29 January 2012

Curbing It on the Edge of the Ghetto

When you live in a part of a city that could sometimes be described as “the edge of the ghetto,” you discover peculiarities that people living in other parts of the city are unfamiliar with.

For example, one of my friends posted on Facebook how she and her husband were recently trapped in their garage until police arrived after a crazy woman followed their vehicle into the driveway and proceeded to rap on their door for 10 minutes. When the police came, the woman flashed her “floppity meth boobs” at them in the middle of the street and yelled, “Don’t shoot! I’m a woman!”

Now, that’s the kind of entertainment you just can’t find in suburbia. And it’s free.

Having lived on the edge of the ghetto for nearly a decade, I have learned the finer benefits of my neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great neighborhood. I love the diversity and convenience, which is why I’ve chosen to live and stay here. We have old houses and big, mature trees. And, for the most part, it’s safe — save for the occasional gang member hiding from police in an empty house or the criminal antics of the teenagers across the street.

Part of the convenience is a practice I’ve come to know as “curbing it.” Several years ago, I had a set of two dining chairs that were in good condition but which I no longer wanted. They surely wouldn’t fit in my compact car to drop off at Goodwill or the Salvation Army, and I don’t have much storage space in my house. So, taking a cue from my neighbors, I set the chairs at the curb with a sign that said, “FREE.”

The next morning, the chairs were gone. It was like a magical, hassle-free way to get rid of good stuff I no longer wanted. Since then, I’ve set a few large items at the curb, and they’ve always disappeared by morning.

My sister lives about a mile from my house. A few months ago, we were talking about this practice. Her expression brightened as she said, “Oh, you curbed it!” She and her husband use the expression “curb it” when they have good junk they no longer want. Until that time, I’d kept my curbside donations a secret, setting out items in the dark of night.

Then, I decided to see just how far I could take curbing junk.

Several months ago, on a health kick, I bought a case of V8 V-Fusion juice at Costco. I don’t like juice, and I didn’t like this one any better. I drank two or three cans of it, then it just sat in the fridge. Finally, I got tired of looking at it. I figured I could dump it in the trash, but then I decided to curb it. Sure enough, the next morning it was gone.

Christmas ornaments or clothes you don’t want anymore? Put them in a bag and curb it. TV that doesn’t work anymore? Curb it. You can curb virtually anything, really.

Recently, however, I discovered the one caveat I must issue about curbing your junk: People may steal your trash.

Over my xmas break, I cleaned out my linen closet and bagged up all of the good but mismatched pillow cases, blankets and sheets. I intended to drop them off at Goodwill, but in the middle preparing for my sister’s wedding, I was too busy, so I curbed them. I also tossed an old, hole-ridden comforter and other garbage in the trashcan. It just so happened that I curbed the good stuff on the same day I had to set out the trash, but I put the bag of good stuff several feet from the trashcan.

The next morning, the bag of good stuff was gone — but so was the bag that contained the holey comforter and other trash. Obviously someone was going to be disappointed with the second bag.

That same day, I was at my sister’s house when I noticed a refrigerator at the curb of her neighbor’s house. A half-hour later, when we went outside, we noticed the fridge was gone. Her neighbor came out, and we laughed and said, “So you know the secret of ‘curbing it,’ too?” He looked confused, and we pointed to the spot where the fridge had been.

“Someone took it?” he said. “I was going to call a service to pick it up!”

Yes, in less than an hour, someone had come by and taken the fridge.

I’ve since learned that people in other parts of the city curb it. People who live near the universities have been known to curb furniture and various items that college students find useful and pick up. I guess you could consider curbing it as donating useful junk to the people in your neighborhood who really need it or can find a good use for it.

22 January 2012

Paterno’s Cheerleaders Highlight America’s Blind Obsession With Sports

I’m afflicted by waves of nausea. I don’t feel feverish, and I’m certain it’s not the flu. Rather, I am sickened by the overwhelming number of social media posts hailing Joe Paterno since the announcement of his death today. Sports fans are posting “RIP Joe Pa,” and similar sentiments all over Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.

Those sentiments just go to prove how sports-obsessed this country is, even to the detriment of our children. I’ll concede that Paterno was an outstanding coach. He had a long, successful career leading the Penn State football team and program. I’m certain that he positively influenced the lives of thousands of young men during his career. But he was far from perfect, and he was not worthy of idolatry. What sickens me is that now that Paterno is dead, sports fans want to be his cheerleader, ignoring the evidence that he allowed his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, to continue molesting young boys, even after Paterno received reports of such abuse. That’s beyond a mere “mistake.”

The American sports industry and its fans love to have something to cheer about. In this case, they will even cheer for a man who knew that Sandusky was abusing boys and provided the playground for that abuse. Considering that Paterno knew about the abuse and allowed it to continue, allowed Sandusky to keep an office on the Penn State campus, and allowed Sandusky to come and go as he pleased on campus, I consider Paterno an accomplice.

Oh, sports fans claim that Paterno did what he was supposed to by reporting the incident to his superiors. Sure — he did what he was legally obligated to do. He did the bare minimum in order to protect himself and his football program. Because, ultimately, what mattered most to Paterno wasn’t the security of youths. It was the security of his career and his football program. Paterno had the opportunity to become a true hero by reporting the abuse to law enforcement. He failed to do so.

And all of that is disgusting. What is equally, perhaps even more, revolting is that millions of sports fans are blindly mourning Paterno’s death, ignoring the evidence, willing to sweep it under the rug in order to have something to cheer about. No, Paterno didn’t diddle young boys. But is it any better that he allowed and enabled it?

I wrote a post on Facebook this morning about how Paterno’s death demonstrates how sports-obsessed this country is. Several of my friends expressed their agreement. It actually sparked a lively discussion when one friend’s comments only proved my point. He’s a sports fan, and littered his comments with “RIP Joe Pa,” professing Paterno’s innocence and calling me and others ignorant about the case because we dislike sports.

I’m far from ignorant about the case. I have followed it closely. I have read the full grand jury report (which will also turn your stomach), and I have read articles from various news sources. I’d venture to guess that’s more than the average sports fan has done.

What I’m noticing in these pro-Paterno posts is that sports fans are content to ignore the fact that as a direct result of Paterno’s inaction potentially dozens of young boys were molested. Their lives are forever impacted by Paterno’s decision to save himself and his program rather than them.

And that is the sad, disgraceful state of our country. Americans are so involved with sports and idolizing athletes that they fail to consider the negative effects on our society. We’ll pay millions of dollars for a new stadium to host the College World Series for 10 days a year, but we have impoverished children who don’t eat and subpar schools. College and especially professional sports are rife with immorality (to put it gently), yet millions of Americans cast a blind eye toward infidelity, doping, rape and sexual abuse, societal problems and more in order to have something to cheer about every weekend.

That should be enough to nauseate anyone. 

18 January 2012

SOPA Sucks and Piss on PIPA

I'm pretty sure that I can't make my blog go dark today without deleting it, but I want my readers to know that I'm against legislation that seeks to limit and police the Internet under the guise of stopping piracy. Write to your legislators and tell them to shove these bills where the sun don't shine. Enter your zip code on Wikipedia for the contact information for your state.

19 December 2011

The Atheist Who Loved Xmas

I’m officially going on record about two things: 1) I’m an atheist. 2) I love Christmas.

I don’t generally write “Christmas,” though; I write “Xmas.” The holiday just isn’t about Christ to me. I don’t hate Christians or Christianity. I just don’t believe in the religion — or any religion, for that matter. Oh, sure, the Christmas story is nice and I can appreciate it. I just don’t believe it’s factual. To me, Xmas is about family, traditions, friends, generosity, a respite before starting a new year and time to reflect on the past year.

I really do love everything about Xmas. (Except Santa Claus. Santa has always creeped me out. He’s too clown-like.) I love the lights illuminating the chill air, the ambience of the lit tree in my living room. I get a thrill from buying gifts for friends and family, trying to find things that they want and others that will surprise them. Oh, sure, the intellectual part of me sometimes tries to look at holiday gift-giving like Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory,” but gifts are so much fun that the kid in me easily wins that battle.

I love the music — even the very Christian carols, many of which happen to be my favorites. I load my Xmas music playlist onto my iPod the day after Thanksgiving, and I listen to it until the day after Xmas.

I love the Xmas holiday rush and all the decorations. I like how everyone seems to be a little bit nicer to one another at Xmas time, and I take pleasure in the anticipation that builds up to Dec. 25 every year.

I treasure spending time with my crazy family and the traditions we built when I was a child and still practice today. I love spending extra time with my friends and family, and the year-end holiday is perfect for letting bygones be bygones and moving on.

To me, all of these things encapsulate the meaning of Xmas, and you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate them or to partake in the festivities. 

16 December 2011

There Really Is No ‘War on Christmas’

Did you know there’s a war on Christmas? Indeed, I’ve heard conservative talk radio hosts complaining about it twice this week on KFAB. Sheesh, where’s Tom Becka when we need him?

The war on Christmas” is what some Christians call it when more fair-minded people do things like maintain separation of church and state or choose to say “happy holidays” rather than “merry Christmas.” It seems these people believe that all kids should have a Christmas program and party at school, and everyone should say “merry Christmas.”

You, too, you crazy Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, pagans and other non-Christian religions. Who cares what holidays you celebrate; it’s all about Christmas, dammit. Oh, and we atheists are going to burn in hell, but maybe we can save our souls just a little by shouting “merry Christmas” through the streets.

“Why do they want to pretend it’s not Christmas?” has been a common sentiment from hosts and callers alike on the shows I’ve heard. Why? Because for billions of other people on Earth, it’s not Christmas; it’s Yule, Hanukkah, or another holiday, maybe one not even celebrated in December, that’s why. I’ve listened to dozens of Christians complain that they feel their religious beliefs are being attacked every time someone says “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,” and that they want their kids to be able to celebrate Christmas in school.

Well, the latter is easy: Send your fucking kid to a Christian school. They’ll celebrate plenty of Christmas there. But don’t expect it in the public schools. What are the Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or atheist kids supposed to do while your brat is celebrating Christmas? In addition, I have to wonder how those Christians would feel if their kids celebrated Christmas in school but also celebrated Hanukkah, Ramadan, Winter Solstice and other non-Christian religious holidays.

Christians actually feel attacked because someone says “happy holidays” or because their kid’s class has a holiday party rather than a Christmas party? From what I’ve seen, it’s usually Christians doing the attacking, and their insistence that Christmas is king only proves my point.

Watch the War on Christmas PSA
Christians can be a pushy lot: They go out and actively recruit new members, often visiting other countries, telling people that their beliefs are wrong because Christianity is the only “right” path. Some Christians go door to door trying to convert others to their way of thinking. The fact is a specific group of Christians just aren’t content with their own personal beliefs; they want everyone else to also share those beliefs.

Yet certain Christians are the first to complain about everyone else not sharing their beliefs.

In a past life, when I waited tables, I started saying “happy holidays” to my customers for three reasons: First, Id had enough of Christianity in general. Second, I felt like automatically saying “merry Christmas” to my customers might make some people feel like I was closed-minded and only knew about Christmas. I didn’t want people of other religions to think that I didn’t accept them and their beliefs. Third, “happy holidays” encompasses whatever winter holiday you celebrate, as well as New Year’s, and you can even stretch it to include Thanksgiving.

“Happy holidays” stuck for me, and for the most part it has worked well — although I’ve certainly encountered my share of crusty Christians who squint their eyes and look down their noses at me as they respond, “Merry Christmas!” as though they have now put me in my place.

Here’s an idea: Let’s all be open-minded and not assume that everyone shares our personal beliefs. Let’s respect everyone’s personal beliefs, no matter how much we might think they’re wrong and we’re right. And let’s not accuse the people who want to do this of waging war on Christmas.

In a day or two, I’ll blog about the atheist who loves Christmas (me).

15 February 2011

Down With DST

Every year, twice a year, I lament daylight saving time and the idiocy that encourages the continuance of this antiquated practice. Two states — Arizona and Hawaii — have already nixed DST, and I was excited at the thought that Nebraska might join them in shunning a practice that no longer makes sense but only makes life more difficult when it disrupts the cadence of my circadian rhythm twice a year.

Nebraska State Sen. Ken Schilz, from Ogallala, has become something of a personal hero to me — and not just because Ogallala is fun to say. Schilz introduced LB 101, a bill that would eliminate daylight saving time in Nebraska.

“Hallelujah!” I cheered. I was ready to marry Sen. Schilz. I was preparing to praise Nebraska for its forward-thinking attitude. I was already planning on not “springing up” this year.

And then, last week, my dreams were shattered. The state legislature took no action on LB 101 and declared it indefinitely postponed.

In crafting LB 101, Schilz cited the health and well-being of children and others who are affected negatively by DST or who require a strict schedule, such as diabetics. Furthermore, evidence shows that the severity of auto accidents increases and work productivity decreases as people try to adjust to the time change.

Schilz received criticism from Nebraskans who said that we have more important things to make laws for than DST. Maybe, but I think this is an important issue to those of us who have sensitive sleep cycles and spend a month in misery trying to adapt to the time change.

Moreover, the original reasons for implementing DST no longer apply. If you believe that DST started to give farmers an extra hour to work their fields, then you’ll be surprised to learn that farmers don’t like DST; they can’t start working the fields earlier than standard time because they have to wait for the sun to dry the dew on their crops.

One of the strongest reasons that DST proponents cite is reduced energy use in the evening. However, if there is reduced energy use in the evening, no one’s been able to prove it definitively; in fact, some studies even suggest an increase in energy use in the evening in southern states and states where the weather is hotter, requiring increased use of air conditioners.

In addition, 70 percent of Americans have to get up before the sun rises during DST, so they’re actually using more energy during that time, negating some of the savings that an extra hour of sunlight in the evening may bring. Overall, studies have declared the savings that result from daylight saving time to be “insignificant.”

Regarding energy savings, consider this finding after Indiana fully switched to DST in 2005:
“The argument in favor of saving energy swayed Indiana, where until 2005, only about 16 percent of counties observed daylight saving time. Based on the DOT study, advocates of Indiana DST estimated that the state’s residents would save over $7 million in electricity costs each year. Now that Indiana has made the switch, however, researchers have found the opposite to be the case. ... They found that Indianans actually spent $8.6 million more each year because of daylight saving time, and increased emissions came with a social cost of between $1.6 million and $5.3 million per year. Commentators have theorized that the energy jump is due to the increased prevalence of home air conditioning over the past 40 years, in that more daylight toward the end of a summer’s day means that people are more likely to use their air conditioners when they come home from work.”

As you can see, not only is this antiquated practice one that disrupts our sleep cycle, but it’s doing so for no good reason and may actually be costing us more in energy use and costs.

So, dear Sen Schilz: Please keep trying to kill DST in Nebraska. You’re my hero.

03 January 2011

Dram Shop Liability Laws? Yes, Please

When I first started bartending, I was 18 and lived in Michigan. There, all bartenders had to take an alcohol awareness class and pass a test in order to serve alcohol. This class taught how alcohol’s effects differed based on whether the drinker was male or female and the signs that someone was drunk. The reason for the class and test was that Michigan had a dram shop liability law, which stated that the bartender and/or bar owner could be held responsible for damages or injuries committed by a person served in their establishment. The bar/nightclub owner I worked for didn’t mess around; bartenders were expected to cut off customers unless they were regulars who we knew took taxis home, and this was standard at all bars.

When I moved to Nebraska, I started tending bar in a busy neighborhood dive bar. We had customers who would drink until they literally passed out on the bar. I was 19, and I figured Nebraska had a law similar to Michigan’s so I cut off people when I knew they’d had too much to drink.

One day, the bar owner approached me and said, “Did you cut off PW last night?”

“Yes,” I said. “He was sleeping at the bar.”

“We don’t cut people off,” she said.

I was flabbergasted. You’d rather have someone with their head on the bar, sleeping? Someone who I later watched night after night then get into his car and drive?

I lost respect for my boss, and I felt defenseless against the drunks I was serving.

Recently, Nebraska proposed a dram shop liability law — a law that would make bar owners responsible for injuries or damages committed by a drunk driver. Currently, 22 states have these laws, and 14 additional states have limited variations of them. I’m hearing a lot of discussion about the topic on KFAB, and although it may be an unpopular opinion, I agree with passing a dram shop liability law in Nebraska. In fact, in a state with so many drunk driving arrests, I can’t believe this law wasn’t passed many years ago.

I’ve been on both sides of the bar, and I bartended for 14 years. As a bartender, I absolutely loathed serving sloppy drunks. Sure, everyone gets drunk and has fun. But when someone has had far too much to drink, they’re a bartender’s biggest pain in the ass. I didn’t enjoy old men flirting with me to a point flirting should never reach. I didn’t enjoy men getting drunk and brawling in my bar. And I most certainly didn’t enjoy cleaning up a drunk’s booze-barf. I could tell you stories about drunks that would curl your toes.

In fact, it got to the point that I started bartending in mid- to upscale restaurant bars that allowed the bartender to cut off people when they were obviously drunk. Life’s too short to deal with sloppy drunks every night.

In my early 20s, I often wished that bartenders would have cut me off the night before. Wondering how I got myself and my car home the night before was the least of my worries. I could have killed someone. Sometimes, I was so drunk that I’d pull into a parking lot and sleep for a couple of hours because I couldn’t drive home.

I’m certainly not proud of this behavior, but back then and still now, I wonder why no bartender ever said, “Honey, you’ve had enough. Save your money and go home.” None of them offered to call a taxi. None of them stopped adding booze to my drinks.

These were things I learned as a bartender. Personally, I think it’s common courtesy to offer to call a cab for someone who is too drunk to drive. I also was known among my peers for serving drunks nonalcoholic beer rather than their regular beer, or adding just a splash of booze to a mixed drink. Honestly, when someone is drunk, they don’t know the difference, and I was not only doing myself the favor of not having to deal with an asshole, but I was also doing them a favor. (P.S. I didn’t charge them for “fake” mixed drinks, either, because I’m nice like that.)

I think the main reason more bartenders here don’t cut off drunk people is they have no recourse. If you cut someone off, you’re an asshole or a bitch. When I worked in Michigan, it was easy. All you had to say was, “Sorry, man. I don’t have a choice. It’s the law.” Moreover, the bartenders at every establishment did the same thing, so it wasn’t like a drunk person could say, “Well, I never get cut off at X bar. You just suck.”

As a libertarian, I’d like to say that dram shop liability laws are unnecessary and that government is just butting in where it doesn’t belong. But my experience as a bartender (and as a former drunk) shows that all too often people don’t know when to stop drinking. Drunks often don’t know they’re drunk, so one more drink always sounds good. Then they think they’re OK to drive home, too.

Since we can’t count on drunk people to realize they’re drunk, we have to put the responsibility in the hands of the people who control the booze. And the only way to ensure that bartenders and bar owners maintain that responsibility is to make them liable.

19 December 2010

The Myth of the ‘Crazy Cat Lady’

I’ve been thinking a lot about cat people and dog people lately. I started a new job, and meeting new people can be tricky for a cat person, as it’s all too easy to be labeled the “crazy cat lady” when you’re surrounded by a pack of dog lovers — particularly if they are lovers of big dogs. In my experience, people who like small dogs usually like both dogs and cats; the real dog people* are those who like their dogs ranging in the big to behemoth size, and they generally hate both cats and small dogs.

So, quickly picking up that I was among dog lovers and even some actual cat haters at my new workplace, I kept quiet about my feline affection. Then the day came, during a staff meeting, when everyone was talking about their dogs. I continued to doodle pretty little flowers on my notepad, trying to blend in with the furniture, much like I do when the discussion turns to sports, which I loathe. And then, it seemed as though everyone’s head turned toward me at the same time, eyes probing as the pack leader barked, “Do you have a dog?”

“No,” I mewled sheepishly. “I’m more of a cat person, although I am very fond of several of my friends’ dogs.”

“Oh. How many cats do you have?”

There it is. The question I dread. Really, now, why do dog people always ask cat people how many cats they have? It’s like they’re looking for reasons to harass us. I never ask dog people, “How many dogs do you have?” And why do dog people always insist on having this discussion in groups? One-on-one, I can defend myself and my feline fondness perfectly well against a smelly old dog person, but they always get together and corner the cat person.

“Three,” I responded, and then I said in unison with the pack leader, “Yep, crazy cat lady,” adding a dry, sarcastic “ha ha” at the end.

Yes, I have three fluffy cats whom I adore, and that apparently makes me a crazy cat lady. But I’ve always wondered why.

The old man across the street from me has three dogs. I have a delightful friend who has three pugs. I know other people who have two, three, four dogs. But you never hear people who live with multiple dogs called “deranged dog people.”

Yes, I know the stories about the senile old bats who horde cats, but hording is a psychological condition, a mental illness, and if not cats, they’d be hording something else equally bizarre. In fact, they frequently horde both cats and dogs. Three cats is by no means hording, and there’s no way that one more cat is coming to live with me. Litter-box duty for three cats is painful enough.

The litter box is always a topic that dog people bring up as a reason they don’t like cats: Cats use a box that you have to scoop; dogs just crap outside. Well, doggie adorers, don’t you have to scoop the poop in your yards? Because if you don’t scoop the poop in your yard, I’m here to tell you that doggie-doo baking in 100-degree weather transforms your backyard into a stockyard. And then there’s the imminent danger of stepping in a pile any time you walk around your yard, whereas I can freely roam my yard without the fear of a poo-covered shoe.

I realize that dog people are generally extroverts and social butterflies, and they want their pets to be the same way. Cats tend to be introverted, but consider, too, that cat people tend to be introverts. Yes, your dog loves to be the life of the party, while most cats don’t like loud, noisy environments and huge groups of people. But neither do I, so that works out well for us. Furthermore, I like co-existing with an animal rather than it needing my constant attention. In fact, that would annoy me. Which is also why I don’t have children.

I don’t need an animal to automatically love me, either. In fact, I rather like it when they make you earn their trust and respect, much like cats do. Small dogs are often this way, too. For example, Chihuahuas are usually very picky about the people they like. I think cat people tend to have more of a friendship with their pets rather than a master–servant relationship.

My wish for the New Year is for dog people to become more open-minded and release the notion of the “crazy cat lady” just because they hate (or are they afraid of?) cats. There’s no reason we can’t all get along and live harmoniously. Just not in the same house, thank you.

* For the purposes of this post, “dog person” refers to those who like big dogs. Small-dog lovers should feel free to consider themselves cat people here, as they are often the targets of big-dog lovers, too.

12 November 2010

Dog Person or Cat Person: Who Would You Vote For?

In September, Macleans columnist Scott Feschuk wrote how it was unfair for Canadians to have to choose between two cat lovers for prime minister with nary a dog lover in sight. Evidently both candidates, Stephen Harper and Michael Inatieff, are well-documented feline aficionados, and Feschuk really wants a dog lover in office. He describes cats as “the perfect animal to own 200 of if you want to be an eccentric shut-in,” and claims that dogs “project an image of vitality and loyalty,” as well as make great companions for photo ops.

I think Feschuk is missing the point. Whether a leader is a dog person or cat person might just say something about his leadership style. While Feschuk states that U.S. presidents tend to be dog owners, he must have forgotten that one of our greatest and most influential presidents in modern times, Bill Clinton, was the proud owner of Socks, the White House cat. Thus, I think that for Feschuk this is less about the leadership styles of dog people versus cat people and more about the fact that he likes dogs better than cats.

At any rate, it’s well-theorized that there are fundamental differences in the personalities of dog people versus those of cat people. Although I don’t think anyone should base their votes on whether a candidate is a cat person or dog person, I do think that animal preference may shed some light on what type of person he or she is and perhaps what type of leadership style we can expect.

For example, during an interview in 2006, Stephen Harper said, “I think people should elect a cat person. If you elect a dog person, you elect someone who wants to be loved. If you elect a cat person, you elect someone who wants to serve.”

Now, I’ve never known a cat who I can say served its owner, but I can see Harper’s point: Dog people want to be loved and tend to follow the pack. Cat people aren’t afraid to do what they think is right, even if it causes the pack to make some noise. And if you’re willing to put up with a howling pack, then you’re probably pretty devoted to serving your people.

I’ve always liked the line from Robert De Niro’s fierce patriarch character in Meet the Parents, after he says that dogs are “emotionally shallow” animals: “You see … a dog is very easy to break, but cats make you work for their affection. They don’t sell out the way dogs do.”

That, in essence, is the fundamental difference between cats and dogs and, I believe, between cat people and dog people. Dog people love everyone and want to make everyone happy. They're very social, they like people and they need a reason not to like someone (and even with good reason not to like someone, they probably won't dislike the person).

Cat people, on the other hand, often wait to see what people are like before deciding whether to trust and befriend them. I also don't think cat people are as disappointed as dog people if someone doesn't like them or disagrees with them. And cat people spend so much time watching that they tend to see beneath the façade people wear. They store information for later, for a time when it might become relevant or useful.

And finally, cat people tend to handle situations calmly, with grace and charm rather than galloping through the house with muddy paws, knocking over the end tables on their way.

Those, however, are my own perceptions about cat people and dog people. If you want to know what the experts say, check out the results of a survey developed by the University of Texas at Austin. To sum it up, dog people are more self-disciplined, outgoing, enthusiastic, energetic, trusting, kind, affectionate and sociable. Cat people are more curious, creative, artistic, independent, willing to try new things, and unconventional in thinking and behavior.

Only 12 percent of survey respondents said they were cat people, while 46 percent said they were dog people. Of the remainder, 28 percent said they were both dog and cat people, and 15 percent said they were neither.

Obviously, both have their good qualities, and as much as I adore my cats, I'm quite fond of several pooches I know. I think Feschuk needs to lighten up on cat people. A photo of a nation’s leader playing fetch in the yard with a dog doesn’t make him a better leader than the leader with his cat curled up on his lap.

10 October 2010

Mixing Up the Melting Pot

I’m still stuck on the call from Jade on “The Dr. Laura Show” in August. When the call began, Jade had a real problem with her (white) husband’s friends and family asking questions about the African-American culture. She considered it “racist” for them to ask, for example, “Why do black people do ...?” or “Do black families …?”

It seems to me that Jade is oversensitive about racism and looking for it all around her. I’m not sure why a woman so sensitive to something that might be perceived as racism would even marry a white man.

As humans, we have a natural curiosity about other people and other cultures. Is it racist to ask a Jew about Hanukkah traditions? Is it xenophobic to ask immigrants about the cultures and celebrations in their native countries? Is it bigoted to ask someone of a different religion about their religion, beliefs, celebrations and traditions? Are we all just supposed to remain in the dark about the world around us and never learn about other people?

My experience with people from overseas and of different cultures and religions is that they like to talk about how they do things, and they enjoy discussing the differences between the ways they know and the ways others do things.

Why, then, are some black people so hypersensitive to these questions?

I say “some” because by no means are all black people hypersensitive. My brother-in-law is black, and I have a few black friends, and they’ve always been wonderful at helping me to understand idiosyncrasies of their culture and give me the inside scoop about it. They’ve never called me a racist. Now, I’ve never ridiculed their ways or beliefs, either. I can completely understand someone becoming offended if a white person asks a question just to scorn or jeer the answer. That certainly is racist behavior.

I’m a true believer in “people fear the unknown,” and I think that if more people would ask intelligent questions about other people, their cultures and their values, then we would be a more harmonious society. It’s really the first step to reducing and eventually eliminating racism.

The United States doesn’t have a single culture; rather, we have hundreds of cultures that meld together to form the “American culture.” That was the founding idea behind our country, after all. We are a melting pot, and immigrants from around the world have come together to make the United States what it is. Our country wouldn’t be as great as it is if you eliminated even one of the hundreds of cultures that compose it.

Rather than searching for the divisions between these cultures, we ought to be seeking to learn about them, removing the fear and easing relations between all people. Likewise, we must be willing to share with others the different values and traditions in our own cultures so that they won’t fear the unknown. Until we achieve this, we’re not being very good Americans.

01 October 2010

The Power of the N-Word

In August, Dr. Laura Schlessinger announced that she would be quitting her radio talk show. Her decision came after an African-American caller named Jade sought Schlessinger’s advice about her perceived racism from her white husband’s friends and family. Jade became outraged at Schlessinger’s use of the N-word. Schlessinger didn’t call Jade the name; she merely used it as an example, saying that if you watch black comedians on HBO, all you hear is “nigger, nigger, nigger.”

The mere use of the word offended Jade, and the story became a national media fiasco. I don’t condone the use of the N-word, but Schlessinger was using it as an example; she wasn’t directing the word toward anyone. But Jade became upset at the mere mention of the word, regardless of Dr. Laura's usage.

As a writer, editor and aficionado of linguistics, I’m interested in the power of words on culture and society. I agree that the N-word is offensive. It hearkens back to the days of slavery, and for anyone who’s black or has read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, it leaves a bitter taste on the tongue.

However, rather than working to eradicate the word from American vernacular, black people have twisted the word into some kind of members-only cultural colloquialism. That is, it’s OK to say the N-word or call someone an N-word only if you both are black. Should someone of another race utter the N-word, we are racist assholes.

If the word is truly so offensive, then why retain it in your vocabulary at all? Rather than trying to make the word OK in the black culture, blacks should be making a conscious, concerted effort to eliminate it altogether. After all, you don't hear white people going around calling each other "honky" or "cracker." You don't hear Jewish people or people of certain ethnicities and nationalities calling each other derogatory nicknames.

I think I understand the intention of trying to take away a word’s power by using it as a friendly term of endearment, a la “nigga,” but if you’re truly going to transform the word’s meaning, then white people should be able to call each other the N-word, and they should be able to call anyone else — black, Asian, whatever — the N-word, too.

The problem is that it never caught on. The N-word started out a derogatory name for black people, and it will forever remain that. Thus, the black community needs to work to eradicate it from the English language.

That means, going back to Schlessinger’s point with Jade, that black comedians, rappers and others need to stop calling each other — and themselves — the N-word. The death of the N-word is well over 100 years overdue. If black people kill it among themselves, then the word will finally lose its power.

01 September 2010

The Post-Recession Workforce

This recession is going to be bad for business — and not only in the obvious ways. Having been a part of a large corporate layoff, I have a lot of friends who have struggled with losing their jobs, experienced long stretches of unemployment, been underemployed, taken jobs either outside their chosen field or lower down on the totem pole, and taken significant pay cuts. And I’ve noticed some common things that are occurring in the workforce and which will have long-term effects.

I’d been laid off before, but I had never been unemployed before, as I was able to immediately find another job. And, according to my friends and family, I wasn’t unemployed this last time, either, because I freelanced full time while I searched for another regular job. I was one of the few lucky ones. I had freelance clients when I was laid off, and I was able to increase my work with those clients, as well as gain new clients. In fact, freelance led to my current job. It never would have worked if I wasn’t a good saver, with money in the bank, but I managed. Others — most — have not been so lucky.

I have friends who accepted jobs they truly loathe, who have taken a step down in their careers and who have taken pay cuts of 20 to 40 percent. They’re not happy in their current jobs, but with such a tight job market, they have no choice but to stay in them until something better opens up. Of course, the competition for those few jobs is so stiff that they have a one in five chance of landing those jobs.

These are good people who gave everything they had to their jobs. As a result of the letdown of being laid off by a company to which they were loyal and in addition to their current job situations, I’m seeing a lot of people who are no longer loyal to their employers, who are at their jobs because they have families and mortgages and bills. I’m not saying that they are no longer good workers — they are — but their hearts aren’t in their work anymore, and they have placed a renewed focus on their families and their lives outside of work.

These workers are exhausted from working too hard, dealing with the struggles of unemployment and searching for a job — any job — to support their families. While happy to finally have found jobs, they feel used and abused by their new employers, who are offering much lower salaries because they can — because so many people need a job. In short, they’re looking at their jobs much differently today than just a couple of years ago.

This new attitude is in stark contrast to what American companies have become accustomed. The previous generations of workers have been intensely devoted to their jobs and loyal to their employers. They have put work at the top of their lists — many have put work before their families and their personal lives.

Moreover, the employees who have managed to retain their jobs are now expected to do more work for the same or less pay. Just because they kept their jobs doesn’t mean that their companies haven’t had layoffs. They have, and those left behind are the ones doing not only their jobs but also those of their laid-off counterparts. Raises are few and low in this economy, bonuses have become relics of the past, and some companies have even cut salaries by 10 to 20 percent. It’s become the price you pay for keeping your job. The result of this is a tired, burned-out workforce. They’re ripe for change.

Enter the Millennials, also known as Generation Y. Today, multiple generations are fully immersed in the American workforce, and more importantly, they are diverse generations. And the youngest generation — the Millennials — has a whole different attitude toward work than baby boomers and Generation Xers.

Aside from their technological savvy and dependence, their ability to multitask, and their expectation of getting a lot for giving a little, Millennials don’t have the built-in loyalty to employers that previous generations have demonstrated. Most of them fully expect not only to have multiple jobs in their lifetimes but also to have multiple careers in their lifetimes. Pew Research Center studies reveal that Millennials are much more focused on their families and their lives outside of work than their predecessors. And this will have profound effects on the workforce.

So, with the attitude of Millennials and that of unhappy employees trying to recover from the devastation of layoffs and unemployment, it won’t be long before even the employees who have kept their jobs become less dedicated. It’s already afflicting today’s workforce, and I suspect it will become epidemic.

American companies are used to employees who give their jobs 110 percent and who are at their positions for the long haul. But this is changing, and it makes me wonder what the workforce will look like in five or 10 years.

25 August 2010

Taxed to Death

This week, the Omaha City Council approved several of Mayor Jim Suttle’s proposed tax increases, although the amounts approved by City Council were less than those proposed by Suttle. Nevertheless, here we are, living in Omaha and paying some of the highest taxes in the nation.

The new taxes will begin Oct. 1 and call for the following increases: a $15 increase in the ridiculous “wheel tax,” bringing the annual total to $50 per car, or $10 per tire (spare tires count, too, for those of you who aren’t familiar with a wheel tax). And even if you don’t live in Omaha but merely work here, you’ll now be subjected to the $50 tax because you drive on our roads five days a week. The next tax we’ll see is a 2.5 percent “entertainment tax” on food and drinks in restaurants and bars, bringing the total tax charged on those items to 9.5 percent. (Sales tax in a true metropolis like Chicago is 10 percent.) And finally, if you own property, you’re fair game for new taxes, so you’ll see an increase of 50 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Some people who live outside Omaha or Nebraska might think we’re a bunch of whiners who just don’t want tax increases. Well, who really does want tax increases? But more importantly, Nebraskans already pay some of the highest taxes in the nation because the majority of our state is farmland. So, we still have the same amount of land and number of roads to support, but there aren’t as many people paying taxes. Thus, the individual tax burden is higher than that in more densely populated states. Add to that the very bad decisions made by our previous and current mayors, and you’ll see Omaha as a city at the mercy of its lawmakers. And they like taxes and useless buildings.

Consider the Qwest Center, a project approved by former Mayor Hal Daub. Daub promised that with the Qwest Center, Omaha would become a destination for concerts, conventions and large national events. He also promised that property tax increases would not be necessary to pay for the Qwest Center.

Daub’s plan was flawed for multiple reasons. First, it’s still Omaha, Neb. Nobody thinks of us as a sprawling metropolis or destination for anything other than the College World Series (more on that racket later). So, without a major regional public image campaign to raise awareness of Omaha as a destination, we haven’t seen the number of events that Daub promised. The building sits empty at least 300 days a year. Sure, we’ve gotten some big-name concerts — Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi — but not enough to justify that building. We can still drive two or three hours to Ames, Iowa, or Kansas City for major concerts. And for the few that have actually made it to Omaha, it would have been just as well to drive.

The Olympic swim trials were held at the Qwest Center a couple of years ago. So what? Sure, maybe a few people who hadn’t previously heard of Omaha now heard our name, but I don’t see any long-term benefit of having the trials here. They certainly didn’t go toward paying for that flop of a building because last year, our property taxes increased to pay for it anyway. And the parking is such a clusterfuck at the Qwest Center that some Omahans are starting to forego events there just because they don’t want to deal with the parking and traffic.

Next, we have Mayor Mike Fahey, who kowtowed to the NCAA when they demanded a better stadium for the College World Series. But rather than renovate Omaha’s historical Rosenblatt Stadium, Fahey buckled to the NCAA and offered to build an entirely new stadium, near the Qwest Center. So now, we have another huge piece of property that is being built, this one solely for the CWS to use 10 days a year. Does anyone think it’s logical to build an entire stadium that will be used just 10 days a year?

Omahans didn’t even have the opportunity to vote on the new stadium. Fahey just said, “We’ll do it,” and began building.

Fahey should have looked the NCAA in the eye and said, “Fuck off. The CWS is synonymous with Omaha, and if renovating a stadium isn’t good enough for you, then take your event elsewhere.” Personally, I think there’s a really good chance the NCAA would have compromised had Fahey not bent over and invited them to screw us all in the ass.

So, when our city’s budget fell short this year, it’s no wonder to me where all the money has gone: the Qwest Center and the new baseball stadium.

Consider another not-so-brilliant moment in Omaha history: In 2004, the Nebraska legislature nixed casino gambling in the state. You might not think this is a massive blunder, until you consider that Omaha, the largest city in the state, had the opportunity to open riverboat casinos on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River. Again, this might not seem such a big deal. But consider that our neighbors in Council Bluffs, Iowa, — merely a car ride over a bridge away from us — have two riverboat casinos, as well as another casino. So all that tax money from the casinos goes to Iowa, and you can bet your grandma’s panties that there are plenty of Omahans and other Nebraskans in those casinos.

So, in order to preserve Nebraska’s conservative image, our lawmakers turned down millions and millions of dollars in tax money that could have gone a long way to improving our schools, fixing our roads and saving our asses during the current recession. But no, we’d rather give all of that tax money to Iowa.

The lawmakers cited an increase in crime and gambling addiction as a key reason to outlaw casino gambling. But Omaha has already suffered the consequences of casino gambling. You don’t really think we went unscathed just because the casinos were built on the Iowa side of the Missouri River, do you? In the mid- to late 1990s, Omaha suffered an unprecedented spate of bank robberies. In fact, I wrote several newspaper articles about the subject at the time. When I interviewed detectives from Omaha Police Department’s robbery unit, they attributed the high number of bank robberies to the then-new casinos. We’ve already suffered the consequences of casino gambling — and we’ve never seen a dime of the tax money we could have from it.

So, now we have Mayor Jim Suttle, a man who was elected merely because his opponent was Hal “Qwest Center” Daub, and no one in Omaha wanted him fucking things up again. After he was elected, Suttle hired some of his pals to replace others in city office positions — at 10 percent higher than what their predecessors were making. Suttle claimed that he had to offer more money to get good, quality people, aka his cronies.

Um, excuse me, but that’s not how it works in a recession. I was laid off in 2008. It took me 13 months to find another job in my field, and I’m making 20 percent less than I was at my old job, with far less in the way of insurance coverage (so I’m making about 30 percent less than I was). And it’s not just me. Talk to anyone who’s been laid off during this recession and you’ll find that salaries have dropped significantly. You can even talk to people who have kept their jobs and discover that they aren’t receiving raises, they’re expected to do not only their jobs but also those of the laid-off people, and some of them have even had their salaries decreased by 10 to 20 percent.

So where the fuck does Suttle get off paying his buddies 10 percent more than their predecessors with tax money from people who are making less than they were just a few years ago? And then, when his budget is out of control, he comes back to us for even more money in the form of new and increased taxes. Frankly, I’m feeling like I’m taxed to death in Omaha.

If you want a good example of what not to do when running a city, take a look at Omaha’s last three mayors and our state legislature. They’ve laid out a plan for exactly how to spend far too much money on useless buildings and refuse to bring money into the state, preferring to give it to Iowa.

22 June 2010

The Pain of Growing Older

As I grow older, I sometimes curse the aspects of aging that my mother never warned me about. In my 20s, it was the fact that gravity took over my butt. All of the sudden, skinny as I was, I had developed a butt. I suppose if I’d thought about it logically, I would have realized that gravity pulls things downward, toward the Earth, but when I was around 24, I was quite perturbed to find gravity having its way with my ass.

In my late-20s, it was chin hair. Who would think that a woman would have to check for coarse, often dark-colored chin hairs every morning, then yank them out with a pair of tweezers? Plucking eyebrows is bad enough. Chin hairs are ridiculous. These are stiff little hairs that you can feel if you gently run your finger beneath your chin, and once I discovered them, I became obsessed, yanking and plucking them every single morning and night. And should I miss one, I play with it all day long, and race up the stairs as soon as I get home to eradicate it. My sister has strict instructions to check for and tweeze any chin hairs before my funeral.

Body hair kind of repulses me anyway, so it’s a good thing I’m not one of those hairy women. If I were, I would spend hours every week eliminating the offending follicles.

Now that I’m well into my 30s, one of the things I wish my mother had warned me about is enlarged pores — although I’ve read enough about the condition that I was prepared for the early signs. I’ve always had beautiful skin, with the occasional blemish and some problems in the summer. Once I started noticing the pores on the apples of my cheeks becoming slightly larger than they used to be, I took preventive action almost immediately. It was off to the aesthetician for me, and I fell in love with microderm abrasion and chemical peels. I daresay my skin is more luminous now than it was in my 20s.

Nothing, not even Mom, could have prepared me for what I consider the worst part of aging thus far: gas. For quite a few years, I worked with a friend who was especially prone to gas. In fact, she jokes that the second thing she did out of the womb was fart. She kept a healthy supply of Gas-Ex in her desk drawer, which came in handy when I started a medication that I would take long-term, and the resulting gas was like nothing I’d ever before experienced but have since come to know intimately.

Throughout the last couple of years, I have come to realize that if a medication’s possible side effects include gas, constipation or weight gain, those are the side effects I will definitely suffer. Now, imagine my life when I tell you I take multiple medications that could possibly cause any or all of these side effects. I ought to just buy a large amount of stock in the company that makes Gas-Ex.

The women at my workplace tend to be one of two age groups: under 30 or over 40. I am the lone 30-something. I am on my own when it comes to finding my way through chin hair, gas and weight gain. In a recent meeting, the topic turned to aging, and I looked at the under-30 group and said, “You’re young. You have no idea about the gas yet.” The girls laughed, while the other side of the table, the over-40 group, nodded sympathetically and agreed.

The problem with gas and aging is that there’s not one trigger you can always count on. I may be one of the lucky ones in that I have identified that medications — just about any medication — will usually make me flatulent. But that’s only one of potentially thousands — maybe millions — of triggers. Sometimes onions make me gassy, but sometimes not. Same with garlic. Occasionally odd things sneak up on me, like popcorn, cottage cheese or nuts. Sometimes I have absolutely no idea what could possibly have caused my suffering. Other times I know that the meal before me is definitely going to cause problems later.

This is the case with Greek food lately. I love Greek food. I eat it at least once a week. And for the last three months I have paid dearly for that love. I have no idea what it is in the chicken souvlaki and Greek potatoes that does it — maybe it’s the tzatziki sauce — but something definitely inflates me with stinky air. In addition, about 60 percent of the time, Greek food also gives me heartburn lately.

The problem with Greek and other food is that I have no idea when it might turn from delicious to painful and embarrassing. Sometimes the bloated, gassy feeling strikes about an hour after eating. Other times, it could be the next day. This makes it incredibly difficult to identify exactly what is causing the gas. I suspect that once you get older, everything causes gas, and you just have to carry Gas-Ex with you everywhere you go.

I recently mentioned to my mother my displeasure with her failure to adequately warn me about the pitfalls of aging. She smiled sweetly and said, “There’s more. There’s much more. But I’m going to leave it all as a surprise.”

08 June 2010

To Scan or Not to Scan

Today Omaha’s Eppley Airfield implemented the TSA’s new full-body scan technology, much to my chagrin. A discussion on Tom Becka’s Facebook page revealed that some Omahans aren’t concerned about the invasiveness of the scanners. More modest residents said they are concerned, and some even voiced discomfort with allowing their children to go through the scanners.

I support airport safety and keeping the country free of terrorist attacks. That’s why I want the TSA to implement effective means of security, not just more measures that make people think they’re safe. Some are happy with anything the TSA or the government implements just so they can feel warm and safe. Airport security measures have become their security blankets. Mission accomplished. Terrorism dead in the USA? Hardly.

The reports reveal that regardless of what measures and procedures the TSA claims it has in place, they’re not working. Every time the TSA receives a negative report, it comes up with some newfangled security measure to appease its critics.

Nevertheless, bombs have been brought onto planes, and terrorists have entered our country. And let’s not forget that a year ago even I was able to travel from Omaha to Denver to Las Vegas and back again, going through security at all three airports, and not one TSA worker caught my stun gun. (Las Vegas caught the souvenir lighters I bought, but you’ll have to read that blog post for that story.) As for liquids, I’ve also traveled with those in my purse and carry-on without separating them into the TSA’s regulation quart-size, clear zipper bag.

Advocates of the full-body scanners need to realize that airport security measures only keep the honest people honest. None of these methods of inspection is as foolproof as we want to believe — or the government wants us to believe. The terrorists are already well on their way to learning how to outsmart this newest security measure. We’ll all find that out the next time someone successfully sneaks a bomb on a plane.

For example, Eppley and other airports are giving passengers the choice to submit to the body scanner or to walk through the metal detector and submit to a pat-down. I’m guessing the terrorists are going to choose the alternative to the body scanner — more chance for human error or carelessness — so that basically renders the scanners ineffective from day one.

Perhaps these security measures would be more successful if we couldn’t count on the TSA to regularly do something stupid — like allow a passenger on the no-fly list to board an airplane. That defeats these scanners and other security measures altogether.

Considering all of this, I find these scanners far too invasive. Now, my naked body isn’t even private anymore. I can cleverly disguise my love handles with clothing, but they’re certain to show up in the body scan. I don’t care if the guy operating the machine and seeing the scan of my chubby little body is hidden from my view. I should have the say over who sees me naked, and these machines strip me of that right.

Furthermore, I shouldn’t feel like I need to have a bikini wax before I fly on a plane for fear of what the scan checker might think. These scans also reveal the outlines of passengers’ undies. Now, really, do you want to feel like you have to go buy chic undies before you fly so the scan checker doesn’t make fun of you?

You can tell yourself that the person viewing your scan isn’t making fun of you, but you’re lying to yourself. If you were the scan checker, you’d laugh at a lot of those people. Be honest.

I, for one, certainly am not going to consent to violation of my personal body just so some guy checking scans can get a thrill and the U.S. government thinks I’m it’s puppy dog while the real terrorists are choosing the noninvasive alternative that will enable them to carry out their nefarious tasks.

So, in a couple of years, these body scanners will become passé after a few terrorists foil them. What “safety measure” will the government implement next? I’m guessing cavity searches. Are you prepared to consent to that?

I’ll continue to fly as long as I have the right to choose corporal privacy. When the government takes away that choice — and it will — I’ll take up travel by train. I hear it’s very Old World and charming, and I won’t have to worry about terrorists or perverted security checkers.

28 May 2010

A Brief Letter to My Family

Dear Family,

As I’m repainting the back hallway and the basement of my house, I have come to realize just how UGLY that green was. I mean, I’ve hated it for a couple of years now, but it was ugly way before then. As more and more of it is covered up, the remainder of it becomes increasingly vomit-inducing. As the Dutch Boy Key Lime Green gradually disappears, my soul feels a sense of peace and relief, and I wonder if perhaps my depression has been exacerbated by that god-awful color hanging on my walls all these years. The only good thing about that sickening color was that it was light enough to cover easily.

There’s a reason I keep you around, and it’s to tell me when I do something ugly and awful to my house. You have failed me. You allowed that horrific color to keep residence in my home for seven years. SEVEN YEARS! What is wrong with you people? Granted, I’m the one who chose and painted the color, but I must have been suffering a bout of temporary insanity because I now realize that no one in her right mind would have chosen that color. Not one of you said, “Hey, that’s a really awful color” or “Hmmm. I’m not sure I like that color. How about something a little less snot-colored?” And Sissy, now that I know you are part colorblind, I will never listen to you when you tell me a paint color is OK.

Shame on you, all of you. I hope you have learned your lesson. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to ugly paint jobs. Hopefully, next time you’ll do the right thing.

Your loving daughter/sister

19 May 2010

Of Exhibitionists and Voyeurs

Every few months Internet users are up in arms about their privacy on Facebook and social networking sites, and it happened again last week. Now, because of recent Facebook privacy issues, a group of people is pissed off and wants others to ditch Facebook on May 31. It was the same way when MySpace was the dominant social networking site. Social media fans want privacy, and they become distraught and angry when they find out they’re not getting it.

But the problem isn’t that Facebook and other social media sites don’t provide enough privacy. The problem is that people expect privacy on the Internet because they don’t want to take responsibility for what they post on websites.

It’s time to stop bashing online networking sites and reconsider what you’re posting on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. The Internet is not inherently secure — never has been. Only through the genius of software and technology engineers do we have (mostly) secure sites where we can shop without the pervasive fear of having our credit card numbers or identities stolen. And even now, nothing’s 100 percent secure on the Internet.

Banks and online stores have had to invest money to make and keep their sites secure, and federal and international mandates and regulations are in place to protect online consumers and banking customers. These businesses obtain a return on their investment in security by gaining customers who know their sites can be trusted.

But social media is free. You’re not a customer of Facebook or Twitter; you’re a user. You can’t expect these sites to put much money into protecting your privacy when you’re using their services for free. And the bottom line is, no one is forcing you to use social networking sites. It’s your choice.

The very nature of the Internet is exhibitionist. You wouldn’t take off your clothes in a bar if you didn’t want people to look, and you wouldn’t post on social networking sites, blogs or message boards if you didn’t want people to read it. Now, think how absurd it would be if you stripped in a bar full of people and said that only a certain group could watch. It’s the same way with the Internet. You can try to dictate who watches you strip, but everyone is going to peek. This is because while one part of every one of us is an exhibitionist to some degree, another part of every one of us is a voyeur to some degree.

People think they can demand privacy on the Internet because they are using the Internet in the privacy of their homes. But rather than thinking of the Internet as something as private as your home, you must think of it as something very public and unsecure that you are allowing inside your home.

Nothing is completely secure over the Internet, and hackers prove that every day. As an Internet application, e-mail isn’t secure, either, which is why many years ago I made a rule for myself that I have always followed: Never send something over e-mail that I wouldn’t want everyone in the world to read. If you’d be utterly humiliated to discover that your mother or your boss read any of your e-mails, then perhaps you should think twice before sending them. Some things really are better said over the telephone. The written word has a way of sticking around, even after you’ve deleted the message or post.

When I started using social media, I made the same rule: Never post something that I wouldn’t want the world, my mother and my boss to read. To add a layer of protection against discriminating HR departments when I’m job-hunting, I also use a pseudonym for my social media activity, as some people might hold my opinions against me. My friends know who I am, but none of my social media activity is revealed if you Google my real name. Also, there are just some people whom I never care to talk to again, so I’m not going to make it easy for them to find me.

Furthermore, rather than piss and moan about how unsecure social networking sites are, I set my profiles so that they allow anyone access to my info. Sound stupid? Not if you’re careful about what personal information you post. Why should I post my telephone number or address on my Facebook profile when my friends and family already have them? I don’t post any information that I would be upset if a stalker found. The e-mail address I post is used for social media only, and any interests or personal information that I post are things that I don’t care who knows about me.

So, rather than bitching about the privacy and security of social networking sites, we all need to take responsibility for our own actions. If you use your real name on social networking sites, then you must exert some caution when posting on those sites. If you want to post your honest opinions and thoughts on the Internet, go for it, but be conservative with the personal information you divulge.

15 May 2010

New Career Opportunity: Balloon Bender

Last night, I went to dinner at Cheeseburger in Paradise with my mom and Sissy, and I discovered a career opportunity I had never considered. The restaurant employs a balloon bender, who visits each table, crafting charming creatures from long, skinny balloons. The balloon bender worked for tips, so I gave her $5 to model a two-color butterfly for me and a ladybug wrist balloon for my mom. As she was making small talk and twisting balloons, I said, “You have the best job in the place.” She smiled and said, “I really do. I could never be a server. I’m not nice enough.”

This made me laugh, because even though I was a server and bartender for many years, I really wasn’t nice enough to be working in those professions, either. I’m pretty sure that the reason I drank and consumed various other substances in my youth was because I hated the work. It contrasted with the person I am so much. I’m not a people person, and I tend to treat people the way they treat me. Which was good for a small proportion of restaurant patrons. But if someone was cold and rude to me, well, you can figure out why I sometimes received customer complaints.

But balloon bender! Now, that’s fabulous job! Who can be mean or rude to you when you’re just trying to spread a little inflatable cheer while they enjoy their meal? The rudest someone could be to you is to decline your balloon-twisting services, and in that case, you’d just move on to the next table.

Cheeseburger in Paradise’s balloon bender wore a large badge that said, “I work for tips,” letting customers know that they were expected to cough up some dough to pay the nice lady. I watched in mesmerized fascination as she molded, modeled and twisted balloons into parrots, monkeys, insects, dogs and more. And all I could think was, I want her job.

Now, when I get one of these ideas, I think it through to the end. I’m not happy with just a passing thought of, Oh, that’s something I’d like to do. I actually imagine whether it's something I could do. Sissy is the same way, and together we have developed several million-dollar ideas for businesses. I mean, we’ve had in-depth discussions and come up with entire business plans for these businesses. Unfortunately, none of our ideas have every moved beyond the business plan.

So, when I started thinking about becoming a balloon bender, I thought how I could visit restaurants, stand in the Old Market on the weekends and offer my services (for a fee) to corporations. Whose morale wouldn’t improve with a colorful, adorable balloon adorning their blah cubicles? And think how much money you could make. Our balloon bender was at our table fewer than five minutes and made $5.

Sissy, however, was more interested in learning how to twist a brown balloon into a pile of poo and crafting it into a hat for the people at her job who piss her off, making them, literally, into shitheads.

I, however, think that becoming a balloon bender would be an opportunity to use my creativity for good and bring a little cheer to the world. I know, where is this sun-shininess coming from?

Alas, I am tied to my certain lifestyle and dedicated to paying bills and acting responsibly, so I will never become a professional balloon bender. Nevertheless, it looks like fun, and I might just take it up as a hobby.

12 May 2010

Won't Someone Please Make Her Go Away?

Sarah Palin, that is. I really, really wish she would just drop off the face of the Earth. Or, at the very least, out of the public eye. And now, I find out she gets another book deal.

I know many people who actually are talented writers but haven’t yet gotten book deals. Nevertheless, Sarah Palin, who is an embarrassment to the state of Alaska and the Republican party (although the Republicans haven’t figured this out yet), gets not one but two book deals. Her first book, Going Rogue, sold an unbelievable 2 million copies.

This, the woman who stumbled and faltered at standard questions from reporters during the last election. The woman who seriously needs an American history course, followed by a world history course. The one who has no idea what “foreign affairs” means. Two million people read this idiot’s book?

Her publisher, Harper Collins, will print a first run of 1 million copies of America by Heart, Palin’s next book, which will be “a tribute to American values” inspired by her belief in “the importance of family, faith and patriotism.” The new book will include “selections from classic and contemporary readings that have moved her.” Yippee. I can’t begin to imagine what inspires a mental midget like Palin.

Hot on the heels of this disappointing announcement, we learn that Palin demonstrated exactly what kind of person she is by telling Bill O’Reilly that the United States is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles and the Ten Commandments. Of our nation’s founding documents, Palin said, “They’re quite clear — that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments.”

So now the small-minded Palin wants this country to “return” to it’s Christian roots. Here’s evidence of the gaps in Palin’s history lessons: One of the founding principles of this country was religious freedom. Remember how the Protestants left England and came here to escape the Church of England? Oh, she missed class that day. Must have been beauty queen training. And I’d like to ask Miss Wink-and-Smile this: What about the millions of non-Christians in the United States? We’re supposed to give up our freedom of — or from — religion and live by Christian laws?

How about the fact that the Bible is more than 2,000 years old and most likely highly inaccurate, if it can even be considered factual at all? According to Palin, we’re all supposed to sacrifice our intelligence and logic and blindly follow Christian beliefs. Evidently Palin hasn’t heard of another ideal of the United States: separation of church and state. That means that religion isn’t supposed to dictate our laws.

Every time Palin is in the news I grow increasingly more appalled that anyone thinks this dunce is worthy of political worship. In fact, I think anyone who believes that Palin has good ideas or would be a good leader for the GOP or this nation should be publicly shamed.

I also feel the need to remind you, dear readers, that Palin dumped her home state, resigning as governor for “personal reasons” — which actually seems to mean that she resigned to sell books and make a couple of million dollars at appearances and signings. What kind of person dumps her state and leaves its people without a governor? Certainly not one who has presidential hopes.

We need presidents who are tough and can weather whatever the world throws at us — not presidents who abandon their post as soon as someone says something nasty about them. What I find really sad about Sarah Palin is that her stupidity actually makes George W. Bush look pretty good.

05 May 2010

Two Guns Don't Make a Right

I’m not a fan of guns. I’ll just go ahead and state that. I know I’m mostly a Constitutionalist, but I just don’t like guns. The reason I don’t like guns is because they enable one person to kill another person. And death is permanent.

I live in an area of Omaha that I call the “edge of the ghetto.” My neighborhood isn’t the “bad” part of town, which is north Omaha, but it’s awfully close to that area. Cross a few key streets and you’re there. I live in an area that is diverse, with down-to-earth people. Sometimes I don’t like some of the diversity (trashy people scattered here and there), but for the most part, I love it. That’s why I’ve lived here for 10 years.

Lately, however, the ghetto is edging ever-closer to my happy little diverse neighborhood. Gang activity has been high over the last six months, and we have a new incident nearly every day. I don’t associate with gang members, so I suppose I’m relatively safe. Until a stray bullet enters my house or hits me.

The high gang activity and all of the shootings have put everyone in this part of town on edge. And proof of that is an incident that happened in the last couple of weeks.

On the evening of April 26, two men entered a Walgreens in my neighborhood, one that I pass every day and where I frequently shop. One of the young men, Marquail Thomas, 18, carried a sawed-off shotgun, which he pointed at customers and yelled, “Nobody fucking move!”

Harry James McCullough, 32, a former security guard and one of the customers in the store, carried a licensed gun in the waistband of his pants. He pulled the gun and shot Thomas. Thomas died at the scene, and McCullough restrained Thomas’s partner, Angelo Douglas, 17, until police arrived. The getaway driver, 15-year-old Jauvier Perkins was arrested a couple of days later. Douglas and Perkins were gang members.

Many people in Omaha have called McCullough a hero. They are tired of the gang violence and say that we need more people like him to help stop the violence in north Omaha and the surrounding area. They believe that if these thugs think they might get shot themselves, then maybe they won’t be so quick to go shooting other people.

I don’t necessarily disagree, but I also don’t believe that two guns make a right. I realize that McCullough had little time to react, that he followed his best judgment. But I don’t think that it was necessary for Thomas to die.

Here’s my problem with this whole situation: McCullough fired eight shots that night. Four of them hit Thomas. Four. Wouldn’t one shot that hit the kid have been enough? Couldn’t McCullough have wounded Thomas, taken the sawed-off shotgun from him and then restrained Douglas? Why was it necessary to fire eight shots, and continue to shoot after he shot the kid once? Either McCullough is a lousy shot, or he’s gun-happy and wasn’t going to be satisfied until he killed Thomas.

This is why I’m such a big fan of stun guns. You can disable an assailant so you can disarm him, but you won’t kill him. A stun gun will make him roll around on the ground and, at the worst, crap his pants.

As it turned out, Thomas’s shotgun wasn’t loaded. But I suppose that’s the risk you take when you threaten violence against people and rob a store. Also, McCullough was initially cited by police because he didn’t have a concealed weapons permit and pulled the gun from his waistband rather than carrying it in a holster, where it would be visible. McCullough’s attorney, James Martin Davis, however, succeeded in getting that charge dropped. Which is fine. I don’t think splitting hairs about a concealed weapon is pertinent to this story.

What does worry me, though, is that gun enthusiasts will begin to consider themselves vigilantes, which will undoubtedly result in more deaths, in addition to those of gang members killing each other. I’m not sure what the answer is, but killing each other with guns certainly isn’t it.