April 26, 2005

Fighting Fire with Fired

I just got fired! Can you believe it?

The Vermilion has informed me that my services will no longer be needed. Just my luck, too—I was finally hitting my stride! But apparently there's some rule that only active UL students can write for The Vermilion, and I'm graduating again. Such bad luck!

I suspect our conservative columnist had something to do with that rule. John Hinson has taken some heat after demanding that non-students stop writing to The Vermilion. Not that Hinson objected when math professor Henry Heatherly praised him in the Jan. 21, 2004 issue; but perhaps he was swamped then. Being a columnist is tough. So why get rid of a veteran?

Since June 2002 I have occupied this space, churning out 99 columns--100 if you count the 2003 April Fool's issue, which I will because I'm compensating for something. This hasn't translated into either clout or the pay raises that go to staff writers after 20 stories (yeah, guys, I saw that rule sheet!). Still, writing commentary on the events of 2002-05 has had a cool Forrest Gump vibe to it.

Like Forrest, I didn't emerge fully grown; it took time for me to become this jaded. My first Vermilion piece appeared in the Nov. 6, 1998 issue, a riveting article titled, "Higher Education Act may benefit USL students." That issue also announced the reconstruction of F.G. Mouton Hall (scheduled for completion in December 2000—yeah, four!).

Fifteen semesters later, we've been through three football coaches, two presidential elections, 9/11, two wars, a thousand of my closest friends and—just under the wire—two popes. On a somber note, these past seven years also brought the deaths of six of my relatives, our longtime track coach, a professor of mine and seven friends.

I've had six school IDs (including two USL cards), three driver's licenses, three academic bulletins and five advisers. My transcript is four pages long. I have so many experiences left to exploit on this page! Besides, I have the UL thing down cold; isn't that a good thing for a newspaper columnist? I have a BA in journalism and now a master's degree in English, yet The Vermilion still let me go! They called it "a long-overdue nudge into real life," whatever that meant.

They must not think I know anything about working. Seven years as manager of the track team doesn't qualify? Hardly a day goes by that a teammate or trainer doesn't ask, "So when are you gonna write about me?" I can't let them down! I need more time!

They always tell you that these are the best years of your life. What exactly is my motivation for leaving school, then? No one at the Grad Expo said, "Enjoy your menial entry-level years! They're the best time of your life." I was hoping to make a career out of being a student, but now they lay me off! Must be the economy.

I suppose, then, that those of you carrying on should heed this advice: open your eyes and take control of your life. Who decides what you believe, what you do and with whom you associate? The answer to that should be you, you and you.

Whenever you make a decision in life, don't do it because George W. Bush, Pope Benedict XVI or Carson Daly told you to, or because your parents want you to take that path. Don't even do it because I said you should; do it because it's right. Never wait to seize the moment, because (as you've seen here) it'll be over before you know it.

Talk to you again soon.

April 20, 2005

Cajun Brass 1, Cajun Music 0

What exactly does the University of Louisiana have against culture?

Here’s the lowdown on an ugly incident: The Pine Leaf Boys, a local band composed of Drew Simon, Cedric Watson, Wilson Savoy and Jon Bertrand, were performing on campus March 23 when the University Police ordered them to stop. They have since announced that they will no longer play here, a move which should sadden anyone who values a vibrant college scene.

This incident is particularly newsworthy for several reasons: 1) UL authorities gave conflicting and contradicting reasons as to why the band wasn’t allowed there; 2) enforcement of “quiet-zone” rules is apparently seriously selective; and 3) the school has now sent the message that only adults interested in selling stuff are allowed to mingle with students.

Based on the direction of the wind, UL officials have offered the following as reasons for the band’s eviction: noise disturbance, lack of paperwork or the ignorance of prior warnings. Taken together, it would appear that the university really does not want The Pine Leaf Boys on campus and will give any half-baked reason for their dismissal.

If the university truly cared about noise abatement, then they should address such diverse elements as traffic, construction and lawn mowers buzzing during classes. Why not shut down the massive heating and cooling units next to academic buildings while you’re at it? Or post signs on every sidewalk reminding students to zip their lips?

And say goodbye to those periodic block parties at the same intersection as well. Is it too late to cancel the rest of Lagniappe Week? That affects the ENTIRE campus! I have no doubt that the vast throng of students who traverse St. Mary and Rex each day would thank you for keeping their sanctuary quiet.

Somehow, I suspect that the noise disturbance was not the real issue at hand. How do I know? Because I was there. As I walked across campus from Griffin Hall to Martin Hall that day, I saw the Pine Leaf Boys doing their thing. Their volume wasn’t exactly at Festival International levels; in fact, I considered standing right by them to get a better listen. I would have even dropped change into their cup, had I not been bereft of change (a situation often shared by musicians and writers alike). As far as I was concerned, having a Cajun band there was a welcome change from the usual huckstering.

Another excuse given by UL officials was that the band was banned under the same provision that prevents beggars from soliciting money on campus. I suppose there’s a profound difference between bums and the credit card people who prowl campus, seducing unsuspecting freshmen with free t-shirts. To campus officials, it’s apparently more acceptable to ruin students’ credit than to expose them to the sounds that define this area. Not that any of this matters anyway, because the band wasn’t exactly advertising its little paper change cup. Maybe, just maybe, they were in it for the music.

Music is a part of the university experience. What movie about college doesn’t have at least one splash scene of campus with some kind of orchestral score? And what campus does not enjoy the periodic street function? Certainly ours does, and its annual calendar of events only enriches the academic atmosphere.

When I saw the Pine Leaf Boys that day, the first question that popped in my mind was not, “Will they please stop?” Instead I asked, “Why aren’t they and their brethren here more often?” Anything that enriches the student experience at a major university, even if for a few moments between classes, should be accepted with open arms. And open ears.

April 13, 2005

The Captain’s Blog

The big buzz on the Internet these days is the blog, a (usually free) personal Web page where a person can post entries about whatever they feel like talking about at the moment. Teenagers and professional journalists alike have blogs, and their ranks are growing fast.

Even politicians are getting into the act, as evidenced by what looks like the top-secret journal of the White House. I'd tell you the page's address, but then I'd have to kill you (also, it's long and confusing and I forgot it).

Posted by geedub46, 8 April 2005
Mood: Popeless
Music: "The Angry American," Toby Keith
Today we went to the funeral for Pope John Paul II. Me, Daddy, Laura, Condi and Bill were all there. More than three million people are here to pay their respects. It's great to see that one man could be revered so unconditionally by so many people all over the world. I wonder what that feels like! I'm all for going it alone if necessary, but still…

I wanted to go in line to see the Pope, but Daddy said that that was probably not a good idea. What a jerk! I mean, I never was a follower of the Pope or anything, but I still wanted to see him! Hey, I'm not really that big a fan of the Saudis either. But us rich and powerful folks have to stick together, you know?

Posted by geedub46, 9 April 2005
Mood: Forgetful
Music: "The Angry American," Toby Keith
Better jot down those codes…12-41-63-88-92-69-56. That reminds me, I should really make this journal 'friends-only.' Maybe Dick'll show me how.

Posted by PressSecScott, 9 April 2005
Mood: Spun
Music: "The Angry American," Toby Keith
I just got hold of today’s talking points…guys, are you sure we can keep exploiting Terri Schiavo like this? To constantly harp on the “culture of life” is going to work against us. There’s so many OTHER ways I want to exploit the case, and so little time left before we drop the issue. Can we please shake it up? This is getting boring for me.

Posted by cheneyburton, 10 April 2005
Mood: Gruff
Music: "The Angry American," Toby Keith
You are fire. The most dangerous kind of element, fire is useful or destructive depending on who is harnessing it. Like fire, you are eager to spread your will all over, whether or not anyone in your path is prepared. (What earthly element are you? Quiz by megroxors1987)

Posted by condoleezyofftheheezy, 11 Apr 2005
Mood: Sick of Toby Keith
Music: "Have You Forgotten?" Darryl Worley
This is just a reminder regarding today's White House activities: 10 a.m., meeting with Christians Against Peace; 11 a.m., lunch and our daily journalist auction; 3-8 p.m., stuff so top secret even we’re unclear; 8 p.m., Bush's bedtime; 8:30-midnight, Cheney brought out of storage.

Posted by cheneyburton, 11 April 2005
Mood: Oil's well
Music: "Let the Eagle Soar," John Ashcroft
Tonight's meeting will touch upon matters of serious world significance: first we must fill the room with smoke, then I’ll do my evil cackle (that always gets the ladies!). Afterwards we will throw darts to determine our next enemy (I got a new map since our other one fell apart). Then we'll select a new pope. Oh and Condi, can you bring back my Stepford Wives DVD?

Posted by attygenGonzales, 11 April 2005
Mood: Tortured
Music: "The Angry American," Toby Keith
I’m sorry, I borrowed the DVD. We’re using it to extract confessions at Gitmo.

Posted by geedub46, 12 April 2005
Mood: Confused
Music: "The Angry American," Toby Keith
Wait a minute…the Vatican is in Italy?

April 06, 2005

My Will Be Done

Terri Schiavo, the epicenter of current right-to-die debate, died on March 31. Schiavo had lived life in a persistent vegetative state since a potassium imbalance led to brain death in February 1990. If ever a case defined “lose-lose situation,” then this would be it. Ultimately, there are no winners here.

All of this wrangling could have been prevented with a simple document known as a “living will,” a document that states a person’s desires in the event that they lose the ability to speak for themselves. Ever the paranoid one, I have written one of my own. Here it is:

I, Ian Paul McGibboney, aged 24 years, 10 months and 29 days, and being of sound mind and body as of April 6, 2005, do hereby declare this to be my official living will and testament. Knowing the state of human life to be uncertain, I hereby declare that I want no part of a 15-year battle to determine who has custody of what’s left of my brain.

If, by happenstance, I am in Florida at the onset of incapacitation, I request to be whisked away as soon as possible, preferably to a state without such an insane governor. Someplace like California.

In the case that recovery seems possible, I am all for being kept alive on a respirator and undergoing any therapy conducive to my improvement. However, if three years of constant therapy and CAT scans show that nothing short of divine intervention will restore my brain functions, then let sleeping dogs lie. Please.

However, I do realize that a particularly sensational illness might attract attention by both legislators and the media. In that case, find enclosed an unflattering picture that I took in 2001, just before I had back surgery. I want this to be my official picture. Let people base their emotions on something other than how good I used to look. Additionally, coverage of my case should not take precedence over important news such as the second-deadliest school shooting ever, as happened during the Schiavo saga.

Furthermore, I shall not endorse any videos made of my behavior to justify my continued existence, even if such videos are heavily edited to make me look alert. Only videos made of myself during my life as an active and thinking human being shall receive my support, except when they’re embarrassing.

At no time should any politician or party, be they Republican, Democrat or anything in between, use any part of my illness as a tool for their respective political platforms. Unless such political grandstanding somehow results in effective prevention and support for concurrent and subsequent cases, it need not be even considered.

I vociferously object to any attempt by legislative bodies to write up “Ian’s Law,” designed to make exceptions to long-standing medical and legal practices. Hopefully this will be a moot point by then, because I’ll probably incite an “Ian’s law” or two sometime during the course of my active life.

Also, I wish not to be used as an example of upholding “the culture of life,” particularly by those who continue to support such horrific endeavors as the occupation of Iraq, torture of enemy combatants and the execution of prisoners.

Instead, I hope that all of these “right-to-life” types direct their energies toward repairing the lives of those who still stand a chance. These include, but are not limited to, America’s disabled, working people without health insurance and catastrophic patients. Maybe then, the fight to save one long-swept-away life won’t seem so politically transparent.

Finally, and most importantly, no mayo. I still have taste buds!

Witnesses: Anyone who reads this
Lawyer: the late Johnnie Cochran
Physician: Dr. Jack Kevorkian

March 23, 2005

Faster Punishment! Kill! Kill!

If ever anyone wants proof that American justice is impartial, they should be steered far away from the top stories of March 16, 2005.

Within the span of that one day, juries acquitted actor Robert Blake of murdering his wife and sentenced Scott Peterson to die. Of course, we in the media had long ago made up our minds.

A Los Angeles jury found Blake not guilty of two counts of solicitation for murder. Blake, known primarily for his role as the title character in the 1975-78 cop drama “Baretta,” was accused of the May 2001 murder of Bonnie Lee Bakely.

According to MSNBC, “No eyewitnesses, blood or DNA evidence linked Blake to the crime. The murder weapon, found in a trash bin, could not be traced to Blake, and witnesses said the minuscule amounts of gunshot residue found on Blake’s hands could have come from a different gun he said he carried for protection.”

Media coverage of the trial was a small-scale replica of the circus surrounding a certain other murder case that dominated 1994 and 1995. The general consensus in the media and in opinion columns during the trial was that Blake was undeniably guilty. This armchair verdict seemed less inspired by the facts of the case as by the notion that America loves punishing a monster. As Baretta himself always said, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time!” Ultimately, the court ruled that Blake didn’t and won’t have to.

Justice buffs need not despair over Blake’s acquittal, however. Just hours before, another accused wife-killer from California received the ultimate sentence. Scott Peterson stood trial for the December 2002 murder of wife Laci. But why do the details matter? According to the court of public opinion, Scott was toast from the outset. A trial would be but a formality to distract us while the chair was warmed up.

I’ll admit that I was not high on the Peterson case. The only reason I felt that this case garnered such a huge level of attention was because Laci was a well-to-do, attractive woman. Pretty faces make for tantalizing press, even as equally tragic murder cases happen every week of the year.

Another reason for the nationwide appeal of the Peterson case was that Laci was eight months pregnant. I’d say that Laci’s murder counts as a double homicide; after all, she was very definitely having that baby. Still, the case became a bonanza for pro-death-penalty and pro-life activists alike.

I am not one to judge innocence or guilt, particularly after not having followed the Peterson case closely. But from the first day of coverage, the public seemed to have already thrown Scott into the electric chair. Those with whom I had conversations about the case always had the same reaction: “Scott is guilty. I hope they kill him.”

But whether or not Peterson or Blake deserved convictions, anyone who cares about justice should worry when such decisions are made before examining the evidence. Once an idea is fixed in our collective heads, it’s hard to let go. Ask any of the 119 exonerated Death Row inmates released since 1973 if rushing to judgment is such a great idea.

For these reasons, the death penalty should be abolished. No government should hold sway over the life or death of its constituents, particularly given the injustices of a system rooted so solidly on public passion.

People are still innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. As interested citizens, we can volley the ball of presumed guilt around the court of personal opinion as much as we want. Ultimately, however, that court is useless as a tool of true justice.

March 16, 2005

Putting the ‘Greed’ in ‘Degree’

With all of the events going on in national politics, the Personal Ian McGibboney Press has unfortunately neglected the political scene here at the University of Louisiana. So here is the latest word on campus politics:

LAFAYETTE (PIMP)--A proposal by the UL Student Government Association passed easily Tuesday, with students overwhelmingly voting to pointlessly jack up tuition.

By a vote of 1121-575, students approved Referendum 2, which asked full-time students to "assess themselves an extra $78 per semester, for no reason other than to make their tuition bills really huge."

SGA officials greeted the referendum's passage with extreme pride, calling it "a victory for the UL community." SGA president Katie Ortego said that the tuition increase will give the students a feeling of attending a more expensive school.

“LSU, UCLA, Duke, Harvard and Yale…what do all of these schools have in common?” she asked. “High academic rankings, national prominence and astronomically high tuition, that’s what. Your SGA simply put two and two together.”

Ortego contributed the success of the tuition hike to the student body's acceptance of previous tuition increases.

"The UL student population has, time and again, shown its enthusiasm for tuition increases. At first, we figured we had a tough sell. In Spring of 1999, for example, tuition for a full-time, in-state commuter student was about $928. But through years of promising such marvelous improvements as a five-story parking garage and a new student union, we were able to win hearts and minds."

One anonymous official added that even SGA began to wonder just how many more times they could get away with increasing tuition before students would begin to object. "But when we realized people would never consider the drawbacks of our proposals, such as the unrealistic idea of a parking tower on a back road or the new union taking several years to refurbish, we knew we could be bolder. So we decided to drop the pretense this time around and just ask for the money."

Despite the significant margin of victory in an election that garnered the highest-ever voter turnout, some students voiced skepticism over the pointless tuition jack-up.

"I can't believe that SGA was able to pull the wool over the school's eyes yet again," said an English graduate student who asked not to be identified. "Are students here really so near-sighted as to approve a useless increase in tuition? Such reckless and unaccounted spending threatens the university’s status as one of the best values in the region.”

Still, the student said, “At least they were honest. Such integrity is rare in any form of government these days.”

SGA officials declined to comment on where the new funds would be diverted, other than to make reference to a campus-beautification project.

"We find that the campus is at its most colorful during campaign week, with all of the candidates wearing their party shirts. We also find that SGA is at its most lucrative during campaign week,” said the unnamed official. “So to kill two birds with one stone, we have decided to hold new SGA elections every month. The newly raised funds will be used, in part, to purchase thousands of colorful campaign shirts, so that their presence may be felt on campus every day of the year."

The Big Three is already planning for its next election in April, in which students will be asked to consider two proposals: a $20 tuition increase to provide free issues of “TV Guide” on campus and a $45 increase for constructing new parking spaces in the Quad.

Note: The preceding column was satire. Don't you know me by now? Everything in it is fake, except for the Spring 1999 tuition figure.

March 08, 2005

Secret Service with a Smile

The Secret Service. It’s not secret, and it’s only a service to a handful of people. Despite its ironic name, however, the Secret Service serves as a model of personal safety and security. Its thoroughness is not to be believed. As the following true stories attest, the Secret Service really is looking out for you. And for me.

In 1996, I was a junior staff writer for my high-school paper. We received news that then-Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp was coming to visit our school, an event we considered somewhat important. The Secret Service called our newspaper staff about a week before the campaign stop and inquired as to our coverage. They told us that any photographers would have to submit their cameras and all other equipment for extensive scrutiny. Their rationale: certain chemicals within camera film can conceivably be used to make a toxic chemical bomb.

With our staff at the time, they should not have worried about anyone expressing any less than serious love for the man. Still, we were ultimately denied permission to shoot (sorry, photograph) Kemp in our gymnasium. In the end, our paper made no mention whatsoever of the event, mainly because our next issue came about at about the same time as Clinton’s second inauguration.

More recently, the Secret Service swept the Lafayette area in October 2002 when Dick Cheney dropped by to campaign for future Senatorial loser Suzanne Haik Terrell. As part of its apparently comprehensive sweep, agents stopped by The Vermilion office to inquire about a certain liberal writer (as if there was any chance that I would be at a $1000-a-plate Republican photo-op, even out of morbid curiosity). Supposedly, the Secret Service interrogated the then-editorship about my beliefs, my disposition and even my whereabouts. I found out about this after the fact, so I assume the editors said nice things about me.

It’s almost a shame I didn’t get a visit from the agents, because I never got to thank them for possibly saving my life back in 1992. On Oct. 27 of that year, then-Gov. Bill Clinton came to Lafayette. In stark contrast to “Man of the Rich People” Cheney, Clinton held his campaign bash at a wide-open Girard Park, for free, with live music and dancing.

After his speech, Clinton rushed to the section where I stood and greeted us. Because of his rapid approach, the crowd swarmed and enveloped us. Being a skinny 12-year-old boy in a crowd of hardcore adult Democrats, I could barely breathe. As the CNN camera panned straight on me, I imagined how my internal organs were going to look to the world and to Wolf Blitzer. The Secret Service stepped in quickly, however, and I lived to shake Clinton’s massive hand just after he hugged my mother (insert your joke here).

My father worked diligently for the local Clinton campaign and collaborated with the Secret Service for the event. Afterwards, as Dad tells it, he and an agent were talking over beers. Several drinks later, the agent still maintained a straight face and showed no emotion whatsoever. I don’t know where they get such dedicated professionals, though I was once told by a rejected applicant that one prerequisite is having never smoked pot more than 15 times. I can definitely see the danger of getting too mellow on that job.

Even if I don’t always admire the president or other American political leaders, I will always be in awe of the competence of their protectors, the Secret Service. After all, these are the people who are protecting the people who are supposed to protect us. And that’s no small feat in any era.

March 02, 2005

Red Tape, Redefined

Move over, Nixon! The latest president to deny his crook status now has secret tapes of his very own. Recently released by George W. Bush pal Doug Wead, these recordings offer startling insights into the man who would soon be called president (by the Supreme Court). Among the startling revelations: Bush basically admitted that he smoked pot, once considered John Ashcroft as vice president and actually questioned courting religious fundamentalists.

Quotations from the tape illustrate a future world leader in the making. More importantly, they help answer the burning question: “What the hell were they thinking?”

Oct. 23, 1998, 3:16 p.m.

“Hey, George! Doug here!”

“Doug Wead! I love that name, Wead! Because, you know, it sounds like weed.”

“Just so you know, I’m secretly taping this conversation for historical purposes.”

“I feel like Monica Lewinsky!”

“Speaking of Monica, Bill Clinton’s been taking some abuse lately, huh? I hope the Republicans pounce on this.”

“Are you kidding? With such a scandal on Democrats, our party’s a lock in the next election. Any clue on who’s running?”

“Well, some of the names in the rumor mill right now are Steve Forbes, Dan Quayle, John McCain and you.”

“But I can’t run for president! It’s 1998!”

“Er…well, now’s a good time to think ahead.”

“You’re right. I would have to unify a loyal base of voters. On what could I run?”

“Well, sir, you’re the governor of Texas. That’s no small feat.”

“Actually, yes it is. What else you got?”

“You also ran the Texas Rangers.”

“Are you kidding? I traded Sammy Sosa! And he just clobbered the home run record.”

“Yeah, but Mark McGwire beat him to it! Gotta think positively.”

“Good point. I’m positive I’ll be president!”

“That’s very optimistic, George.”

Dec. 4, 1999, 2:42 p.m.

“Doug, I’ve got a no-miss idea for my campaign. Bush Y2K! What do you think?”

“You already have the paranoid vote, George. If you really want to attract voters, you should focus on the pertinent issues. First off, we need a catchphrase.”

“I’ve got that one covered. I like the title of Marvin Olasky’s upcoming book, Conceited Conservatism.”

“George, that’s Compassionate Conservatism.”

“Oh. Don’t like that as much, but it’ll do. Now how about foreign policy? And domestic scandal? I certainly don’t want to be caught with my pants down. In any sense.”

“Don’t worry. No one would ever accuse you of making love, not war.”

“And I’m concerned about alienating voters by pushing religious issues. I realize that America comprises a variety of spiritual viewpoints. So should I bash gays or should I just hate the sin of gayism?”

“Do what your heart tells you, George. Remember, your beliefs are right and no one can tell you otherwise.”

“True. Daddy told me that I’ve been wrong only once. And that was when I thought I was wrong. [Both laugh] I’m also up in arms about the marijuana question. I mean, what if I say yes?”

“Then do what every politician does. Issue a non-denial.”

“I could say I never exhaled.”

“Now you’re catching on!”

Aug. 2, 2000, 11:14 p.m.

“I think the Republicans might nominate me to be their candidate tomorrow. Should I say yes?”

"Of course, George! This is what we’ve been working up to all this time!”

“I don’t know. That Al Gore, he’s pretty stiff competition. Literally! [Both laugh] I guess if I just be myself, then I’ll do well.”

“Yes, as long as by ‘being yourself,’ you mean being the folksy Washington outsider that we’ve rehearsed so much. Go for it!”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I expect…I take exception…I—”

“Accept.”

“Accept your nomination! How was that?”

“Well, there’s always Florida.”

February 23, 2005

Why Do I Do This?

Lately, a handful of columns and letters in The Vermilion have expressed disgust for me and my writing style. They have called me everything from “tactless” to “extreme,” and have devoted text to why I am a lying and fear-mongering idiot. Whether the criticism comes from The Vermilion or the student body at large, one thing’s for sure: I couldn’t be happier!

Most criticism directed at me usually takes the form of “Ian McGibboney is a moron and a terrorist.” Name-calling is the last resort of a desperate opponent, so very rarely do I take any of it seriously. But even when someone responds to a claim made in my column and backs it up with factual information, they still usually get it wrong. Witness last week’s letter writer, who claimed that Bush’s second inauguration was less expensive than Clinton’s. As it turns out, Clinton’s inauguration cost almost $11 million less than the Bush 2005 gala (http://rawstory.bluelemur.com/index.php?p=141). Oops!

But the criticism hardly ends there. In what must have been a really slow news cycle, Vermilion columnists John Hinson and Beau Bernis devoted space to me in their respective columns. Last week, Bernis called me an “extreme-leftist liberal” and accused me of using “scare tactics” in my writing. The week before, Hinson said that he could not imagine himself writing in the “the cynical, satirical, and often tactless approach” that I supposedly take.

While I respect both columnists, I think they are missing the point of opinionated political commentary in the first place, which is to entertain and to provoke in order to make a valid point. No one is asking a columnist to be unbiased; what kind of opinion can be distilled from someone who avoids personal perspective at all costs? That isn’t commentary; it’s straight news. Both have value, to be sure, but one should not pretend to be the other.

I, for one, have always found columns far more interesting than dry news. As far as research goes, unbiased information is probably the best bet. But when the time comes for a stirring read, one that sparks interest in an issue in a way that the front page cannot, then opinion is the way to go. Reading someone else’s take on a subject is a great way to discover your own stance.

During my time writing this column, I’ve had people tell me “I read your column every week…and I hate it!” One campus bigwig even introduced herself to me by saying, “I don’t like you.” Then there was the colleague of mine who recently e-mailed me his thoughts: “Personally, I'm looking forward to your graduation so that I, and the rest of us that get totally annoyed…will see you heading on for greener pastures - away from here.” On my blog (http://ianmcgibboney.blogspot.com/), one guy called me “a brain-damaged Michael Moore on Quaaludes, minus the brains.” I like it when people put time and thought into their insults. It shows they care.

On the other hand, some faculty members have surprised me by saying, “Thank you for what you do. You’re saying what a lot of us think, but aren’t able to say.” I’ve also heard friends say, “I pick up The Vermilion just to read you.” Once a girl even threw herself on me (nearly knocking me flat) and kissed me. She said it was for having the guts to write the column.

These episodes are what political debate is all about—giving a damn and not being apathetic to what happens in the world. I’m not asking you to agree with what I have to say, but I am asking you to question the world around you. Nothing extreme.

February 15, 2005

Newsies or Floozies?

Journalists rely on the five “W”s in order to give the best-possible information: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Given recent events, however, another “W” seems to have arisen: “whore.” By taking bribes from the subjects of their articles, several journalists have recently hurt the already scarred face of the media. Who is to blame for this trend? Yet another “W”: George Bush.

Some writers already prostitute themselves for nothing, by being overly inoffensive and apologetic to the point of being blissfully ignorant of the need for change. Their pieces aim not to inform or to provoke, but to avoid conflict. They can’t read between the lines because they don’t even read the actual lines.

Others require a slight nudge to the wallet to be truly programmed. Several journalists have been busted accepting money from the Republican Party to write pieces favorable to the conservative cause. The Bush administration, worried that the White House press corps was hovering near treason with its mere 98.9-percent loyalty rate, hired a writer named Jeff Gannon and planted him among the press corps. Gannon’s penchant for asking fluff disguised as questions wasn’t what gave him away; rather, it was his association with his supposed employer, Talon News.

Talon News is an organization that, by its own words, is “committed to delivering accurate, unbiased news coverage.” Gannon represented literally half of the organization (that’s right—more people contribute to just this page of The Vermilion than work for Talon). The other employee is Bobby Eberle, head of a group called GOPUSA, whose mission is to “spread the conservative message throughout America.” Talon’s Web site offers numerous sidebar links to Republican sites and a banner ad offering “Any three conservative books for $1 each!” Moreover, articles on the Talon News site link to GOPUSA, the agency’s “number-one client.” If this site was supposedly nonpartisan before the scandal broke, it must really have come out of the closet in recent days.

Gannon is just the latest in what appears to be a chain of journalistic hookers being caught in the act. Armstrong Williams, a conservative multimedia dynamo, recently admitted that throughout 2004 he had been paid by the Bush administration to promote the No Child Left Behind Act in his columns and on his show, The Right Side. His $240,000 gift would have been better spent bribing the teachers and students who have to suffer through No Child Left Behind. Money poorly spent, if you ask me.

Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher has repeatedly expressed support for the Bush administration’s anti-gay-marriage proposals, to the tune of $21,500 from the Department of Health and Human Services. The HHS also hired columnist Michael McManus to support the same programs. Plus, the Pentagon has allegedly paid journalists to write favorable articles for the Southeast European Times, a U.S. military mouthpiece disguised as a Mediterranean news site.

I’m having a hard time deciding which is more pathetic: that an American presidential administration has to hire columnists to write good things about them or that the columnists are actually willing to do it.

Fortunately, I’m not yet at the point where my integrity takes a backseat. When writing this column, I would never cheapen the independence of my words by mentioning that I watch The Jon Stewart Show every night on Comedy Central at 10 p.m. CST. And you’d never catch me writing here that I get the red out with Visine. You see, I pride myself on my editorial freedom. And on my Arizona jeans.

But for those journalists who have been caught selling out, or have yet to be busted, I simply ask you this: couldn’t you at least have better taste?

February 02, 2005

Jury Rigged

Usually when I want $25, I just write another column for The Vermilion. Other days, I decide to earn it by getting randomly called to jury duty. On the pleasant Monday morning of Jan. 24, I spent the day gloriously exercising my Constitutional muscle as a prospective juror. Blind justice, indeed!

After entering the airport-like waiting room, I joined hundreds of other jury hopefuls (and not-so-hopefuls) in filling out the standard form. Hmmm....Age: 24...never been married...no children...have never been convicted of a crime...have never served on a jury...Man, am I perfect for jury duty or what? Crud...

While waiting, I rummaged for a good magazine to read, gravitating toward the Newsweek on the table. While waiting to be sworn in by the justice, I got to bone up on the latest issues of the week, such as the second presidential debate. I'll say this: if John Kerry wants to win the election, he's going to have to relax his personality and continue to hammer Bush on the issues.

When I got bored with that, I did what I always do in a room full of people: scoped out the babes! Now, keep one thing in mind: this is jury duty. Not exactly Venice Beach (or even the Mall formerly known as Acadiana). Still, I managed to find three or four really good-looking young women. But what are you going to say to them? "Come here often?" "Gee! I'm also not a felon!"?

After the 11 a.m. orientation and swear-in, we were allowed to leave for lunch and had to report back by 1:15 p.m. "Not enough time to do anything and too much time to do nothing," I thought to myself. Of course, this was no mass dismissal; we were asked to line up as the letters of our last names were called so that we could receive juror badges on our way out.

"Z-Y-X-W-V..." "U-T-S-R-Q-P..." After 30 very slow minutes of that, I geared up to grab my badge. Then, as if to taunt me, they flip-flopped: "A-B-C-D-E..." Nooo!! Several naps later I finally heard, "All right, last but not least, M-N-O!" “M”s are by far the most screwed alphabetical section. “A”s are usually at the front, except when “Z”s are cut a break and allowed to go first. But no one, and I mean no one, ever starts with “M.” But sometimes they finish with it!

After I got back from my considerably narrowed lunch break (which I spent at the nearby public library), I walked through the metal detector at the courthouse entrance. I languished behind somebody for several seconds before the security woman told me step back behind the detector: "I'm sorry," she said. "I wasn't paying attention." Yes, she actually said that!

After more waiting in the jury-pool room, the justice announced that 35 Chosen Ones would potentially decide justice for one of two cases on the docket this week. Yes, friends, I beat the odds: Juror 285 moved on up!

The next four hours were a presumably top-secret affair. Throughout the questioning process, I found myself hypnotized by the court reporter, trying to figure out how she cranks out an entire sentence with seven keystrokes. Intimidating. Now I know how people feel when I interview them with a tape recorder.

Ultimately, 10 out of the 35 made the cut. Not me. I did myself in by knowing three of the witnesses, admitting that I am more sympathetic to individuals over corporations, and basically by being myself. I think a fellow reject said it best in the elevator on the way down: "That's what you get for having an opinion."

Guilty as charged.

January 25, 2005

Inaugural Gall

[Editors’ note: The Vermilion sent an embedded reporter along with top SGA members to witness the 2005 Inaugural Ceremony firsthand. The following is a transcript of a live exchange between on-the-scene reporter Ian McGibboney and Vermilion Editor-In-Chief Dan Murphy on Jan. 20.]

“This is Ian McGibboney reporting live from the 55th Presidential Inauguration. Dan, the pomp and circumstance here are unbelievable. They spared no expense. This is a ceremony fit for a king!”

“What are some of the perks of this year’s inauguration, Ian?”

“The festivities have been raging all week. Notable highlights included the youth concert organized by Jenna and Barbara Bush, featuring Hilary Duff and JoJo. Their sugary and inoffensive sets went over well with this crowd. And today’s swearing-in ceremony was a huge deal, though they renamed it the ‘oathing-in’ ceremony because they don’t like to use the word ‘swear’ around the children. Lots of activities filled the spaces in between, but they were open only to those with specific credentials.”

“Like what?”

“Oil lobbyists, for example, got to participate in the sack race and peasant-shooting competition. There were events of this magnitude all week. At a cost of $40 million, this ceremony is easily the most expensive of its kind in American history.”

“What did Bush speak about in his address, Ian?”

“The importance of making sure we have enough funding for our troops and for Homeland Security.”

“Indeed, his inauguration has been in the headlines for its strict security and its lack of tolerance for protesters.”

“Absolutely, Dan. Event organizers have taken every possible measure to ensure the utmost protection for the president, his staff, members of Congress and visiting dignitaries.”

“What kind of protection does that entail?”

“I can’t really tell. From here, it’s pretty tough to see anything.”

“Where are you right now, Ian?”

“Fairfax, Virginia.”

“Fairfax? Shouldn’t you be somewhere closer to D.C.?”

“This is the designated ‘free-speech zone.’ The people here are those who have been determined by the Secret Service to be a threat of disturbance to the conduction of the festivities. I have one here beside me at this moment, Jennifer Sanders. Jennifer, how do you feel about watching the inauguration from this far away?”

“It’s kind of sad, really. I’m just glad they put a TV out here with a live Fox News feed so that we can watch the whole thing! I really dig that Dubya.”

“Wait a minute…you LIKE him? So how come they herded you way out here?”

“I think it was because I publicly questioned his tax cuts to the rich. I thought he should have given them even more. So they deemed me a threat and placed me out here.”

“They really jump on administration critics, don’t they?”

“Well, it’s all for the best. I feel so much safer after everything that’s happened in the past four years!”

“Ian, if I may cut in, where are the liberals? Surely they would turn out in force today.”

“They’re all in Massachusetts, Dan. On order of the Democratic Party.”

“Massachusetts? Why would the Democrats agree to such a spineless arrangement?”

“Actually, it was a compassionate deal brokered by the Republicans. The Democrats had offered to stand in California, as penance for losing in 2004.”

“So Ian, what is the Democrats’ plan for the next four years?”

“No official word yet, Dan. But I would speculate that the fetal position is heavily involved.”

“That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks, Ian.”

“God bless you, Dan. It’s the law!”

This report has been cleared for release by the Committee for Republican Accuracy and Partisanship, Jan. 26, 2005.

January 19, 2005

What’s the Counterpoint?

Throughout three years of writing this column, I’ve been accused of having a liberal bias. So in an attempt to be more Fair and Balanced™, I’ve prepared a handy reference guide for the conservative who needs quick rebuttals to common liberal talking points. These responses, which I’ve culled from years of personal experience, are guaranteed to leave liberals absolutely speechless!

For the most realistic effect, I have arranged this guide in the form of a standard political dialogue in the year 2005, minus the screaming and bloodletting. And now, How to Rebut a Liberal (If You Must):

Liberal: “In order to have peace, America must pursue a less-aggressive foreign policy, embrace its allies and favor diplomacy as a means of negotiation.”

You: “You must really hate America, don’t you?”

Liberal: “No, I love America. But we must honestly appraise ourselves. For example, we should address the glaring lack of adequate resources for our soldiers overseas, who already face pay cuts and unexpected extensions in deployments.”

You: “And just what do you have against our soldiers?”

Liberal: “Nothing, but our nation must reevaluate its new policy of preemptive strikes on sovereign nations. We can’t just attack other countries because we don’t like their policies.”

You: “Sure! Blame America first, traitor!”

Liberal: “Well, we DID attack Iraq, even though they had nothing to do with 9/11.”

You: “But obviously they did. Why else would we have attacked them?”

Ouch. At this point, you’re already on your way to thrashing your opponent’s arguments like shrapnel on a dead terrorist. But there’s still so much damage to be done!

Liberal: “Why did the 9/11 Commission take so long to investigate the largest intelligence failure in history, when the FCC took less than 24 hours to launch a full-throttle investigation into Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at the Super Bowl?”

You: “Won’t anyone think of the children?”

Liberal: “I think of everyone who is alive and whose lives can be made better. Stem-cell research, for example, promises to open up treatments for catastrophic ailments such as Alzheimer’s and paralysis.”

You: “Fixing lives with stem cells? That’s not pro-life!”

Liberal: “I fully believe in the ability of women to make their own decisions on pregnancy, based on their own conditions of life and their personal beliefs.”

You: “Choices are for school vouchers! Life is sacred!”

Liberal: “But I bet you favor the death penalty.”

You: “Kill the bastards! If they broke the law, then they deserve to be punished to its fullest extent!”

Liberal: “That’s not what you said when Rush Limbaugh got busted for drugs.”

You: “The man was sick! Everyone deserves a second chance!”

Liberal: “ESPN didn’t think so after firing him for his racist remark about black quarterbacks.”

You: “The media always dumps on conservative types.”

Liberal: “The media is full of conservatives parroting false news.”

You: “Dan Rather! Dan Rather! Dan Rather!”

Liberal: “Though Rather did get the memos wrong, his question about George W. Bush’s military records still remains.”

You: “You’re just out to get the president at any cost!”

Take particular note of that last statement. It is the “I love you” of conservative discourse. It can elicit sympathy and guilt or can end a difficult conversation on a high note. It is particularly useful when rebutting critics of any aspect of the Bush presidency:

Liberal: “The Crawford ranch could use a paint job.”

You: “You’re just out to get the president at any cost!”

Remember this guide and you will survive any liberal-elite wine party or college class. Arguing a conservative viewpoint really is easier than you might imagine; you could even say that it’s quite…simple.

January 11, 2005

Overdosing on Heroism

You know who would make a great hero? The first person to eradicate all traces of what currently defines the word “hero.”

Heroism is a nasty disease at the moment, one that is the excuse for all kinds of bad behavior. This is especially apparent in the current wars around the world. The Times of Acadiana recently awarded its prize for 2004’s Person of the Year to the Acadiana Soldier, proving two things: 1) soldiers are great and 2) we really need to stop worshiping them.

This isn’t to say anything bad about our soldiers; far from it, in fact. They are brave and take deadly risks for the rest of us, which deserves incredible admiration. I just have issues with the current concept of heroism. Though society has always needed heroes, these bleak times have elevated that need to an addiction on the level of, um, heroin.

Nowadays it seems that everyone on the planet has, or is looking for, someone to emulate. We long ago applied hero-level status to professional athletes, actors and everyone in between. The apparent mentality behind this was that people who get their picture taken a lot are not only perfect human beings, but must be charged with babysitting our children.

After 9/11, firefighters, police officers and paramedics also became godlike—not that it translated into pay raises or anything, but it did make us feel caring for a while. Remember the aftermath of Hurricane Lili in 2002, when electricians and the battery of public-works contractors were being praised as heroes? As admirable as these people were, equating them with heroism was kind of a stretch. Even the typically backbone-free local newspapers said so, which should tell us something.

Now we are molding soldiers into heroes, walking concepts of invincible warriors rather than thinking, feeling human beings. It’s hard to tell whether we are doing this out of genuine love and affection for the soldiers or if this is a coping mechanism to ease the pain of loss and the futility of the war. Maybe it’s both.

The need for heroes, however well-intentioned, has caused us to tolerate much more tragedy and political nonsense than we should. Some people call George W. Bush a hero, a ridiculous idea if ever I heard one. Heroism requires a certain degree, however minimal, of risk and sacrifice. Between the Secret Service, faraway First-Amendment Zones and his own skittishness, Bush is the safest man on Earth. And with his self-admitted shielding from much of the significant news reports of the day, he’s also the least likely to see the consequences of his decisions. No wonder we’re always at war.

Equally sickening is the tendency—both here and across the country—to celebrate each individual death as an example of why we must continue this pointless war. Several Lafayette-area soldiers have already died in Iraq, and each one has been accompanied by pleas to realize “what we’re fighting for” or similarly related nonsense. In a way that’s true; those deaths make it clear, at least to me, what we’re fighting for in Iraq: more dead soldiers. Holding up each person as a hero hurts more than it helps; the more we glorify such tragedies, the more willing we become to accept them.

Real heroes do not need to be glorified by the media or by anyone else. Those who personally know and love our soldiers have already made that decision for themselves. Find your own hero, whether it’s a soldier, a teacher, a parent, or someone else you know and admire. Better yet, be your own hero. If you’re not who you want to be, then what’s the point?

December 02, 2004

Captain Procrastinate

As I write this (and, most likely, as you read this), I am busy exercising the most useful skill anybody can learn in college, one that exemplifies the spirit of the end of the semester. Faced with two 20-page papers, another eight-pager, a presentation, two response papers and two finals, I am doing what any responsible person would do: put them off!

Like many college students, I have turned procrastination into an art along the lines of the Mona Lisa. My journalistic training allows me to write about government meetings in an hour’s time; is it any wonder, then, that I have such a hard time getting an early start on a 20-page paper? I’m more motivated to attend the Amish Gospel Jubilee. By comparison, my current bout of illness is a welcome release.

What is it that turns a student’s subject interest into a total chore? Who among us cannot think of something we were dying to do until the day we had to do it? Nothing ruins something quite like when an instructor makes it mandatory. The far right could permanently end sex tomorrow just by assigning it for homework. Just imagine the new campaign: “True Love Procrastinates!” I can testify firsthand that procrastination has been a knockout punch to my mental and physical health, as well as to others’ impressions of my work ethic.

But let me tell you, my bedroom and my truck have never been cleaner! It’s amazing how previously unendurable tasks suddenly become fun when compared to final papers; I never thought, for example, that I’d find “The Remains of the Day” to be such a gripping movie. Or that it’s so much fun to count the number of textured bumps on a ceiling (7,589,316, give or take six). I wish I could procrastinate more often, because it really brings out the little things in life.

You could say with a kernel of truth that my procrastination has and will continue to get me into scrapes. Like that time early in my college career when I literally wrote a term paper, from scratch, in the class period in which it was due, while staring at the professor the whole time. Yes, such is the self-imposed aggravation of not starting things when you have time to do so. Incredibly, I made a B on the aforementioned paper, so maybe that wasn’t the best example. I doubt that I can expect the same stroke of luck this time around. Still, I hold out on getting around to my assignments.

Come on! Haven’t I learned anything in 14 semesters here? Certainly not that college is over before you know it. That’s pure crap. I still have one more semester to go! Have I learned how to foster a meaningful relationship? Ask anybody. Have I learned how to become a civic-minded and active citizen, one ready to take on the leadership challenges of the 21st century? For America’s sake, I hope someone better is out there. Have I found a suitable choice of career for my talents? Read this and snicker among yourselves.

No, I think the best gift that the university community gives us goes far beyond grades, career skills or even personal responsibility; instead, it’s the ability in each individual to recognize priorities in life. Meeting assignment deadlines is undeniably critical to success. But at what point should that override one’s personal sanity? I, for one, have bounced through college with the ability to work hard when necessary and, frankly, knowing when to coast. Hopefully you will find that balance in your life just as I have. But you can always put that off until later.

November 24, 2004

UL Laughingstock?

As someone who has attended this school long enough to have tenure, I remember when the University of Louisiana at Lafayette was known as the University of Southwestern Louisiana. On Sept. 10, 1999, USL finally saw the end to its regional stigma upon the removal of the archaic “Southwestern” from its name. However, the name change also spelled the end of a reliable moniker for our school. In the ensuing years, the exact nature of our name has remained up for debate.

In an effort to address this problem, The Daily Advertiser recently decided to refer to our school exclusively as the University of Louisiana. The Advertiser, whose editorials usually run along the lines of “School’s in—drive safely” and “Business Expo will be good for area businesses,” has taken a strong stand on an actual issue for once. Way to go! Such a move is a nice reminder of the once-popular concept of civil disobedience.

Needless to say, rival newspapers such as The Advocate have not embraced such a policy. And, as its staff editorial noted last week, neither will The Vermilion. I can understand why a Baton Rouge-based paper would not indulge UL. But why hasn’t The Vermilion? Good question.

Like many Ragin’ Cajuns, I have never been totally comfortable with the name UL Lafayette or its variations. Quite frankly, it is a bulky and awkward name that does little to remove the regional connotations from our school (which was the whole point in the first place). It smacks of the usual pro-LSU bias that increasingly defines the simplemindedness of our state politics.

Dropping that second L would go a long way toward clarifying our name in the national spotlight. ESPN, for example, never gets our name right. Over the course of one basketball season, I saw us represented as “ULL,” “LAF” and even the horrid “LAL”—none of which are officially sanctioned abbreviations. “LOU” would work, as might “LA.” If I have to hear someone speak condescendingly of “ULL, U-La-La or whatever you call it these days” one more time, I’m going to nuke the state capitol, okay?

From the outset, we should have been the University of Louisiana; otherwise, why bother changing the name at all? But we all knew the rule (written with no small influence from LSU backers) that no university could take the name University of Louisiana unless another university took it as well. Thus began our inseparable bond with UL Monroe, a school that mirrors us in every way—except that it’s a completely different and unrelated institution. Does anyone really confuse the two? I seriously doubt it.

Would we ever be able to erase the city tag? At least one well-known Louisiana school already does it! LSU has several locations across Louisiana, among them satellite campuses in Shreveport, Alexandria and Eunice. The proper name for the main campus is Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. Check out http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/louisiana/uni.htm if you think I’m kidding. If LSU can conveniently forget its regional name, why can’t we?

If The Vermilion wants to continue to live in U-La-La Land, then so be it. But as this paper’s masthead reminds us, opinions expressed in The Verm do not necessarily reflect those of other writers. I know that The Vermilion’s pro-“UL at Lafayette” policy does not reflect my views. And I, for one, refuse to let a particular “flagship” university decide for us that we should be comfortable with carrying the name of a second-tier school. And our own university community certainly should not be the ones embracing such a small-time mentality. The University of Louisiana should never be satisfied with being number two.

November 17, 2004

In the Name of the Bush

The more newspaper letters I read in the aftermath of the presidential election, the more I find myself wanting to cry, “Jesus!” Why? Because letters to newspapers are reading more and more like those scary religious tracts that people leave in toilet stalls. If these letters are any indicator, then the future of our country was decided by those who think that the world is about to end. Nice going. Here’s a sample for your reading displeasure:

“I thank God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that George W. Bush was reelected President of the United States. Throughout the trials of the past four years, Bush has fulfilled his divinely ordained role as a moral and steadfast war president. I want to thank all of those who overwhelmingly voted to keep this messenger of God in the White House. Fully 51 percent of voters know what it means to be American!

“When the popular-vote count went to Al Gore in 2000, I thought that Satan himself had permanently taken over the American electoral process. Fortunately, God Himself stepped in and sent five angels in black robes to anoint Bush president. What a glorious moment that was for American democracy!

“When the evil Muslim terrorists struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the Rev. Pat Robertson blamed America for its decadent ways. Nonsense! If the attacks proved anything, it’s that the merciful Lord loves America more than any other nation on Earth! After all, 9/11 allowed President Bush to fulfill his fate as a wartime commander-in-chief. Before 9/11, Bush was not the best president; in fact, he was downright unpopular and unqualified. We knew that when we voted for him! So on that fateful day, tears welled up in our eyes as we united behind our president. As a nation, we could not have been prouder of Bush than we were on 9/11!

“Through two wars, massive tax cuts and faith-based initiatives, Bush has shown that he will do anything to preserve the sanctity of the conservative people. Every action Bush has undertaken—be it record deficits, sidestepping the Constitution, ignoring domestic issues or supporting the death penalty—bears the unmistakable imprint of the hand of God. Even if some of these decisions seemed destructive at the time, rest assured that nothing happens without a reason. If Bush does something, then, he obviously has a good reason for doing so. Just trust the man. A messenger of Christ can do no wrong!

“I thank God that George W. Bush will be the man at the helm to address the most dangerous and pressing issues of our times: gay marriage and abortion! Before we can ever hope to address such trivial issues as terrorism, education and the economy, we must ensure that this nation returns to the moral roots defined in America’s founding document, the Bible. Though the president has no power to directly affect such laws as gay marriage and abortion, his possible three Supreme Court appointments can help to overturn Roe v. Wade as soon as possible. That is, if they agree to hear a case that has enough potential to reverse the law and eventually rule in favor of change. But with God on our side, all of those astronomical odds are in our favor!

“With Bush in office, America will continue to save the world from those countries that have the nerve to think that their religion and their country rule the world. To that I say, ‘God Bless America!’”

Looks like some people will do anything to justify both their support of George W. Bush and their beliefs. How sad is that?

November 10, 2004

Why W?

The 2004 election was a bonanza for the neo-conservative agenda. Last week, 51 percent of American voters gave George W. Bush his first-ever mandate and Republicans galore won other races. The message resounded across the country: Americans are united in promoting the most divisive issues of our time.

How did this happen? The Democrats ran a fantastic campaign. The convention rocked, the candidates were rhetorically strong, past mistakes were avoided and people of all stripes liked John Kerry. Ralph Nader voters this year presumably all pulled up in the same Volkswagen Beetle, so spoiler candidates weren’t a problem. The escalating failures all over the world didn’t help either. People everywhere were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. But then this. So, Bush voters, my question to you is, “Why W?”

Was it peer pressure? If you’re getting your information from 1) your parents, 2) your preacher or 3) Fox News, then you really need to question that. How many times do I need to hear that Bush “has the terrorists on the run” because of his “courage of conviction?” On the whole, very few Bush supporters give off the impression that they form their opinion from anything beyond GOP talking points.

Is it because you believe in staying the course? Unswerving resolve is not a virtue when careening toward a tree at 90 m.p.h. Not that Bush hasn't changed his mind many, many times anyway. Witness the ever-changing motives for the Iraq War, the conflicting messages Bush and Dick Cheney gave during the campaign and Bush's ever-changing shift on politics when personal interests are involved. But Kerry, now there was a flip-flopper!

The president is a man of prayer, you say. Why is Bush given a free pass just because he claims to be a man of faith, especially when his rabid support for war and the death penalty proves otherwise? How can anyone see Bush be a Christian man of peace instead of what he really is, a televangelist? Don’t forget that, in their 1980s heyday, televangelists were self-righteous people who got busted for being incredibly pompous hypocrites. But now they’re running the place! Eighties retro, while great for music and movies, has been disastrous for politics.

Eleven states held ballots on gay marriage—the same provision that has already been declared unconstitutional in Louisiana. Nothing’s better for bringing out the religious-right voters than a ballot that plays on their fears and prejudices. If your vote is based on abstract moral issues instead of the war, the economy, education and taxes, then your priorities are skewed. Is it safe to assume that you will have no problem with four more years of increased war, a possible draft, more PATRIOT-Act-style oppression, economic disaster, stratospheric gas prices and deaths galore, just as long as gays stay unmarried?

Americans are simply too self-centered. We turn a blind eye to pain, suffering and injustice as long as things are going just fine for ourselves. But even if we’re doing terribly, our leaders convince us that everything’s just dandy. Why else would small business owners, working folks and religious people vote Republican? People will do anything to convince themselves that they are fine, and admitting problems takes that security away from them. This is keeping us from actually solving our problems.

Until that half of America comes to its senses, we will work harder than ever to keep our leaders’ feet to the fire. Nothing will get past us. We will give credit where it’s due, and blame where it belongs. We will not let the far right destroy this country.

I’m Ian McGibboney and I approved this message.

November 02, 2004

A post-election nonalysis

Yesterday, we held what was perhaps the most important and critical election of our lives. We stand at a turning point in history, and the repercussions of this election will be felt for decades to come all over the world. I hope we did the right thing.

But because I’m writing this at exactly midnight on Oct. 30, I can’t comment on what a debacle this election surely turned out to be, nor can I write about the rampant election fraud that has voters boiling. So I’ll just revert to that old standby, The List of Irritating People:

1) People who take pride in not taking a stand. Nothing unnerves me more than people who say they have no opinion. I’m not saying that everyone must have an opinion on everything; for instance, I couldn’t care less what dress Ashlee Simpson wears to the Made-Up Music Awards. But if you’re going to address a hot-button issue in an editorial or other forum, say what you really feel. I can’t be the only one who found this paper’s declaration in 2002 that “The Vermilion takes no stand on the Vermilion-Advertiser debate” to be totally absurd. Yeah right! If something inspires, bugs you or threatens your very existence, then say so! Who knows, someone else might love you for speaking out. Save neutrality for the news and family reunions.

2) People who just HAVE to get where they’re going. Does a day go by when some idiot in an SUV doesn’t careen between lanes as if the very balance of humanity rested on their getting to the stockholder’s meeting in time? Listen, Top Gun, studies show that the average hurried driver gets where they’re going only 83 SECONDS faster than those who drive more carefully. If where you’re going is really worth the risk of driving dangerously, than maybe we should all go! Or perhaps you’re worried about getting to your children. Let the little brats wait a few more minutes! It might be the best lesson you’ve ever given them in how the world works. Also, hang up the phone, turn down the radio and use your turn signals. And fix that damn muffler! Some of us like our lungs.

3) People who rush into lifelong commitments. This is a huge problem in Louisiana. Who decided that we must instill a sense of failure into anyone who isn’t married with a kid, home and hunting rifle by the time they’re 23? If any of you reading this are feeling the pressure to drop out of college in order to make money and satisfy your “parrain” by marrying the first guy you ever kissed, don’t, okay? Live life a little bit! Get an education. Travel. Meet people who haven’t lived their entire lives in Peauxdunk Parish. Who knows, you might find that the life your parents wrote for you 20 years ago just doesn’t do it for you anymore.

4) People who don’t respect other people’s opinions. No one ever changed a mind or earned the high ground by ridiculing someone’s core values. Sure, people often hold what can only be called extreme views; but the key to getting along and pondering other views is to debate the stance factually, without personal attacks. Discourse these days is so full of hatred, and that’s sad—especially when satire and comedy are so much more fun. All name-calling does is start pointless conflict. There’re many better ways to start fights!

5) Newspaper editors. The worst kind of Nazis, editors are real fond of taking the polished thoughts of their writers and butchering any content they think makes them look bad. Editors can kiss

October 26, 2004

Election 2004: Go to the John

“Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps…” –Not who you think

While compiling columns for my new online archive (forgive the plug: http://columnsonline.blogspot.com/) I noticed that I haven’t talked enough about the Nov. 2 election. After months of fair and balanced consideration, I’ve decided to endorse John Kerry for president.

Before I explain why, though, let’s weigh in on the more localized races. Because U.S. Senator John Breaux is retiring, we must select his successor. Chris John is that man; a moderate Democrat, John has the clout and experience that stands out in a talented field. Plus, he has the added benefit of not being David Vitter.

While the District 7 Representative race is as split as a pro-life liberal, Donald Cravins stands out. While he calls himself a conservative Democrat, his progressive stances on issues such as outsourcing, health care, education and women’s issues betray that description. His biggest opposition, Charles Boustany, has been making speeches about how he isn’t in the pocket of the Republicans, which shows just how much he’s in the pocket of the Republicans.

But back to Kerry. In the past, I’ve been accused of pushing the view that Kerry is the best candidate simply because he’s not Bush. Which is a good reason, really. Nader voters, I hear you; the two-party system has serious flaws that need to be addressed so that we don’t constantly get Britney Spears vs. Hilary Duff. I don’t even really blame Nader for Gore’s loss in 2000; the Supreme Court had much more to do with that robbery. With this election, however, the stakes are far too high to make this brand of statement.

How about this for a statement in 2004? “While Kerry is not our first choice, he is a better choice than the other guy who has a chance to win. Let’s unite for Kerry this time for the immediate good, and then strive toward change when things improve.”

Still, I understand that people want reasons to vote FOR Kerry. That can be satisfied by reading his platform at johnkerry.com. Kerry has qualities with which virtually anyone can identify.

If you are the worker type, know that Kerry intends to crack down on corporations that want to lay you off and send your job to another hemisphere. He has the support of the AFL-CIO, as well as the International Association of Fire Fighters, International Brotherhood of Police Officers, National Education Association, United Farm Workers and more than 100 other organizations representing diverse professions.

If religion’s your bag, then Kerry is your only choice. Yes, that’s what I said! A Kerry vote will preserve your denomination by getting the government out of it. If you are tired of seeing your sincere beliefs exploited to justify terrible acts, then vote for the man secure enough in his beliefs to not have to enforce them.

Finally, don’t forget that thing going on in Iraq. Kerry’s plan gradually reduces our involvement there and includes regaining the trust of the world’s leaders so that we can plan an exit strategy. He understands firsthand the tragedy of war, and sees the need for soldiers and veterans to get the benefits they deserve.

At least one well-known group does not endorse Kerry. They worry about his ability to conduct the war on terror: “Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps…Because of this we desire [Bush] to be elected…who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom.” Considering al-Qaida’s current clout in the world, I’d take those words to heart.

For the best course for this state, this nation and the world, vote straight John (and Don) this Tuesday.

October 19, 2004

Stem Cells: Nerves of Steel

Quadriplegic actor Christopher Reeve, paralyzed since a horse-racing accident in May 1995, died Oct. 10 of complications relating to his condition. We have lost one of the finest and most underrated talents of our time, one who showed us that the impossible can become the possible.

The totality of Reeve’s injury hit home for me just days after it happened, when my driver’s education class watched a training video in which he starred. Chris gave us a friendly intro, hopped into a convertible and offered driving tips. Our teacher stopped the tape several times because our paralysis chatter was overriding the lesson. It felt surreal watching the man give us tips on how to drive, knowing that he could no longer grip the wheel.

In the ensuing nine years, Reeve spoke out, wrote two outstanding books and worked tirelessly for his newfound cause. He became a high-profile example for those recovering from catastrophic illnesses. Always an activist, one of Reeve’s most personal political issues later in life involved stem-cell research, a field that offered his greatest hope for walking once again.

Reeve’s death marks the second high-profile death this year (after Ronald Reagan) from maladies related to causes that stem cells promise to treat. What are stem cells? They are the cells that determine the growth and development of human tissue. Once fashioned into a “line” (an infinitely reproducing cluster of cells), stem cells can theoretically be used to regenerate a severed spinal cord or an eroded brain stem. Current studies are underway to determine stem cells’ role in curing such maladies as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases, as well as paralysis.

Depending on whom you ask, stem-cell research is either mankind’s best hope or a one-way express rocket to Hell. The stem-cell extraction process, to most people, goes like this: scientists grow fetuses in a secret lab at UC-Berkeley, assisted by a harem of hippie sluts. Babies are then extracted feet-first from the womb and positioned to allow for maximum wailing while a doctor takes a large kitchen knife and slices the fetus like an orange. After exchanging high fives, the doctors slip the remains into a meat grinder. And voila!

Um, no. It’s true that the most effective stem-cell lines are derived from freshly fertilized human embryos; however, only embryos donated explicitly for this purpose are ever used. No actual babies (or fetuses) are ever in danger. Moreover, some stem cells can also originate from live people and even umbilical cords. Still, the Bush administration is no fan of such research, claiming that it violates godly standards. But if Superman and the Gipper dying so close together isn’t a divine sign, then what is?

Not that the theological aspect of it matters anyway. If U.S. law allowed religions to dictate medical practices, then we wouldn’t have hospitals (or, in some cases, doctors). Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are against blood transfusions because they believe that blood is part of one’s soul. Yet blood banks continue to pulse unabated, as does the door-knocking of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. When scientific advances that could save lives are on the line, doesn’t it make sense to support life?

In any case, stem-cell researchers have a long trial ahead of them. Any obstacles that lie ahead should involve medical applications, not the religious right. Nothing would have thrilled me more than to see Christopher Reeve and Ronald Reagan chatting on a morning jog. But whether or not stem-cell research could have saved them in time, the fact remains that the potential remains out there for the next generation of the afflicted. You might even say it’s our mission to tap this amazing resource.

October 12, 2004

I Rather Like Dan

People in the press write a lot about themselves. Pick up any journalistic trade magazine and you’ll see what I mean. Journalists are seen by the public (often justifiably so) as a cocky and self-important lot. Of course, this is a profession staffed largely with former nerds with huge vocabularies, who have the potential to inflict damage with what they write. I should know, because that’s me! Reporting requires a special type of person, and ambushing people to get their deepest beliefs and rushing to meet deadlines is good work for a Type-A, hard-driven personality (That’s not me).

Journalism, then, often becomes an ego-driven industry. Much like hip-hop. And just like rappers, journalists who screw up get hammered. Not only does the mistake-maker get the facts wrong, but it becomes front-page news! For days! Justified or not, it’s almost sickening how much satisfaction journalists get from exposing one of their own. It gives them a feeling of intellectual superiority, as well as a chance to harp on why they themselves are above suspicion.

It’s one thing to demand a virtuoso performance on the stage of public communication; it’s another to try to bump that person off the stage while they’re still trying to perform. Take last week’s Vermilion staff editorial. Entitled “Hit the road, Dan,” the editorial took Dan Rather and CBS News to task for its recent fudging of facts regarding Bush-related documents. Faced with evidence that memos featured on CBS proving Bush’s skittish military service were phonies, Rather apologized.

Last week’s editorial compared Rather’s case to that of Jayson Blair, the recently disgraced New York Times journalist who made up articles. I find it surprising that a journalism student would make such a silly comparison; if her professor accused her of making up quotes, when in fact she recalled the information correctly but it turned out to be wrong, there’s no question she’d explode. Wouldn’t anyone?

It’s dangerous business for a “junior journalism student” to give hell to Dan Rather over incorrect information. This assumes, of course, that this journalism undergraduate is never herself going to make a mistake in her career. Rather has been employed by CBS News since 1962. In that time, he has been known for only two major gaffes: this one and a confrontation he had with George H.W. Bush in 1988, in which they—get this—both screamed at each other! That’s two mistakes in 42 years. Not bad! I myself passed that two-mistake threshold sometime during my tenure at my middle-school newspaper. Besides, let’s face it: any Vermilion staffer who points fingers for mistakes is calling the kettle black, okay?

Such criticism is valid only when it is not accompanied by blatant partisanship. Why, for example, did the writer not refer to the case of Fox News reporter Carl Cameron, who completely made up the John Kerry manicure quotes after the first Presidential debate? Where is her outrage over that?

And witness Cameron’s network, the “fair and balanced” Fixed News, sorry, Fox News. Any outlet that makes a policy of sending e-mails to its anchors to inject pro-Bush statements in its news deserves criticism. Not the kind of self-serving criticism currently enveloping Rather, but the constructive kind that actually helps the profession and the flow in information in general.

One quote from the editorial is telling: “Most people don’t know this, but journalists have a code of ethics.” Yes, it seems that most people these days aren’t aware that journalism has any ethics. It might help the integrity of this great profession if journalists showed a little restraint and forgiveness when one of their own shows the occasional misjudgment. Now that would be ethical.

October 06, 2004

Yay! A Column on Porn!

Before we dive headfirst into this week's empty pool, I want to explain that last week's column was so short because it suffered from what journalists call "115 missing words." To check out the unfiltered version of that column, get online and visit http://ianmcgibboney.blogspot.com/2004/09/what-is-louisiana-smoking.html.

At least the fine folks at the Vermilion didn't publish the conservative column under my name again like they did on Sept. 3, 2003. I spent that week trying to convince people that I never called for anyone "to be castrated with a dull butter knife and then hung in public." But hey, accidents happen, right?

Speaking of accidents, two years ago I was in Stephens Lab visiting a Web site that featured funny photographs. The site also occasionally showed hilariously unsexy nude pictures, and at one point I accidentally clicked on one. I immediately backtracked--yuck!--but it lingered there just long enough for a Stephens Hall administrator to walk by and boom, "Son, this is a public lab and you are not allowed to view material of that nature!" Fortunately for me this didn't happen recently, because the university would have stuck me in therapy.

Last week's Vermilion featured a story on the pornography policy at UL computer labs. Almost everyone quoted in the story claimed that pornography is a sickness. But like anything else, it can be used or abused. The article seized the valid issue of public displays of pornography and twisted it into a call for its restriction simply because some people cannot handle it.

Please understand, I wholeheartedly agree that some sites should be off-limits in a public lab. Nor should child porn or any other coerced nudity be legal viewing anywhere. But UL is really overstepping its bounds by requiring disciplinary action and counseling for this kind of computer solitaire. Here’s a few blunt facts about erotica:

1) Pornography has health benefits. Is there any safer form of sex than masturbation? And is there any safer forum for indulging sexual fetishes? Plus, it’s a cheap date!

2) No one HAS to view pornography. It's just like anything else; if you don't like it, avoid it. Likewise, no one has to pose for it either. The degradation debate ignores the fact that we’ll always objectify those we find attractive. It's how we're wired. And don't forget that, in all legal porn, the models have agreed to pose and are paid generously for doing so. It's all about personal choices on both sides of the lens.

3) The link between porn and violence is, well, flaccid. If you're at home with a magazine, then you are not hurting anyone. Serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy, who blamed his crimes on porn, probably didn’t benefit from growing up thinking his mom was his sister and never forming any real friendships. For every porn-loving rapist, there are a million people who enjoy the same images and live decent lives. You're sitting next to one, if in fact that doesn't also describe you. Show me someone who has never viewed pornography and I'll show you a liar.

The problem is not that the person is viewing porn, but that they lack the self-restraint and intelligence to do so in privacy. If that’s causing a disturbance in the computer lab, then boot them out. But we should be well past the point where we send people to shrinks for the heinous crime of desire.

If campus officials are looking to combat a problem, might I suggest tuition hikes? How about drainage? Or campus safety? No one enrolls in a university to be told that they are sick people. We’re all adults here, so grow up!

September 28, 2004

What is Louisiana Smoking?

People in Louisiana, for all of their positive qualities, are really fond of passing profoundly stupid laws. This goes back centuries, of course, and continues unabated into today. And while Lafayette fares better than some of its more uptight cousins above the Mason-Alexandria line, Cajun Country still has its moments of legislative idiocy.

I had to cringe, for example, at the recent ruling that no more bars could open downtown. Apparently, the rationale was that the preponderance of nightclubs was bringing out unsavory crowds. Look, I lived downtown for 19 years, when Jefferson Street looked like an H-bomb had struck it. The area was desolate, decaying and dangerous. Now its night life thrives and brings out the crowds with energy to spare and money to spend. But that offended some churches, so downtown growth has been stifled.

And don’t forget Amendment One, in which Louisianians voted nearly 80-20 against civil unions because we “suthinas” not only can’t repress our fear and prejudice, but actively praise it in our state law. Man, if the state was trying to keep people here to live and work, couldn’t they at least have given us something to brag about? “Louisiana: It’s like a whole other planet.” As much as I love my native state, my threshold of apology for it has finally hit bedrock.

So you can probably understand my shock when a Lafayette advocacy group proposed a law that I liked—or, I should say, didn’t want immediately to smack with a baseball bat. The Coalition for a Healthy Acadiana Regional Grassroots Effort (CHARGE) has requested an ordinance to make Lafayette the first smokeless city in Louisiana.

The ban would prevent smoking in public facilities including campuses, auditoriums, government buildings and busses. At last, a smart Louisiana law! The Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government has yet to consider it, though President Joey Durel has promised that it will. And before you smokers get too pissed, note that bars, hotel rooms, casinos, tobacco shops and alcohol-selling restaurants will not be covered by the ban. That’s not so bad, is it? You can exhale with relief now, just as long as you don’t do it downwind.

Maybe I'm biased because I don't smoke. Whether it was the stifling dead-ashtray odor of my house or simply watching my parents and relatives smoke, something ruined it for me very early on. Is there anything less cool than what your parents do? Thanks, mom and dad! You truly are the anti-drug.

The smoking debate is a peculiar one because of its political complexities. On one hand, you have (or should have) the right to ingest whatever you choose. On the other hand, you have the diabolical tobacco industry and its greed, lies and political clout. On the third hand, people have the right to breathe smoke-free air. So where is the line (or triangle) drawn?

It’s a tricky issue, and one that transcends liberal and conservative politics. Hippies and holy rollers alike smoke in huge numbers; I once even saw a priest, fully decked in Vatican-esque apparel, sneaking one in the cemetery after a funeral service. Nicotine addiction knows no labels.

So I admit I’m not huge on the issue of “smokers’ rights.” Last I checked, one person’s rights end with the infringement of another’s, and that’s what smoking in an enclosed space can do. And unlike in a club, where people step in with the understanding that there might be smoking going on (though New York City has successfully banned that also), people deserve to right to a smoke-free school or other public environment. It’s as fundamental as, well, the right to light up. Outside.

September 22, 2004

“Uzi, Can You See…”

If you’ve been to Dupre Library recently, you’ve no doubt seen the wonderful sign that graces a pillar near the checkout desk:

“Under LAS 44:13, the library makes every effort to protect your privacy, but under the Federal USA PATRIOT Act (PL 107-56), records of the books and other materials you borrow from this library and information about sites you visit and activities you conduct on the library’s public access computers may be obtained by federal agents.

"That federal law prohibits library workers from informing you if federal agents have obtained records about you.”

That has to be the most miserable sign I have ever seen! I pity the nation’s good librarians who are forced to deal with this. It’s the kind of thing you might expect to see in a documentary about a long-defunct fascist regime. Yet here it is, in America, in 2004. I’m not at all a violent person—I often flush cockroaches rather than stomp on them—but I had to restrain myself from tearing it down.

Big Buddy Government would be proud of my anger. After all, we’re living in an age of violence, and there’re terrorists to hunt! If I get mad enough, then I just might buy a gun and become a REAL American! And, thanks to our marvelous majority-ignoring representatives, doing so just got much easier.

The 10-year-old ban on assault weapons, a universally applauded measure widely credited with a sharp reduction in violent crime rates since 1994, lapsed on Sept. 13. We have Congress to thank for murdering it. This expiration brings with it the resurrection of such weapons as the Uzi, the TEC-9 and the AK-47. For millions of Americans, duck season is now in full swing—duck-and-cover season.

William Bratton, LAPD Chief of Police, wrote in the L.A. Daily News that “the best defense of our homeland security will depend on the front lines of local law enforcement officers. We need our lawmakers' help by putting obstacles, such as the assault-weapons ban, in the path of terrorists." But what would some cop living in Los Angeles know about guns?

At least one group sees the return of assault weapons as a key to winning the war on terrorism. "In countries like the United States, it's perfectly legal for members of the public to own certain types of firearms. If you live in such a country, obtain an assault rifle legally, preferably an AK-47 or variations." That quote is from a recently unearthed al-Qaida training manual. Yes, al-Qaida certainly seems to hate us for our freedoms.

All you need to know about where the Bush administration stands on this issue lies in the fact that, after 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft allowed for extensive government intrusion into everyone’s personal information. He drew the line, however, at gun records. Weapons possession, Ashcroft said, was too sacred to investigate. Gee, someone’s license plate must read “NRA HOR.”

So remember, citizens: machine guns are good, books are bad! With the PATRIOT Act and the lapse of the weapons ban, it’s less of a hassle to buy a TEC-9 assault pistol than it is to check out “The History of the TEC-9 Assault Pistol.”

To quote that old cliché, the pen is mightier than the sword. And, lately, the pen has been making some pretty good cases for putting down the sword. The guy who sang that “words are weapons” must be turning in his grave right now. And not just because INXS broke up, but because his phrase has been taken way too literally by the anti-intellectual right. Knowledge is the real weapon, one that is feared more by corrupt leaders than any bullet.

September 14, 2004

Saturday Night Lever

Three days from today, on Sept. 18, Louisianians all over Louisiana will go to the polls. The Cajuns are playing at Kansas State this weekend, so "I was too drunk" will not be a viable excuse not to vote. Though "the dog ate it" still might be.

So what’s on the ballot that’s worth the trip? Different parishes are voting for everything from mayors to dogcatchers. Here in Lafayette Parish…um, well, news coverage has been so confusing that I couldn’t even tell you. It doesn’t help that certain candidates who are running in the Nov. 2 primary are printing “Vote Sept. 18!” on their campaign handouts. I’ve researched up and down and have even talked to some candidates, and still I’m clueless.

Just know this: the Sept. 18 ballot is the warm-up to the Nov. 2 election, when we vote for…who we're going to vote for later on! Election time in Louisiana means primaries, the "Survivor" of politics. Vote a few candidates off the island and pick from the two that are left on Dec. 4 (hopefully the winner won't go naked). Races include seats for the 7th Congressional District of the U.S. House, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Senate race.

Saturday’s statewide ballot features an amendment to Louisiana’s state constitution. Historically, Constitutional amendments have been famous for protecting such rights as free speech, personal security, citizenship and other nice things that actually benefit people. But in these times of fear, terrorism and fear of terrorism, discrimination is in.

The proposed initiative is called “Amendment One,” apparently intended to evoke the First Amendment, though it actually brings to mind Channel One, that subliminally corporate high school network. Under the amendment, marriage is strictly defined as a union between a man and a woman. It may be the first-ever amendment that doesn't actually amend anything. But wait! Not only does Amendment One uphold the current (wrong) law, it even outlaws CIVIL UNIONS. This ingenious clause was put in to give the impression that Republicans aren't anti-gay...they're anti-everybody! The amendment is set to dismantle the legal benefits of common-law cohabitation. No ring, no visiting.

To review: gay people won't get civil benefits unless they get married, except that they can't get married, and longtime heterosexual roomies face losing their benefits as well, forcing them to get married to keep them. How compassionate! How romantic!

All this to stop two gay people from getting the rings and obtaining the license. If we're looking to decrease access to licensing, then why don't we start on drivers first? A legal gay couple does no harm to my love for women, whereas a bad driver just might kill me.

Despite the best efforts of the Bush misadministration, this nation still has the separation of church and state. Anti-gay marriage sentiment is a religious concept, so government has no right to enforce this restriction. Why would anyone want to deprive two loving adults of the ability to commit? It's not as if anyone is being forced to be married anyway.

Voting against Amendment One is not a gay thing, but a sane thing. Unfortunately for the great American electorate, our voting system does not currently have an option for “Not just no, but HELL NO!” Until then, we’re going to face a lot more freedom-killing proposals thrown at us by the people who should have the least amount of influence over us. This amendment is a serious threat for those who value their job benefits, hospital-visitation rights and inheritance privileges.

On Saturday night, say "I don't" to Amendment One. Trust me, you aren't ready for that kind of commitment.

September 07, 2004

What I Learned from a Loser

Let’s climb into fellow columnist Tim Landry’s time machine and take a trip back to a more innocent place: my grandparents’ house, July 1988. I’m lying across the living-room sofa, all four feet of me, eyes still stinging from a visit to the optometrist. So like any eight-year-old boy, I decided to watch the Democratic National Convention pick its nominee.

My older brother, a towering hulk of 10, sat down on the floor next to me. “I hope Jesse Jackson wins.”

"Me too,” I responded, with the political shrewdness that would guide me through adulthood. “I just know he’ll beat Reagan!”

My bro and I sat transfixed for the next few hours as we watched delegates from each state declare its state pride (“There’s a state called Rhode Island? Really?”) and add up its votes.

“The great state of California casts its votes for the next president of the United States, Michael Dukakis!”

“Texas puts in its votes for the next president of the United States, Michael Dukakis!”

“The next president of the United States, Michael Dukakis!”

“Michael Dukakis! Whooooo-hoo!” Wow! Hours of this!

By the time this love-fest was over, I felt totally hyped. We had the impression that this Michael, unlike our man Jackson, was really “Bad.” I went to bed that night thinking that Dukakis was going to change the world. The thunderous crowd and thousands of balloons had me hooked. The little Greek man from Massachusetts was everyone’s favorite candidate. Why even bother to have an election?

Of course, I hadn’t considered a few things. First off, elections are every four years, not eight, and Reagan was not running. Second, Dukakis would turn out to have eyebrows that outsized his charisma and popularity. And third, I was watching the Democratic Convention, forgetting for a moment that it was everyone’s job to be excited about Dukakis. When I learned that the Republicans were going to have a shindig too, I kept calling it “The Republican Democratic Convention.”

I finally began to see reality when my elementary school held a mock election, in which each student dropped a card in one of two boxes marked “Bush” or “Dukakis.” Final tally: a 536-64 tilt toward the pachyderm. The nation did my school proud on Election Day, when the nation voted in favor of four more years of Republican rule. It was a surprising (for me, if for no one else) and stinging defeat, one that would steel me for countless elections and football games to come.

It was at age eight that I learned a hard lesson: just because something is accepted among a small cocoon of people doesn’t mean that it’s popular, or correct. Sometimes it takes a look into the broader outside world to see just how different perspectives can be. No matter where your beliefs lie, it never hurts to see how others think. That’s a good lesson for those who wish to spend their entire lives buried in the haze of a lifetime of unquestioned beliefs. Certain dictators and seriously misguided U.S. leaders come to mind.

This credo isn’t just about politics, however, but about life. Too many people are afraid to question their values, or don’t even realize that they should. Questioning beliefs should only make them stronger. If they turn out to be weak, then accept that and move on. Because if you stay in your shell and pretend that Dukakis is the man, you just might miss your chance to find something better. Like Bill Clinton!

Sometimes it takes a loser to make us realize what it takes to be a winner in life. Thank you, Mike.