Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Looking down on bikes from the Tower of Babble

This is America. This is 2013. Everybody's a radical.

Especially our dominant stripe of "conservatives."

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the kind of radicalism I'm talking about like this:
b : favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions
c : associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change
For all of human history, mankind has had to recognize a simple constant -- there are limits. To everything. We are not gods, though some have aspired to the job, and though over millennia we have managed to expand our human ones, the expansion has come at great cost, and that expansion of limits has not meant elimination thereof. 

Like many of their party cohorts, a couple of "conservative" Republican candidates for mayor of Omaha never got the memo about the limitations inherent to the human condition. Apparently, Dan Welch and Dave Nabity think Almighty God has decreed that Americans have a limitless right to burn limitless amounts of petroleum in a limitless number of automobiles on a limitless expanse of concrete and asphalt.

IN A political culture as deeply silly and shallow as our own, this inevitably leads to an assault on . . . bicycle lanes. Do reporters at the Omaha World-Herald even try to keep a straight face when covering politicians exercised over the Civic Menace of Bicycle Lanes? God, I couldn't. 
The Omaha mayoral candidates were all over the road Tuesday on those two big-city issues, with several questioning the wisdom of Mayor Jim Suttle's decisions to hire a bike czar and to develop bike lanes downtown.

Republicans Dan Welch and Dave Nabity both criticized Suttle for parts of his bike initiatives, including the hiring of a czar from California for $65,000.

“Not wise,” said Welch.

“Out of touch,” said Nabity.

Both men questioned the bike lanes. Welch said he drives Leavenworth Street every day and believes that the lanes are tough on traffic.

“I haven't seen a bike yet, but we're backing up traffic,” Welch said.

Nabity agreed: “It was a lot of energy about something that wasn't really moving the ball down the field.”

Suttle, the only Democrat in the race, stood by his bike-friendly initiatives.

He said that when he became mayor, he decided to adopt an all-inclusive transportation policy that took into consideration all modes of movement, including foot traffic, trolleys, buses and bikes.
I GUESS nothing screams "raging irresponsibility" like making an effort to reduce the amount of complex hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide we daily spew into the atmosphere over our fair city, save a bit of money we'd otherwise be dumping into our gas tanks, conserve a limited natural resource and burn a few pounds off of our limitless backsides.

For the sin of championing conservation, Jim Suttle has earned the ire of self-proclaimed "conservative" mayoral candidates, pontificating from their political towers of Babble and apparently as in love with the notion of the human ego unrestrained by notions of excess or modesty as the most committed utopian revolutionary.

All you need is gas.

Make cars, not bikes.

Power to the Porsche.

Because that's how we roll.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Andy Taylor is dead, and I'm feeling nervous

It's becoming an annual event, and it needs an official name.

How about the (Fill-in the blank) Annual Omaha Police Excessive-Force Festival. Below is a bit of the World-Herald article on the latest in what's become a long line of incidents where local cops seemed hellbent on escalating a minor deal into a WWE smackdown.

Oh. . . . Seven words: Twelve cop cars for a parking dispute.
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer on Friday temporarily reassigned an officer involved in the arrest of three men whose relatives allege the use of excessive force by police.

Schmaderer, who also ordered an internal investigation, and other police officials watched a video of the arrest posted on YouTube, according to a police statement issued Friday.

The video shows officers near 33rd and Seward Streets just before 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Officers were there to investigate a parking complaint. The incident quickly escalated, with about a dozen police vehicles responding. It ended with the arrest of three brothers.

Police and a family member gave different accounts of what happened.

Officers said they were impounding vehicles with expired license plates when Octavious Johnson, 28, pulled up at a high rate of speed in front of the officers.

Johnson was “argumentative and aggressive'' and had to be wrestled to the ground by an officer to be arrested, according to a police report.

The video shows another officer assisted in subduing and handcuffing Johnson. Later, it appears that one officer strikes Johnson three times.

Officers also can be heard on the video yelling at a second man on the sidewalk.
After that man — Juaquez Johnson, Octavious's 23-year-old brother — went inside a nearby house, several officers raced after him. Officers came back outside with him and the third brother, Demetrius Johnson, 22.

The police report indicates the officers who initially responded were Matthew Worm, Dyea Rowland and Bradley Canterbury, though the specific role each played was not clear. None was placed on administrative leave. One of the officers was reassigned until the investigation concludes, a police spokeswoman said. She declined to identify the officer.

Sharon Johnson, the men's aunt, told The World-Herald that Juaquez Johnson had been filming the incident as it unfolded and was told by police to stop. He ran inside the house to get away from them, and they followed to get the video, she said.

Juaquez Johnson didn't post the video on YouTube. The video posted there was shot by a neighbor from an upstairs window across the street.

Sharon Johnson, 45, who uses a wheelchair, said as one officer ran onto the front porch he knocked into her. She said the wheelchair fell backward, and she hit her head.

“My legs were up in the air, and my head hit the ground,” Johnson said. She said the family planned to file a formal complaint with the Police Department.
OF COURSE, we don't know exactly what happened here. And, of course the local police union wants everybody to hold their horses . . . and withhold judgment.

"The most responsible course of action at this point is patience," was the word from the Omaha Police Officers Association. "Let the investigation run its course." This came at the end of a blog post pointing out that incriminating videos sometimes mislead.

Obviously, we also know the video looks bad for the cops. And, if you watch the whole thing, what one big-mouthed cop says might be more incriminating than what we actually see: "Why were you hiding behind your frickin' mom? Why were you hiding behind your frickin' mom? Why did I have to jump over a frickin' old lady to get to you?"

This kind of thing, unfortunately, has become a regular deal for Omaha cops.

We know that the Omaha police have in the past been awfully quick to beat the hell out of -- or shoot -- people first and then ask questions later. Search for the names Vivian Strong or Marvin Ammons. North Omaha burned after a cop shot Strong, a 14-year-old girl, in 1969. It got kind of dicey nearly 30 years later after police shot Ammons for, as it turned out, having a cell phone in  his hand.

We also know that Omaha police officers have been fired -- or worse -- on a more-or-less regular basis for excessive force or after allegations of criminal activity. And we know that the police union only is satisfied with "letting the investigation run its course" if the chief finds that the officers in question were as pure as the driven snow.

INVESTIGATIONS that run their course and result in an officer's sacking for cause are "politically motivated" and the union will move heaven and earth to overturn them. So pardon my skepticism, and pardon my belief that there's more than a even chance that what looked bad on video was as bad -- or worse -- in person.

A lack of public trust in a police force -- no matter how justified or unjustified it might be -- comes from somewhere. I suggest that Omaha police look within themselves and consider just why that might be.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Go (to) Big Red!

If your university is going to do a social-media campaign to create a little buzz and enhance the ol' profile, you just as well have a little fun with it. YOLO!

Wait a sec . . . I'm not sure I used "YOLO" (You Only Live Once) correctly. What University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman is doing here isn't dumb at all. (See the YouTube video. Ol' Harv has a point on that particular catchphrase.)

What's a delightful surprise in these UN-L videos is this: The chancellor, 71, is a funny, funny guy. Not only in front of the camera, but as a writer, too. He rewrote everything that the ad agency and university marketing staff put before him, and if it says it in the Omaha World-Herald, it must be so.

Or good enough for newspaper work.
The “Perls of Knowledge” spots have been tweeted and re-tweeted and re-re-tweeted. The ad campaign has gotten a mountain of free publicity, courtesy of media outlets from Sioux City to San Francisco and from Columbus, Ind., all the way to China.

The jury is out on whether “Perls of Knowledge” will result in more students for UNL — Perlman, when he's not fighting zombies, has vowed to get UNL's current enrollment of 24,207 to a nice round 30,000 in the next four years.

But what seems clear is this: For $40,000, a tiny fraction of the university's marketing budget, UNL has gotten the kind of publicity that most wannabe Carly Raes — and most universities — would kill a whole zombie army for.

“It worked because of (Perlman's) really bitey sarcasm,” says Dan Kohler, UNL's senior assistant director for digital marketing and the aforementioned 27-year-old. “The tone actually speaks well to a younger generation ... and it's packaged in a way that takes a traditional brand and throws it into this very nontraditional environment.”

I figured I would pull back the curtain on “Perls of Knowledge” and learn that the chancellor was just a glorified prop in this digital marketing strategy, a willing and able participant in an experiment hatched and run by people younger than I am.

But the real story is stranger: Perlman himself came up with the general idea. He enlisted allies, including Amber Hunter, UNL's admissions director, and Kohler.

“He had been paying more attention to pop culture, spending more time with the admissions office — we're one of the youngest offices on campus — and asking a lot of questions,” Hunter says. “A lot of this comes from him just trying to understand how we could share something all over the country.”

They brought in Archrival, a Lincoln marketing firm that cultivates an edgy reputation.

Archrival employees and UNL's five-person digital marketing staff together wrote the video's scripts. And then Perlman took those scripts with him on a long, long flight to China. When he came home, he had rewritten every last one.

On taping day, Perlman nailed most of the scripts with one or two takes.

“He's a pretty funny guy,” admits Clint! Runge, Archrival's creative marketing director and a man with a “!” purposefully embedded in his first name.
 THE CHANCELLOR, as I said, is a funny guy. Dryly hilarious, even.

Almost as funny as putting an exclamation point behind your first name. YOLO!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nostra culpa, nostra culpa, nostra maxima culpa

Well, I think Pat Buchanan certainly summed up the Iraq War pretty thoroughly on the 10th anniversary of its start:
So, how now does the ledger read, 10 years on? What is history’s present verdict on what history has come to call Bush’s war?

Of the three goals of the war, none was achieved. No weapon of mass destruction was found. While Saddam and his sons paid for their sins, they had had nothing at all to do with 9/11. Nothing. That had all been mendacious propaganda.

Where there had been no al-Qaida in Iraq while Saddam ruled, al-Qaida is crawling all over Iraq now. Where Iraq had been an Arab Sunni bulwark confronting Iran in 2003, a decade later, Iraq is tilting away from the Sunni camp toward the Shia crescent of Iran and Hezbollah.

What was the cost in blood and treasure of our Mesopotamian misadventure? Four thousand five hundred U.S. dead, 35,000 wounded and this summary of war costs from Friday’s Wall Street Journal:

“The decade-long [Iraq] effort cost $1.7 trillion, according to a study … by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Fighting over the past 10 years has killed 134,000 Iraqi civilians … . Meanwhile, the nearly $500 billion in unpaid benefits to U.S. veterans of the Iraq war could balloon to $6 trillion” over the next 40 years.

Iraq made a major contribution to the bankrupting of America.

As for those 134,000 Iraqi civilian dead, that translates into 500,000 Iraqi widows and orphans. What must they think of us?

According to the latest Gallup poll, by 2-to-1, Iraqis believe they are more secure — now that the Americans are gone from their country.

Left behind, however, is our once-sterling reputation. Never before has America been held in lower esteem by the Arab peoples or the Islamic world. As for the reputation of the U.S. military, how many years will it be before our armed forces are no longer automatically associated with such terms as Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, renditions and waterboarding?

As for the Chaldean and Assyrian Christian communities of Iraq who looked to America, they have been ravaged and abandoned, with many having fled their ancient homes forever.

We are not known as a reflective people. But a question has to weigh upon us. If Saddam had no WMD, had no role in 9/11, did not attack us, did not threaten us, and did not want war with us, was our unprovoked attack on that country a truly just and moral war?
THERE'S NOT really anything to add to this, is there? Except that a lot of us -- me included -- should have learned our lesson after Vietnam. But no . . . we f***ed up. We trusted our government.

The degree of the catastrophe we set in motion a decade ago wasn't exactly the sort of "shock and awe" we were counting on, now, was it? May God forgive us, because He's the only one who probably has it in Him.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

It is finished . . . enough

After a couple of months of work, worry, planning, painting and stringing lots and lots of audio cable, here it is.

Welcome to the newly remodeled and reimagined 3 Chords & the Truth studio. It's all done, right down to a new office chair. Comfy, it is.

The only thing left to do -- apart from catching up with a decade's worth of advancements and changes to the audio-editing program I use (changing from Windows to Mac meant getting the new OS X version of Adobe Audition) -- is getting the old reel-to-reel deck fixed up right and returned to the studio. Other than that . . . we're back in bidness. The Big Show will resume presently.

Pretty spiffy, isn't it?

WHILE Y'ALL are looking at the pictures of your Mighty Favog's remodeling handiwork . . .

. . . your Mighty Favog is going to go take a nap.

Or something.

FINALLY, here's another look at what used to be but is no more, thanks be to God.

And Lowe's.

And several electronics and computer vendors. Nighty night.

Friday, March 01, 2013

This is not the end.

But I can see being done from here, despite losing most of a week to a nasty, nasty winter cold. (I don't think I've ever had a "slight cold" in my life; I get Almost the Flu or nothing at all.)

Anyway, most of the furniture refurbishing and "repurposing" is done. I'm painting the last piece that needs painting now.

Don't ask about getting it out of where it was and getting it to where it is.

After the furniture phase is done comes the wiring of the studio equipment phase. No, bringing you 3 Chords & the Truth is no job for wimps . . . or the technically challenged.

Hang on a sec -- one of my favorite songs is playing on WSM right now. "Aimee" by Pure Prairie League. Yay.

OK, I'm back. And that's about it for now concerning the Great Remodeling.