Turn ‘Em In

By: Mr. Wilson on April 23, 2009
The Nebraska Office of Highway Safety is running a "Must B 21" Report Underage Drinking media campaign. I'm not sure how ratting out the Rosenbaums next door for offering up a little Manischewitz with the Passover seder has anything to do with highway safety, but whatever. (That's a straw man, I know. I consider myself duly castigated.) Anyway, I bring up the campaign only because their radio ad caught my ear. The announcer belted out the scary-sounding statistic that underage drinking costs Nebraskans a whopping $447 million every year. That's a lot of cash! It also sounds like a load of hooey, doesn't it? As with all-too-many campaigns like this, the website offers no sources for its data. I hate that. What's so hard about providing a little supporting data, a link to a study or two in a peer-reviewed journal? Just for fun I spent a few minutes [sic] seeing what I could do to back up the $447 million figure. The closest I could come were some figures from 2007 (PDF) that peg the costs associated with teen (16-20) alcohol-related accidents at $37 million. That gets us 8% of the way; and the remaining 92%? Well, the numbers are different, but this statsheet (PDF) likely hints at a big chunk of the story: "pain and suffering" accounts for a full 66% of the costs. If that's not padding the numbers I don't know what is. Fine, Mr. Wilson, let's say one or more of the website's "Stats & Facts" are partially bogus. But doesn't the core message of the campaign -- teens shouldn't drink, and those who facilitate teen drinking should be punished -- still hold water? In my opinion, mostly, but not entirely. I agree that teens shouldn't abuse alcohol, and I sure as heck agree that impaired teens shouldn't be behind the wheel. But then, I think the same thinks about adults, too. Personally, I don't have a problem with anybody responsibly using substances of various natures or doing various activities. No way will I endorse ratting out somebody who is causing no harm. The key factor above is responsibility. Fleshing out what that means could fill a book. I'll summarize with two points. First, you oughtn't look to frat boys for advice. More importantly, responsibility is contextual. The zone of responsibility involving teenagers and alcohol is pretty narrow, but it's not nonexistent. Pretending that there's no way to responsibly enjoy alcohol until the magical age of 21 is part of the problem, not the solution. Teens see right through that sort of exaggeration, and they rebel against it. They're wired that way. What about procuring alcohol for minors? Again, context matters. Hosting a kegger for a bunch of 14 year-olds without their parents' knowledge is clearly not legit. Giving a 19 year-old a beer to drink while he watches the Huskers on TV? The food that's been sitting on the table for the past three hours is far more of a menace to society. The campaign, like the law, is flawed because it doesn't care about context. Neither differentiates between the harmless and the harmful. The campaign encourages people to go all McCarthy on "any" person who breaks the law. Though it's understandable why they have to send that message, it's unfortunately overbroad. I hope Nebraskans don't get too literalist and instead focus on the activities that actually cause society harm. If we don't, if we continue to overstate alcohol's threat and maintain an absolutist stance, we will just continue to make our job of raising responsible youth more difficult than it needs to be.

Long Live Arbor Day

By: Mr. Wilson on April 22, 2009
Arbor Day doesn't get much press these days compared to its much bigger cousin, Earth Day. Bill Kauffman thinks that's a shame:
Beyond its hometown of Nebraska City, Nebraska, Arbor Day has faded into obscurity; its historic date, April 22, will be given over this year to that dreary shower of corporate agit-prop known as Earth Day. The difference between Arbor Day and Earth Day is the difference between planting a tree in your backyard and e-mailing a machine-written plea for a global warming treaty to your UN representative.
That reminds me: for ten bucks you get a six month membership to the Arbor Day Foundation and ten free trees.

Don’t Want Your Taxes Raised? Better Speak Up

By: Mr. Wilson on April 22, 2009
The City of Lincoln is having some cash problems, so they want your input via an online survey to help determine if cuts should be made to particular city services, if taxes should be raised, or some combination of the two. We don't yet know just how bad the budget picture is. That's no doubt an intentional move by the Mayor's office. One could put a positive or a negative spin on that decision. Positive: Mayor Beutler doesn't want Lincolnites to be distracted by numbers and instead wants us to focus on "big picture" questions. Negative: The survey isn't about Lincolnites helping to solve the budget problem, but about helping Mayor Beutler sell his already-made decisions by providing him with information that will help him tailor his messages. The survey is long, requiring approximately 20 to 30 minutes of your time. More if you actually bother to read all of the background information that is provided. For example, here is the overall background document (PDF). There are a handful of others. Note that the questions are randomly selected from a pool so your survey will be unique. Interestingly, at least one aspect of the survey doesn't appear to be particularly friendly to persons with certain disabilities or types of web browsers. Early in the survey is a sorting task that requires the presence of Javascript and the use of a mouse; keyboard input doesn't work, and there doesn't seem to be any sort of fallback for users who cannot enter data in the expected way. Visually-impaired users, among others, are apparently out of luck. That's a relatively small population, sure, but I can think of several physically impaired and politically active individuals in Lincoln who will have a fit. That glitch aside, I encourage you to take the survey. If nothing else, participating in the survey and reading the background material will provide you with lots of good information about how our local government is reaching out (or appearing to reach out, if you prefer) to Lincolnites.

Candidates Debate, Crickets Chirp

By: Mr. Wilson on April 21, 2009
Lincolnites apparently aren't too fired up about the upcoming City Council election. How else can you explain the lack of buzz across the city? Is anybody talking about the election? Not even two dozen people showed up for last night's rapid-fire candidate Q&A. There could be all sorts of reasons for the passivity. Maybe Lincolnites are relatively content with the way things are going. Maybe the candidates have little to offer. Maybe Lincolnites are lazy. Maybe we're all too worried about paying our own bills. Are you passionate about the upcoming election. Why? Or are you like me, a little too far removed from the process? Again, why?

Rod Kush and Class Warfare

By: Mr. Wilson on April 20, 2009
The good news is something is going in -- finally! -- to the former Kmart building in Edgewood near 56th and Highway 2. Rod Kush will turn 40,000 of the building's 118,000 square feet into a low-end furniture store. As a resident of the area I'm just glad to see the building get some use. Too bad it's not the year-round indoor mini-golf / go-kart / bowling alley / arcade / adult playground I had hoped for. The bad news is there's a lot of classism and north-south division in the comments on the article. A selection:
Um Rod, people on the south side don't buy low-end or used furniture.
Oh yeah...by the way..you must not have done very good recsearch [sic], South Lincoln will not buy your garbage.
With the opening of this store, expect to see a lot of county #3 license plates. Yes, there is a street dance in Beatrice tonight!
You haven't lived a full and complete life until you experienced that people watching event up on N. 27th.
Yeesh. Now if you'll excuse me, this southsider is thirsty. "Alfred, another Perrier, posthaste!"

We Found Your Money at Gateway Mall

By: Mr. Wilson on April 19, 2009
Wad of cash This is a long shot: Did you or somebody you know lose a wad of cash over the weekend at Westfield Gateway Mall? If so, contact me. I can help reunite you with your money. My brother-in-law tried to chase you down, but you vanished. I didn't understand the big fuss at first because when I heard "[he/she/they] dropped some money" I pictured a couple dollars. Ha! Turns out it was more than just a couple dollars. Don't bother trying to claim the money if it isn't really yours. There are several unique characteristics about the money and the circumstances in which it was lost, not to mention the fact that we can describe the person or persons who lost it. Don't waste my time making wild guesses.


By: Mr. T on April 18, 2009
A little bird on facebook said that Lincoln juice stop locations will be celebrating their 10th anniversary this coming week with lots of specials, including: Monday, April 20: Buy a 24 oz Smoothie and get one Free Tuesday, April 21: $1 OFF any 24 oz Smoothie Wednesday, April 22: Buy a 24 oz Smoothie for $3 Thursday, April 23: Buy a 24 oz Smoothie and get a MUG for $1 Friday, April 24: Buy a 24 oz Smoothie and get one FREE

... And Those Who Can’t Teach Get Fired

By: Mr. Wilson on April 17, 2009
I don't know if the decision to fire Jeff Jensby was correct. I do know that if slacking off and giving students better grades than they deserve is cause for termination, a whooooole lot of higher education instructors -- not to mention K-12 teachers -- just went on notice. And the rest muttered under their breath, "It's about damn time!"

Highway Robbery

By: Mr. Wilson on April 17, 2009
I can't say I follow state Senators' desire to get more panhandlers into Nebraska's streets. The law (LB278), in a nutshell:
Current state law prohibits the use of roadways for volunteer fundraising activity. LB 278 would allow municipalities, through the adoption of a city ordinance, to allow pedestrians, except for persons under the age of 18, to solicit contributions on roadways within their corporate boundaries, at specified times and locations, if the contributions are to be devoted to charitable or community betterment purposes. The bill would prohibit such solicitation from occurring on roadways that are part of the state highway system.
Generally a law should solve a problem. What problem is being addressed here? And how is this a good solution to it? Are we so lacking fundraising ideas that our next best option is to let people walk in traffic? Not that it matters much. I can't see many municipalities in Nebraska legalizing this sort of thing. Lincolnites would pitch a fit. Wouldn't they?

Diced Birdies

By: Mr. Wilson on April 17, 2009
I feel sorry for the birds who wander too close, but it sure would be nifty to see a few hundred wind turbines pop up out west. Unfortunately, the developer says it could take a decade to complete. That means 15 to 20 years. Shoot, we could have my favorite source of power up and running by then. I realize wind power still makes up a pretty small proportion of overall power generation in the U.S. But I wonder at what point, if ever, all these wind power projects that keep being announced will start to have a depressive effect on coal power costs. Not that coal power is going to disappear any time soon. Wind power has that nasty habit of going out when the wind stops blowing.

Proud Member of The Twilight Zone

By: Mr. Wilson on April 16, 2009
Being a blogger, it kills me when I can't write about something relevant to my blog. During the soccer season that "something" is very often soccer-related, since as a referee I watch or officiate quite a few matches. Sometimes I want to write about specific teams or individuals, or do an analysis of certain aspects of the season, or talk about Brent Wagner's latest ratings. No such luck. This morning, however, I got a chuckle out of comments on the Journal Star's website and I just have to share. I am, ladies and gentleman, according to "Omaha Soccer Fan", a proud member of "the twilight zone that is Lincoln officiating". Fortunately "What" came to my defense, calling Omaha refs "unreal" (and not in a good way). I hope a good back-and-forth breaks out in the comment section. I get a kick out of a lot of things fans do and say. The "your town's refs suck" canard is an oldie but a goodie. Not that it's never true. It's just usually not true, and usually not in the way the spectators think. There certainly are local and regional differences in how officials officiate. That's true in all sports, or at least all sports I've been a part of. Usually the differences are less about quality than about variations in style and expectations. And of course there's selective memory and selective blame. A referee in my town who misses a call made a mistake; a referee in that other town who misses a call is incompetent, a homer, or both, and so are all the other refs from that town. This topic was already on my mind thanks to a bit of an opposite experience. Following a match earlier this season the visiting coach tracked me down to thank me for not being like the referees from his local area. And coming up in the next couple weeks I will work three games where the referee -- an upper-level ref in each case -- is not from the town of either of the teams; spectator outbursts about referee quality during those matches tend to be particularly amusing. I wish I could say more. In particular, I have lots to say about the referees who help generate much of the fuss. There is lots to critique there. But I had best keep my lips (fingers?) sealed. I'm curious what the prevailing stereotypes are these days. What are your impressions of officials from particular regions of the state in various sports? Have you ever seen an honest-to-goodness, indisputable case of homerism?
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