Monday, August 31, 2015

One thing I don't understand

Earlier today, I was riding my bicycle down a trail. I went to pass another rider on the left, giving her a vocal heads-up. I was nearly past her when an oncoming rider suddenly appeared. This man was on a thin racing bike, traveling at quite a clip. I slammed on my brakes and fishtailed, but managed to regain control and fall back behind the woman. The oncoming rider then zipped past me, never braking or otherwise breaking stride. While it's true I was in the wrong, only I made any attempt to avert a head-on collision.

I notice this a lot, whether I'm riding or driving. All too often, people don't adapt for conditions on the road; they simply roll based on what they think should be happening. I get cut off by bad riding/driving all the time, and it sucks, but I still slow down and/or slide over (to the degree that I have time) when that happens. Two wrongs and all that. But I'm apparently one of the few with this instinct.

How come?

Preseason Saints forecast

In 2015, the Saints will go 16-0, 15-1, 14-2, 12-4, 11-5, 10-6, 9-7, 8-8, 7-9, 6-10, 5-11, 4-12, 3-13, 2-14, 1-15 and/or 0-16.

I'm never correct, so let's try this.

Bonus delusional optimistic observation: I feel like the Saints are blowing this postseason as part of a "nothing to see here" strategy. 

That said, I hope Drew Brees keeps the walking home to a minimum, because I'm terrified he's going to scrape his toe on the curb. And please keep Brandin Cooks hermetically sealed in between games. The season very clearly depends on it.

Answering rhetorical questions: Mars edition

I'm going with, signs the Internet has lost its mind. 

Though that's not entirely right. People have gone apecrap over alleged liferocks on Mars for a long time, at least since NASA first began landing leisure suit-clad spacecraft on its surface in the 1970s. I remember reading a NASA engineer's words in the 1990s that "not one of the rocks has gotten up and walked away." Or, as Charlie Sheen put it around the same time, "Looks like Arizona, tastes like chicken."

That doesn't mean I don't find Mars fascinating; I do. I'll never forget the first time I saw photos from the Red Planet, during a planetarium show in third grade. I couldn't believe they existed! Ever since then, they've continued to blow my mind, especially as the photo technology has gotten better.

I also believe in life on other planets. With the universe as infinite as it is, with all of its galaxies and solar systems, we cannot possibly be alone. Any solar system with a rock orbiting its parent star at Earth's distance is ripe for some macro-Petri business.

But here's the thing. 

Even if there is life on Mars, it's probably microbial. The planet's atmosphere is roughly 95 percent carbon dioxide and 2 percent nitrogen. It's also what astronomers refer to technically as "really freaking cold." And again, no one's ever captured any life in five decades of camerawork. Anything that does seem to suggest the presence of intelligent life — such as the Face on Mars — turns out to be a fluky trick of light.

Hoping for nearby extraterrestrial life is a lot like believing in any given conspiracy theory — it's sexy and exciting. You want to feel like there's something more than there is, and there's the additional kick of "knowing" something that someone allegedly wants covered up. Never mind that the evidence is circumstantial at best, and that you really have to want it to be true for it to make sense.

I get that. Reality is all too often less fanciful that we wish it was. We don't want to concede that Mars is inhospitable to any sentient life forms. We don't want to acknowledge that even if there is life on other planets, those planets are so far off our radar that we'll almost certainly never reach them. Hoping for life on Mars is our best bet to meet some space creatures, and we know it. Hence the persistent search for artisan rocks on the Red Planet.

Sorry to be a pooper. But did you see the awesome supermoon the other night? That was real!

Mars-inspired thought

If Martians are real, they are probably very boring.

"So, what are you into?"

"Uh ... rocks."

Think of the most severe dullard you know, someone who the thought of seeing in a room sparks dread within you. That person is that way despite living on planet Earth, with education, TV, radio, records, the Internet, recreation and other humans. And dogs.

Imagine meeting someone who doesn't have that and shares no common language or possible appendages.

To say nothing of what Martians might think of us.

"So, are into anything other than pollution?"

"Uh ... rock?"

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The face of tragedy

On Wednesday morning in Virginia, a TV reporter and cameraman were shot dead, and their interview subject shot in the back, during a live telecast. The suspect, who was caught on camera and even filmed his ambush himself, was a disgruntled former employee of the station who allegedly held grudges against both of the people he killed. He then committed suicide, but not before posting about the killings (and sharing his horrible footage) on social media.

As a journalist myself, I skew toward the idea that if something is known, that it should get reported — and that if video footage exists, it should be available (though I understand if edited versions suit wider audiences better). Often after tragedies, people with very good hearts often don’t want to hear about the killer, or see anything that reminds them of the crime. I understand why. News is not always pleasant, and sometimes is not even in the same universe as something you want to witness. But it’s still news.

My stomach for news is probably steelier than most people’s. After all my years in the biz, it takes a lot to truly rattle me.

These videos did.

Not because they were journalists (though Alison Parker and Adam Ward remind me of many friends and colleagues), or because I in any way trivialize any other bloodshed. It had a little to do with watching the footage and realizing how quickly life can end at the barrel of a gun in even the most bucolic circumstances. Knowing that two of the three people in the light newscast are about to die, and the third about to be injured and undoubtedly traumatized for life, is pretty hard to take. Seeing the same ambush from the killer’s vantage is even more sinister.

But mostly, what burned into my cortex was seeing Parker’s reaction as she was shot. It’s caught in the news footage for just a split-second, but trust me, that’s enough. She goes from a cheerful mid-sentence smile to a wide-eyed look of confusion, shock and terror in an instant, likely never processing what happened before it took its full, fatal toll. It’s not just an expression of, “I’m shot,” but also, “Why the — ”

As if we weren’t already wondering the same thing with so many shootings happening lately. It’s one thing to know this is happening and mourn the victims. It’s another level to see it unfold live, putting the most horrified face of all to the hell of such a crime. To know that this shock has been on all too many innocent faces.

Twelve hours after watching the video once, I haven’t been able to get her expression out of my mind. I might never.

Take my word for it. Please.

And for those you who have a beef of some sort — it’s not worth it. Get help. Problems get solved. Grudges do nothing. Violence solves nothing.

Take my word for it. Please.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The hipster in me (isn't a hipster)

Gregg Gorse asks this question (or at least, he did in 2014, but it’s new to me in 2015):

Why does being Hipster often have negative connotations? I feel like, to some, being Hipster can mean being a breaker of cultural norms. Breaking these norms comes through pursuing difference. In that way, you could say a Hipster is an individual who seeks out cultural variance. Someone who goes against the grain. Doesn’t jump on the bandwagon. Surfs on a lonely tidal wave. You get the picture. If Hipster can be viewed as a label for somebody who strives to be different, then Hipsters must be pretty unique. Being unique isn’t that bad of a thing.

Simple: Because hipsters are not unique. They have a label, a look, an attitude and enough checklist fodder to fill entire books across multiple literary genres. In other words, the exact opposite of surfing a lonely tidal wave.

This is not an indictment of hipsters; in fact, I share many hipster tendencies. As a child, I wore thick glasses, sipped my grandfather’s cheap beer, wore skinny jeans and rode a single-speed bicycle. As a teenager, I eschewed Nirvana CDs in favor of vinyl records from the 1980s. All through that era, I lived in what is now a gentrified neighborhood, while wearing a lot of secondhand clothes adorned with retro logos and concerts I never attended. Today I have a retro-styled record player and own an iPhone and a Mac laptop that I often take to coffeehouses. I care for the environment and sometimes shop at Whole Foods. I was deep into most of this long before it was cool to say, “before it was cool.”

But no one would ever mistake me for a hipster. Hipster style makes me look square, even if in many cases its adherents make (or otherwise just have) more money than I do. (Most hipsters deny their hipsterdom, so again, cred.)

I love my hipster friends, assuming I have any left now. But let’s not pretend being a hipster is some brave or noble stance, any more than my clean-shaven face is a brave and noble rebellion against beards. Hipsterdom does not make people unique. Other things might. But not that.

A truly grain-going-againster doesn’t have a term, because they are busy being themselves, and thus aren’t morphing themselves into clones of their friends. They’re hard to pin down. And I, at least, find that super-interesting.

Fifteen years ago, hipsters were much less common. Does that mean people weren’t seeking outsidership in 2000? Of course not. It just took a different form then, maybe in nu-metal/rap-rock (or whatever other lamestream trend was hot at the time; I didn’t pay attention). It’s mainly an aesthetic difference. But someone who was truly their own person then is probably the same person now.

The one thing that is justified to dislike about hipsters is that some are exclusionary, which is against the outcast code (to the extent that there is one). Some hipsters (though not most) can be every bit as snooty, snobbish and elitist as the country-club crowd in a 1980s class-warfare comedy. How appropriately ironic.

You wouldn’t understand.

Pretense on the plane

(NOTE: This might be a first. I wrote and published the blog below before noticing that the article I'm writing about was from 2014. So I double-checked and found I had written a blog about this same article when it was new. And that blog was as good, if not better, than this one. This duplicity happens pretty often, but usually I notice before I make the effort to write up a blog. I blame social media, because Slate reshared this article during a week in which I was traveling. Many blogs on which I'm currently working are old things I'm finding that way. That's probably worth an entry of its own. Anyway, here it is.)

Slate: Stop dressing like a slob when you're traveling

This article contains the following line:

Now, before I’m accused of elitism ...

So you know it's good.

J. Bryan Lowder isn't necessarily wrong in a basic sense. You should try to look right for whatever situation you're in. But like with most situations, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for travel. Much depends on where you're going, how you're getting there, how long it takes, your chosen look and comfort zone, whether you overslept your alarm, etc.

When I flew this past Monday, and I wore a black collared polo shirt, a brand-new pair of subtly patterned khaki-ish shorts and newish, clean white athletic shoes. It was a solid balance of respectability, function (long walks at DFW) and awareness of my destination (Louisiana in August). I wasn't going to impress in the boardroom I wasn't going to, but neither was I setting off any just-fell-out-of-the-dorm-bed alarms. From my perspective, my dress fulfills his wishes: I'm happy, geared up for my destination/itinerary and look (and feel) good. Also — and this is a big one — I try to be nice to people in any case.

But I wonder if Lowder would look at me and think I'm part of the problem. Because he has higher (or at least dressier) standards than I do. Everyone has different ideas of what proper dress constitutes (and a person's parameters can shift over time), and someone with a business-traveler mentality has a long look down. 

For the most part, people have reasons for looking the way they do when they travel, whether that reason is, "This is how I feel I look best" or, "I rushed to make this flight at all costs." This is why I don't judge anyone. 

Not for that, anyway. The only fashion statement I'll criticize is pretense.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Trophy strife

I spoke my piece about participation trophies here, but here’s the TLDR version:

• I don’t think they’re as bad as people say. Even at age 6, when I got my first one, I understood they were merely slightly glorified versions of “Ian was here” graffiti.

• “Well, I wanted to strive for excellence and do my best always, but participation trophies are good enough for me,” said no one ever.

• One could argue that an “achievement = shiny thing to shove in people’s faces” attitude is way worse. Some anti-participatrophs (make that catch on, peeps) say that the participatory baubles set up kids for a lifetime of letdown in the real world. As opposed to … hyperachievers who expect trophies for everything? I think the latter has a lot farther to fall in life.

• “Well, I wanted to strive for excellence and do my best always, but my parents demanded it, and the pressure burned me out,” said a few people.

Harrison should expend all that energy he’s using on his take-it-back production to teach his kids sufficient critical-thinking skills so that they understand the nature of achievement independent of the lateral virtues of showing up and working hard on a daily basis.

Short of that, he just could tell his children, “These trophies don’t mean you won. At best, they’re tokens of teamwork, not championships.”

I think they’ll get it. If he's doing it right.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Picking on the picky — Part II

Under this Washington Post article that I wrote about in my previous blog is a comment that reads in part:

He was making sandwiches, slathering what was probably Wonderbread with mayo. I said, "Oh, I don't eat mayo." And he replied, "Well, it looks like you're starving to death, then." Faced with the choice, I forced that mayo sandwich (I'm sure there was something else between the bread, but it certainly did not seem like it) down the hatch.

This would have turned out very differently had this happened to me. But let’s not get into that scenario, because I’m not out to write a remake of Dante’s Inferno with all-new deep circles of hell where people this inflexible and rude drown in flaming mayonnaise forever.

(Note to self: Get into this scenario when you have time.)

My real point is, why would someone who is busy making sandwiches with mayo object to making one without mayo? Are they too busy to do less work? Do they not care that being an inflexible jerk might karmically work against them later?

I don’t get people sometimes. Well, often.

Picking on the picky — Part I

OK, so there are points made here that are serious and worth considering, like the apparent correlation with depression and anxiety.

But here’s the thing. I was a legendarily picky eater as a child and I still am. I also have a long memory, especially for feelings. So I feel like there’s an extra angle to this that is, at best, underrepresented here.

Children who are picky eaters can be a source of frustration for parents. I get that. I also understand the attitude behind not kowtowing to a kid’s every finicky dietary whim.

But wherever anxiety came in for me, it was when someone (parent, teacher, host, etc.) confronted me about not eating or undereating. Then as now, I rarely made a production of not eating. If I didn’t want something, I didn’t take it. If I’m in a situation where I don’t like anything that’s being served, I just don’t eat, and make up for it later. I rarely have a ravenous appetite and average two meals per day, so I can do this with no problem. I never hold it against anyone, because I know it’s my issue, not theirs. It’s only when people call me out on it that it gets awkward. I come from an extended family of restaurateurs and amateur chefs in Cajun Louisiana, so it’s been awkward a lot. It’s difficult to justify not partaking in some of the best food in the world. (“Uh … my tongue sucks?”)

The worst was when my parents, who generally accepted my quirks and tried their best to accommodate them, would lose their patience and lecture me on why I was going to die of malnutrition if I ate bologna instead of roast. As an adult with many friends who are parents, I now see it from their frustrated perspective. But as a kid, I was considering drafting a will, because I was not about to let the textures win.

However, at 12, I stumbled upon a major weapon that turned the tables.

Family Circle magazine.

My mom bought a lot of Family Circles and Redbooks back in the day, and I read all of them, because that’s what I do. So I learned a lot of parenting (and makeup) tips that I have never used. But one proved useful: don’t force your kids to clean their plates.

So the next time Mom exhorted, “Ian, clean your plate,” I replied:

“But MOMMMM … Nutritionists say that children naturally regulate themselves from day to day, and in fact forcing a child to clean their plate can lead to obesity.”

“Oh … really? Where did you read that?”

“Your issue of Family Circle.”

“Ah … didn’t know that!”

The increased deployment of barbecue and spaghetti further rendered most future battles moot.

Tips for men over 30

You should have it all figured out by now. If you don’t, you are a pathetic, clean-shaven little boy who deserves to die alone in an efficiency apartment only to be found six days later when you don’t show up for your job fetching coffee for real men (which is two days longer than they’re used to you being gone because you are a lazy fool who constantly calls in sick).

Take showers only. Don’t take baths. Babies take baths, and you aren’t a baby anymore.

You should have an entire complement of ties to wear in the shower. Don’t get caught looking unfashionable in any situation.

Ditch the funny and/or quirky ties. Wearing these will make you repulsive to potential mates. At least, the prim, humorless ones who are the only kind worth attracting.

Date only hyper-judgmental people. The only date worth having is one where you’re one atomically slight slip-up from having him/her walk away in disgust forever. That’s why they call it a job interview.

Wear suits and ties to bed. If you’re doing it right, this is when you need to look your best. It only makes sense.

You should know the thread count of your sheets. But never let on that you do. It’s manly to know. Not manly to tell.

Stop with the sleeping around and settle down. These are the only two things humans do in life, and it’s time to pick one. If you must, go outside right now, find a woman and marry her. If you fail at this simple task, you fail at being a man over 30.

Stop going out and having fun. You’re an over-30 man now. This is not just about sticking out like a sore thumb in the college club scene; it’s about being so juvenile as to have fun in any situation. You’re a career man now. Worry about that all the time, like you’re supposed to. And if you don’t have a career, pretend that you do, because everyone is judging you.

Don’t try to be funny. The thirties are a time to put away childish things such as “humor.” Any attempts at jocularity will come off like you’re trying too hard to hang on to your fading youth. If you’re a naturally funny person, suppress it. Remember, prim equals proper.

Stop smiling. Only man-boys and babies smile. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and you’re in it now.

Don’t use current slang terms. Even if they come naturally to you and/or you say them just to get a laugh. Nor should you use the slang terms with which you came up. Really, just don’t speak slang at all. You’re over 30. At this point, you should be saying “Oxford comma” before “and.”

Don’t eat anything that can get in your beard. You do have a beard, don’t you?

Never pass up a chance to look older. You know the old saying: “Youth is wasted when you’re not young.” You’re old! Embrace it. If you still look young, you don’t have to take that from God — buy an aging kit at Dolce & Gabbana for $2,995. It comes with clippers for your hairline, UV lamp goggles for your eyes, Botox for the muscles that allow you smile, calorie pills and a carton of unfiltered cigarettes. You can buy the same kit at any big box for $39.95, but come on, you’re better than that.

Learn at least one extremely stilted and outmoded societal convention. Like how to politely use a slide rule while in the presence of an unaccompanied lady. Then use it and bask in the gasps you get.

Drive a fancy car. Own a running vehicle you paid off years ago? Ick! Get yourself a high-end luxury SUV, stat. A car note is a required document to obtain your Thirties Card. And forget about fuel economy — your environmental-concern phase is officially over. You paid your dues, even if you didn’t.

Toss out all of your furniture. It’s time to stop with the disposable crap you’ve had for years. Get something expensive that lasts. And don’t you dare keep it after you’re 40.

Just in general, buy a bunch of expensive, nice things. You’re 30 now. And also an investment banker. So live like it.

No more quirk for you. Everything that made you interesting up until 11:59 p.m. before your 30th birthday now makes you sad. Conform immediately.

Enjoy your newfound maturity! Life is short.