every teen in America." Like this:

Like most pieces of its ilk, it has a kernel of truth: Handle your business. Whatever you're a part of, be it a household, a workplace or school, take your share of responsibility. Build a solid work ethic. Never stop learning. You'll feel better as a person for it.

But it's presented in such a nasty, snarling, condescending way that it practically guarantees that teens will bolt from it. (As it is, I cleaned my kitchen the day before yesterday and now I'm ready to trash it.) That's the risk you run when you quote a judge who regularly deals with (problem) youth as if it's good advice for all teenagers.

And what's the deal with "Your town does not owe you recreation facilities?" That's as weirdly specific as it is stupid. All towns need such things. And not just for teens, but for everyone. Which gets to the real meat of why I find this passage disgusting.

Any teenagers who read this, take note: Work is important. Work is necessary. Handle your business with diligence and pride. But you deserve time and a safe place to play too. Everyone does. Because here's a secret: Adults play too. It's called work-life balance. Even those who mock the concept exercise it in their lives. Why? Because you have to. No one can do nothing but work. I work very hard, but still I find time to go cycling and swimming. I read books. I explore. Sometimes I do nothing at all. Just like I did as a teen and just like you do now. Others find solace in different ways — sometimes in destructive ones — but it's all done to set something apart from the grind. As any trainer will tell you, an important part of working out is rest time. Without it, your muscles have no time to heal.

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" - Someone with a poor work-life balance.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Your completely unbiased, objective, nonpartisan guide to the UL-LSU Super Regional baseball series

Starting today, the Fighting Tigers of LSU will host the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana in an NCAA Super Regional three-game series. Here is what you need to know about this much-anticipated matchup:

• LSU is one of college baseball’s top-ranked and most storied programs. They have a winning tradition, a devoted fan base, top-notch coaching, phenomenally talented players and a massive athletic budget. So of course they’re here. They’re the college equivalent of Cobra Kai. 

A typical LSU mound conference.
UL, by comparison, is the cast of The Sandlot. Indeed, the Cajuns are the heroes in every sports movie ever made. You could take a Louisiana movie tax credit and film this series in Baton Rouge, in Alex Box Stadium, with all Baton Rouge extras, and they’d have to put on the vermilion and white and cheer as they flash “Geaux Cajuns” signs. Why? Because Major League, The Bad News Bears, The Mighty Ducks, We Are Marshall, The Karate Kid, Hoosiers, Rudy, Rocky, The Replacements, Cool Runnings and Necessary Roughness, that’s why. UL might be a small school compared to LSU, but everyone loves Smalls!

"Exzept for us. Ve must break you."
• Because of deep-seated politics, the LSU community refuses to refer to the Ragin’ Cajuns as “Louisiana” or even “UL.” This is because LSU is a FLAGSHIP school, which stands for Forgetting LSU A&M Gets Shortened Happily In Perpetuity.

• UL’s uniform: Britches for which they are allegedly too big. LSU’s unis: Big shoes to fill and even bigger headgear.

• LSU’s all-time greatest baseball coach’s name is Skip, which is something college kids do when they don’t want education. UL’s incumbent and most famed coach is named Tony, which is a prestigious award.

• LSU last reached the College World Series in 2013 and lost, which was a letdown. UL got there in 2000 and lost, and it was amazing.

• The firing of Les Miles will be called for at least once every seven innings. That is a given.

• If UL loses the series, Lafayette will nevertheless be impressed by their team’s ever-improving prowess in a variety of sports on the national stage. The Cajun Nation will then go home and boil crawfish and sing and dance in the streets, in preparation for pulling for LSU to go all the way in Omaha. If LSU falls, their fan base faces three dry months in Baton Rouge until the next Tiger sport, with little else to do but hang their heads in shame that Lafayette got the best of them. And be stuck in traffic. It's an unpretty picture. Which is why I almost want LSU to win. Almost.