Category Archives: Shaking My Head

Post #75: C’mon!!

If you didn’t know, it’s Potentially Irrational Rant Day here at The Almost Right  Words in which I bitch about the following:

Earlier this year, I read, demolished is more like it, Cheryl Strayed’s wildly celebrated and wildly wonderful memoir Wild, about her solo trek up the Pacific Crest Trail. If you haven’t, read it. Immediately. If Oprah’s recommendation scared you away, take mine instead. It’s wow-tastic. But I’m not here to talk about Wild, the book, but Wild the book cover. It looks like this.

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Stark and memorable, isn’t it? Love that close up of the mud caked boot. The clean all white background so the writing fires and pops. Today’s rant begins with a trip to Phoenix, my local book store here in Burlington, where, while browsing the new hardcover books, I saw Wild featured. I thought, golly gee, that’s weird, Wild came out months ago, what’s it doing among the new books? Except that further review proved it wasn’t Wild at all. It was Goldberg Variations, a new book by Susan Isaacs, whose cover looks like this.

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Now, you’ll just have to take my expert word for it that the similarity, while certainly striking here, is only a pale imitation of how much of a knock-off cover this actually is and feels like when you hold the books side by side. This is mainly because in the Goldberg pic above you can’t see the book’s spine, which is the EXACT SAME lipstick red with white writing that you see on the profile view of Cheryl’s book above. So incensed was I that the other night, I made my wife, who’s also read Wild, go into the bookstore with me to see the evidence, at which point I corralled both books, held them up for her perusal and intoned, “disgusting, isn’t it? I mean, can you believe those corporate pricks would stoop so low as to try to create a subconscious link between an established bestseller (Wild) and a brand new book so as to inflate sales? I mean, this has got to be some kind of copyright violation, right?” I was loud. People were looking at me.

My wife noticed what I noticed, but her disgust, while apparent in the raise of her eyebrows and the slight curl of her lip, did not reach the fever pitch of my own. Okay, she barely seemed to care, and continued looking at something else.

But, c’mon! You’re with me, aren’t you. That’s bullshit! Am I right?

 

 

Post #74: Newsweek’s News

Newsweek_LogoLoNewsweek, the iconic news magazine that, courtesy of my grandmother, has been arriving weekly at my door for over a decade now will, as of December 31st, only be arriving at my Ipad. Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown confirmed the rumor that Newsweek is going all digital. “We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it,” Brown said. “We remain committed to Newsweek and to the journalism that it represents. This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism, that is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution.”

Like a lot of people, I’m sure that I care a lot more about what it means that Newsweek is going all digital than about the act itself. Though I haven’t been an ardent reader of the magazine for a while now, I still enjoy a flip through and read a few articles every week, and since they’ve gotten so short and so un-newsy, it’s easy and fun too, kind of like People with facts. Okay, that’s a little harsh, but there’s no doubt that over the years Newsweek has become less of a “hard” news magazine, relying more on features and opinion. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed the switch and, though I could give a rat’s ass about fashion, which features with obnoxious regularity, am generally a fan of the sensibility that Tina Brown’s editor-in-chief-ness has brought to the magazine. I believe her that it isn’t about the news or the brand. It’s about something else.

In related news, The New York Times announced that it will probably soon make a number of cuts to its news room staff and offer a number of buy outs.  Publisher Arthur Sulzberger announced that he’d charged his top editors to “identify significant cost savings.” While I don’t envy Sulzberger’s position on this one, his diction needs love. Equating reductions in staff–meaning people–with a soul-less expression like “cost savings” makes me gag a little. But, jeez, what’s he supposed to say? Sulzberger wrote that “the advertising climate remains volatile and we don’t see this changing in the near future.” Is that the same something that Tina Brown was talking about?

So, now that I’ve told you what you already know, or sensed, let’s ask: what’s all this mean? Part of me greatly mourns this news, feels like as an icon like Newsweek can’t sustain a print edition and the NYT is downsizing again, and this time to its news staff, it signals that something vital is turning to liquid and slipping through our collective fingertips. Considering Newsweek, certainly quality journalism can happen in a digital only environment, but as the magazine’s coffers dry up, can they continue to afford what it even costs to report the news with class and style? This isn’t just about car ads. It’s about the relative worth of news, what passes for news, and what news will become. So maybe I disagree with Tina Brown a little bit. Maybe this is sort of about the brand. As reporters jobs are in the crosshairs, surely too is the integrity of reporting itself.

My brain surges forward, to a supposed print-less world, when my children, or maybe my children’s children are grown, and they’ve never held a paper copy of a newspaper, never written a letter by hand, never bought a new physical book and smelled the wood pulp under their noses. These images are saddening. Hold me. And yet, I couldn’t tell you the last time I bought a New York Times off the rack. Recently, my local newspaper, The Burlington Free Press, faced with the same devastating something that everyone else is reacting to, began charging for its on-line edition. For years my wife and I have been daily readers, yet we still haven’t ponied up and subscribed, and as a result we’ve basically stopped reading the paper. I get Newsweek as a gift and might not otherwise patronize the magazine. I admit I’m not helping, but I would still feign to call myself a print devotee, relatively speaking. I regularly buy new books and hit up my local library and I subscribe to a number of print periodicals (Poets and Writers, The Atlantic, Esquire, VQR, Bon Apetit). But there’s no doubt I consume less print than I did five years ago. It’s hard to keep pace, and the way we read is changing. But it sure seems to be changing awfully fast.

Post #72: Pure Bliss

A skateboarder was in the middle of the road when I turned the corner, spinning himself in rapid circles (technical term anyone?) like a figure skater. When his momentum would lag, he’d stop, quick rotate by jerking his body sideways and begin spinning again, the board at forty-five degrees, all his weight on it’s back edge like he was about to take off. I paused, pulled back on my dog’s lead, hoping the boarder wouldn’t see me so I could keep watching. Of course he saw me-people always see each other-so I switched my dog to my other side and kept walking. But, to my delight, he didn’t stop, didn’t wait for me to pass. Instead, he switched to Ollies, popping his board into the air, creating the effect that it was glued to his feet, bending to his every whim. He’d land, then rip another. For all the concern he showed, he might have been alone in an empty gymnasium. Kids are amazing, I thought, they don’t care who sees. It was at this point, though, that I noticed the paunchy middle pushing through his sweatshirt, the sad saggy bend to his aged neck. The casual creases around his eyes. The beard flecked with gray. I’m not kidding you, the guy was sixty five years old, easy, maybe older, and he was out there grinding with sheer, unapologetic bliss like a teenager killing time before his mom calls him in to dinner.

I did some searches and found a nice clip of this guy in California named Lloyd Khan. Be forewarned, though, his attitude (and his biceps) will make you feel old, regardless of your age.

Post #63: Is This What Progress Looks Like?

If you watched the Olympics, and I’m betting you watched at least a little, you saw commercials for a new NBC (Jimmy Fallon produced) comedy called Guys With Kids in which a supposedly modern trio of men take care of babies and, not knowing any better because they’re really just children themselves, do the kind of stupid male things with them that could make just about anybody laugh.  Except me.  What is it with the way fathers are represented by our culture?  Is it really this far behind the rest of us?  I have two young sons and have always considered myself an equal caregiver.  My wife and I both work full time.  We share cleaning and other domestic chores, except for cooking, of which I do the majority.  We both do laundry, clean the toilets, scrub the showers, mop the floors, iron shirts, clean up puke, piss and shit, and pretty much whatever else needs doing, and sure, there’s comedy to be found in life, but I’m so tired of the comedy, at least as far as shows like Guys With Kids are concerned, happening in the space between what a man is expected to do and what he might actually do.  There’s a reason Mad Men is set in the 60’s.  Check out the promo for Guys With Kids, then come back.

It’s not…horrible, right?  I mean, it’s a step closer to reality than, say, Home Improvement, or Vince Vaughan in Old School.  And it’s sort of funny.  But I’m still not laughing.  And I still won’t tune in.  Maybe I’d find it funny if any of it rang true to me.  It’s not that the life moments don’t ring true–they do.  The lack of privacy, the challenges to find intimacy, the unintentional disappointment of your partner, the desire to be a good man.  These things happen.  My existence if rife with life’s natural humor and ridiculousness and sometimes all you can do is laugh.  But it’s the laughs coming at the expense of an assumed ineptness in men that I find offensive and am so tired of.  I just flat out don’t know those guys. And one of them is a stay at home dad, which is actually a pretty progressive thing to put on television, all things considered.  But though their lives look familiar, their inner essence bears only a passing resemblance to my own.  And, I would bet, to a lot of people.  So why does network television and Hollywood keep force feeding us this horse shit?  Are we really not ready to deal with a man who is happy to cook dinner and make the bed and wipe his kid’s shitty ass without a laugh track to get him through it unscathed?  Or, even worse, castrated?  Now I know how gay people must have felt when they watched Will and Grace.

Yeah, I’m a guy sometimes.  I drink beer and tell my guy friends lewd jokes.  I mow the lawn and try to fix stuff and have trouble admitting when I can’t do things.  I like to watch sports and scratch my balls and brag about a good burp now and again.  But c’mon!  That’s not everything.  Shocking as NBC might find it, I know plenty of men who cook and clean their homes and not just because their wives tell them to.  I know men whose own domestic instincts surpass those of their (female) spouses.  I know men who read cooking magazines right out in public.  Men who just like to have things neat and tidy.  Men who groom and primp before watching football.  And men who wouldn’t mind staying inside to cook dinner while their wife kicks the soccer ball with the kids.  Even men who don’t need advice on humility, humanity, or manhood from a faceless neighbor over the proverbial fence.

So where is he?  Because he sure as hell isn’t on TV.

Post #61: Some Kind of Jackass

I just came across this piece on Huff Post entitled “10 Books that Taught me Reading Books is Bullshit.”  Now, as a vociferous reader and book obsessive, I’m fully willing to admit that I was a little biased against comedian/author Dan Wilbur’s premise, which he’s expanded on in a book length work called How Not to Read, and since I didn’t want to react with a snap judgment, I opened up my mind and read the post (mostly in the form of a slide show), just so I could be sure.  Yep, he’s totally full of shit.

Post #58: Badminton Scandal!

Last week at the London Olympics there was a kerfuffle over badminton, of all things.  Apparently what happened is that four of the top female badminton teams (China among them) lost games on purpose because, oddly, losing a game would prove beneficial in later rounds of the competition, potentially allowing them to compete against lesser teams later on.  In the case of China, the referee warned them during the match as they sluggishly whiffed and purposefully hit the birdie (shuttlecock) out of play or into the net, and the London crowd booed to show their displeasure, having no illusions about the pathetic excuse for a badminton match they were witnessing.  Swiftly, an investigation ensued and the teams were disqualified from olympic competition.  They were later zipped kicking and screaming into weighted bags and hurled into the Thames and never heard from again.  Okay, that last part isn’t true.

Here’s a video from the crowd during the Chinese match.  It’s shot on some pretty low quality equipment, likely a cell phone, and doesn’t display the full scope of the scandal, but it’s easy to hear the crowd’s dissatisfaction and knowledge of what they’re seeing.

I still haven’t decided what I think about this.

First off, why is there a competition where LOSING could prove advantageous?  There’s got to be a way to rectify that.  It seems pretty clear that if you’re China and you’re the best badminton team in the world, meaning you could beat everyone else, you’d only lose on purpose if there was some very real benefit for doing so.  Why would such a situation ever exist?  Try to imagine Roger Federer or the U.S. Women’s Soccer team losing on purpose because they could play someone easier in the next round and increase the chances of winning gold.  Try to imagine Ryan Lochte or Michael Phelps or Gabby Douglas losing on purpose for the same reason.  Clearly the badminton planners having their birdies out of whack.

But it happened, and now we need to make sense of it.  So, let’s talk about sportsmanship.  I’ve always liked the idea that how you accomplish something holds weight and contributes to whatever results you might achieve.  I think in the abstract most people do as well.  It feels good.  It means that I should comport myself in an honorable way at all times and that the journey is as important as the destination.  That if my journey is full of scandal and lies then my destination is corrupted.  In this line of thinking, a gold medal achieved after being unsportsmanlike, say, losing on purpose, would be tainted goods.  Would be dishonorable.  Right?  And yet, clearly four of the world’s best badminton teams and their coaches didn’t see it that way.  Why not?  What do they know about sportsmanship that the rest of us don’t?  It’s disheartening to think about a coach advising her players on losing as a strategy.  But maybe I need to stop being so naive and pretending like the olympic games bears any resemblance to my youth soccer league where we all got orange slices and a trophy for showing up.

So then, where’s the line between being a good sport and playing the game “right” and winning?  If there is one, it sure as hell isn’t straight.  It’s jagged and hard to follow and drawn with invisible ink.  Would we rather have athletes play “correctly” and lose, or do what they have to do in order to win?  Let’s face it, we are obsessed with winning.  The big W.  Last night I watched American sprinter Lashinda Deamus lose gold by four one hundredths of a second in the 400M hurdles and after winning silver, she collapsed on the ground crying tears of disappointment over being second best in the world.  Still don’t believe me?  Quick, name who came in second in the men’s 200M Butterfly at the Beijing Olympics.  Quick, tell me who came in second to Mary Lou Retton in 1984.  Yeah, I don’t know either.  In sports at large, and in the Olympics in particular, winning is the measure of success.

And yet, it’s complicated.  Sportsmanship matters to me and a lot of other people and I don’t see how the Olympics, or the Badminton Federation, can condone losing on purpose and not punishing it with some gesture on behalf of their sport’s veracity and honor.  Regardless of the semantics of “fairness,” it’s clear these badminton teams embarrassed themselves and their sport on an international stage.  Badminton purists around the world watched in horror, afraid their sport would be tainted and ignored because of these acts.  Relegated to the likes of table tennis and squash.  In this, I (mostly) support what was done in DQing the teams.  They had to do something.  Sportsmanship is not an abstract idea and even though we pretend there’s a huge gray area, it’s really pretty simple.  You either try your hardest or you don’t.  The problem comes with accountability.  Who do you blame?  The athletes?  These athletes train their entire lives for these moments.  They train for gold.  They train to win, not to play “right” or entertain the crowd.  Anything second to winning is a failure.  Especially in China.  So, if a system exists where losing on purpose increases their chances of winning, how can we blame these athletes for helping their gold medal chances?

Your thoughts?

Post #56: Out of Step, Out of Time

By now you’ve no doubt heard that the Boy Scouts of America, after a supposedly exhaustive conversation and study, has decided to uphold its policy of not allowing openly gay youth to serve as Scouts or openly gay adults to be affiliated with Scouting, either in a professional or mentor capacity.  In a free society, freedom also means the right to discriminate and the Boy Scouts have chosen to continue to do so.  This in spite of rapidly declining membership and the fact that organizations from 4-H to the Boys and Girls Club to the United States Armed Forces have changed their own policies to be more inclusive and tolerant and better reflect the modern world in which we find ourselves.  When you’re behind the US Military on inclusion, brother, you are behind.

There’s many things about this I don’t get.  Here’s one of them.  What sort of research exists that demonstrates that gay people aren’t equipped to be good mentors?  I mean, if they’re saying that “open and avowed homosexuals” can’t be affiliated with Scouts, what reason would exist other than them being suspect?  What other reason would exist other than the unsubstantiated belief that gays are pedophiles who can’t be trusted either around children or in conjunction with children’s growth and well being? Further, what research exists that says that gay children are more likely to be lewd or inappropriate or can’t be trusted around heterosexual children?  By disavowing them publicly and not allowing them to be part of their organization, Scout officials are telling us that the Boy Scouts stand for values outside of or out of step with those held by gay people. Even as these officials live in a country where there are openly gay public officials, teachers, and civic leaders.  Their children are taught math and science by gay people.  Their children read and analyze stories and poems by gay people.  These officials rock out in the car to music written by gays.  Watch television shows created by and starring gays.  Almost certainly have friends and relatives who are gay.  Trust gays with their money at banks.  Buy produce and foodstuffs from gays.  Cheer on gay athletes.  See action films by gay superstars.  They may not know it, but they do because one in ten people is gay.  You do the math.

To which the Boy Scouts reply by saying that they’re a private organization and can do what they want.  They’ll also argue that sexuality is not a part of scouting. They’ll tell you that the conversation isn’t relevant to the conversations being had in Boy Scouts.  They’ll tell you that their members are mostly under 12 and aren’t thinking about sexuality.  Except that they are.  Here’s what they’re thinking: gay people can’t be trusted and aren’t welcome in the environment where I am the fullest and most honorable expression of myself.  That’s what scouting is about.  Actualizing.  Becoming the person you want to be.  The Boy Scouts mission is “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes.”   It’s about citizenship and loyalty and bravery and thrift.  I want my sons to be loyal and brave and thrifty.  Unfortunately, they’ll have to learn these values from somewhere else, because unless the Boy Scouts have a sudden and humble policy shift, I’d never allow my sons to be scouts.  And probably not even then.  This is a bit sad to me.  But I’ll get over it.  We’ll just have to learn to tie knots on our own.

By the way, none of this is to imply that all scouts, or all those associated with scouting, are cruel homophobes.  Certainly not.  In fact, it’s a downer that all currently serving scouts and den leaders have to be burdened by and affiliated with all this.  Doubtless many scouts and den leaders don’t share the organization’s views on this issue, but feel compelled to be part of The Boy Scouts anyway.  Doubtless many of them don’t think about it much.  They just want to go camping and wear a lot of beige while learning how to build a four hour campfire.

In an op-ed piece in the NY Times right after this decision, Bob Mazzuca and Wayne Perry (respectively the chief scout executive and national president of the organization) wrote “our role is to equip young people with life skills so one day, they can make their own decisions…we teach our members to treat those with different opinions with courtesy and respect at all times and to adamantly oppose the mistreatment of others based on any perceived difference.”  What a relief it was for me to learn that open discrimination against gays doesn’t qualify as “mistreatment.”  And that one can discriminate while also adamantly opposing “mistreatment.”  This is sad double speak that deserves a smack down.  Allow me.

It’s naive and weak to pretend that you can be respectful and courteous to those you openly revile.  It’s the same as me smiling at my gay neighbor and loaning him a cup of sugar when he asks, then calling him a fag when I go back inside my house.  And then telling my children not to trust fags.  And then going back outside and smiling and waving again as my gay neighbor mows his lawn.  What?  I was courteous.  I was respectful.  I loaned the guy a cup of sugar!

Except that isn’t courtesy.  That isn’t respect.  It’s two faced hypocrisy masquerading as courtesy and respect.  What’s in your heart matters and the Boy Scouts have clearly shown us what is in theirs.  Gays are suspect.  They are bad.  They are not welcome in our character building operation because they have no character.

The Boy Scouts are a private organization.  They can do what they want.  And clearly they don’t care what anyone on the other side of this thinks.  Which will serve them well as they fade and become ever less relevant to modern children growing up in a world where tolerance is something to stand for, not against.