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The Next Religious Prophet Will Not Come From Lincoln

March 11, 2008 at 1:22pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I was surprised to read this morning that LPD has all but cleaned up The Core, so now they have time to focus on selectively enforcing a ludicrously broad statute designed to keep folks from getting giddy. The focus of LPD’s attention is the demon weed Salvia divinorum, or salvia, an herb from the sage family that induces psychedelic effects for a few minutes. So far salvia has not been linked with criminal activity or serious health effects, though it is possible to experience an unpleasant high (“dysphoria”).

I can’t help but mock Chief Tom Casady’s desire to go after distributors of salvia, for two reasons. First, with no connection to criminal activity and no impending health crisis, salvia is all but harmless compared to all of the other things LPD could—and should—be working on. LPD effectively had to go to the trouble of creating a crime where none exists. Doing so requires a substantial investment of officer time and resources. And the investment isn’t over; now that tickets have been issued, LPD’s officers will have to deal with the court process as well.

Second, let’s take a look at state statute:

28-419. Inhaling or drinking certain intoxicating substances; unlawful. No person shall breathe, inhale, or drink any compound, liquid, or chemical containing [long list of substances], or any other substance for the purpose of inducing a condition of intoxication, stupefaction, depression, giddiness, paralysis, inebriation, excitement, or irrational behavior, or in any manner changing, distorting, or disturbing the auditory, visual, mental, or nervous processes. For the purposes of sections 28-419 to 28-424, any such condition so induced shall be deemed an intoxicated condition.

28-420. Selling and offering for sale certain compounds; use; knowledge of seller; unlawful. No person shall knowingly sell or offer for sale, deliver or give to any person any compound, liquid or chemical or any other substance which will induce an intoxicated condition as defined in section 28-419, when the seller, offerer or deliverer knows or has reason to know that such compound is intended for use to induce such condition.

Statute 28-419 is so ridiculously broad I have a difficult time understanding how it could hold up in court. Take a look at the definition of illegal substances. Alcohol is illegal. Tobacco is illegal. Caffeine is illegal. Many or most medications (OTC and prescription) are illegal. If LPD wants to use 28-420 as their justification for pulling salvia from Lincoln’s shelves, they must also explain why our bars, grocery stores, gas stations, pop machines, and pharmacies are all still in business.

Perhaps Chief Casady and crew have a good reason for going after salvia. Maybe they have access to medical studies that show its irreversible addictiveness, or maybe they have sociological studies describing the terror we will face from the impending wave of salvia-induced visions. If they have a justification—any justification—for their actions I would love to hear it. Or better yet, rather than inventing crimes and wasting time trying to come up with a justification for their misuse of resources, perhaps LPD will instead reassign its officers to deal with real problems. I hear The Core needs some help.

Do Lincolnites Want to Vote on the Contract Ban?

March 11, 2008 at 1:15pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Now that the City Council has decided not to let the public vote on barring elected officials from holding local government contracts, do you think Lincolnites should organize a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot? Is it something Lincolnites want to push, or do you think we’re generally fine with the way things have gone so far?

Recent Run-Ins

March 10, 2008 at 2:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

One of the things I love about Lincoln is the ability to randomly run into people you know (or who know you) at any time. Of course, that can also be a bad thing, depending on who you are, what you’re up to, and what sort of mood you’re in. Overall, I think it’s fun. I like the possibility that, at any moment, I could run into the mom of a kid I played soccer with back in elementary school.

For example, in the past month, I’ve met three Journal Star employees who happen to read Lincolnite. It seems Lincolnite is fairly widely read over on P Street. (Actually, I already knew that from looking at my visitor stats, but it’s nice to meet folks face-to-face.) So “Hi!” to all of you LJS’ers, and to those of you I met recently, thanks for introducing yourselves.

In another example, on Saturday I ran into a guy I went to high school with. He came up to me and said, “You’re Brent, right?” His face was familiar, but I couldn’t quite trace it under his beard. Well there was my problem; I was trying to picture him without a beard, but he went with the Grizzly Adams look in high school, too. As soon as he told me that I instantly remembered things about him. We weren’t in the same social group, but even in a graduating class of 600 we managed to remember bits and pieces about each other.

The story gets better. That night I told The Missus who I had run into. She hadn’t known him, so the conversation didn’t go very far. The next day, The Missus took Robbie on some errands. At one stop, Robbie started pointing to the car next to them while babbling something. The Missus couldn’t understand him, so she looked in the general direction he was pointing. She never did figure out what he was talking about, but she did see a binder in the backseat of the car with a “Hello my name is…” sticker on it. The name on the sticker? Yep, it was the name of the guy I ran into the previous day.

Are you a fan of random run-ins in Lincoln? Or are you like my mother-in-law who, prior to moving away, thought it was a little creepy? (Now that she lives in a much bigger city, she says she misses the chance of seeing people she knows. But every time she comes back to town for a visit she sees an old friend or two.)

Let the People Vote

March 10, 2008 at 1:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Poor ol’ Ken Svoboda. I’m sure he wanted his company’s former city contracts to remain an issue of the past. But now it looks like his will be the deciding vote in determining whether the charter amendment proposal to prevent city officials from having city contracts goes to voters.

Let’s be fair. His vote isn’t actually any more the “deciding vote” than any of the other three people he’ll be joining. Yea or nay, his vote is only 25% of the total of the winning side. But the other six City Council members have already made their votes known; Mr. Svoboda has not. That, plus Mr. Svoboda’s history with this issue, makes it tempting to place the bulk of the weight of the vote on his shoulders.

I’m still not certain what I think about the proposed charter amendment. I am torn between the importance of preventing shenanigans by government officials, and the restrictions that will place on folks who are otherwise excellent candidates for office. Regardless, I am very disappointed in the three Republicans on the council who have already voted against sending the issue to voters. (The votes, so far, have fallen on party lines.) By casting their nay votes, they have told us that they don’t trust us and that this issue is too much for us to handle. I strongly disagree. More than any other topic, matters of government ethics and accountability are exactly the sorts of issues the public should vote on. This issue falls under the same category as elected officials’ term limits, salaries, and qualifications, all of which should be determined by the people to whom the officials are responsible.

I suspect the Republicans think the stronger restrictions will receive the blessing of the public, and that’s why they want to keep the item off the ballot. I am pretty sure they are right. But that is no excuse. We entrust the Council with decision-making authority that affects our everyday lives; in return, they ought to trust us to decide the guidelines by which they must abide if they wish to be granted that power.

Keeping the Core from Crumbling

March 7, 2008 at 2:39pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Lincoln has been blessed with “bad” neighborhoods that aren’t really all that bad. On the one hand, that’s a good thing. A lot of communities would love to be in our position. On the other hand, several of the “bad” neighborhoods could very easily take a tumble. It could realistically be something as simple as the wrong person moving into somebody else’s turf, setting off a chain reaction of events that could drag an entire neighborhood down a few notches.

Mayor Chris Beutler’s “Stronger Safer Neighborhoods” program is intended to help back some of Lincoln’s neighborhoods away from the brink. The heart of the initiative—restoring housing, increasing commercial activity, and reducing crime—is solid. The Lincoln Police Department will oversee the effort, but it will take a lot more than a strong police presence to make a long-term difference. I get the impression that Police Chief Tom Casady truly understands that—as opposed to just saying that he understands it—but it’ll take a community-wide effort to really get things moving.

Some of you are excited about diving in and helping out. Good for you. For those of you who aren’t so giddy about getting your hands dirty, let me offer you a simple and relatively passive way you can help out: shop. That’s right, do business in these neighborhoods. You get something out of the deal (a good or service), the neighborhood gets something out of the deal (wages, profit), everybody wins. As a bonus, economic activity helps to address one of the major causes of neighborhood decline: poverty. More economic activity means more jobs means less poverty ... and so on. Sure, in reality it takes a while for that progression to play out. But it can and does happen.

Here’s your thinking question of the day: Let’s say we had a choice between putting a large amount—say, $50 million—toward either a new arena, or a massive, community-wide economic stimulus package. Which would have the greater affect on the community? What are the ups and downs of each?

Could Obama Really Split Nebraska?

March 7, 2008 at 2:31pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

A recent survey says Barack Obama could split Nebraska’s electoral votes. I’m not convinced. I’m not at all surprised that a survey says he could win a couple districts, but I’m hesitant to put my money on him actually performing that well at the polls. What do you think?

On the other hand, it seems obvious to me that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t stand a chance in Nebraska. And indeed, the survey indicates just that. It would take a monumental screw-up on John McCain’s part to put Clinton within even 10 points of a district in Nebraska.

What the White Stuff?

March 7, 2008 at 2:28pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Where the heck did those three inches of snow come from? I certainly wasn’t expecting to see so much white stuff on the ground. I woke up at 4:00am to check on Robbie, and I thought to myself, “There’s only one reason it could be so bright outside at this time of day”. Sure enough, we’d been blanketed.

At least it was the light and fluffy stuff. Clearing the driveway and sidewalks was a breeze.

Better Late Than Never

March 6, 2008 at 2:39pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

On the positive side, negotiations over the redevelopment project at 14th and Q are ongoing. Unfortunately, it appears they’ll keep on going for many more months. That means Lincoln’s shiny new high-rise building(s) probably won’t see any construction until 2010.

Monte Froehlich of Lincoln Synergy Group insists “Plan A” is still in the works, meaning an 18-story building on the southwest corner, and a 15-story building on the northwest corner. The holdups appear to be parking and whatever will line the future plaza at 13th and P. Notably, it appears the City is a primary cause of the slowdown. Insert mock astonished gasp here.

In the mean time, we may as well enjoy our giant slab of blacktop. That gets me thinking: we should hold a movie night in the parking lot in honor of the site’s former tenant. Hmm…

Spring Has Sprung

March 5, 2008 at 4:16pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Did you hear it? Did you hear the tornado sirens going off just a few moments ago?

It’s official. Spring is here. Woohoo!

And the Consultant Says…

March 5, 2008 at 2:12pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The consultant has spoken, and he says Lincoln should build an arena in the 13,000 - 16,000 seat range. A convention center, on the other hand, isn’t such a sure deal.

The way I read it, it sounds like Lincoln would do just fine if we stay below the 15,000 seat mark. I don’t know much about the arena market, but staying below that number feels a lot more comfortable to me than swinging for the fences. That being said, I’m a huge fan of constructing these sorts of buildings in such a way that additional seats could be added ten or twenty years down the road, if needed.

I still feel like Lincoln should strive to dominate the mid-level and small events. So what if we don’t win the biggest of the big events? Those events will always go for the latest and greatest facilities. Lincoln might attract a few of those shows in the first five years. After that, they’ll become more and more rare.  Let the Omaha’s and Des Moines’ and Kansas Cities fight over the huge spectacles. While they’re beating up on each other, we should swoop in and become a formidable player in the market for smaller events. I look at it like the difference between Lincoln’s and Omaha’s zoos. They are very different creatures, they are both very successful, and they are both very good at what they do. Everybody wins.

Whatever ends up getting built, look for a price tag in the $250 million range.

One Last Bite of Pear

March 4, 2008 at 2:06pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Lincoln landmark P.O. Pears is closing its doors after March 23. P.O. Pears is the first place I ever ate a bleu cheese burger; the first place I ever had Rocky Mountain oysters; and the first (and only) place I’ve ever been beckoned by the phrase “Spanky, your burger is ready”.

I’ve been to P.O. Pears just once in the past few years, so I can’t honestly say I’ll miss it as a destination. But as a Lincolnite, I will droop a little every time I drive by. P.O. Pears is the sort of place every city needs to have around, whether it knows it or not.

On the other hand, with P.O. Pears out of the way, my not-completely-unserious proposal to put a new convention center and arena in southwest Downtown just got ever-so-slightly more possible…

The Survey Begins

March 3, 2008 at 10:10pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Mayor’s budget survey begins this week. If you see a University of Nebraska-Lincoln phone number on your caller ID and you’re in the mood to take a 15-20 minute survey, be sure to pick up the phone. A total of 600 Lincolnites will be selected to take the survey. There will be other mechanisms for input from those of you/us not selected to take the phone survey. Details about all of that will be released soon.

If you happen to receive one of the phone calls, be sure to let us know how it went.

A Puzzling Inconsistency

March 3, 2008 at 2:16pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

For several years now, folks across Lincoln have been selling the idea that reurbanization is good. It’s all part of “new urbanism”, or “traditional neighborhood design”, or whatever you want to call it. The best neighborhoods, they’ve said, are those that promote diversity: diversity of residents; diversity of modes of transportation; diversity of design; and so on. The result of their efforts has been neighborhoods like Fallbrook and Village Gardens, plus renewed efforts to rejuvenate Downtown. The Antelope Valley Project was created by and is guided by the same mentality.

Antelope Valley is where I notice an inconsistency. We are told that diversity is a good thing in Lincoln’s new projects. And yet it seems like the proposed Antelope Valley design guidelines promote the opposite. The proposed guidelines encourage sameness and conformance, not uniqueness and creativity. The cost of abiding by the rules artificially raises the cost of each project. As a result, the type of use for each parcel is limited. That means fewer small, local businesses can afford to locate within the area. The residents and businesses that were or will be displaced to make room for the project? Don’t count on them being able to move back in.

I’m not against development guidelines. The City has an interest in protecting its investment, and part of that involves creating the atmosphere it wants to create. That will require some rules. But an important part of dynamic, thriving urban environments is spontaneity. If the rules are too onerous or too specific—you can judge for yourself if they are—the environment becomes predictable, and even stale.

Regardless, it’ll be interesting to watch as the Antelope Valley matures over the years. What will the area look like twenty years from now? Will all of this work and money have been worthwhile? Let’s hope so.

[My apologies if this post seems incomplete. It sort of is. I had hoped to discuss this in more detail, but alas, work beckoned. If there is interest, I can write more on this topic later this week.]

Life After Congress?

March 3, 2008 at 3:39am By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

As reported today: Any good administration should have the Chuckster in it:

Eyeing some of the GOP’s most independently minded senators, Obama is considering Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Richard Lugar of Illinois as possible secretaries of defense and state, respectively, senior advisers told the newspaper.

Asked about his Cabinet choices last week, Obama told The Sunday Times: “Chuck Hagel is a great friend of mine and I respect him very much.” He did not go into further detail.

Both Hagel and Lugar - who are Obama’s colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - would be great cabinet positions (Oh by the way FOX, Lugar is from Indiana, not Illinois).

This makes one wonder what happens to Dodd and Biden, who are also on Foreign Relations. A VP role? This election season keeps getting better and better…

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