Monday, August 20, 2012

Stelly On The Great Reformer

I thought it was time to go for a while without writing anything about Louisiana politics. That was especially the case given all the giddiness about Gov. Bobby Jindal as a vice presidential candidate.

I thought there was even more giddiness nationwide than in the state until I saw the results of a late June CNN poll of 1,500 U.S. adults. Of these poll subjects, 43 percent said they had never heard of Jindal. On the up side, that's exactly the same percentage who said they'd never heard of Tim Pawlenty. Three cheers for the informed electorate, and for the three chairs that can accommodate it.

Jindal was getting at least some national attention. The Associated Press released a major story on July 15 that bore the headline “Gov. Jindal rehabs image by focusing on Louisiana.”

This story, which was run as the front page lead story one day in the American Press, maintained that Jindal was trying to rehabilitate his image in the country as a whole. It didn’t concern any kind of work on his image that he was doing in Louisiana.

The AP story, which was surprisingly thorough, seemed to say much of Jindal’s national clout comes from enthusiastic support by prominent conservatives. The article mentioned “repeated rounds of budget cuts to education and health care” in Louisiana during the Jindal administration, and pointed out that state “critics have complained about his deep cuts to state higher education funding.”

So, why did I write about state politics when I was determined not to? Well, the AP story quoted a local! In particular, the story quoted Moss Bluff politician Vic Stelly, who pretty strongly suggested that underneath his regal habiliments, the Great Reformer may not be so great and may not be a reformer.
"He's very self-serving," Stelly was quoted as saying. "All the so-called reforms, it'll be years down the road before we know if they amount to anything. I don't think they will."

The AP noted that Stelly had “recently resigned from the state's top higher education governing board over complaints about the Jindal administration's cuts to colleges.” Stelly’s pretty sharp. This time, he became one of the few in the state who resigned before Jindal had a chance to dump him.

And suppose Jindal does get a VP nod. Could I manage to see Jindal leave the state of Louisiana for 8 to 16 years? It would be hard. Very hard. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I believe I could manage it. And I can’t wait to see what he’d do to the national education system.

About Town

Boethius has come to be considered the greatest of the practical moral thinkers of the Medieval era. A new translation of Boethius’ key work, The Consolation of Philosophy, has just been published. And that’s important, because the translation is by my brother.

That’s right. The Consolation of Boethius, as edited and translated by Scott Goins and Barbara Wyman, was published by Ignatius Critical Editions just a couple of weeks ago.

I haven’t read it all yet, because when it came out, I was right in the middle of reading Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, which is a powerful long book. But I’ve read enough of this new translation of Boethius to know that there are many footnotes to the text and they’re very thorough. Whenever one reads a classic that’s properly annotated, it’s just as if one were getting a new education. (And in this case, it’s an education that comes at a very low price; the Consolation is going for just $7.95 at Amazon.)

As you’ll have noted above, this is a critical edition. That means the text of the Consolation is complemented by six essays by Boethius scholars.

I’ll tell readers more about the book after I’ve spent some more time with it. But you may not want to wait. At $7.95, you’re not going to find a better book deal this year.

Scalise Doesn’t Miss Calls

I read the following headline on July 19 on the state news blog The Dead Pelican:
“Scalise fights back against President Obama's call for more big government ...”

When I clicked the link, I expected to see a video of Scalise speaking. But in fact, I was linked to a YouTube of President Obama giving a speech on the sidewalk in front of the E-Z-Livin' Smoke and Boudin Emporium in Wagon Rut.

Obama said, "I am calling for more big government. I'm actively calling for it. Government is big. But it's not big enough for me. I want it bigger. And I want it bigger now. I'm calling for it. Calling loud. Make it happen!"

At this point, a young man, shaved nearly bald, who was lounging on the sidewalk with a can of Steel Reserve, asked a question. "Mr. President,” he said. “Mr. President! What do you mean by ‘big government’? What is it?"

"Well, young man," said the president, "big government means that the government will send you a check every month, and a pretty big check at that. You can use that check for whatever you like, so as to free yourself up to lead whatever lifestyle will give you the most personal fulfillment."

“Far out, Mr. President," said the young man. "I'm not voting, but if I were voting, I'd definitely vote for you."

"Well, sir," said the president, "I'd suggest you register to vote if the new restrictive voter registration laws in your area allow you to. You should vote against the enemies of my new bigger government — enemies like Rep. Steve Scalise of the fearsome land of Metairie, La. He’s the worst of the bunch. He fights my new bigger government relentlessly, with all the unflagging tenacity of the mongoose attacking the snake or St. George attacking the dragon. He gives me the insomnia. He haunts my dreams. He inhabits my nightmares. He keeps sleep far from me. Vote against him, sir! Vote against him!”

At that point the video ended. In defense of the Dead Pelican, I'll point out that the headline it used was the exact same headline Scalise used for a video he posted on YouTube. Why a news blog would repeat a congressman's headline verbatim, I can't say, unless it's that The Dead Pelican is at least as conservative as Scalise and just liked the way the headline sounded. If only journalists could use headlines because they like the way they sound. If it worked that way, I could have used the headline “Mellow Greetings, Earth Man” for this story.

I don't know how these Louisiana politicians do when it comes to politics. But when it comes to self-promotion, nobody can beat them.

No Austerity For Me, Thanks

In mid-July, the Associate Press reported that austerity movements in Europe have reached the point that they’ve started to affect rich people. Here’s the evidence: In Spain, the king has been asked to reduce his salary by 7 percent. That’s right: 7 percent! That knocks him down to just $334,000 a year.
I remember when some gubment budget cutters told me to scale my salary back to $334,000. Brother, did I ever raise he1l. I threw dirty napkins on the floor, flipped rubber bands against the wall and said dirty words. They got the message. It’ll be a long time before some gubment bureaucrat tries to make me get austere again.

‘Whatsa Da Shape A Da World?’

In international news, Iraqis who had been told to go to Syria to flee the violence in Iraq were told to return to Iraq on the grounds that the violence in Syria had become more severe than the violence in Iraq.

Goins Revere

Here’s a passage from the transcript of Rush Limbaugh’s July 18 radio broadcast:

“This new movie, the Batman movie … Do you know the name of the villain in this movie? Bane. The villain in the Dark Knight Rises is named Bane. B-A-N-E. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran, and around which there's now this make-believe controversy? Bain …  Do you think that it is accidental that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane?”

Of course it is not accidental. I know because I documented the filmmakers’ conspiracy against Romney. I secretly recorded a conversation of the key filmmakers with my Eclipse Portable Media Player when I was on the set of the Batman film on April 1, 2011. Here’s the smoking gun transcript:
Director Christopher Nolan: “Lookit, I think if we’re going to have a realistic chance of doing that shot from behind the skyscraper set, we’re going to need at least a 30-ton crane, and I think we ought to get that lined up and knocked out now.”

Cinematographer Wally Pfister: “Well, I don’t see the point of doing that until we have a complete shooting schedule. Even at this point, I’m not really sure exactly what you want me to shoot. I think it would help me a lot if I could get at least a working shooting schedule.”

Nolan: “I think Andrew knows what the shooting schedule is. Can he put it together and email it to you or do you want him to text it?”

Set Dresser Ted Altman: “Excuse me. I’m really sorry to interrupt. But don’t you think the movie should have a villain with a name that makes a reference to Mitt Romney’s past?”

Nolan: “Oh, hell yes.”

Pfister: “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Nolan: “What should we call the villain?”

Pfister: “Yeah, forget about the shooting schedule. Let’s think of a name for this sucker.”

Altman: “Well, how about Bane? Only, we’ll spell it B-A-N-E. But, obviously, it’ll be a reference to Bain.”

Nolan: “That’s pretty damn smart. What’s your name again?”

Just for the record, the villain Bane appeared for the first time in a Batman comic book in 1993 and for the first time in a movie in 1997. I learned that by spending 30 seconds on the IntraWeb.

People thought at first that Limbaugh would back away from his accusation. No such. I emailed him my video of the secret conversation I’d filmed. That must have given him fresh inspiration, because on the next day, he said this on the radio:

“They're trying to make me look like an idiot. A tinfoil-hat conspiracy kook. When all I am is Rush Revere warning you in advance, ‘The Liberals Are Coming!’ I see them hit the trail before you do. And what you're gonna have to do is, if you don't admit it yet, you're gonna have to start admitting it. I'm always right about it.”

Well, I see them hitting the trail too. They look just like pixies hitting the gossamer trail to dream land.

We can all learn from Limbaugh’s second set of comments. Here’s the lesson. If you want any amount of political power whatsoever, you must remember that the best way to convince people you aren’t a conspiracy kook is to tell them you aren’t a conspiracy kook. Are you reading this Michele Bachmann?

News You Can Use

Never keep potatoes in a balloon for more than two weeks at a time.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer Of Whatever

Local band The Downhearted have just dropped their second CD, Summer of Whatever.

While I don’t think it’s quite right to call this a retro record, it does dip into a pretty long period of past popular music, giving nods to some of the more melodic punk masters, such as, maybe, the Replacements, and such post-punk melody makers as, perhaps, American Music Club or Smashing Pumpkins. The disc’s second track, “On The Borrowed Time,” sounds like ‘60s pop until you hear the Sonic Youth-style riff in the chorus.

“Clock You” begins with a beautiful, twangy guitar hook that would fit in pretty well on a Nick Lowe record. The instrumental bridge resembles ‘60s garage music of the MC5 variety.

“The Madness Test” (which has been released as a single) also starts off with a tasty hook, this time of the multi-instrumental variety. This hook goes right through the cut, sometimes in a delicate, quiet keyboard delivery.

“Burn Down” makes it three in a row that start with memorable hooks. This one is in the form of a crisp, lyrical post-punk electric guitar solo. The song has a second melodic hook in the instrumental bridge that follows the first chorus. The chorus line — “Our love, it will burn down” — reminds me a little of Joy Division, both in its lyrical content and sound. The whole song has a distinctly melancholy sweetness.

The closing cut, White Sangria, is a simple, short acoustic ballad that reminds me, in lyrics, melody and tone, of Donovan.

Lyrics throughout this CD are thoughtful and a bit complex (though without ever becoming burdensome or vague or too abstract). Consider these lines from “Exhausted Heart”:

What horrid nonsense,
This time I spend without you and apart.
What wasteful days.
Exalted love with exhausted heart.

They have the poetic sophistication of Morissey, but none of his sentimentality or hyperbole.

Most of the songs on Summer of Whatever are love songs. But they relate to the adult complications of love and stay far away from the “I love her and she loves me, la di da da di di di” content of most rock.
When Nirvana’s Nevermind album was so big, a friend told me, “What I like about it is the hooks.” 

That’s pretty close to the way I feel about this record. Half the cuts have hooks that will certainly move you. Get Summer of Whatever for a record that sounds a whole lot more interesting than most of what’s called alternative and independent these days.

The cover art is done by C. Delle Bates of Orange, Texas, who also did the art for the band’s earlier Animal Lisa EP.

Summer of Whatever was mixed and mastered by Matt Moss of EMF Productions in Lake Charles. It can be downloaded free on and

I Promise This Column Will Do Nothing

The reporters say Gov. Jindal is touring the country, campaigning against the Supreme Court’s decision about The Affordable Care Act. On July 4, Politico quoted Jindal as saying, “It seems to me like the president measures success by how many people are on food stamp rolls and government-run health care.”

Well, that’s hardly news to me. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, all my aunts and uncles and cousins in the country said those exact same things to me — hundreds of times. They even used the same phrases: phrases like “food stamp rolls.”

So I’ve known for half a century that the problems of the country are caused by the people on the food stamp rolls and government-run health care. Why do they cause the problems? They take money away from rich people!

When I was a little boy, my middle-class parents could afford to get me all the health care I needed – and then some. But now that I can’t afford health care, I guess I’ve become one of the people who’s causing all the problems and taking money from rich people. I just wish I could remember where I put the money.

Jindal did make one statement that was pretty clever: “Obamacare, it doesn’t do what the president promised.” Saying that something isn’t the way the president says it is … that’s not bad. But wouldn’t it be even better to provide three or four examples of concrete evidence that the president’s statements were false? Well, maybe for you and me. But for everyone? Naw. A single simple abstraction is much, much more easily remembered than a bunch of concrete evidence.

Want to be a successful politician? Make it simple and say it over and over.

The News

“Cops: Pa. man aims at groundhog, shoots friend’s toe.”
— CBS, July 4

The News Made Easy

“Behind America’s Anxiety Epidemic”
That’s the headline of a July 4 Atlantic Magazine story.

Just what is Behind America’s Anxiety Epidemic? As a journalist, I can answer that question in a simple, easy-to-understand manner. Americans don’t have any money. Next headline, please.

Zombies: 27 Percent Real

It’s been many a long year since I thought a headline such as “Poll Analyzes How Presidential Candidates Would Handle Alien Invasion” might be a joke. Although this headline was written for KFSM of Fort Smith, Ark., it apparently refers to a real poll that was conducted by National Geographic.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said Obama was more prepared than Romney to handle an alien invasion. But that’s neither here nor there. What made the impression on me were these words: “Americans … hold much more confidence in the existence of aliens than superheroes. The survey found 71 percent of Americans think aliens are more likely to exist than for there to ever be real-life superheroes, vampires and zombies.”

Once in a while, I have to find out the hard way just how out of touch I am with the society of which I am a part. I’ve been going along laboring under the misconception that not a single adult in the United States believes superheroes, vampires and zombies really exist or could ever exist.

But am I really so different from my peers? I thought about it. Do I think it’s really impossible that a superhero, like Iron Man, could exist and could create perpetual free energy by melting and recasting 2 ounces of metal whose name he made up? Well, I decided, not only is it possible, but it’s somewhat likely, if you think about it. It’s a reasonable thing for a guy to do. I’d give about two to three odds it really happened.

What about aliens? Of course, I don’t believe in aliens. That would be silly. But if you mean the aliens kept on Level 6 at Area 51 in the spectral disginenacubator between the Montgomery Ward Steam Cleaner and the Mountain Dew machine that still sells Mountain Dews for a quarter, well, of course I believe in THOSE aliens. I mean, they’re in the photo in the Gemstone File, right?

Zombies? I used to think it was farfetched that people who’ve been dead and decaying for some time could have teeth, jaws and muscles that are strong enough to bite through living, healthy flesh. But suppose the playing of Celine Dion songs at funerals releases an enzyme into the body that strengthens decaying flesh. It’s possible. I say there’s a 27 percent chance that it happens; which means there’s a 27 percent chance zombies are real. Yikes! Time to work on the cardio!

Furthermore, am I 100 percent sure that no mythical creatures at all exist? Of course, not. That would be nihilistic. I mulled it over, and made a list of mythical creatures, along with what I think is the percentage of likelihood they are real:
— unicorn: 2 percent
— the loch ness monster: 6 percent
— Joe Arpaio: 6 percent
— Pegasus: 8 percent
— flying triceratops: 18 percent
— Bat Boy: 29 percent
— John Shaft: 36 percent
— James Bond: 37 percent
— the Blair Witch: 38 percent
— men in black: 39 percent
— the little doll in the Saw movies who rides on a tricycle and says stuff: 46 percent
— Foghorn Leghorn: 49 percent.

When  I saw that National Geographic had conducted its pointless survey, I got a suspicion. “I bet,” I thought, “that National Geographic now has its own network. That means that National Geographic is no longer trying to please people who pay for its magazine; it’s trying to please high-school and college dropouts who pay for cable TV.”

I was right. Just check out the trash National Geographic throws on the air to entice the audience. A program called Chasing UFOs features a team of three people who, I suppose, chase bright shiny stuff in the sky. In “Teenage Love Huts” a father builds a little getaway where his daughters can meet their boyfriends. Another show is called “An Abduction Story.” An interactive website feature titled WHEN ALIENS ATTACK bears the warning Prepare for the Invasion!

I looked up a 1984 issue of National Geographic on eBay. The topics of that magazine were American waterfowl, Africa, Antarctica, chocolate, and Grenada. Not everyone liked National Geographic, of course. Some people thought it was boring. But as far as I could tell, everybody thought all the stories were about things that really existed. Nobody, as far as I know, thought Antarctica might be some made up place. As for the aliens living in the serpentine tunnels hidden under the ice on what was once the mighty island kingdom of Lemuria, they probably weren’t mentioned in 1984.

Person In The News

At a recent press conference, Brad Goins announced that the Brad Goins Vigor and Zest Academy Of Journalism And Cat Psychology will offer student vouchers for the upcoming academic year.

“Vouchers will be $2,000 per student,” said Goins. “Since the name of our LLC is Brad Goins, please make checks out to Brad Goins. Parents who pay in cash get a 10 percent discount.

“Our goal at the Vigor and Zest Academy is to take our students back to the fundamentals of a true American education. We aim to remind students of the traditional vital connection between cats and journalism and enable them to reconnect with their cats’ psychic hearts.”

When the Louisiana Department of Education was asked for comment, an anonymous spokesperson said, “I’ll have someone send the wagon.”

News You Can Use

Meat pies should never be worn on the sleeves.