Latest 3 Things

Monday, September 29, 2014

3 Political Party Parting Shots

In 1992, I turned 18 in Lafayette, Colorado.  I had just graduated from Centaurus High School with the one of the most impressive groups of people I have ever been associated with.  And one of the first things I did?  Not a lottery ticket, not Selective Service registration and certainly no cigarette buying.  No – I registered to vote; as a Republican.  Since then, I’ve registered in many different cities and states, but always with the same party – the Grand Ol’ Party.  But, after 22 years, I’m finally ready to re-pick sides – by not picking a side at all.  The typical American starts as a liberal Democrat and ages into being a conservative Republican.  After all, aren’t we all supposed to be more tolerant in our youth than our old age?  But after being raised in a “red state” family, and then leaving for the military, college and then law school – I’ve ended up taking the opposite route.  But it turns out the grass isn’t any greener on the other side.  In fact, it’s exactly the same shade of bulls&%t.  And so, in deference to my very first trip to the voting booth without an easy way to pick all the winners, here are 3 reasons I’m leaving the Republican Party … and not joining another one:

1.  Haters Gonna Hate.  The only thing Republicans used to hate was taxes.  It did seem unfair that money was being taken out of my check, in addition to the sales tax I was paying – and I didn’t appear to be getting much bang for my buck.  After all, the government hadn’t stepped up to help me go the colleges I wanted to, and I had the same affection for the police as your average member of NWA.  But while the GOP still hates taxes – the new GOP hate goes much farther and wider.  To be a “real” Republican these days you have to hate (in no particular order): African Americans, Latino Americans, immigrants, anyone in the LGBT community, scientists, atheists, Muslims, college graduates, climate change advocates, Democrats, gun violence activists, Planned Parenthood, unmarried adults without children and essentially anyone who isn’t a member of a traditional, white, nuclear, Christian family.  Look, I’m all about some hate – especially when it comes to sports, but this much hate is like a part-time job.  I’m not even sure how to keep track of who to hate, let alone why.  Maybe that’s why the modern day GOP doesn’t bother with, you know, reasons to hate all these people.  Call me old-fashioned, but if I’m going to hate someone – I’m going to need a reason.  Besides, when you’re letting hillbillies and rednecks decide what “normal” is – it’s only a matter of time until you don’t make the cut.

2.  Tyranny of the Ignorant.  The Republican archetype I grew up with was Alex P. Keaton.  My family watched Family Ties like it was the news – and I saw myself in Michael J. Fox’s suit-wearing, briefcase-carrying overachieving outcast.  He was short on cool and long on disdain for his parents and sisters.  He was a flag-waving Reagan apologist and was identified by his intelligence and education.  He confirmed my belief that we should be led by the smartest and best-informed among us – and he made being a young Republican an obvious and easy choice.  But since then, the GOP has become the party of celebrated ignorance and fear of information.  Rather than advocating higher education and academic excellence, the current GOP holds that all the important things you need to know you either (a) know already or (b) can find in the Bible.  This is the political party that has given us the Creation Museum (and in case you haven’t lost all hope for humanity, please go check that out).  Republicans don’t just dislike the educated, they distrust and fear them.  It is widely believed that a college education includes some sort of shadow liberal indoctrination – despite the fact that most college students spend their free time trying to chemically alter their minds and/or see each other naked.  The reality is that getting educated means rejecting most of the modern conservative platform – and if I were them, I’d be afraid of that, too. 

3.  Oh, My God.  The only redeeming quality of the millennial generation to date has been their widespread rejection of traditional religious doctrines – many before they get to college.  The ubiquitous nature of modern information has made indoctrination into mysticism exponentially more difficult – and the original purpose of religion, to explain the inexplicable – has become increasingly less necessary in a world with Wikipedia.  Connectivity has made our culture global, and hating, mistrusting or dehumanizing those who simply believe differently (the central tenet of most religions – no matter what they tell you) makes a lot less sense when you can see beyond the city limits of your hometown.  I have believed in the wisdom of the separation of church and state since the first time I heard it – and I believe in it a little more each day.  I’m not a Christian.  I’m not even religious.  In fact, I’m an atheist, and it’s been made clear to me that “my kind” is unwelcome in modern GOP ideology.  Seemingly overnight, the Republican party became a euphemism for the Christian Party – and we are force fed inaccurate truisms like “the United States is a Christian nation” (no it’s not) and “the Founding Fathers were Christians” (no they weren’t).  The best reason to leave is the biggest change the party made – because as history has demonstrated over and over again, those who use divinity to derive influence are those destined to do the most evil – and I’ve got enough evil to deal with (that’s for you all my ex-girlfriends – I told you I’d get you into one of these).]     

* * *

Before the DNC starts celebrating another GOP refugee joining their ranks, please know that I’m not “switching sides.”  The DNC is just as broken, lost and dysfunctional as the GOP.  The only difference between them is that one hasn’t betrayed me.  But my true disappointment lies in not being able to find a political party at all.  We have chased the thinkers out to islands, gated communities and otherwise polite exile.  We have reduced ourselves, at every turn, to the least common denominator – accommodating even the most unreasonable and misguided amongst us, because each vote only counts as one – no matter how much or how little that person knows or cares.  It makes sense, after all - it’s far simpler (and less expensive) to influence the stupid than people who will actually think about what you’re saying.  But for me, I’d rather be a thinker than anything else.  And since that label is apparently incompatible with either of the popular affiliation options, I’m going to sit that decision out.  Because, democracy notwithstanding, politics and parties only really work if you don't invite everyone.     

Monday, September 22, 2014

3 Things Your Lawyer Wants To Tell You... But Won’t

Working at a law firm which serves a large number of middle-to-low-income families is, at once, both tremendously fulfilling and profoundly frustrating.  On the one hand, you get to help people who simply couldn’t get legal help otherwise.  On the other hand, you work with people who have little to no real understanding of the law, and sometimes it’s harder work to simply explain what you’re doing than to actually do it.  Add to this the fact that the overwhelming majority of these individuals have had some exposure to the law – but most of it through romanticized or caricatured versions for television, colloquial anecdotes from family and friends, or, heaven help me, the Internet.  Top it all off with the uncomfortable circumstance of being in a customer service situation with someone who has been irrevocably infused with that most of American of maxims: “The customer is always right.” (NOTE – this is absolutely false).  Lawyers are nothing if not careless with their criticisms, and just because they haven’t said anything pointed to you doesn’t mean they don’t want to.  So, in deference to my sisters and brothers in arms, fighting the good fight with a well-bitten tongue, here are 3 things your lawyer really wants to say to you (but won’t):

1. Leave it to Me.  No matter what you think you know about the law, please shut up and listen to your lawyer.  Coming in to hire me and then telling me how you think it should be done is like going to your doctor and giving him the diagnosis you got from WebMD – or even worse, from one of your friends who had (what they think is) a similar disease.  Just like doctors, lawyers have been to a lot of school – and since then, they’ve been practicing and learning even more law.  Lawyers have a great number of reasons to be right when they give you advice, not including just bare professionalism (e.g. malpractice insurance premiums, avoiding ethical complaints and personal pride) and treating their advice as suspect ignores all of the existing procedures in place for licensing attorneys in lieu of your own marginally reliable “gut instinct.”  The only thing you should be using what legal knowledge you do have for is listening carefully.  The law you see on television and in movies is just as useful as the medicine you see with it.  No one is looking to Grey's Anatomy for a diagnosis - so stop looking to Law & Order for pointers to give us.  It’s not that you don’t know what you’re talking about… nope; no, wait, that’s exactly what it is.

2.  You Are NOT Paying Too Much.  After having now worked at both ends of the pricing spectrum for legal services, I can confidently tell you this: no matter what you charge for legal representation, people will think it’s too much.  Because we all want to believe that if we, or our kids, study to become lawyers, that it will make us fantastically wealthy – after all, this is why we accept the insane cost and inflation of law school tuition.  But once we go to hire a lawyer, we’re suddenly looking for discounts – as though “Lawyer” was just another aisle in our favorite “big box” retailer rather than a centuries-old institution, as old as the law, itself.  Lawyers, like doctors, give themselves to a life of service.  Just because they (the ones on TV and/or the real ones) make it look easy doesn’t mean you could do it if you just had a little time to study up and practice.  I once thought this about field goal kicking – and despite being a pretty solid athlete, holy crap was I wrong about that.  Don’t take our word for it, go try it out on your own – that way when you finally do come in for help, we know it won’t be to ask us just to hold the ball for you to kick.

3.  No We Don’t Want To Help For Free.  You know what they say, once you’ve got a lawyer in the family, the whole family’s got a lawyer.  Unless they don’t have a family, every lawyer you know gets hit up by their family members (no matter how far removed) for free legal advice.  Now, don’t get me wrong, when my dad or my sister (both of whom are responsible for me getting this far, in the first place) needs help, I’m happy to answer the bell – but it’s never just those folks.  Pretty soon, anyone connected enough to make it into your Facebook or LinkedIn roster feels confident enough to sly some advice out of you in the guise of a casual chat.  Worst of all, no one seems to realize that “lawyer” is no more accurate a job title than “doctor” – because like the medical profession, we specialize, and just because the Bar Exam covers all of the law doesn’t mean we do.  So, when we say that we don’t know, it’s not because we don’t want to help you, it’s because we can’t.  And when we refer you to someone else, we’re not just handing you off to avoid the work – we’re sending you to someone more qualified that we are to do it (if we can do it at all).  And finally, because we will always take a few moments to see if we can quickly help – when you to get to that point where you’re wondering if you should really be paying for the help you’re getting – yes, you should.  Do us both a favor and offer.

* * *

Becoming a lawyer was a grand and important moment in my life.  I had never held a position of public trust like it before, and I will likely hold no greater office in the future.  Sure, being a uniformed service member always afforded me a great measure of respect from others (for which I am humbled and grateful), but we weren’t trusted with anything more than the collective safety of the nation – which was important but distant.  We were never the only person standing between you and your enemy - you were as far off to us as the enemy was to you.  Lawyers, on the other hand, are trusted – with secrets, with problems, with unimaginable injustices and impossible situations to help with.  We are only strangers to those who aren’t yet clients – and the line between them is as thin as simply asking for our help.  Lawyer jokes are as ignorantly anachronistic as corporal punishment for children, opposition to gay marriage and criminalizing marijuana use – and should be similarly eliminated from our public consciousness.  But nevertheless, even if the tired old commentaries don’t stop, we’ll still stand quietly by and wait – for that moment when you realize you need us, and the only judgment we’ll offer is the one you’re looking for from the court.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

3 Reluctant Resignations

One of my favorite, all time, quotes is “Discretion is the better part of valor.”  It elegantly holds that time-honored warrior wisdom that sometimes the best decision to make in a fight is not to fight at all.  Ideally, this is a decision you make before fighting at all, but there are times when you don’t realize impossible odds until you’ve already punched your knuckles bloody.  And so it goes for your intrepid columnist, taking on the good fight against all things absurd, ignorant or downright ridiculous, but on a few rare occasions ending up on the proverbial “wrong side of history” – coming to realize that sometimes you must resign yourself to the reality that, thought you’ve fought the good fight, it’s time to recognize that rather than die a hero, you’ve lived long enough to see yourself become the villain.  So as penance for my unwitting villainy, here are 3 fights I’m ready to declare that I’ve lost:

1.  Getting the Skinny.  On dozens of occasions over the past few years, I have ranted and raved against what I then considered to be the most absurd abuse of denim since the “jeans jacket”, the skinny jean.  Much like the A-line dress, not only had I never seen these ill-fitting leggings look good on anyone, I couldn’t even imagine that they could.  But… I was wrong.  It turns out that I, like the song laments, was looking to love these tightest of pants in all the wrong places.  Because, I wasn’t completely wrong.  It is still completely unacceptable for anyone with a Y-chromosome (who hasn’t been in the X Games) to wear them.  It is also, like all other skintight clothing, unacceptable for anyone with a BMI north of 25 to even attempt them (unless you’re going to videotape it and put it on YouTube).  And finally, and this is the one that confused me, skinny jeans don’t look good on skinny girls.  I know, I know… the irony isn’t lost on me, either, but it turns out that the only people they look good on are the ones who look even better with nothing on, at all.  That’s right – it turns out skinny jeans are made for fit girls.  That’s right, the ones with thighs you can crack walnuts with, calves that still look good in flats and the kind of butt that makes you forget your better judgment.  After recently seeing my very first flattering pair, I began to see them everywhere – once I knew where to look.  I stand, skinnily, corrected.

2.  Simply the Text.  I have often lamented the decline of communication skills and the part that technology has played in it.  We have lost the essay, the letter and the note to the text, the Tweet and the Instagram.  In this, I opined, we were losing the soul of our messages – but I was wrong.  SMS messaging (commonly referred to as “text messaging”) has become as ubiquitous as talking, itself.  It crosses nearly all demographic boundaries and is the common language of our post-modern selves.  It is nearly as fast as simply conversing, but with the precision of written correspondence.  It is more available than phone calls, and more accommodating than most considered forms.  It can be long, short, careful or clumsy – but it is who we are, and it is capable of as much soul as the lengthy personal letters of days gone by.  Also, my dad does it.  Like any new form of communication, it’s taken us some time to master it – but it is the perfect modality for our modern selves to share ideas.  We needn’t alter our hyper-efficient lives to participate; these conversations wait for us.  They flow with our day, not in spite of it.  They demand our efficiency and a brevity of wit.  They come complete with photos, emotional talismans and a built-in blooper reel device (the eponymous “autocorrect”) which makes sure we never take it too seriously.  It’s time to admit that texting isn’t just something we do, it’s something we are. 

3. And To the Republican.  I’ve been registered to vote for twenty-two years now, and for all of that time I have been a registered member of the Grand Ol’ Party.  I grew up in a time when Ronald Reagan was a political hero – beyond reproach, and the living embodiment of who we believed ourselves to be as a nation.   In those “feel good” times, it was hard to imagine why the Democrats were always decrying social injustices and persistent, institutional inequalities.   After all, everything was so good.  But in the intervening twenty or so years, something has happened.  Either I’ve changed, or the party has changed – or perhaps a bit of both.  I was more Alex P. Keaton than Duck Dynasty; more Edward R. Murrow than Reverend Pat Robertson.  I joined the party as a path to financial independence, not as a measure of love for a romanticized past.  There’s no doubt that I’ve become infinitely more tolerant as I’ve grown, become educated and matured – but I’m not sure even the 18-year-old me would have joined today’s GOP.  Celebrations of ignorance, violent intolerance and a culture of paranoia mark the part today.  Lower taxes, deregulation of industry and small government are ancillary elements of a platform dominated by anachronistic views.  But perhaps the most important reason I’m abandoning my party affiliation is that while the party’s symbol has always been a cross, ours looked like this: +.

* * *

When I first started to write for public consumption, I wanted everyone to agree, at some level, with what I had written.  After all, I was trying to logically build arguments, even if it was attempted in the most humorous ways.  Public criticisms were privately excruciating and I would often lash out petulantly in comment forums.  But I got an important piece of advice from another writer which changed everything: “The purpose of writing is not to convince people you’re right, but only to get them to think.”  Even more important than the ability to persuade people was the ability to get them to use their minds.  This was the power I suddenly held, and it freed me to write in exactly the way I wanted.  Because that way, I could be wrong.  I could change my mind, do a complete 180, and still be every bit as legitimate as when I had started.  Because writing is immortality – a way of capturing your humanity, and all of its faults, brilliance and other terrible bits to share with others, those you know and those you don’t, now and infinitely into the future.  Yes, sometimes I’m wrong, but I’ll always write.           

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

3 Fall Fashion AYFS

I know what you’re thinking, that’s a typo.  No, it’s not.  So your next question is “What the hell is a AYFS?”  And to that, good sirs, I would answer: it is the next standard for Twitter-friendly, SMS-friendly fashion mockery – the Are You F&#@g Serious.  The AYFS represents the kind of wardrobe and grooming choices that make a grown man or woman wonder whether what you’re wearing is a joke or not.  It really is a testament to our increased tolerance – as we have come to embrace our differences – that it takes something as bad as these to actually get our attention these days.  But just as hope springs eternal that we will grow our tolerance and love for our fellow man, pragmatism arrives shortly thereafter to advise that no matter how far we go, there will always be people stupid, shameless and utterly non-self aware enough to still be ridiculous.  In tribute to indomitable strength of the human spirit no matter how misguided it may be, here are my top 3 Fall Fashion AYFS:

1.  Out Claws.  Not too long ago, I was lamenting the latest trend in ladies fingernails, the “oval” – which I opined, back then, looked a little like “claws” and not necessarily the most demure accessory.  Well, rather than turn back, it looks like the latest generation of fashionistas is trending the ladies’ nail look from “oval” to “outright talon.  Seriously, I’ve started seeing nails that look like they are part of a horror movie or a Halloween costume – on professional secretaries.  I’d be more comfortable shaking hands with a chainsaw than one these clawed paws.  No matter where than hand is, you’re just a flick of the wrist away from multiple lacerations.  I can’t imagine what is attractive about this.  After all, we openly mock women who have had so much plastic surgery that they look feline, and yet we’re eagerly transitioning into sharpened claws as couture accessory?  Look, ladies, if you want to feel a weapon in your hand, blunt your nails and grab a gun – or at least some mace – and leave the claws to the animals.

2.  Pegged Jeans.  Now I know how my parents must have felt when they started seeing kids wearing bell-bottom jeans – a forgotten relic of their ill-considered fashion past suddenly reappearing like a living, breathing reminder of their poor adolescent choices.  The reappearance of “pegged” jeans is the least welcome comeback since the Color Me Badd Reunion Tour.  The slavish devotion with which we had to ensure our jeans stayed tightly rolled against our ankles seemed like a bad idea while we were doing it – hindsight renders it completely absurd.  And yet, we failed to warn this generation in any appreciable way.  Sure, we showed them pictures, but we only talked about the hair and the colors and the shoes … the pants just seemed obvious.  Nevertheless, we are left with the irony of the very worst of our pantheon of regrettable teenage fashion choices being the first one to revisit us. 

3.  Hats Off.  Looking back I realize, that I’ve really only ever ranted and raved about the dangers of wearing ballcaps —  in the wrong places, wrong directions and wrong styles – but never about the many other kinds of men’s hats.  So, in a way, I may be partially responsible, as I always assumed that any other type of men’s hat was so obviously, painfully and awkwardly silly, that there was no need to point that out to anyone.  Honestly, unless you’re using it to keep warm, if you’ve got something on your head besides a ballcap, you should immediately start riding a motorcycle without a helmet.   Hey, you can just use your own hat, instead!  But seriously, though, the fact that clothing retailers have one again convinced American men to try hats as accessories is a testament to their own evil genius.  So, while I rail on here about the absolute and utter lack of respect I would have for any man who was wearing a hat that wasn’t part of a uniform, and do my level best to rage against the dying of any good sense, I suspect that no matter how ridiculous we make the hatted public feel – they’ll always been someone lame enough to cap back up.

* * *

Summer is always an easy time for fashion.  After all, we’re not clothing that much of ourselves – it’s hard to get it so wrong (but not impossible – right, mom jeans shorts girls?).  Summer is shorts, suits, and sandals.  But every fall, when the chilly nights and breezy days give us cause to cover back, it seems like our brains got a little too much sun and we completely forget how to sensibly dress ourselves.  And so, the annual cycle renews – we fall to the suggested musings of a few flamboyant Frenchmen, and suit up into the sublime and the ridiculous –until it’s so cold that don’t care what we’re wearing as long as it’s warm.  To that end, let’s raise a toast, to those too stupid to properly use their mirror and to the coming winter which will send them back into hiding for another year.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

3 Reasons To Be Glad Summer is (almost) OVER

Look, there’s not a much more reliable indicator of middle age than beginning to grumble about the seasons, but part of the reason I love Autumn so much is how much I hate (and have always hated Summer).  I may live in the place with the worst summer in the country, but the other three seasons (along with the absence of any other adverse weather condition) are nice enough to make it worthwhile.  Would you expect any less of me than to only like three seasons?  But this notwithstanding, the end of the Las Vegas summer is the sort of thing which deserves a celebration, which is why I take of my holiday-Grinch hat for Labor Day – and celebrate alongside with everyone (albeit privately) and give thanks for the not-a-day-too-soon end of the hot season.  And while there are many, many reasons to cheer the end of this hottest season, as you have come to expect, I have labored long and hard to distill this list to the most important three reasons to be glad Summer is ending:

1.         Really, Freaking HOT.  Las Vegas is hot in the summer in much the same way as Twitter is kindof a waste of time, Fox News is a little biased and the Kardashians may be slightly self-absorbed.  With the highest summer temperatures of any major domestic urban area, summer is more than a season here – it’s a beast all its own.  Locally referred to as 100 days of 100, we spend the overwhelming majority of the season with 3-digit temperatures, and nearly a month (collectively) over 110.  When the temperature gets to 110, I begin to treat it like a personal insult – as though I’m the only person who can feel it.  I begin talking to no one, complaining and sulking around in a general rage – like a heat-induced low-level psychosis.  You lose your manners in short order and treat air conditioning like it’s oxygen itself.  It’s the kind of weather that makes you treat sub-90-degree weather like its Armistice Day, running outside and dancing in the streets, hoping for a young nurse to stroll by looking for a historic kiss.  And at long, long last… it’s here. 

2.         Pool Parting.  The economics of nightclubs have always been baffling enough to me (i.e. why would I pay $1,000 to drink a bottle of vodka on a stranger’s couch?), but the even more successful economics of “dayclubs” (i.e. pools) are that much more of a paradox.  It’s not like a haven’t tried these destinations – they market successfully enough to pique my interest – but after dozens of visits, I’m finally ready to admit that I hate the Vegas pool scene.  I love the scene for the friends of mine that work there – there’s not an easier legal way to make that kind of money, but as a patron, I’m done hiding my hate.  The scene advertised (i.e. endless seas of bikini models, free-flowing liquor and a great concert poolside) versus reality is much like the difference between the Big Mac in the commercials and the one you get in the Drive Thru.  (Not counting the staff – who are always the best looking folks in the room) the overwhelming majority of patrons are people you do not want to see partially dressed.  The few that are, are getting the kind of attention that makes you keep you phone handy in case you need videotape the pending sexual assault.  The prices are nearly identical to their night-time counterparts and the concerts are shorter, quieter and more unintelligible than you’d get on a local open mike night.  I’m convinced that most people in attendance don’t really like it, but are mostly there to avoid having to say they weren’t.  No thanks. 

3.         Kids in the Hall.  I am well aware of the “get off my lawn” stereotype that seems to explain my utter lack of patience with anyone under the age of 18, but there are few sweeter sounds than school bells and school buses.  For the record, I would love for local teenagers to spend their time outside and doing active things – I would just prefer it to be nowhere near me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with some extraordinary young people – but those are not the ones I’m talking about.  No, I mean the mindless majority of them who are trying to figure out new and exciting ways to do nothing and still expect regular income -- as well as stumbling through life with the communication skills of your average slab of cheese.  I’ve made my peace with the fact that this generation isn’t capable of taking care of themselves in adulthood – let alone my generation as it ages, but I’d rather not face this fact every day.  The closing of summer means the opening of school doors, and the only chance this generation has to not be completely useless (as well as some welcome peace and quiet in most public establishments).  In other words, the end of summer means that our finest young minds will get back to the business of getting smarter, and the rest of them are at least locked up for most of the day.

* * *

There are plenty of moments from my summer that I would love to last forever – after all, it was my fortieth birthday, my first vacation, the beginning of some exceptional new opportunities and a great new place to live.  But as a Colorado kid, I’ve come to love the Fall in a way that most people can’t appreciate.  Sure, I don’t have the changing leaves, the snow-capped western peaks or the crisp wind – but I’ve got weather that doesn’t make me instantly sweaty, televised football almost every day of the week and blessedly few interactions with school kids.  And that’s something to run out and celebrate - as soon as the temperature gets below 100 degrees.