Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

May your 2012 be the best year ever!

My New Year's Resolutions coming soon.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ironic Times-Pic Letter to the Editor

It is pretty noticeable that 9 out of every 10 letter writers from Mandeville are very conservative.  What always kinda bugs me about this is that these folks on the Northshore depend so heavily on New Orleans for their livelihoods, but are some of the loudest complainers about the city out there.  I understand that their role in keeping the economy of the New Orleans area thriving is just as important as the city-dweller, but I just wish they would at least acknowledge the fact that they benefit from us liberal urban-dwellers and that if they want to abandon New Orleans for the suburbs, they have very little business complaining or commenting about New Orleans and its liberal citizens.

Anyway, that rant above isn't really related to the content of one of today's letters to the editor of the Times-Picayune except that the letter writer is from Mandeville, and so the predictable conservative tilt of the letter is all-too-predictable.

This time, though, the letter writer is complaining about Maureen Dowd's latest column, which was a critique of Newt Gingrich in the typical Dowd style: biting, cynical, and left-leaning.

Suffice it to say that the letter-writer is mounting some kind of defense of Newt Gingrich from the rantings of Maureen Dowd. Fair enough, I guess. But the last sentence of her letter is the ironic kicker:
He's not everyone's choice for president, but none of the candidates deserve the sarcasm and negativism with which Ms. Dowd reports.
Given that the Times-Picayune regularly publishes columns from the likes of Charles Krauthammer, Cal Thomas, and other conservative pundits whose "sarcasm and negativism" in their criticism of Obama make Dowd look mild by comparison, I have to wonder if this letter-writer holds the same view about how Obama is treated by the conservative pundits out there.  I'd bet dollars-to-doughnuts that this letter-writer, given that she writes from Mandeville, thinks Obama deserves whatever "sarcasm and negativism" is lobbed his way.  If this is the case, it only highlights once again the ironic hypocrisy of the rightwing when it comes to Obama.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Saints Running Up the Score on Atlanta: Classless?

Well, I guess it's to be expected that some Atlanta Falcons fans would be complaining about the decision by Sean Payton to let Drew Brees gun for the record on Monday night football by driving for another score with only 3:22 minutes left in the game and the Saints holding an insurmountable 22 point lead.  Was Payton's decision unsportsmanlike?  Not in the least, if you ask me.

First off, I never understood why at the professional level there would ever be something unsportsmanlike about scoring whenever possible.  I mean, these guys are getting paid to play to score and to win.  They have an obligation to their paying fans to play 100% all out for the entire 60 mintues.

Second, putting up points can make a difference to the team in all sorts of ways.  It puts other potential competitors on notice.  It can just suck the life out of the opponent which can give a team a psychological advantage the next time the two teams play.  And the fact is that there's a really good likelihood that the Saints will play the Falcons again in the playoffs when it really matters.  Getting that psychological edge is good strategy for that eventuality.

Third, it does great things for team morale, for fan morale, and for the players to be associated with a history-breaking performance by the team's QB on a Monday night football game with serious divisional and playoff implications.

All that said, I disagree with Duncan on one point.  At the end of his article, he calls for yanking the starters next week once the 49ers outcome is known, all in the interests of protecting the players for the playoffs and for the Superbowl run.  Again, the fans pay good money to see their starters play all 16 regular season games.  Only injury should keep someone out of the lineup.  And the Saints as a team could really rack up an historical season by playing aggressively, with their best talent, and putting up some great team offensive numbers.

Quote of the Day: Rick Perry

Gotta love this "Perryism of the Day" as noted by Andrew Sullivan:

“Every barrel of oil that comes out of those sands in Canada is a barrel of oil that we don’t have to buy from a foreign source,” governor Rick Perry

Monday, December 26, 2011

Who Dat!?! Geaux Saints! King Brees!

Congratulations to the NFC South Division Champions!

Congratulations to Drew Brees for setting the single season passing yardage record, passing the great Dan Marino, who held the record for 27 years since 1984.

Congratulations to the Who Dat Nation for cheering the Saints on to another outstanding season.

It needs to be said, though, lest it gets lost in the shuffle, that the MVP of this game wasn't Drew Brees, but Darren Sproles.  Congratulations to Sproles and to the Saints Coaching Staff and back office for bringing Sproles to the Crescent City.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Andrew Sullivan on Ron Paul

Andrew Sullivan rethinks and retracts his endorsement of Ron Paul.  What I love about Sullivan is his tenacity, but also his openness in listening to reason and the arguments of others.  He doesn't admit to being wrong often, and he doesn't like to back down much; but he does it when it's called for and when he is persuaded to do so.  It's what happened with his support of the Iraq War; and now it's happening with his endorsement of Ron Paul.  He still leaves the door open for Paul to make things right in his eyes, but Sullivan requires of Paul a meaningful explanation of the vile and racist newsletters published under his name years ago before reconsidering throwing his support back behind the man.

This is why I admire and appreciate Sullivan.  I think he is one of most honest and real thinkers and pundits of contemporary politics and society out there.

GOP Overreach in Congress

With the recent fiasco in the Congress about extending the Payroll Tax Cut, the American People are finally seeing how absurd the House GOP's behavior is when it comes anything having to do with Obama. When even the GOP threatens a tax hike just to spite the President, it is crystal clear that the GOP is not interested in anything other than destroying Obama, even if it means taking down the middle class with it.

When I hear the House GOP try to spin their opposition to the two month extension of the Payroll Tax Holiday, I am amazed at how lame their reasoning is and I marvel at how tone-deaf they sound.

Let's review the facts:

1. The House GOP said they wanted a year-long extension and that the 2-month extension is unacceptable. Well, from the very get-go, that's exactly what Obama wanted. But Obama couldn't get anyone in the GOP to agree on this extension because of disputes over how to pay for it. The ONLY possible solution was a temporary one that was fashioned by the Senate.

2. Speaking of the Senate's bill, it had clear and strong bi-partisan support, so the House opposition to that bill just made the GOP look out of sync and foolish.

3. The fact that the House GOP then had to devise a strategy to oppose the Senate bill without actually, you know, having the damn balls or convictions to actually vote against the bill, really made the House GOP look like it was sacrificing conviction for political expediency and made their efforts thus reek of political opportunism at the expense of political courage.

4. Then there's the provision in the temporary bill that requires the President to make an election year decision about the Keystone pipeline that could have been a wedge issue for the GOP against the President between two of the President's core constituencies: the Unions and the Environmentalists. The House GOP shenanigans completely undercut whatever advantage the Senate bill gave to the GOP in this regard. Now, even though I believe Obama is committed to making an early decision regarding Keystone, the headlines regarding passage of the Senate bill are not about this "victory" for the GOP, but about the caving of the House GOP and the triumph of Obama over them. The House GOP snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, all because of a petulant and visceral hatred of Obama.

5. And no matter what happens, every single Democrat can now add to their campaign arsenal an attack on the GOP as middle class tax advocates. As even Charles Krauthammer has noted:

The GOP’s performance nicely reprises that scene in “Animal House” where the marching band turns into a blind alley and row after row of plumed morons plows into a brick wall, crumbling to the ground in an unceremonious heap. 
With one difference: House Republicans are unplumed.
6. Folks on the left and the right often talk about "Derangement Syndrome" when it comes to opposing a political rival irrationally. Often times, this is nothimg more than a bit of hyperbole to make the other side look bad; but, in this instance, the House GOP really did look deranged in their opposition to this bill and really do looks as if their agenda is driven purely by hatred for Obama, even at the expense of their supposed antipathy to raising taxes under any circumstances.

And the rich irony of all this is that the Payroll Tax really does hit the working class harder that it does the wealthy because of the ceiling that is placed on income subject to the tax. Middle-class families would have their full income subject to this tax, whereas the wealthy would have only a portion of their full income subject to this tax. Taking a pound of flesh from someone weighing in at 120 lbs is going to be a much more damaging and serious excision than taking a pound of flesh from someone weighing in at a "healthy" 450 lbs, who won't even notice the loss much less suffer from it.

Gingrich Incompetence

How can anyone take Newt Gingrich (or Rick Perry, for that matter) seriously when both are so inept that they fail to qualify for the Virginia GOP primary? That's pretty darn huge. It means that even if Gingrich or Perry does well in the early primary states, the knowledge that they cannot add Virginia's delegates to their totals would be enough to keep any serious contender in the race. But above and beyond that, if Gingrich makes such a strategic blunder in the primary, what confidence does that inspire about his ability to manage a campaign in the general election or even to exercise competent leadership as the executive?

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Paddling" A Relic of the Past at St. Augustine

I know that there are many who disagree with the efforts to end the practice of corporal punishment at St. Augustine High School, including many whose opinions on a lot of things I respect; but I think the final agreement to ban paddling as a manner of discipline is the right course of action. I just don't think whipping a kid is a productive way to handle misbehavior. I just hope the St. Augustine community of alumni and supporters will be able to put the controversy behind them and move forward.

Glass Harp Tchaikovsky

I thought this was pretty amazing:

Blue Jay Fellowship

One of today's highlights was the Christmas lunch for the Jesuit High School Class of '86 graduates.  I, along with maybe some 25 other classmates, managed to get together at the Crescent City Steakhouse for a good meal and some great fellowship.

Not many people have good high school experiences; but I can say that high school for me represented some of the best years of my life.  I thoroughly enjoyed high school.  And that experience owes itself in no small part to the gentlemen who were my classmates.

Just about every one of these men are real stand up guys who with boundless goodness.  I am so fortunate  to count them among my friends and to be able to get together with them every so often to break bread and catch up with one another.

Thanks, '86 Blue Jays, for a great afternoon!

Here's a picture of the crew at the restaurant:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Decline of RWN

One of the conservative blogs that I've been a more-or-less regular visitor to is John Hawkins' Right Wing News.  I started checking out RWN many years ago, when it was just starting out.  At the time, only John Hawkins was writing there, and his blog's look was fairly basic and simple.

John Hawkins himself is a decent writer for the most part.  He has a particular style that I find engaging and easy to respond to.  Now, that's not to say that I agree with Hawkins.  In fact, I vehemently disagree with about 98% of what the man writes.  And sometimes I find his blog incendiary and over-the-top reactionary.  That said, his blog has been a mainstay for my keeping abreast of what this particular rightwing community is saying.  And I've met some really smart and good people in the comment boards over there.

Over the past 6 months or so, I've stopped commenting at that site because of the unabashed censorship of any left-leaning, liberal commenters there.  Maybe it's toned down some since then, but the creep of groupthink there, and the penchant towards growing antipathy towards free expression of opposing viewpoints in comment threads is a shame.  His blog didn't used to be that way.

But that's not the most problematic thing with RWN these days.  I still visit the blog on occasion, though not nearly as regularly as I used to.  Now, John Hawkins maybe writes one or two postings a day.  It's become a kind of rightwing opinion aggregator with a cacophony of voices that make the blog incoherent.

Fewer and fewer people are commenting on the postings there; and, frankly, the blog contributors are not nearly as intellectually interesting and competent as Hawkins was.  If it's not William Teach embarrassing himself with his endless climate change denialist postings on "globull" warming, it's Warner Todd Houston blathering on about the latest obscure incident of some overzealous PC action on the part of some nobody (usually from Illinois).

As the blog's technical and visual structure got more complex and glitzy, the quality of the posting content got weaker and flimsier.  Now it comes across as just a place where rightwing reactionaries can just screech and moan and complain.  There's very little actual provocative thought being generated there by serious intellects.

It's quite a shame, actually.  But so be it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Week of Christmas Lunches

This week is filled with Christmas cheer and with lots of breaking bread with family and friends.

It starts today with a "Cousin's" lunch at Zea Rotisserie Grill on St. Charles Avenue.

Then Friday brings with it a Blue Jay Class of '86 Luncheon at the Crescent City Steak House.

Later on that evening, following a late afternoon Huck family photo shoot, the family will be gathering for a casual early evening dinner at Koz's.

Sometime in the midst of all this eating, I have to do a bit of shopping!

April Brayfield, RIP

May a wonderful colleague and a lovely person, April Brayfield, rest in peace.  She left us much too soon and the world is a poorer place for her absence.

One of April's signature gestures was to hood one of her doctoral students on the stage during the Graduate Commencement ceremony at Tulane, and then pull out her camera and take a picture of the newly-minted Ph.D. right then and there.  It made her students stand out and feel special, and I always thought it was a wonderful, kind, lovely gesture.

She will be missed.

15 Things That Even Conservatives Should Admit

Conservative blogger, John Hawkins, over at Right Wing News, recently put up a posting in which he laid out 15 statements, claimed that these statements are factual and uncontroversial, and then dared Liberals to disagree with them.  Of course, you can take a look at his 15 statements and you'll find that just about all of them are based on his opinion, are highly contestable, and are not really rooted in objective fact.  But, I'd like to throw the challenge back to him and his conservative minions and dare them to agree to the following statements:

1. Guns actually do kill living creatures, including people.  In fact, that's what they're designed to do.
2. There is no persecution of Christians in the United States.  This meme is both a myth and a lie.
3. Waterboarding is torture.
4. Two gay people getting married has zero impact on my own heterosexual marriage and it has zero impact on my personal religious faith.
5. The electoral college violates the one-person, one-vote concept by giving individual citizens in small population states disproportionate representation in presidential elections.
6. Intelligence is desirable and is a virtue.
7. Obama is a natural-born citizen of the United States.
8. The death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime.
9. Liberal Americans are patriotic Americans.
10. Most people who voted for Obama did so for reasons other than his race, just as most people who voted against Obama did so for reasons other than his race.
11. Encouraging diversity and multiculturalism is a good thing.
12. Conservative approaches to illegal immigration are antithetical to free market principles when it comes to labor and thus are economically regressive policies.
13. Women not receiving equal pay for equal work is an injustice and thus requires remedy by state institutions.
14. The Obama administration found and killed Osama bin Laden.
15. The United States is a flawed country, and acknowledging these flaws is not treason.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Andrew Sullivan, Ron Paul, and the Future of the GOP

Andrew Sullivan thinks that Ron Paul offers the GOP the only shot at relevance for future generations. Sullivan has endorsed Ron Paul as his pick for the GOP nomination.

Though Andrew Sullivan can be very persuasive, I think he's backing a losing cause.  At root, I think Sullivan knows this; but I think he relishes a Paul/Obama encounter about the future of America in the campaigning for the 2012 Presidential Election.

It would be an interesting spectacle; but Obama will bury Paul.

Christmas Is All Around

One of my favorite all-time Christmas videos from one of my favorite all-time Christmas movies.  This version is the visually crispest one on YouTube, though it comes with some Polish gibberish at the bottom of the screen.  Anyway, enjoy!

Geaux Saints!

The Saints move to 11-3 with two games remaining.  If the 49ers lose to the Steelers tonight, then the Saints will control their own destiny.  If they win their last two games, it's a first round bye and a home playoff game.  Now that we know that Green Bay is not invincible, it's very possible that Green Bay could lose its first playoff game.  If that were to happen and if the Saints win, then we'll have the NFC Championship in the Superdome, too.  That's what I'd like to see.

But ... a bit disturbing still is the fact that the Saints could actually lose their Division to the Falcons.  So much rides on the Saints/Falcons Monday night matchup this coming week.

Regardless, Drew Brees will shatter the single season passing yardage mark.  All he needs is some 300+ passing yards over the next two weeks and he'll have the record.  And I think it's a good likelihood that he'll get that record this week in the Superdome against the Dirty Birds in front of a national audience on Monday night.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Deliciousness of Irony: O'Donnell's Endorsement of Romney

This quote is just classic and oh-so-typical of Christine "I'm not a witch" O'Donnell:

“That’s one of the things that I like about him [Romney]— because he’s been consistent since he changed his mind,” O’Donnell said.
Consistent since he changed his mind! And when he changes his mind tomorrow, he'll again be consistent until he changes it next week. Now, fairness leads me to say that I know what O'Donnell is trying to say. She's trying to get across the idea that people can change their opinions about issues and then demonstrate some conviction even about this changed opinion. But the way O'Donnell expresses this, the way she phrases it, makes her sound foolish. It's almost like she is incapable of even seeing the irony of such a statement before she makes it. And when you add this statement to the many other dimbulb, tone-deaf statements she's made, it only reaffirms her image of being a bit of a dunce. And I doubt that's what Romney wants to be associated with.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Saints Path to the Superbowl: One Can Hope!

My ideal scenario is that the Saints secure the second spot in the NFC, which would give them a first round bye and a second round home game to propel them to the NFC Championship game, which will also be at home because Green Bay will lose their second round game.

Then the Saints play the Steelers in the Superbowl so that if the Saints lose the Superbowl, I won't be all that upset because I'm a Steelers fan, too.

But if the Saints make it to the Superbowl, and if their opponent happens to be the Steelers, I'm still going to don the Black and Gold Fleur-de-Lis come Superbowl Gameday.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

How Have the Saints Clinched a Spot in the Playoffs?

The New Orleans Saints (10-3) have clinched a spot in the playoff, even if they lose their next three games.

Here's how it breaks down.

The current NFC standings are as follows:

Green Bay Packers (13-0) - NFC North
San Francisco 49ers (10-3) - NFC West
New Orleans Saints (10-3) - NFC South
Atlanta Falcons (8-5) - NFC South
Detroit Lions (8-5) - NFC North
Dallas Cowboys (7-5) - NFC East
Chicago Bears (7-6) - NFC North
New York Giants (6-6) NFC East

Every other team in the NFC has only five wins and so none of them can catch up to the Saints to displace them for a Wild Card spot.  So of the top 8 NFC teams, six will make their way to the playoffs with either a Wild Card spot or a Division Title.  All the Saints have to do is to beat out two of these teams under any scenario and they are in the playoffs.  So let's see how it works out.

The Chicago Bears' loss today to the Denver Broncos was the critical piece of the puzzle for the Saints. The Bears are in the NFC North Division, so they have no chance to win their division, which is locked up by the Packers.  The best the Bears can hope for now is a Wild Card spot.  But the Bears' loss puts their record at 7-6.  So even if the Bears win out their last three games, that will put their record at 10-6, which would tie the Saints if the Saints lose out their next three games.  But, the Saints beat the Bears in Week 2, and this head-to-head victory gives the Saints the edge over the Bears according to the tie-breaker rules.  So, even if the Saints lose their final three games, they would go to the playoffs ahead of the Bears no matter what the Bears do over the final three weeks.  That eliminates one of the contenders.

The Dallas Cowboys (7-5) and the New York Giants (6-6) are currently playing and are vying for the NFC East Division title.  If the Cowboys defeat the Giants today, the Giants fall to 6-7.  That puts them four games behind the Saints.  So they can't get in the playoffs over the Saints as a Wild Card.  The only chance they will have to get into the playoffs is to win their division.  And the best record they can hope for is a 9-7 records.  If they win their division with a 9-7 record, it will mean that they have won out their last three games and that the Cowboys have lost at least two of their last three games to give them an equal or worse record.  If that's the case, then the Saints will win a Wild Card spot over any team in the NFC East because, even if the Saints lose out their last three games, they will still have a 10-6 record.  Now if the Giants defeat the Cowboys today, the Cowboys would fall to 7-6 and the Giants would rise to 7-6.  That would leave both the Cowboys and the Giants tied for the NFC East Division title, but each would still be three games behind the Saints.  So, in order for either the Giants or the Cowboys to claim a Wild Card spot over the Saints, the Saints would have to lose out their last three games and both the Cowboys and the Giants would have to win out their last three games.  But here's the kicker: the Giants and the Cowboys play again in the final week of the regular season, so it is impossible for both teams to go 10-6!  One team will go 10-6 and win the division, the other team would go 9-7 and fall behind the Saints for a Wild Card slot, even if the Saints lose out their final three games.  Thus the second team of the 8 playoff contenders affecting the Saints chances goes away. And even if the Giants and Cowboys win their next two games and tie in their final regular season matchup, they both would end up with a 9-5-1 record.  One of them would win the division and the other would fail to have enough wins to supplant the Saints for a Wild Card spot, even if the Saints lose their next three games and end up with a 10-6 record, for a Wild Card spot.  So, under any scenario in the NFC East, the Saints advance over one or the other of the Giants or the Cowboys no matter what the Giants or the Cowboys do.

Of course, that reality is likely to be much different than the worst-case scenario I painted above; but even in this worst-case scenario, the Saints still will go to the playoffs.  Geaux Saints!  Who Dat?!?!?

From the Archives: Taking on the Christian "Christmas Jihadists"

I posted this two years ago and it's worth repeating this Christmas season.  Some of the specific details refer to time-specific events that don't apply today, but the overall point is still very much relevant.  I wish the Christian "Christmas Jihadists" would just stop being scrooges about the holiday.  It makes them look both silly and "un-Christian."


OK. So, I received in an email from a well-meaning person the following re-interpretation of the classic Christmas poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas." In the spirit of taking on the Christian "Christmas jihadists" who think along these lines, I am now going to fisk this poem:

Twas the month before Christmas
When all through our land,
Not a Christian was praying
Nor taking a stand.
If there's a Christian who is not praying, then I'd say that's the fault of the Christian himself. In this country, we are still free to pray as we see fit. In fact, there's a Catholic church directly across the street from my house, and I see Christians going in there every single day to pray. Of course, the implication that the author of this revisionist poem is trying to convey is that there is some external force out there somehow preventing Christians from either praying or taking a stand. I defy any Christian who engages in prayer or who even circulates this poem to prove it with actual evidence.
See the PC Police had taken away,
The reason for Christmas - though no one could say.
The PC Police have "taken away" the reason for Christmas? I pity the Christian who believes this. It's the sign of an insecure and shallow faith. As I said when I responded to the person who sent me this poem through email: Isn't the reason for Christmas always the birth of Christ, regardless of whether people say this out loud or ram it down another's throat by force? Is faith such a fickle thing that the mere debate regarding state sanction of promoting the story of the birth of Christ is enough to take away the "reason for the season"? Well, hell, I guess there's just no point in being a Christian anymore, given that Christians no longer have the belief that Christmas celebrates Jesus' birth thanks to this phantom PC Police. Seriously, I have to say that it sounds pretty foolish for someone to say that anyone, much less this unidentifiable entity known as the PC Police, have taken away an individual's rationale for celebrating Christmas. Does the person who wrote this into the poem actually believe that he no longer has any reason to celebrate Christmas? No, of course not. What this person is really trying to say is that he laments not being able to force his faith, or have the state acquiesce to forcing his faith, onto others.
The children were told by their schools not to sing,
About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
Utter crap and lies. Heck, my own children sing about shepherds and wise men and angels and "things" all the time. And I don't know of a single school administrator or teacher who tells kids they can't sing Christmas carols. They just don't sing it in their public school classrooms because, you know, they sit next to Jewish and Buddhist and Muslim and Atheist kids and not everyone celebrates Christmas, and they don't go to public school for theological indoctrination. And, you know, my kids don't seem to mind all that much that they don't sing Christmas carols during the school day. They certainly don't come home complaining that their teachers don't make them sing "O Come, All Ye Faithful." They come home complaining that their teachers made them practice their spelling and made them learn their multiplication tables instead. And I'm glad about that, because that's why I send my kids to school. See, this is what kills me about the Christian "Christmas jihadists." They presume that because they can't do what they want, whenever they want, and wherever they want, the presumption is that they are prohibited from doing such things at all, anyplace. Instead, they claim "persecution" not because they are tortured for practicing their faith, but rather because they can't force their religion down the throats of everyone around them. In fact, tonight I'm taking my kids to their church (I'm Catholic, but my B-2/3 is Baptist, and my girls are growing up in my B-2/3's church) where we are all going to sing Christmas carols. [NOTE: My B-2/3, "Better Two-Thirds," is, of course, my wife.] And last year, we actually went around the neighborhood of the Church singing Christmas carols to anyone who cared to listen. About two weeks ago, my youngest daughter, who sings in the New Orleans Children's Chorus, had a Christmas concert where they sang all kinds of religiously-themed Christmas songs. And one can turn on the radio the day after Thanksgiving and hear people singing Christmas songs 24-7 for an entire month!! Anyone who claims that he can't sing Christmas carols is a lying liar who lies. And anyone who demands that his kids need to sing Christmas carols in "public" school has a warped sense of what public schools should be about. If people want their kids to sing Christmas carols, then they can sign their kids up for the local chorus like my wife and I did, or they can send them to schools where singing Christmas carols is part of the deal.
It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
December 25th is just a "Holiday".
I am always astounded at the utter lack of charity contained in this mantra, which I hear a lot from the Christian "Christmas jihadists." I'd like anyone who professes to live a Christian life and who hopes to manifest the Christian example to tell me what is intrinsically wrong with wishing not to hurt peoples' feelings or what is intrinsically negative about wishing people a "happy holiday"? What harm does it do to any Christian, and the fundamentals of his faith, to wish someone a "happy holiday" so as to avoid any offense to the person on the receiving end whose belief systems he does not know? By all means, if you know someone celebrates Christmas, wish him or her a "Merry Christmas." If you are unsure, what harm is there in simply wishing that person a happy holiday? These Christian "Christmas jihadists" act as if someone's "happy holiday" greeting is akin to being cussed out. Sheesh!
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-pod
Something was changing, something quite odd!
What? Aren't the Christians who celebrate Christmas the ones who engage in such crass consumerism at this time of the year?
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now, I don't know about what the person who composed this poem sees out there in the retail world during this time of the year; but retailers still market Christmas with a vengeance. And, in fact, it's rare to see anything at all being promoted to celebrate Ramadan and Kwanzaa. But, hey, even if retailers were to abandon Christmas for other religious holidays, that still has nothing to do with any individual's right to practice and celebrate his own religion. It amazes me how much these Christian "Christmas jihadists" measure their faith (and their freedom to practice such faith) by how retailers choose to market and sell stuff during the Christmas season. But I guess when you have certain segments of Christianity promoting this Prosperity Gospel voodoo, it's no wonder that faith for these people is so wrapped up in such materialism. And I have to laugh at the fact that anyone would be truly intimidated by the words "inclusive, sensitive, and Di-ver-si-ty." I find it equally ironic that someone feeling so intimidated by words would be proposing the very use of words to intimidate others. It's like the person is saying: "Hey, if you get offended by the words "Merry Christmas" -- too bad! I'm not only going to force you to hear them, but I'm also going to try to get the state to promote my faith wherever you show your face. So, take that, you multicultural twit." Nope, no use of words with the intention to intimidate others, right?
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton!
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
Notice that every single politician or pundit mentioned here and throughout is recognized as a liberal or a Democrat. This is nothing short of a bald-faced piece of ideological propaganda that seeks to politicize Christmas and make it a partisan issue. I don’t think Christ would approve of using his birth and life as a partisan commentary.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
Again, I have to wonder what is it about the faith of these people that makes it so fickle. What kind of faith's very life depends upon having Wal-mart put up a "Merry Christmas" sign? Notice how these Christian "Christmas jihadists" never assume responsibility or ownership of their own faith. Instead, their faith is somehow at the discretion and whim of the behavior of someone or something else! They see faith as something that not only can be taken from them, but can be done so simply by having a Wal-mart not put up a "Merry Christmas" sign. How pathetic is that?
So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'
Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
not Happy Holiday!!!
Folks, Christians, please do not listen to this joker. Here is a person who thinks that some people celebrating "Winter Break," sipping on a Starbucks (WTF?!?!?!? Is that some kind of dig at effete liberal urbanites?), and disposed to give a cheerful "Happy Holiday" greeting is somehow engaging in an evil, sinister act. No, my good Christian faith-mates, do not listen to this crank. I doubt Christ, the so-called "reason of the season," would look askance at kindness, charity, and sensitivity to the feelings and beliefs of others over something as innocuous as how you express a cheerful greeting.

It is finished! Now, I will put the killjoy Christian "Christmas jihadists" out of my mind and go about having a jolly, happy holiday in the way that I like to. I wish the same for you. Happy Holiday!

Final GOP Debate Reaction

I admit to watching the debate. Entertaining at points and mostly vacuous, I thought.

I have a few quick thoughts right now:

1. Diane Sawyer was insufferable as a debate moderator. She droned on and on at times as if she were the expert professor letting her minion students have a shot at demonstrating their nascent, but still developing knowledge.

2. The comments about Israel by some of the candidates I found to be both surprising and unsettling. To me, the thrust of these comments was to give Israel and Netanyahu a kind of patriotic loyalty that sometimes seemed to be more passionately expressed and held than even their patriotic loyalty to the United States. It is clear that these candidates have more loyalty to Netanyahu than to even their own President. And, frankly, there's nothing Obama has done to warrant such derisiveness. Obama has often and unambiguously expressed his unwavering commitment to and support for Israel and Israeli democracy. And contextualizing this support in a broader and more pragmatic Middle East policy is not selling out Israel at all. It's articulating a foreign policy aligned with broader U.S. interests that are distinct from more narrow Israeli national interests.

3. Newt Gingrich is petulant, pompous, and mean. Maybe some on the conservative right wing will love him for it; but I predict, should he be the GOP nominee, that it will turn a lot of independents off in the general election campaign. It will also mobilize Democratic turnout much more than a Romney candidacy would. I think he is just unelectable.

4. The only person who can measure up to Obama is Romney in terms of electability. And I'm pretty convinced that Romney won't get the nomination. Conservatives just don't like him. And his jaw-dropping $10,000 bet offer with Perry was not only tone deaf to the economic hardships of these times, but also generally unseemly. Heck, even Perry was a bit dumbstruck at this moment.

5. Michele Bachmann was so desperate to stay in the hunt that her earnestness just came across as too much of desperation.

6. And watch out for Ron Paul! He could be an underdog upset winner in Iowa.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Honey Badger Mathieu

For the sports blogging tri-fecta today, I have to comment on the presence of LSU defensive back and punt returner Tyrann Mathieu (a.k.a. The Honey Badger) in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

As a lukewarm LSU Tigers fan, I don't really care all that much for what Mathieu's status as a finalist means for the football program overall; but I am really happy for Mathieu individually.

He's a local New Orleans guy who prepped at St. Aug high school.  Anyone from the New Orleans Catholic League who makes it to Heisman finalist consideration makes all the rest of us who played in this league feel proud.

But outside of that, the young man just simply deserved the recognition for his amazing play over the season.  Frankly, his one-man show against Georgia in the SEC Championship game last week, a show which really turned the game around in LSU's favor, was enough in-and-of-itself to warrant a Heisman nomination.

But above all, the fact that he has earned the nickname of the Honey Badger just takes the cake!  I love his exposure at the national level and as a Heisman candidate just for that:

And the YouTube that sparked it all from the beginning:

Heh! You go, Honey Badger! Get that Heisman!

The Hornets and the Chris Paul Trade

Another big news item in the Sports world is the hoopla surrounding the proposed and then nixed trade of Hornets star guard Chris Paul.

My reaction: meh!

Really, I couldn't care less.  For some reason, I've never taken to the professional basketball world.  I don't follow Hornets basketball.  My interest in the NBA is only a passing interest.  And so, frankly, I really don't care one way or the other if Chris Paul stays or goes.  In fact, I really don't care one way or the other if the Hornets stay or go.

So upchucketh the Huck!

Tulane's New Football Stadium

The end of the fall semester and the crush of grading always means a little bit of a drop in the regularity of blog postings, but I do need to catch up to keep up with my blogging "self-nudge".  The good thing is that there are some really interesting things happening.  One of these was the recent announcement by the higher-ups at Tulane of plans to rebuild an on-campus football stadium.  What do I think of this?

I have mixed feelings, but on balance I think I support the effort.  The pros outweigh the cons as I see it.  Let me review my thinking here.

1. PRO: Having a football stadium on campus will undoubtedly go a long, long way to reviving school spirit and a festive campus culture.  That it takes a varsity football program with an on-campus stadium to do this is just the way it is.  But it will do the campus community some good to have a re-invigorated school spirit.

2. CON: There will be a much greater emphasis on football and the athletic program in general which will cut into the attention that much of our academic programming needs.  On the one hand, we keep admitting more and more students, while we also keep thinning the academic resources needed to support the students in both their education and their campus social/living environment.  It is a shame, at least to me, that we can easily raise $40 million for a stadium, but raising a fraction of that for academic programming is like pulling teeth.  This is especially troublesome because Tulane is not a school that turns a blind eye to higher academic standards in order to accommodate a vibrant and competitive Division I athletic program.  And with the hopes that this new stadium will bring for success on the football field, I do believe that there will be significant downward pressure on maintaining high academic standards for the top athletes that having a football team worthy of the stadium will require.

3. PRO:  Again, the unfortunate fact is that the $40 million raised for the stadium is not $40 million that could have been raised for any other purpose.  Some donors and alumni are willing to open their pocketbooks for a stadium and won't do so for other things.  I find this a sad commentary, but it is what it is.  However, where this is likely to make a difference is in the residual fundraising effects.  That $40 million may help to generate more interest in the university as a whole, which might improve fundraising and development prospects in other non-athletic environments down the road that wouldn't have materialized otherwise.

4. CON: No question that the stadium will only be a net plus if it draws people to campus for gameday and other events held there.  This inevitably means a great big headache for the campus and the neighborhood that is already starved for adequate parking space and is already subject to heavy traffic congestion.  The area of New Orleans around Tulane will just not be an easy place for motorists to navigate on game days.

5. PRO: The stadium is also being made available to support high school football and other community events.  Uptown New Orleans and its public schools, not to mention the City's Recreation Department, will really benefit from the use of the new Tulane stadium if access to the stadium will really be as available to them as the university administration has promised.

These are just some of my thoughts.  But I guess it boils down to the fact that I am a football aficionado, and so I can't help but have a soft spot for anything that will make Tulane football more appealing and enjoyable.  The next question is whether or not I'll take the plunge and get season tickets.  I'm thinking yes.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

That Other Football Situation

Oh, yeah.  I should probably say something about LSU and the BCS fiasco.

Before I declare my position here, let me just note that I have no real dogs in this fight.

Sure, I'm from Louisiana, so one would expect me to lean in favor of the home state's team.  However, one must remember that I have long-time loyalties to Tulane University, and so my passion for the LSU Tigers is somewhat tempered.

I think it's also noteworthy to mention that I grew up idolizing the "Bear" Bryant at the University of Alabama and was a huge Crimson Tide fan in my younger years.  Though my passion for the Crimson Tide has also waned over the years.  I think it's probably that as the SEC has become so dominant in College football, and as more of the local folks here have become obsessed with SEC football, I've gone somewhat contrarian.  I just think there's something unhealthy about the kind of obsessive attachment to college football that seems to be so pervasive in the South.

As for Oklahoma State, I really have no particular feelings one way or the other.

Anyway, all this is to say that my take on the constitution of the BCS College Championship game has to be understood in this context.  In fact, I think I probably have a pretty dispassionate and somewhat objective opinion.

What I think is that Oklahoma State should be playing LSU for the National Championship, even though I think Alabama is probably the better team when stacked up against Oklahoma State.

I say this because there's something not right about a rematch game when Oklahoma State hasn't had the chance to play either Alabama or LSU.

In conclusion, I think the solution should be some kind of a playoff system at the college level.  I've thought this before and this current BCS fiasco is yet another unexpected and certainly not ideal outcome.

Saints Update

A couple weeks ago, I took Squirrelly Girlie the Younger to the New Orleans Public Library Children's Resource Center Branch and bumped into Jeff from the Library Chronicles, who happens to work there.  As we were checking out SG the Younger's book selection, we conversed a bit about the Saints and I asked him what his prediction for the Monday night game with the Giants was.  He demurred and said he was likely going to make a game day call.

I expressed how confident I felt in the Saints' performance and how good I thought it looked for the Saints going into the final stretch.

Jeff wasn't so sanguine, even though he hoped that I was right.

Well, so far, it turns out that my optimism wasn't misplaced.  The Saints walloped the Giants that Monday night; and won pretty decisively, albeit somewhat ugly, against the Lions this past Sunday.  That's two Conference victories, which will help the Saints should they catch up with the 49ers for 2nd place in the Conference and a first round bye.  At least the Saints are keeping pace with the 49ers and have put some distance between themselves and the Falcons in their own NFC division.

If the Saints win against the Tennessee Titans on the road this coming week, their lock on the Division title will be pretty much secured (even if not a hard lock certainty).

In any case, I hope Jeff is feeling a bit more sanguine about the Saints!  I know I'm feeling pretty darn good about the Black and Gold!

Two Worst Physical Ailments

I've said it before and I'll say it again ... The two worst experiences of pain that I have ever had are (1) toothache and (2) backache.  Two days ago, I threw out my lower back.  Not sure what the heck happened.  I was doing some sanding on the front of my house and after I quit and was relaxing in the easy chair, something must have happened because as soon as I moved to get out of the easy chair, my back had stiffened and gotten sore.  I didn't feel anything snap or pop.  It was just sore.

That was two days ago and it has only gotten worse.  It's such that I can just barely walk.  I think I may have a slipped disc or something along those lines.

I haven't been to see the doctor yet, but I can feel that this is where I'm headed.

What a bad time for this to happen.  It's the last week of classes and final exams are approaching.  Not to mention that the Christmas season is here, which means lots of Nutcracker dance performances to attend.

I hope I can get some relief soon.

Toothaches and backaches.

And I'm dealing with one of those now.  Bummer.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's "Mr. Heat Miser"

A pretty good version of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's version of the song "Mr. Heat Miser" rendered pretty expertly to the original cartoon. Enjoy:


9th Annual TUCLA

That's Tulane Undergraduate Conference on Latin America (TUCLA).

Which is taking place pretty much all day tomorrow on Tulane University's campus.

It's always a great event and very exciting to see our senior majors in Latin American Studies present their major research projects from the Capstone Seminar.

More information here.

If you're in the area, have an interest, and can drop by for a session or two, please do: you are most welcome.

But, above all, congratulations to the students for their intellectual achievements that brought them to tomorrow's events.

See y'all there.

Top 10 Christmas Movies

I've run this in years past, and I'm running it again now. Nothing has surfaced since last Christmas to warrant a change in my rankings.

Here's The Huck Upchuck's Top 10 Christmas Movies of all time:

10. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey -- This may not be on par with some of the better full-length feature films that treat Christmas, but I have always adored this little 22 minute Bass/Rankin animated Christmas story. I guess it's thematically of a piece with the classic "Little Drummer Boy" Bass/Rankin animated short, but I like it better because it's not as well known and gives the animals of the Christmas story their moment. And who can forget: "Ears, Nestor!" :-) This is the only Bass/Rankin animated production that I'll include in my list, though there are certainly some more classics in this bunch of Christmas shorts that entertain the little ones every Christmas season. Honorable mentions in this category of "claymation" Christmas classics include The Year Without a Santa Claus, which features the Heat Miser, the Cold Miser, and Mother Nature, and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

9. Barbie in the Nutcracker -- Given that I have two young daughters, it's hard not to find room for something like this in the Top 10 list. However, I have to say that this is actually quite a very impressive digital computer animated adaptation of the Nutcracker story. It's the first of these Barbie movies, and I remember thinking how graphically stunning it was at the time. The music and the dancing scenes in this version of the Tchaikovsky-scored Ballet are also quite good. None of the many subsequent Barbie animation movies compares in both production quality and plotline development as this original one. If you can overlook the whole Barbie culture and how it crafts an unrealistic and idealistic notion of female beauty, you can find a little gem of a Christmas movie here.

8. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas -- This charming muppet musical Christmas story from Jim Hensen conjures nostalgic Christmas memories for me. It is filled with all the great Christmas themes of selflessness, love, family, and friendship. It's not as technically slick as some of our modern day animation and muppetry, but it was a masterpiece of its day. I just love the sweetness and wholesomeness of this lovely little story, and the tunes are catchy and fun. Heck, even the bad guys in this story, the Riverbottom Boys Gang, have their own redeeming charm. Another little interesting tidbit to note is that the actors who provide the voices for Emmet Otter and his jug band friends also provide the voices for the characters in the Riverbottom Boys gang. It's fun to try and identify the alter egos in these two groups. Yes, there are times when the puppetry is so noticeable that it distracts from the story, but I am always struck by how few these moments are. For families with kids 12-yrs-old and younger, this Jim Hensen masterpiece should be a Christmas standard.

7. The Nativity Story - While I found The Nativity Story to be a bit superficial and overly simplistic, it is perhaps the best effort that I've seen to portray the nativity story on film with somewhat of a realistic feel, even though I think its pretensions to realism cynically mask what is essentially a romanticized and imaginary representation of history. The script is perhaps the weakest element of this movie, and the plotline is thin and incomplete in parts; and, unfortunately, the scene where a laboring Mary and Joseph arrive at Nazareth and make their way to the manger for the climactic birth of Jesus is so surreal that it almost sinks the realist believability of the whole movie. Nevertheless, it gets my recommendation for effort and for its undeniably impressive cinematography, not to mention the subtle beauty of actress Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and the wonderful performance of Ciaran Hinds as Herod.

6. The Polar Express -- This slick, cgi animated telling of the classic train-to-the-north-pole story merits a place in my top ten because it is visually stunning cgi animation. The storyline is 100% pure Christmas spirit -- of giving, friendship, and faith. I originally thought that the movie would be too saccharine for me and would wear off after the initial viewing and captivating animation "honeymoon" period. However, I found this not to be the case. Every time I'm in a room and this show is on the TV screen, I find myself drawn to it, less so for the visuals and moreso for the storyline. Most of the kids are slight caricatures, and it really is an unabashed feel-good movie, but it all tends to work in the end. I think this movie will become part of the classic Christmas movie lineup.

5. A Christmas Carol -- Of the numerous versions of this Dickens classic Christmas tale that exist, and that I have seen, the one that I find to be the most moving, best directed, and most skillfully acted is the 1984 version produced for TV starring George C. Scott. What I love about this particular version is that George C. Scott's Ebeneezer Scrooge is so understated. Unlike the Scrooge one sees in almost all other productions, Scott's Scrooge is not the caricatured heartless and unreflective miser that experiences an over-dramatic conversion. Scott's Scrooge is a troubled and conflicted soul, wracked by regrets, who hardens his heart principally as a mechanism of avoiding pain and disappointment. His greed and vindictiveness are not really central to his character. They exist, but they are sidebars to the real roots of his anti-social behavior. And his conversion does not come from fear, but rather from an awareness and eventual acceptance of his brokenness as a human, and that this brokenness is not unique and can be repaired. What I also like about Scott's Scrooge is that his "converted" character is softer, but still retains some of his gruff and troubled edges. In other words, when Christmas day dawns, he's not a completely different and unrecognizable Scrooge, as is so often portrayed, just a more vulnerable and human Scrooge, willing to open up, share, and smile.

4. Miracle on 34th Street -- I prefer the classic 1947 movie starring Natalie Wood as the little girl and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. There is something about the 1940s that makes the telling of this tale of belief in Santa resonate much more powerfully than the more recent 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough. The simplicity of the Christmas message, the lack of pretense in the characters, the absence of a post-modern angst about the meaning of Christmas all make the 1947 movie such a joy to watch. What is interesting, I think, is that this particular movie takes on much, much better the alienation that has come with the creeping materialism of the holiday season than any other modern efforts. It's a refreshing, clean, wholesome and inspiring film. And its relevance to the contemporary Christmas environment is still very much real.

3. A Christmas Story -- One's top 10 Christmas movies list would never be complete without this classic included somewhere in the list. For me, this story ranks up there with the best of them. Maybe it's because I'm a guy and this film is really about little boys at Christmas. Ralphie's daydreams are hilarious, especially his "A+++++++++++" essay daydream. And who can forget the irony of the "You'll shoot your eye out!" admonition that actually almost happens. As a parent, I can't say that I'm thrilled about the fact that Ralphie creates the whopper lie that "the Icicle did it" when his Red Rider BB Gun almost puts his eye out, and then gets away with it! But, hey, what little boy hasn't gone down this path? I do, however, feel obliged to issue a warning to parents, though. This movie is marketed as suitable for Children, but beware that there are some really rough, uncensored moments of strong profanity here. It's a movie that is very much politically incorrect, so some might find some of the humor a bit much. But, if taken in the right spirit, it can make for an enjoyable film experience.

2. Love, Actually -- I just love, love, love this modern British movie. It's not really about Christmas, but it takes place around the Christmas season, and its theme is about the mundane beauty of love. The different vignettes are wonderfully done, and the cast is star-studded and stellar. What I particularly like about it is that not all of the stories have a happy ending, but all of them are about love in the Christmas season. Bill Nighy's irreverent performance is absolutely fantastic, and the proposal scene between Colin Firth's character and his Portuguese beauty is so classically romantic that I can watch it over and over and over again, and never get tired of it. And the fact that I know a bit of Portuguese helps me better appreciate the moment. Oh ... I get all wound up just thinking about all the dramas in this movie. I could go on and on about it. And, though I could have done without the sappy kiddie-crush subplot, even this, with some screening of the some fo the more adult scenes, makes it something even the tweens could enjoy. I should say, though, that there are some adult moments, and not all of the film is appropriate for young people, even tweens. For instance, one of the story lines features two characters who are stand-in doubles for what is apparently a porn film, and their scenes often involve nudity and sexually explicit actions, though the relationship itself is ironically sweet and innocent, which makes the contrast with the porn thing all the more stark. Overall, though, I think this film is just fantastic, and the message of love, in all its complex messiness and varied context, can't be beat. Highly recommended, but with appropriate caution when youngsters are involved.

1. It's a Wonderful Life -- I don't care how cheesy, overplayed, and overdramatized some think this movie is, it's still the best Christmas story out there. And I still get all choked up every time I see that last scene when everyone shows up and showers George Bailey with more money than he could ever need to resolve his dilemma. As an actor and person, Jimmy Stewart is one of the best. And Lionel Barrymore's portrayal of the villain, Henry F. Potter, is more classic Scrooge than Scrooge himself!