TRANSLATED: Rick Perry’s Q&A with Texas Monthly

photo (1)

For its July edition, the magazine Texas Monthly did an interview with Texas governor Rick Perry.

It was, as the best interviews are, a rhetorical boxing match. Perry is a popular Republican governor of a growing red state with a robust economy. This makes him a comfortable man.

He was interviewed by Brian D. Sweany, who is the editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly, a nationally respected magazine that I like very much.

You can read the original interview here. Consider this an artistic interpretation of how that interview went:

BRIAN D. SWEANY: Governor Perry, you got this job through a slick backdoor cheat and don’t even deserve to have it. You’ll also notice that I have a middle initial in my byline, whereas your name only contains three syllables. Whaddya think about that?

RICK PERRY: Well, if you want to just ignore my entire political career, then yeah, I guess you’re right. But, look, I’ve been in this game since 1985, Ok? And I’ve done the hard jobs. I’ve done the hard jobs and I’ve done the dirty jobs, but I came out clean, didn’t I? Yes I did. The thing is, I’m a bit of an outsider. I’m always nosing around at the edges of politics, trying to figure out how it works. I guess I’m technically a politician, but I’m not very good at politics. I’m not a smart man, Brian, but I know how to turn every knob in this cockpit.

BDS: You pretended to be a liberal to get popular, and once you did you turned conservative to get the money. You’re a hypocrite and a phony.

RP: I was raised by hillbillies. I have the soul of a hillbilly. Liberal? Conservative? Like I said, I’m a bit of an outsider, poking around at the edges. I’m still trying to figure out what both of those terms mean.

BDS: What were your biggest screw-ups?

RP: You know, I wouldn’t say I’ve ever actually screwed up. What I would say is that there have been a couple times where people thought my reasoning didn’t make sense. By the way, I read a book, and I want to tell you about it. There’s this book about how you can become an expert on anything by doing it 10,000 times, and I would say that I’ve done politics way more than 10,000 times, wouldn’t you? But I guess if I had to name one thing, I’d say it was that thing with the HPV vaccines. I still think I did the right thing, but people did seem to think it was stupid, so I guess I’d go with that, if I had to name a slip-up.

BDS: Good boy. Now you’re gonna sit here and take it while I drill into you about this. To me? Looked pretty clear you were just tossing your buddy some business and you made it worse by being all obnoxious.

RP: I’m pretty sure I did the right thing, but because people couldn’t understand my reasoning I learned a new thing about politics. It was probably like my 12,000th politics thing or something like that. I’m a sensitive guy. I was just trying to help women.

BDS: All right, fine. Then what good stuff do you think you’ve done because I can’t think of anything.

RP: Well, I did pass that tort reform thing. That was huge.

BDS: From 2003? Dude, you were pandering!

RP: Look at my stats after that, though! We’ve got, like, tons more doctors now. There’s a doctor near almost everybody. People are haters, man. But even my haters know I’m right. They have to attack me for something. But you just look at my stats, look at my record after that, and tell me things aren’t better. Job got done, didn’t it?

BDS: I’ve got a couple bullets to fire at you. They’re not much, but they’re all I’ve got on this. Ready? Here goes. Bullet one: Like 13 or 14 years ago, you went against a couple of medical programs, even though you now say health care is numero uno. Bullet two: Texas has the fewest insured people of any state. Knock these down and we can move on to a real question.

RP: Having nearby doctors and having health insurance are not the same thing, bro. One is part of your environment, and one is a consumer decision made by you. Even your hero, Obama, says Medicaid is broke, so why would I put money into a broke thing?

BDS: Why do you seem to be the most hard-assed of the Republicans? I mean even Arkansas seems more chill than you. Arkansas.

RP: Yeah, but Arkansas isn’t all that Republican.

BDS: (Audible sigh). All I’m saying is, I want us to fit in with everybody else. I want Texas to be one of the popular kids that wears the latest fashions and listens to the coolest music, and you’re just making us like a bunch of jocks in dirty cowboy boots.

RP: Look, those other states? They’re fine, they’re good, they do a good job. But they’re dorks! They’re desperate dorks huddling around the pretty girl, sniffling and pushing their glasses back up their noses and spitting dork lines to the prom queen, which is Obama. And they’re doomed! They’re totally doomed to get their hearts broken. They’ve made it impossible for guys like me, because now the President won’t let us do anything.

BDS: But, dude, some of this stuff happened under Bush, so are you saying this is a problem of pencil pushing? Of clerical tedium? I sincerely hope that’s not what you’re saying, because that will have made this line of questioning a complete waste of time.

RP: Haha. That is what I’m saying.

BDS: Says here I have to ask you about Ronald Reagan. So: Ronald Reagan … GO!

RP: Like Reagan, I’m a big capitalism guy. And my state is makin’ it rain right now. I would say there’s a lot of Reagan in me, but I’d never go full Reagan.

BDS: We heard you got in a fight with Tom Craddick and David Dewhurst.

RP: Fight? With Craddy and Dewbaby? Nawl, those are my friends. Look, we’re smart guys and we’re passionate guys and we’re big strapping guys, and when you get smart, passionate, big strapping guys in a hot room, sometimes it gets a little raw and the bodies collide and I don’t think any of us need to be held accountable for what may or may not go on in there.

BDS: Remember when you vetoed all those bills in ’01? What was up with that?

RP: Well, I fought the speaker of the house. Laney. Laney and I fought.

BDS: Oh, bullshit.

RP: Here’s how I’d put it: We were all feeling each other out.

BDS: Let’s test your Texas history, shall we?

RP: Big fan of Sam Houston.

BDS: Yeah, he was good. He was pretty against Texas secession, which is funny, because you seem to like bringing up secession every now and then.

RP: Yeah. I really like him. I have a ring just like his, that’s how big of a Sam Houston fan I am. I also was studying up for this question on Wikipedia and I read about this guy named Dolph Briscoe, who was the governor of Texas. He built the roads from the farms to the towns and that was a pretty big deal. So I’d say I’m a big Dolph Briscoe fan too.

BDS: How come we’re still praising the jocks and cheerleaders all the time? I mean, still? In 2014? We give all our money to football coaches and practically no money to poets! That just doesn’t seem right, does it?

RP: You want me to hire some poets?

BDS: Not you, per se, but, I dunno, somebody. Doesn’t anybody have a love for poetry anymore in this state?

RP: I don’t follow. What would you want me to do about it?

BDS: I don’t know, I just get very emotional about poetry. Forget I brought it up.

RP: Aw, don’t go getting all … It’s Ok. I mean, things are getting better for nerds like you. You have to admit that. Our schools in Texas are pretty good, really, and the UT football team stinks. You have to feel good about that.

BDS: I do, thanks. With my next three questions, I’m going to try to get you to ramble about a given topic and see if you make a gaffe, OK? Topic one: tuition deregulation.

RP: I’d buff some stuff here, polish some stuff there.

BDS: Topic two: death penalty. And, you know, try to ramble a bit more.

RP: For it.

BDS: Topic three: seriously?

RP: Yeah.

BDS: Insult Bush, man. Come on, just do it. You know you want to.

RP: I do, but I’m not going to. Look, George Bush and I are not the same guy and this is not the year 2000. He’s good at some stuff, bad at some stuff. I’m good at some stuff, bad at some stuff. I would just tell you to look at my advanced stats and not worry about comparisons. I’ve got a BPS+ of over .600.

BDS: What?

RP: I don’t know.

BDS: So, how conservative are you, really? Are you, like, “I drove a Cadillac in the 80s” conservative or are you “confederate flag mud flaps” conservative? Are you a country boy with a shave or are you a city slicker in a hat?

RP: I mean, I don’t think we should impeach Obama, if that gives you some idea where I’m at. I think if we do that’ll just make people vote for Democrats. The other thing I wanted to say was, I don’t get why Hispanics aren’t Republicans. They should totally be Republicans right?

BDS: What are you gonna do after this?

RP: Probably hit up Whataburger.

BDS: I mean after your term as governor is over.

RP: I’ll be a little bit happy and a little bit sad. It would be kinda like when you taste something that’s sorta strong and then sort of … egh – you know what I’m trying to say? A taste that’s kinda icky?

BDS: You mean “bitter?”

RP: That’s it. It would be like if you had some of that, and then combined it with something sugary.

BDS: Bittersweet?

RP: Bittersweet, that’s exactly right.

BDS: How do you think you did, like, overall?

RP: Pretty good.

BDS: You wanna give me the scoop that you’re running for president?

RP: Nope.

BDS: Come on. I was nice, wasn’t I?

RP: (Blank smile).

BDS: You screwed it up pretty badly last time, you know. You’re not gonna do that again are ya?

RP: The last time, honestly, I just didn’t have time to be the governor and run for president. The sun got in my eyes, coach. I don’t have that problem anymore.

Advertisements

Look at Me So I Can Get Close To You: An idiot listens to jazz for the first time

What you are about to read is a review of a jazz album by someone who has listened to a whole jazz album for the first time in his life.

I am not a music critic. I like music, and I really like criticizing things, but I don’t feel I have the credentials to be sitting here evaluating music with any kind of authority. Especially not jazz music, which has been depicted to me via popular culture as the background music while our hero seduces the leggy blonde in the cocktail bar.

In this review, you are not going to get a nuanced “take” on this record, but you are going to get an honest attempt and listening to, and describing, the music by someone who does not know how to do that.

You need to know the guitar player on the album, Andrew Trim, is my friend. We have known each other since high school, when Trim — I’m not being formal, that’s just what we called him — was a combo guard who also played loud teen-angst punk with some other guys at my school. They were called Third Person and played songs with names like, “Matt’s New Haircut.”

But anyway that was a long time ago and Trim has grown into quite the guitarist. I have no inclination to write anything about this album I don’t actually think, but I have learned in life that when you have a relationship of any kind with a guitarist, it’s best to just disclose it right off.

So, about the music.

Sitting there and just listening to music, the way you just sit there and watch a movie or just sit there and read a book or sit there and look at the paintings, is difficult for reasons I assume are obvious. We are at least the second, maybe the third, generation of Americans to whom music is really just part of the ambiance, like the curtains or the couch pillows or the scented candles. We think of music as a soundtrack to something else — a day at the beach, a house party, a romantic evening, etc. I’m going to skip the weighty cultural reasons this is probably true, because they’re tedious and everybody already knows what they are. But my point is, sitting there and listening without doing anything else required me to fight some urges possibly brought on by Twitter overdosage.

I have been doing a lot more of that, and I’ve come to enjoy listening to rock albums from front to back as a singular work rather than a collection of singles. I think a lot of people start doing this at a younger age, but I am always behind when it comes to stuff like this.

But the point is, that’s how I listened to this album.

And, let me tell you, the whole thing felt downright cinematic. This album — Look at Me So I Can Get Close to You by Danny Meyer, Andrew Trim and Charles Rumback — feels narrative, but movie narrative not journalism narrative. The wife and I both couldn’t help imagining a scene in our heads. There were sad scenes and triumphant scenes. One song in particular, “Thom Told Them to Take the Train” sounded confrontational, like when an underdog stands up to The Man in a sports movie. “Realm Devil” felt like an honest conversation at a bar at 2 a.m.

During “Fines” the wife said, “This is giving me anxiety.” Quite a trip, that “Fines.”

I wish I could speak more articulately about the musicianship, because I suspect it is quite high. Some of it was more experimental than my palate is prepared to savor. The wife had the same issue, and I likened it to being young and drinking Keystone Light and plastic-bottle vodka all the time and then being handed a glass of good whiskey and the first thing you want to do is add Coke. You’re just not ready yet. You’re not there.

But then other songs were more melodic. One of them made me think of “Planet Caravan” by Black Sabbath. Some of the songs reminded me of that kind of music, that more musical classic rock.

I found it helpful to try to make those kinds of mental connections. Something about connecting dots felt good. I feel like there are a few degrees of of separation between the music I’m familiar with and the music on this album, but I also think this album was highly emotionally communicative. I felt like the music was forcing me to consider it.

It was more escapist than most of the music I know.

This was not background music. It would not work that way. This was a little dark and a little more magnetic than that.

And that’s all a way of saying I had a nice time.

What ‘God made a farmer’ did and didn’t say

I think it’s important I disclose this right up top: I am not a farmer and never have been, although my dad grew up on a farm and I lived on a farm for the first five years of my life. I grew up in a rural part of Kansas. I now live in Houston, Texas.

Ever been in church and felt like the pastor was speaking directly to you? That’s what it feels like when I watch commercials made by the Chrysler Corporation these days.

It started with that Eminem spot for Chrysler, which I’m sure you all remember. The motif was that of a comeback, specifically for the City of Detroit, for the American auto maker and, to an extent, American manufacturing at large. Eminem narrated it, and the instrumentals for “Lose Yourself” played in the background. I got chills the first time I saw it.

The second was the spot in which Dodge (successfully) expressed what you might call “The American Spirit” using muscle car and Revolutionary War imagery. Chills again.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another ad campaign that stirs the soul the way this one does. It makes me feel like Dodge is saying so many things I would like to say about cars and America, and it’s obvious I am not the only one. These commercials wormed into parts of the American psyche I think a lot of us have let sit off to the side. It was like our psyche was a thick soup that had filmed over on the top, and this Dodge campaign was a big wooden spoon that mixed it all up again and turned on the heat.

For some of us, anyway.

Last night Chrysler dropped another one that made me take a couple deep shaky breaths. God Made a Farmer was the idea. It used an old speech by Paul Harvey, whose voice you know if you ever listened to an AM station in the Midwest and heard someone say “And that’s the rest of the story.”

That commercial summoned all sorts of feelings for me, almost all of which I was happy to feel. But a lot of people disagreed. More people disliked this ad than disliked the Eminem or Challenger spots, it seems, and I think it’s informative to explore the reasons why.

The first kind of person who didn’t like the spot is someone who thinks farmers are plain and corny and backward and stupid. This is someone who thinks he’s better than a farmer because he wears ironed pants to work and voted for Obama. This person is a bigot just like any other kind of bigot and doesn’t deserve to be listened to.

Some more open-minded people have no issue with farmers or the celebration of their craft, but don’t like it when people say God created things. They also may have felt it sounded a bit like Paul Harvey was delivering a sermon designed to make them feel guilty for not being a farmer, and found that to be off putting. This wasn’t my reaction, but I get it.

Still others enjoyed everything about the spot, right up until the end, when all these wonderful words and beautiful imagery about farmers was spoiled by a cheesy tag line — “To the farmer in all of us.” — and a cynical attempt to hock Rams, even though the connection between the Ram and farming is only sort of meaningful.

I experienced that same icky twinge right at the end, which was curious because I hadn’t felt that way at the end of the Eminem or Challenger commercials, even though Chrysler was doing the same thing in all three — stirring the soul with patriotic and nostalgic ideas and connecting them to an expensive machine.

But here’s why that happened: The Eminem commercial was an attempt to sell a car, but can you even remember what the car was? I think it might have been the Chrysler 300, but it hardly mattered. Chrysler wasn’t selling a car with that ad, it was selling American Cars or, more broadly, American Manufacturing. It was trying to inspire belief that American cars, and Detroit, would again be what they once where. And this is important. It is important that America makes good things, and it is important that Americans believe America makes good things, and Detroit is such a perfect metaphor for the whole thing.

Chrysler had to stretch a little further with the Dodge Challenger commercial, but if you know anything about the muscle car era, you can appreciate the connection. The original Challenger (after which the new one is styled) was the product of one of the most important periods in American history. The years between World War II and the election of Jimmy Carter were without question the golden age in the American auto industry. Nobody in the world made cars like Americans did. They were big and fast and beautiful. They had huge chrome bumpers and fins that reminded you of spacecraft, which was because we were literally sending people into outer space at the time. As the 50s and 60s moved toward the 70s the designs got a little sexier and a little less regal. The engines got bigger. From 1970-74, Dodge made the Challenger, and what a name for a car built at that time, on the heels of the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam.

To connect the new incarnation of the Challenger — released in 2008, by the way — to the genesis of the United States was a mouthful, but if you understood what a muscle car really was, it was one you could swallow.

The Ram has no such associations. We associate farmers with pickup trucks, but the pickup truck does not register with me as being more culturally important than any other kind of implement. Sometimes people drive trucks as an expression of personal style, the same way some people wear cowboy hats. But the real reason the cowboy hat exists is to keep the sun off your neck, and the real reason pickup trucks exist is so you can throw stuff in the bed. These things are iconic, but they’re iconic because they’re ubiquitous, and they’re ubiquitous because they’re necessary.

In short, there is not a farmer in all of us.

That tagline undermined everything Paul Harvey said. It took two minutes to build it, and two seconds to destroy it. The whole point of the commercial was that farmers are special, and then it swoops in at the end to tell us that we can be a farmer just by buying a Ram? What’s the message here?

I don’t mind that Chrysler was trying to sell something. You’re watching the Super Bowl — you know somebody is trying to sell you something every second you’re watching .I think if not for that tagline, the commercial would have been perfect. Just show the Ram at the end and don’t say a word. Paul Harvey said everything that needed to be said.

But if you rolled your eyes because you thought Paul Harvey was stretching the truth a little bit, then you obviously don’t know any farmers.

The Ironic Athlete is coming

Sometime soon, there will be a true hipster basketball player. He will be a point guard from Brooklyn, and he’ll be one of the top 25 players in his class. His recruitment will be a national story. He will take visits to all the big schools. Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, etc. And he will take lots and lots of other visits to schools he has no interest in attending whatsoever. Miami, Seton Hall, Washington, etc.

And then, on signing day, he will have a “press conference” in the library at his high school. When it comes time to announce his decision, he will pull out a Nebraska letterman’s sweater.

Someone will ask him why he chose Nebraska.

“I just thought it would be hilarious,” he will say. “Like, me at Nebraska. It’s so funny to me.”

He will be the first player to choose a school for its ironical impact.

Athletes and irony do not (intentionally) mix well. Beginning in the latter stages of the Reagan administration, American culture started becoming ironic and hasn’t really stopped since. We are a highly ironical people.

But athletes are, generally speaking, the exception to this. It’s remarkable. Athletes and grandmas are the most earnest people in America. Just listen to how they talk. They are so serious. They are so tuned in. This thing they do is an Important Thing.

I could easily make fun of this, but I shouldn’t, because earnestness is a good quality and irony is a dead end. Irony only begets more irony. It’s a response, not a prescription. In this way, we should all be more like athletes. (Can you tell I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace?)

That said, I think that day is coming, and when it arrives I will love it.

How we may very well explain Brett Favre to our grandkids

Oh man, well, hahaha, Brett Favre was this guy they used to call “The Ol’ Gunslinger,’ hahahahaha, because (snort) he’d just rifle it in there no matter what. He could throw it (snort) like a thousand miles an hour, and he didn’t care if there were defenders in the way. It seemed, hahahaha, like he thought he could break off a cornerback’s hands with his passes.

Oh yeah, he threw an insane number of interceptions. I’m pretty sure the most of anybody ever. You could always tell when he was getting ready to throw one too. You’d be sitting there going, “Here it comes. The Ol’ Gunslinger’s feeling pretty heroic,’ and, boom, intercepted.

Yes, it was incredibly hilarious.

No, absolutely not. That was the weird thing. Favre was probably the most popular player of his generation. People loved this guy. And he was totally deified by the sports media of the day. You have to understand that in the 1990s people still looked at athletes as heroes. At least some of them. You had Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods was still young, Favre. People used to see these guys as something superior to normal humans, or at least as admirable.

You have to remember, there was no such thing as a sports blog in 1996.

Well, it’s weird, but I almost think people liked Favre because of the interceptions. People seemed to consider it endearing that there was an NFL quarterback who was the equivalent of your idiot “hold my beer and watch this” friend. It was very easy to imagine that very thing happening on the Packers’ sideline. Favre shotgunning a Keystone Light and going “Check this out. I’m about to throw a 60-yard laser across the field off my back foot,” and some teammate going, “I’m not so sure this is such a good idea, Brett,” and Brett going, “Oh don’t be such a Nancy, it’s going to be awesome.” I think people really took to that. Plus, he was impossible to knock out of a game. One time he played with a broken thumb on his passing hand. Can you imagine that? There were all kinds of stories like that. He set a record for consecutive starts.

Well, I don’t think anybody ever suspected he was using steroids, but he did become addicted to prescription painkillers at the height of his career. We were all shocked at the time, but in retrospect that had to be one of the most obvious athlete addictions of all time. I mean, like I said, there was no injury that could keep this guy out of a game.

Uh, it was pretty much all the media, but in particular was this meathead of a color commentator named John Madden.

Well, no, he wasn’t a video game creator. When that game first came out, they decided to name it after a color commentator for some reason.

Madden was known for being extremely easy to please as a broadcaster. He would get so fired up any time a player got dirt stuck in his facemask. To John Madden, that was evidence that the player was playing exceptionally hard or playing (air quotes) smashmouth football (air quotes), whatever that means. And he’d make the most obvious comments. He’s say stuff like (in Madden voice), “If the ball crosses the plane of the goal, that’s gonna be a touchdown” and everyone would be like, “Thanks, John.” He explained football in a way that any idiot — literally any idiot — could grasp what was happening.

Anyway, Madden loved Favre so much, because Favre was the kind of guy who’d end up with dirt stuck in his facemask a lot, and he’d do this reckless, childlike stuff. He threw a behind-the-back pass once. … Actually, that might have been Jake Plummer. I can’t really remember, but it’s beside the point. Whether or not Favre ever did throw a behind-the-back pass, throwing a behind-the-back pass was totally a Favre sort of thing to do. You can take it to the bank that if it was Plummer and not Favre who did that, Plummer did it because he was 100 percent inspired by Brett Favre.

No, generally speaking, people hated Jake Plummer.

Anyway, announcers loved to say that Favre was “like a big ol’ kid out there,” and it was clear that Favre was always the guy having the most fun. Every now and then they’d put a mic on him and he’d spend the whole game making jokes with defensive linemen and things like that.

He was from this small town in Mississippi, and I really do think that helped his popularity. He had this great southern accent and he’d do commercials for Wrangler jeans. I mean, you look at some of his contemporaries … Tom Brady was practically a movie star. Drew Brees always came off like he was running for Senate. Joe Montana was the ultimate “calm, cool, collected” guy. Dan Marino had this great tan and played in Miami. Peyton Manning was kind of a successful dork. I think people saw Favre as sort of an antithetical figure to all that. He was all these things quarterbacks were not supposed to be. He had this unique way of seeming like a regular dude and a mythical creature at the same time.

Yeah, this girl who worked for the Jets said he sent her photos of his penis. Nobody ever really figured out of that was true or not, but most people seemed to believe it. There was quite a bit of cynicism about the whole thing because of who his accuser was.

Her name was Jen Sterger, and she basically became famous overnight. She showed up to a Florida State football game in a bikini top, got picked up by the cameras and became this sensation. It was totally ridiculous. She ended up working for Sports Illustrated because of that. I mean, she wasn’t out there writing 5,000-word takeouts, but still. Sports Illustrated.

(Sigh). Sports Illustrated was a magazine. For about 50 years it was The Place To Work for anybody in sports journalism.

No, they printed it on glossy paper and delivered it to your house every week.

Well sure, the information was several days old by the time you got it, but that really wasn’t a big deal at the time. I mean, I found out the Kansas City Chiefs had acquired Joe Montana by seeing it on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Oh nevermind.

The soft simple lesson of Mr. Rogers

I am sure this story by Tom Junod is the best thing ever written about Mr. Rogers. It might be the best thing ever written about anybody, for that matter. So I am not going to embarrass myself by attempting to write some terrific Mr. Rogers thing.

But for the last 24 hours I have been thinking about Fred Rogers without stopping. It started when I saw that haunting and catchy “Garden of your mind” remix somebody did on YouTube.

I then went to Wikipedia, and found this wonderful quote, which Mr. Rogers said in court in the now-famous Betamax case. He was defending the use of recording devices like the VHS:

“Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been ‘You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions’ … I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.”

Then someone sent me a link to Junod’s piece. Then I watched Mr. Rogers give a speech to Congress, defending PBS back in the 60s. Watch him melt this senator:

Then, maybe the greatest moment of all is the one Junod mentions near the bottom of that story. It is Mr. Rogers accepting a Lifetime Achievement award at the Emmys– one of the biggest celebrations of self in our culture — in 1997. By that time he had spent almost 30 years as the host of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” a children’s show unlike any other. He wasn’t teaching us to count or spell, he was teaching us how to be human, how to handle our feelings, how to believe in ourselves. It was his vision and he had turned it into one of the most iconic television brands in history.

There he was at the Emmy’s, among the glitterati, on stage being honored for a lifetime of his work. You only get a couple of minutes up there, and this is how he used them:

Mr. Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003, so he is no longer around to care about the way children are talked to or the things they’re learning from the medium he cared so much about, and mastered.

There will never be another Fred Rogers. Some people are one-off creations, and he was one of them. It is fitting that his message orbited so tightly around individuality. Mr. Rogers was never afraid to be who he was, to say what he felt and to work for what he believed in.

So even though there will never be another, I think we can take something from Mr. Rogers that even transcends his simple message. And I think what we can take from him is the incredible power of sincerity.

Mr. Rogers could pulverize you with it. Watching him speak in those videos made me feel like he crawled inside me and just started mixing everything around like a pot of stew.

Watching Mr. Rogers can give you the sensation the he was not of this world. You’ll see that idea in the comments on YouTube. But I think that’s the wrong idea. It suggests that he is gone for good and everything he was about left with him.

I hope that’s not the case, and I don’t think it is.

A brief word about crying babies on television

The season finale of Mad Men tonight included a crying baby scene, and all I could think was “can somebody please just shut that kid up?”

This is a pretty common human reaction, I think, to any crying baby, whether that crying baby is mediated or not, and especially if that crying baby is not your own. Call me insensitive or whatever. That’s fine. You know you’ve thought it.

However, I think most of us are reasonable enough to understand that crying babies are simply a part of life. We try to reduce our exposure to them, in the same way we seek to avoid watching other people defecate or reduce our exposure to house music, but a total elimination of crying babies from the human experience would not be a human experience at all.

And yet TV shows are constantly shoving crying babies onto the screen for no reason. The Mad Men scene to which I referred was not a baby-centered scene. The scene was not about the baby, and yet there was a baby, on the screen, bawling. If you’re like me, all you could think of during that scene was how much longer you were going to have to be listening to this baby. In my mind, nothing else was happening in the scene. They might as well have gone to a black screen and played crying baby sounds for five seconds.

Once again, I understand that crying babies are a part of life and, I don’t know, maybe if it’s your crying baby things are different. But a crying TV baby is nobody’s baby. It’s just a crying baby sound they probably recorded in the 70s. It is a minor irritation of everyday life that for some reason gets special treatment on television. They don’t show people taking poops on TV unless it’s a pooping scene. They don’t show people with little pieces of food on their face unless it’s a food on face scene. They don’t show people randomly getting flat tires on the way to something unless it’s a plot point.

And yet: crying babies.

 

A visual tour of the beautiful crumbling Astrodome

Yesterday the Astrodome opened its doors to some local media, who had to sign liability waivers before we walked in. Place is unsafe, they say. What I found was a place that, like a lot of things in Houston, was born in a very specific period, right as we were going to the moon and going to Vietnam, after the first oil boom but before the second, right as the Baby Boomers were hitting adulthood.

The Astrodome was finished 18 years before I was born, so I don’t know what it looked like then, but I got a strong impression not much has changed.

A tour:

The seats are quite comfortable for a building built in the 60s, but they're all cracked. Sitting in the Astrodome feels and smells like sitting in an old car that's been sitting in a dusty garage for many years.

The seats are quite comfortable for a building built in the 60s, but they're all cracked. Sitting in the Astrodome feels and smells like sitting in an old car that's been sitting in a dusty garage for many years.

The windows still let the light in. Soon after the dome was built, baseball players complained it was hard to find the ball against those windows, so there is a film over them now.

The windows still let the light in. Soon after the dome was built, baseball players complained it was hard to find the ball against those windows, so there is a film over them now.

Can't remember where this was, exactly. But I assume it to be an original 1965 sign.

Can't remember where this was, exactly. But I assume it to be an original 1965 sign.

Don't think these work anymore, but all these signs have little lights around them that light up like a marquee.

Don't think these work anymore, but all these signs have little lights around them that light up like a marquee.

When we say the Astrodome is crumbling, we mean that literally. Chunks of the building are falling off. It has been deemed unsafe for occupation.

When we say the Astrodome is crumbling, we mean that literally. Chunks of the building are falling off. It has been deemed unsafe for occupation.

Astroturf, you may know, was named for the Astrodome, and this is one of the last places on earth you can still find it.

Astroturf, you may know, was named for the Astrodome, and this is one of the last places on earth you can still find it.

This is the door to a dark room. You know, where they develop film on site. Remember film?

This is the door to a dark room. You know, where they develop film on site. Remember film? One older member of the media said he and somebody else used to come back here for a seventh-inning toke. I couldn't tell if he was 100 percent serious, but this was the 60s and 70s we're talking about.

The press box was actually not that dissimilar from the press box at Minute Maid Park. Older TVs. Otherwise, a press box is a press box is a press box. Except for the one at TCU. Man, that thing is garbage.

The press box was actually not that dissimilar from the press box at Minute Maid Park. Older TVs. Otherwise, a press box is a press box is a press box. Except for the one at TCU. Man, that thing is garbage.

"Welcome to The Show," it says.

"Welcome to The Show," it says.

Just one example of how so many things in the dome are stuck in a very specific period.

Just one example of how so many things in the dome are stuck in a very specific period.

I didn't ask, but those looked like they probably still worked.

I didn't ask, but those looked like they probably still worked.

Carter vs. Permian. Written on the walls in one of the locker rooms. I actually got chills when I first saw this, then realized that 1988 game was played in Austin. This was done for the Friday Night Lights movie in 2004. Nonetheless, it's pretty cool that's still there.

Carter vs. Permian. Written on the walls in one of the locker rooms. I actually got chills when I first saw this, then realized that 1988 game was played in Austin. This was done for the Friday Night Lights movie in 2004. Nonetheless, it's pretty cool that's still there.

There are limitations to my camera phone. Those signs say "Home of the Houston Oilers" and "Home of the Houston Astros."

There are limitations to my camera phone. Those signs say "Home of the Houston Oilers" and "Home of the Houston Astros."

A broken, discarded chair sitting in the tunnel that leads from the locker room to the field. Seemed poignant.

A broken, discarded chair sitting in the tunnel that leads from the locker room to the field. Seemed poignant. By the looks of the label, this was from the Don Draper era.

Funny thing is, there were a lot of copycat stadiums after the Astrodome went up in 1965. SkyDome, Three Rivers, Riverfront, etc. When they started tearing them all down in the late 90s, early 2000s, everybody said they were cookie cutter stadiums. But look at this place. Unmistakable for any other.

Funny thing is, there were a lot of copycat stadiums after the Astrodome went up in 1965. SkyDome, Three Rivers, Riverfront, etc. When they started tearing them all down in the late 90s, early 2000s, everybody said they were cookie cutter stadiums. But look at this place. Unmistakable for any other.

There I am, standing on about the 20-yard line. I can't imagine playing football on that turf. There's nothing to it.

There I am, standing on about the 20-yard line. I can't imagine playing football on that turf. There's nothing to it.

These are the lockers in the Oilers locker room. I was told quarterbacks and running backs would have been in this row. Earl Campbell, Warren Moon. Don't they look ... dumpy?

These are the lockers in the Oilers locker room. I was told quarterbacks and running backs would have been in this row. Earl Campbell, Warren Moon. Don't they look ... dumpy?

Rapping about sports will always fail

I hesitate to write this, because any attempt by a single person to define what is and isn’t cool is an open invitation to The Internet to destroy that person. It’s like putting an overcooked pork chop in front of a Chopped judge.

Alas, I am willing to become a martyr for this cause.

First, you need to familiarize yourself with the following videos:

I’m not going to spend much time on the exceptionally poor quality of the rapping in either of those videos or the excessive whiteness or that one of the guys in the Mizzou video is named “Tanner,” which — and this is true — was the stock name me and my buddies assigned to anyone who was popping the collar on his polo shirts in 2004, or that the guy in the KU video is ripping off a 50 Cent song that is eight years old and was never cool in the first place, or that the whole “I’m rich and drive fancy cars” thing is not as cool when it’s really your dad who is rich and his cars you’re driving or that the Missouri video has as much to do with Kansas as it does Missouri or that somebody is wearing a Santa Claus hat in the KU video.

I’m going to ignore that stuff, because it’s just dressing on the biggest point in all this. You ready? Here goes.

Sports are not cool.

Sports are fun. Sports are dramatic. Sports are intense. Sports are worthwhile. But sports are not cool.

Coolness is about individuality. It is about rebellion. It is about style. It is the guitar solo in “Johnny B. Goode.” It was Jay-Z’s Yankees fitted, it is the fins on a ’59 Cadillac and it is Farnsworth Bentley’s umbrella. It was the way Outkast sounded in 2000. It is Martin Luther King’s cadence, Bill Clinton playing the saxophone and the twinkle in Ronald Reagan’s eye when he knew he was saying something just right. It is Steve Jobs getting fired from Apple.  It is Barack Obama turning his back to the camera and walking off at the end of the “Bin Laden is dead” announcement. It is the Fab Five wearing their shorts long in 1992 and Dennis Rodman wearing them short in 1996.

Awesome.

Also awesome.

Cool is cool, and certainly there are cool people who ended up in sports. But the overall idiom of sports is inherently uncool. It is all about conformity and shared identity. It is about being part of something larger than yourself, which is the opposite of being yourself. This is not a bad thing. It can be a really good thing. The military, for example, could not operate effectively without this kind of culture, and neither could a sports team. Lots of good things come from conformity, but coolness is not among them.

More to the point, sports fandom is every bit as uncool as Star Trek fandom.* It’s all geeking out about people you don’t know and will never meet. It’s arguing about numbers. It’s coming up with justifications for caring about the outcomes of games. It’s having heroes.

It is not bad, but it is not cool.

*Oh, let’s not split hairs here. I’m exaggerating to make a point. 

This is why any attempt to rap about sports will inevitably fail. Jay-Z could not write a cool rap song about Kansas basketball. It isn’t possible, because Jay-Z might be cool, and Kansas basketball might have some cool things about it or some cool guys on the team, but sports are not cool. The two don’t mix. Sports are institutions, and nothing in sports is more institutional than college athletics. It practically defines the term.

Rapping about a team you like is the same as rapping about a rapper you like. It’s too meta.

Romance and sexiness work the same way. Once the mystery is gone — once you have made it clear you are actively trying to create sexiness — it becomes corny and lame. These things can only exist behind a veil.

Also, you know who is terrible at rapping? Practically everybody on earth, regardless of race. Let’s leave it to the professionals. Most of them are cool, which is why most of them wouldn’t rap about a college sports team. 

Gratuitous predictions for 2012 (and beyond, if you like)

Some director will create a scene, probably in a television show, in which a character is caught dancing and singing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” while doing something that is only slightly embarrassing and not at all controversial.

It’s going to be a loud crash back to earth for both Lil Wayne and Zach Galifianakis.

You will start hearing people say things like, “…back when Zach Galifianakis was funny” in the course of normal conversations. The truth will be that Galifianakis is no more or less funny than ever, but that won’t matter. It never does.

Someone will develop a musical instrument that imitates the sound of a human voice, and is capable of pronouncing and singing approximately 75 words with enough clarity that an untrained ear wouldn’t be able to tell it was a machine. The machine will collaborate with Kanye West on a song called “ones and heroes,” which will peak No. 7 on the Billboard Top 100 chart.

Intelligent life discovered in New Jersey.

Citing the cost and concerns about protecting its original content, a major metropolitan newspaper will terminate its relationship with the Associated Press.

A 22-year-old Orlando woman will contact the editors at Deadspin claiming to have photographic evidence she had sex with Tim Tebow. The photos show a man who looks like Tebow engaging in sexual acts with a young woman, but they are of poor quality and were taken from an angle at which it is not possible to see the man’s face directly. Deadspin will run the photos under a headline that reads, “This lady says these are picture of Tim Tebow having sex with her.” The majority of the public will believe the photos are authentic until it turns out the 22-year-old Orlando woman is really a 41-year-old male programmer from Atlanta.

Metta World Peace will change his name to Chad Johnson.

The makers of Axe Body Spray will intentionally get their Super Bowl ad banned.

Somewhere, at some wedding, somebody will “make it rain” on the dance floor. He will do this with toy $100 bills, and event he had been planning for weeks. He will perceive this as a “hilarious” wedding gag. Instead, somebody’s father will cry. And by “father” I mean “America.” It will probably be the groom.

Tim Tebow will propose to somebody.

The entertainment media will finally figure out that Jay-Z’s retirement announcements are just ways to get himself on TV, but they won’t be able to stop covering them because if they were to start only covering things that are news, they’d be out of a job immediately. Instead, the coverage will take a barely noticeable turn toward self-awareness.

Ryan Seacrest will start to look a little older.

Adele will lose 35 pounds, appear on the cover of every women’s magazine in the world and suddenly  be lauded as proof that “curves are beautiful.” The irony will be lost on 60 percent of the population, and 100 percent of the entertainment media. Her next album “22” will be panned as “downright cheerful” and “a departure from the soul-crushing Adele of ’21.'” It will be a commercial failure.

With sales sagging, Pringles decides to go with tennis balls after all.

On the first waves of popular culture, wine drinking will start to be considered passe and cigar smokers will be considered “sadly clueless.”

Someone you know will buy an all-electric car and never drive it.

Through TMZ, the nation’s women will learn Casey Anthony has begun dating a “creepy but actually kind of good looking” 34-year-old entrepreneur from Las Vegas.

The sports team in your area will win some and lose some.