Thursday, April 28, 2005

Irony 'wasted' on ill-informed

By Gil Gadabout
Disassociated Press

ROSEVILLE, Calif. -- A liberal hipster visiting friends in this Sacramento suburb swore off sharing his humor with the general public Thursday after a particularly dry, ironic quip fell on deaf ears.

"It was just a waste of good wit," Olanzo Garcia, a 28-year-old Half Moon Bay, Calif., resident said. "This would've had them rolling back home."

The incident occurred when an unidentified 23-year-old Starbucks employee accidently spilled Garcia's non-fat latte espresso drink. Ashamed, the employee began profusely apologizing.

Garcia reportedly offered, "It's alright, honey. We're in a 'blue' state. We don't crucify people here."

When people failed to acknowledge the joke in reference to the 2004 presidential election, Garcia left without further comment. He said he could only assume the "ignorant Valley hicks" in the coffee shop either didn't appreciate the liberal slant or weren't "as informed" as the Bay Area amateur pundit.

"Maybe they should turn off the Fox News channel and learn how to read," Garcia said.

Tim Erity of the American Center for Ironic Justice said Garcia's experience is a common one for city slickers unaccustomed to suburban and rural sensitivities.

"American urbanites are just going to have to learn how to be patient with those with less access to high technology and advanced central plumbing," Erity said. "The rest of the country will catch up and be assimilated as progress catches up, but it's going to take time."

Erity said the ACIJ has recorded over 22,000 incidents of missed ironic punch lines since George W. Bush was re-elected to the White House last November. He said irony analysts are predicting more of the same, with perhaps increased insensitivity leading up to the 2008 election.

"It's a trend right now. Not everyone can have a sense of humor like Michael Moore."

The Name Change

I was unaware of a semi-popular blog called The Young Curmudgeon. The presence of such a blog has neccesitated the name change of this blog to its current form. Furthermore, there are couple of correlating issues that need to be addressed:

  • I'm not as young as I used to be
  • My writing reveals I'm more droll than curmudgeonly
  • I'm neither an ardent leftist, nor a far rightist. If anything, I'm a shifty centrist. I reserve the right to be as politically moody, philosophically uneducated and ill-suited to participate in representative democracy as the average American.
  • The new name better reflects the atopical format of this blog, which is to say I can't stay focused long enough to care about $1 coins or the new Pope.

    So all the blog lawyers (blogyers?) can stop attempting to contact me and can get back to the business of overbilling their clients.
  • Tuesday, April 26, 2005

    The Humor Driven Life

    The Top 10 rejected book titles for Rick Warren's latest best-seller:

    10. Robots for Jesus
    9. Get Off Your Butt And Do Something For Jesus, You Aimless Slacker
    8. Yuppies Will Inherit The Earth
    7. Jehovah Never Sleeps And Neither Should You
    6. How To Paraphrase the Bible
    5. The Obsessive-Compulsive Driven Life
    4. The Purpose Of This Book: To Promote My Other Books
    3. Applied Dronery For Building Your Mega Church
    2. Jesus Could've Used Some Pointers
    1. The Self-Fulfilled Life: Who Really Needs The Holy Spirit?

    (Copyright belongs to me you e-thiefs)

    Monday, April 25, 2005

    Sleeping with the enemy

    Less cowbell.

    It’s not so much a mantra as my current frame of mind as I, a Phoenix Suns fan since 1975, attempt to maintain sanity during the early stages of the 2005 NBA playoffs.

    I moved to the Sacramento area in May of 2003 after spending the previous 28 years in Phoenix. I was expecting some bumpy transitional issues. I did not expect sports culture shock.

    First and foremost, there is the constant cowbell drone coming from a big barn the locals refer to as Arco Arena. It’s a curious tradition for which I have yet discovered an adequate explanation.

    Cowbells are for cows, drummers and Will Ferrell’s spastic prop comedy routine. As far as I can tell they have nothing to do with Mike Bibby’s jumpshot. They apparently have no mystical healing powers, because the Kings have been as fragile as eggshells this year.

    I can only assume those cowbells are Kings fans’ only hope of being noticed this year after yet another early playoff exit. It’s not so much a celebratory whacking of a percussion instrument as much as a desperate hope somebody recognizes there are, indeed, signs of civilization among the rice fields and cow pastures of Northern California.

    Speaking of eggshells, it’s my walking surface this time of year as an enemy fan in the land of myopia. Not just your average, ordinary enemy fan, but a fan of the top-seeded team in the playoffs.

    I am as quick to announce my allegiances here as a Christian might have been to profess his faith at a Roman circus circa 64 AD.

    This is not to say Kings fans are a violent brood, but I’m not going to argue over a parking space with one.

    I’ve had enough close encounters. Take my wife, Jessica, for example.

    In all the time we were courting, somehow basketball allegiances never became a topic of conversation. We spent a lot of time talking about our shared faith and life goals. It never dawned on us which NBA teams we rooted for might become a point of contention.

    Having moved my wife to Phoenix and having access to Suns tickets, it was a great honor to take her to her first experience at America West Arena to see the visiting Kings in April 2003. The Kings were one of the best teams in the league, the Suns were undergoing a transition with rookie power forward Amare Stoudemire, and no one expected much of a game. I had nothing to lose, although I admittedly gritted my teeth for an anticipated whipping.

    I am a loving and patient husband, and both qualities were put to the test for this game.

    Jessica was all trash talk during the week leading up to the game, in the car on the way to the game, during the long walk to the arena, and for most of the warm-up time. My otherwise good-natured wife was channeling the West Coast version of Spike Lee. A less patient man might have invited her to take a taxi home, but I sat quietly and received it in hopes of wearing her out.

    The Suns led by 20 at the end of the third quarter and my wife was forcefully leading me back to the car. I gloated a little, but I knew seeing the experience first hand was the ultimate gag for a trash talker. Call it NBA justice.

    There hasn’t been much talk about NBA basketball in our household since that day. These days I spend most of my efforts attempting to convince my wife watching the Suns on cable is a worthwhile expenditure of my time. The broadcast usually sends her reeling for the door to the neighbor’s house, which also doubles as a wayward home for broken-hearted Kings fans.

    This year’s seeding would match the Suns and the Kings only if both teams reached the Western Conference finals, one step short of the NBA Championship series. The chances of both teams getting there are unlikely, although it remains a distant possibility.

    I don’t know how our marriage might fare if that would happen, and I don’t know how I might handle myself around all the rabid Kings fans in my office and my neighborhood. Thirty years of Suns playoff basketball has tempered any temptation to become cocky.

    Still, as any Kings fan knows, playoff basketball can bring out the animal of the most tame. You don’t even have to like basketball to get excited about playoff basketball.

    There is one thing I’m sure I won’t do: I won’t be hitting any cowbells and I won’t be paying attention to those who do.

    Sunday, April 24, 2005

    At what cost do we sell morality?

    My perception of Christ's single message as displayed by his life on Earth can be wrapped up in a single statement: Love trumps the Law. Maybe better said: Love is the Law, and the Law is Love. This kind of statement, morphed into some post-modern hippie pacakge, can be taken way out of context to mean something very different than I intend. More on that later. I still believe the statement to be factual and central to the Christian message.

    I was dwelling on it as I read Gregory Koukl's and Scott Klusendorf's commentary on what they called the Vanishing Pro-Life Apologist. Their argument is simple enough: Any attempt to soft-sell the Pro-Life message is tantamount to abadoning the movement.

    As someone who was once an ardent Pro-Lifer and has since abadoned the political movement, this is the kind of absolutism that makes me wonder what Bible they're reading. There's a notion that God's power is best displayed in the court and in our laws, and that is supposed to be Priority No. 1 among all Christians. Here are some statements related to me by well-meaning Pro-Lifers during my college days in the early 90s:

    * Christians have a a mandate to claim dominion in the government and public policy.

    * Christian public and political activism is relevant to advancing God's domain

    * God's view of a "Christian nation" is a political view (i.e. we must end abortion so God doesn't judge us).

    Are they advancing God's heavenly kingdom or simply attempting to create an earthly kingdom? Jesus was constantly faced with and totally resisted political pressures of his day. The Zealots wanted him to join a Jewish rebellion of Rome. He was questioned about Roman taxes and local authority. He was passive to it all, except to say that His kingdom is a heavenly kingdom, and governments are neither inherantly good nor evil. Government wasn't even part of God's plan, and the Hebrews' insistence on an earthly king cost them dearly. I'm not saying that government, being politically active, or voting is antithetical to being a Christian, but it in no way defines Christian thought or practice in any way. Here some statements that I do believe define a Christian life:

    * The primary goal in a Christian's life is to worship God with the heart, the mouth, and the hands.

    * A Christian nation is defined by a majority of believers who work in grace, love and charity.

    * True righteousness, holiness and moral works are the effect; humility and surrender before God and heart intent on serving man is the cause.

    With this perspective, I have a hard time believing Christ would be a member of a Pro-Life organization. I still believe abortion is murder, but I don't believe changing the law changes a single heart nor solves a problem. Instead, I believe Christ would be attempting to change the world one heart at time, staying focused on the essential Gospel message.

    That Gospel message -- Christ, who was fully man and fully God, sacrificed his earthly body to conquer our sin -- is the real power, the real dunamos. In this, the Age of Mercy, there is no other power or promise from God other than eternal salvation. God already has full dominion over man, government and laws. I don't think God needs any more politicians. However, there is always a shortage of evangelists -- the gentle kind that make real change in the world, not the TV kind with bouffant hairdos and million-dollar bank accounts.

    If we are then seeing people surrendering their lives to Christ, there is no need to show them a law telling them abortion is wrong. God's law will be written on their hearts. Do we not have faith in God's power today? Do we not go to our churches and lament how much we want revival? Do we not sing songs praising God for his inexplicable love and compassion for men? Why, then, do we remove God from this one thing and say it is OUR job, that God has no power but in the politics of his people?

    If you want a Christian nation, don't give the people the law, give them Jesus. Jesus did not go around telling unbelievers to behave. He told unbelievers to have faith in Him and He revealed their sin to them. There is the power of the message, and there is the agent of social change Pro-Lifers so desperately seek.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2005

    Lazy reporting leads to "professional malpractice"

    After some interesting comments to my last entry, I thought Bob Steel's column at Poynter Online - - was timely. To recap, Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom wrote a column about collegiate nostalgia and included descriptions of two former Michigan State stars attending the most recent NCAA Tournament's Final Four. Turns out the two athletes, Mateen Cleeves and Jason Richardson, weren't even at the game.

    In his apology, Albom explains he wrote the column on Friday for a Sunday edition, and made assumptions they would be there based on previous interviews. The bigger problem is Albom wrote in a first-person, narrative sort of way that made it clear to readers Albom was translating an event seen specifically through his own eyes.

    Steel correctly points out this kind of mistake deserves more than just an "oops." It's the egregious kind of error that shows just how gullible we journalists sometime think our readers are. Not that credibility is a favorable market for traditional journalism these days, but the preponderence of these kinds of mistakes -- and the weak excuses offered in pointless apologies -- only gives more fodder for our growing number of critics.

    I freely admit sins of omission -- failing to pursue all the truth all the time. However, I can comfortably say I've never guessed on the truth and have even taken out more titilating portions of stories because I could not confirm or deny the accuracy.

    Sunday, April 17, 2005

    Lazy reporting, lazy blogging

    There's nothing more challenging than entertaining a critical crowd, and there's nothing more critical than a crowd of one.

    One being me. The pre-fab criticism being I could never live up to my own expectations. I know great writing because I've read great writing and have been inspired by it, not because such fluid prose has ever left my fingers or my lips. I can confess I am not a great writer, but it does not squelch the dreamer's hope I may someday trip upon greatness by the sheer volume of my work.

    With that in mind, there's nothing more intimidating for writers than a blank page. Any self-loathing writer worth a buck knows it can only get worse from there. It's a vicious cycle.

    Pedal on, young Hemingway.

    It may appear ironic that a journalist who regularly fills inches and inches of newsprint is threatened by the notion of jotting down a few thoughts for a daily web log. The problem, of course, is I get paid to put the onus on other people to be interesting. As a journalist, I'm not accustomed to people being very interested in my opinion.

    I think what happens to many journalists is they spend their days listening to unqualified people wax on about things they don't really understand. Not that journalists have a much better grasp on the situation, but they probably know other people who know a lot more about any given issue, there's just no credible reason to quote said people in the story of topic. Over a short amount of time, this practice can literally suck the brains out of a reporter, because reporters become used to spending an unwarranted amount of time on material that matters to so little. We know no one cares, so we stop caring, in some sense.

    This is not to say I don't value my job, it's just that I know the formula too well. For stories that do not inspire my passion, which is to say nearly all of them, I know how to get them done in a way that is factual but not time-consuming. Did I do any digging? Did I do much research? Did I prepare to ask pointed questions? Did I look hard to find a better source? Probably not. To that end, my stories are factual only in the sense they do not intentionally misrepresent the truth as it is told to me. To say the facts I collect and report represent the whole truth of an issue stretches credibility, however.

    I do not consider myself lazy, but neither am I one of those self-motivating whirlwinds of journalism. Neither am I so full of myself to think anyone will be rushing to my blog to see what new entertaining nugget of pontification I've posted next. I'm just not wired that way. Maybe it's a lack of self-importance that does not allow me to probe beyond the call of duty, or believe so profoundly in my ideals that my point of view is understated on the Internet.

    Whatever the case, I struggle to find inspiration to fill the pages in a self-satisfying method, both in content and in context. I am guaranteed to be disappointed with my own work.

    So I pose the question: Why bother?