Tag Archives: News

Farts are Funny; Censorship is Not.

6 Nov

Some truths that I hold self-evident:

  • Googly eyes are inherently funny.
  • A well timed fart (or fart noise) can be a source of amusement, especially if the associated odor is minimal.
  • Vandalism is a crime.
  • Our First Amendment right to free speech is a cornerstone of democracy.

How do these seemingly random things come together?  Let’s find out.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has represented Nebraska’s 1st congressional district since 2005.  He is also a lock to be reelected today (fivethirtyeight.com predicts Fortenberry has a 99.8% chance of winning).  Despite his strong likelihood of victory, he has numerous campaign signs and billboards around Lincoln.

One of these signs was recently vandalized by an unknown perpetrator.  They placed two large googly eyes over Rep. Fortenberry’s face and managed to change the “o” in his name to a different vowel.

For reasons I’ll get into below, I am not comfortable sharing an image of the vandalized sign.  Thankfully, State Senator Adam Morfeld has provided an image that a) pays homage to the vandals’ efforts and b) comes with a built-in liability waiver:

Now, you may be asking yourself why I’m not comfortable sharing an image of the vandalized sign.  My response is this:  I like my job and I don’t want elected officials, their staff members, and/or supporters coming after me if I am amused by flatulence and googly eyes.

While that probably sounds like a ridiculously unnecessary overreaction, there is evidence to suggest that some within Representative Fortenberry’s staff are very sensitive about the vandalism.

As the Lincoln Journal-Star reports, Fortenberry’s chief of staff – William “Reyn” Archer – called UNL political science professor Ari Kohen after Kohen “liked” a Facebook post containing a picture of the altered sign.  When Kohen did not immediately return Archer’s message, Archer escalated the issue to Kohen’s boss (the Poli Sci department chair), his boss’s boss (the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences), and his boss’s boss’s boss (Chancellor Ronnie Green) via email.

When Kohen and Archer spoke via phone last week, Archer appears* to try to link Kohen’s “like” of the image to an implicit endorsement of criminal vandalism and scolds him because of the message it could send.

*In fairness, I’m basing my opinion off of a seven minute snippet of the 50+ minute conversation that Kohen posted to YouTube.  You can listen to it here.  It is quite possible that Archer was a complete gentleman for the other 40-some minutes of the call.  Frankly, I don’t want to know.  Dr. Archer, please do not call me or my employer.

At best, Fortenberry’s chief of staff is attempting to censor the free speech of state employee.  At worst, Fortenberry’s chief of staff is threatening to make Kohen’s life very difficult through political pressure on UNL officials, and attempting to stifle what faculty members can say and do.  Most concerning is Archer’s suggestion that he may utilize “a First Amendment opportunity to put you out there in front of everybody,” which I take as a not-so-thinly veiled threat to unleash a wave of partisan outrage at Kohen.

Once that train leaves the station, who knows where it stops?  As Kohen speculated on Twitter: “In the past, such efforts have directly resulted in weeks of threatening letters, voicemails, and email messages to faculty members who found themselves publicly called out in this way (including several of my colleagues at UNL). These have included death threats.”  This is a good time to mention that the conversation between Dr. Archer and Professor Kohen took place the day before the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, which is likely why all of this has hit the fan.

This entire thing is equal parts ridiculous and infuriating, which is why the way the issue was handled by Rep. Fortenberry’s staff angers and concerns me:  It is warning shot fired across the bow of anybody who dares to laugh at an elected official.

And let’s be clear: this is not a cruel personal attack on Fortenberry or his family.  It’s not libelous or slanderous.  It was not part of a calculated attack in a toss up Congressional race.  It is pair of ridiculous googly eyes and a piece of tape used to transform Fortenberry’s name into crude 7th grade humor.  The person on the receiving end of these threats had no hand in vandalizing the sign, nor did he post the picture to Facebook.  He merely clicked “like” because, like I (and probably you) think, googly eyes and fart jokes can be pretty damn amusing.  Kohen’s position as a professor at a public university is presumably all the leverage Fortenberry’s office needs to try to intimidate and impose their will.

And that is what scares me.

You see, my work – in intentionally vague terms – serves employees across various levels of government (city, county, and state) from coast to coast.  As such, it is theoretically possible that some of my work may directly impact departments and agencies in areas within Nebraska’s first congressional district, or led/impacted by Fortenberry’s political allies.

Look:  I know that out of respect for my employer and the customers we serve, it is important to have a very strong filter on what I post here and on social media.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to chime in on a topic, but held back out of extreme cautiousness.

I’ve long subscribed to the social media theory that if you wouldn’t say it to somebody’s face, then don’t say it on Facebook or Twitter.  But here’s the thing – I would have no issue with telling Jeff Fortenberry – my Congressman for the past 12 years, and the foreseeable future* – that I thought the picture of him with googly eyes was hilarious.  I’d also ask him how many times he was called “Fartenberry” as a kid, because I’d wager the cost of a campaign billboard this was not the first time.

*As thin skinned and petty as Fortenberry looks in all of this, until the Nebraska Democrats can find a viable candidate to truly challenge Fortenberry, the gig will be his for as long as he wants it.  I’ll be shocked if this incident makes a noticeable dent in the support Fortenberry receives today.

I don’t think it is too much to ask that I retain basic First Amendment rights without feeling paranoid that somebody is going put unnecessary pressure on me.

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The Best and the Worst of America

14 Aug

Tonight, my daughter woke up crying.

A dry diaper, a few ounces of formula, and some gently rocking on Daddy’s chest got her calmed down and back to sleep.  While I waited for her to get into a deep enough sleep so I could move here back to bed without waking her, I scrolled through Twitter on my phone.

My Twitter feed was dominated by two topics.  Both are taking place in the same state, and are only separated by about three or so hours on the interstate.  But, they are worlds apart.  They show us how great we can be, while demonstrating how bad we are.

*   *   *

I’ve been a fan of the Kansas City Royals for most of my life.  It just made sense – Kansas City is the closest Major League team to my eastern Nebraska home, and when I was in the formidable years when a boy picks the teams they like, the Royals were winning.  Granted, since that World Series title in 1985, being a Royals fan has been an exercise in masochism, frustration, and pity from friends and family.

Now imagine being a lifelong Royals fan born and raised in South Korea.

That brings us to the happy side of my Twitter feed.  SungWoo Lee has been a passionate, hardcore Royals fan since the 1990s – all while living in South Korea.  His dream has been to come to KC and watch his beloved Royals play.  Thanks to the efforts of some KC fans on social media, SungWoo has been living every baseball fan’s dream for the last week:  meeting players, throwing out the first pitch, hanging with Hall of Famer George Brett, and watching the Royals go on an eight game winning streak to move into first place.

One of the guys responsible for bringing SungWoo to KC is a guy I follow on Twitter, The Fake Ned (@TheFakeNed).  He has been tweeting about SungWoo’s visit pretty much non-stop.

Basically, the whole SungWoo experience has been one magical fairy ride that has made the most jaded of Royals fans believe.

*   *   *

Meanwhile, 230 miles east on I-70 sits the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.  For everything good and wonderful going on in Kansas City, something ugly and scary is going down in Ferguson, MO.  A young black man was shot and killed by police, which has led to civil unrest, protests, police attacks, and a racially charged powder keg of a town.

 

What.

The.

Hell?

*   *   *

I’m seeing and reading about these things while my not yet one year old black daughter sleeps on my chest.  I think that is what makes it so real and so difficult for me.  Someday I’m going to have to explain this world that we live in to my children.

I’m going to have to tell my children that sometimes you can follow all the rules and still be arrested – or worse.  Explain to them that in many parts of the greatest nation on earth, the color of their skin entitles them to the right to be treated poorly.  Try to instill a respect for an authority that sometimes has no respect for them.  Attempt to raise good, honest, hard-working adults who are not jaded and disillusioned by racism and prejudice that I’ll never truly know.

And I have to balance that brutal honesty while hopefully getting them to believe that there really are good people in the world too.  People that will open their arms for a guy from the other side of the globe, treat him like royalty, and make us believe in the inherent good in people – even if he’s of a different race.  All because he’s a fan of the same historically crappy baseball team that we like?

*   *   *

Since I’m struggling to put a pretty bow on all of this, I’ll let The Fake Ned have the last word:

 

My 2 Cents: Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson

23 Dec

By now, most of you probably know that Phil Robertson – one of the stars of the A&E “reality” series Duck Dynastyhas been suspended for his remarks in GQ about homosexuality.

Frankly, I don’t really care what he said.  I don’t watch Duck Dynasty, and I’m not that shocked by Robertson said.  I think Drew Magary, the writer of the GQ piece, describes it best:  “Okay, so perhaps it’s not exactly shocking that a deeply religious 67-year-old hunter from rural Louisiana would have, shall we say, enthusiastic ideas about what constitutes good Christian morality.”  So no, I’m not outraged by his opinions.  I disagree with many of his beliefs, but’s irrelevant for our purposes today.

If your Facebook timeline is like mine, I’m guessing it is chock full of people declaring their support for Robertson and his free speech rights.  That’s all well and good, but let’s make sure we are in agreement on which “free” we’re talking about.

There is “free” as in “freedom”, which is what many are referring to.  And that is absolutely correct:  Robertson, like the rest of us, has certain unalienable rights under the First Amendment that allows him to say damn near anything he wants without fear of persecution.

But Robertson and his supporters are failing to account for the other “free” – the one that refers to the monetary value of something.

According to the GQ article, the Robertson clan makes approximately $200,000 per episode.  They have one of the largest and widest ranging merchandising deals on the planet.  Don’t believe me?  Quick:  name anybody else whose name/likeness is on a bazillion t shirts, as well as wine, duct tape, and approximately one out of every five items at Wal-Mart.

In other words, Duck Dynasty has been a cash cow for the Robertson family.  If Phil Robertson isn’t smart enough to realize that some of his beliefs and opinions could get him into trouble, that is on him – not A&E, liberals, or any other boogeyman you want to point at.

In my 8 to 5 job, I work with a number of state employees and agencies.  There are some elected officials within that state government that I have strong opinions on – both positive and negative.  Yet, you’re not going to find very many of those opinions published here.  Why?  Because I like my job, and I really like (and need) my paycheck.  With a mortgage, car payment, and three kids in daycare, I simply cannot risk getting fired because somebody (a client, co-worker, or management) is offended by my opinions.

From a 1st amendment standpoint, I would likely be covered saying just about anything I want in this space – especially if I’m doing so on my own time and equipment.  But from a financial standpoint, I can’t afford to take that chance*.  Voicing all of my opinions is not worth the potential ramifications.

*My apologies to those of you who were hoping to see how I might riff on the news that a certain elected official recently had eight inches of his colon removed.  Those ideas aren’t going to see the light of day.

Apparently, Phil Robertson felt differently.  Assuming he is smart enough to know that his opinions could cause an uproar, he made the financial decision that voicing his opinions on homosexuality was worth any potential loss of income.  He may not have known that A&E would suspend him, but he should know that all free speech is not free.

 

Thought of the Day – 12/14/12

14 Dec

Let’s be honest…with what has occurred in Connecticut today, I have a great many thoughts in my head.  I’m not sure how many of them will see the light of day – we’ll see how much I feel like addressing some of what I believe to be underlying issues with these shootings as Christmas nears.  So today’s thought is going to be borrowed.

Today I’m seeing a ton of Facebook posts, tweets, and the like saying something to the effect of “hug your kids tonight”.  That sentiment, while a natural reaction to the horror that was unleashed upon so many innocent souls today, reminds me of something a former co-worker is fond of saying:

“If you need something like this to happen to show love and affection to your family, something is wrong with you.”

By all means, hug your kids today and tell them you love ’em.  But be sure to do that on the days that aren’t scarred by senseless violence too

Why I Vote

6 Nov

Nebraska is a big red state – both in football and in politics.  It’s been said that the only thing that outnumbers Republicans in Nebraska is cattle – and most of those cows would vote GOP if they could.

There are definitely pros and cons to living in a state where one party dominates all of the state and national offices.  For example, I don’t think the Lincoln TV stations have shown a single Obama or Romney ad (or super PAC attack ads bashing one of the candidates)*.  The campaigns know that Nebraska’s miniscule amount of electoral votes are going to Romney, and no amount of soft focus ads with ominous voice-overs will change that.

*This isn’t quite the case in for folks who watch the Omaha channels, as a) neighboring Iowa is a swing state, and b) because Nebraska is one of two states who splits their electoral vote by congressional district, there is a (slight) chance that Obama could steal an electoral vote in Nebraska, as he did in 2008.

And I’m okay with that.  I have a degree in Advertising and I’ll be first to tell you that political ads (from both sides) are entirely composed of lies, half-truths, and slanderous evil.  So the lack of wall-to-wall ads is a positive.

But there is one big negative:  pretty much any vote I cast in a state or national election – regardless of party – is purely symbolic.

Since I live in Lincoln, a vote for Obama isn’t going to help him win an electoral vote.  I could still vote for him as a show of support (or dissent from my Republican neighbors).  I could also write-in my own name*.  Both have the same impact.

*Nebraska residents, for the first time I am elgible to be elected President of the United States.  Feel free to (FeitCan) write me in.  I’m willing to release my birth certificate, tax returns, helium balloons, whatever it takes.

If I vote for Romney, I’m a single snowflake in a GOP avalanche.  In 2008, John McCain won Nebraska by approximately 120,000 votes, which is more than the number of registered voters in Nebraska’s third, fourth, and five largest cities.  Combined.  I feel safe in saying that Mitt will do just fine in Nebraska without my vote.

But I will still vote today.

Why?  I’ll spare you the 8th Grade social studies response about it being my civic duty, or any other clichéd answer.  Instead, I’ll give you the primary reason I vote – and the reason you should vote today too:

By exercising your right to vote, you gain one of the most fundamental American rights.  It may not be in the Constitution, but all Americans hold this right dear.

The right to complain.

That is why I’ve been tolerating the barrage of politically charged Facebook posts this year – I know the people posting that stuff have voted in the past, and will vote today.

But if you don’t vote, I don’t want to hear it for another four years.

Sandy’s Audience

30 Oct

Yesterday, with the mega-Franken-hurri-storm-of-the-Century-cane attacking the east coast, a number of TV shows taped in New York City were cancelled.  Two notable exceptions – The Late Show with David Letterman, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon – kept their shows going, but did so without studio audiences.

The results were fascinating.

This piece from Slate has some video clips of what viewers saw – an odd attempt to hold a normal show under very unique circumstances.  Obviously, the most noticeable difference was the lack of a studio audience.  You could tell both Letterman and Fallon missed the laughter, applause, and other feedback they get from their audience.  Fallon especially – he performs his monologue like normal, but you can see how the lack of laughter really throws off his timing and makes him uncomfortably nervous – which in turn makes for interesting TV.

As for Letterman, apparently the guy who does the graphics for the Top Ten list couldn’t make it in to work, so they went decidedly low-tech:  the opening title and each of the Top 10 Rejected Names for the Storm were written in marker on poster board.  Letterman’s interview with Denzel Washington (a pretty big name for such an odd show) was even more casual than the typical talk show interview.

The whole experience was unique, memorable, and slightly surreal.  Watching The Roots laugh heartily at Fallon’s awkward monologue and seeing a very relaxed Denzel slouching on Dave’s couch transformed the shows from two popular late night shows to their elemental state:  a random cable-access talk show with good guests and house band.  In other words, it was like Wayne’s World filmed in the Ed Sullivan Theater.

How to Improve the Presidental Debates

22 Oct

The third (and thankfully, final) Presidential debate is tonight.  I’ve watched most of the first two rounds, and I think the debates are long overdue for some changes.  Instead of hearing clear, concise answers to tough questions, we get spin, cheesy stories about some schmo they met on the campaign trail, distortions, half-truths, and flat-out lies.  Meanwhile, the moderator – arguably the worst job on television – struggles to keep the candidates from talking too long, never moving on to the next question, and avoiding questions.

My fellow Americans, we deserve better.  Together we can improve the debates, turning them from unruly gabfests to world-class television:

  • “Please welcome tonight’s moderator, Jon Stewart from The Daily Show.”
  • Both candidates are strapped to polygraph machines, with the results being shown on-screen.
  • When a candidate runs out of their allotted time, their microphone is cut off.
  • Responses are judged by Food Network personalities on the basis of taste, plating, and originality.
  • Take a cue from the Family Feud – ask one candidate the questions while the other is off-stage in a sound-proof room.  Then ask the same questions to the other guy.
  • Each candidate gets one red challenge flag per half.  The replay booth (staffed by factcheck.org) calls down with their ruling.
  • Use the audience from a Jerry Springer Show taping.
  • If a candidate is found to be flip-flopping on a previously stated position, an audience member gets to smack them with a flip-flop.
  • Candidates are tied to a chair, suspended by a rope, 10 feet over a pool of rabid sharks.  Every time they lie, interrupt, or go over time, their chair lowers by a foot.
  • Each candidate gets three lifelines:  phone a friend (either their wife or running mate), poll the audience, or a 50/50.
  • Candidates must participate in the drinking game, so when Obama talks about the “47%” or Romney brings up gas prices, they have to do a shot.
  • When a candidate says something that is proven to be an exaggeration, an extortion of the truth, or a flat-out lie, the opposing Vice Presidential nominee gets to take a shot at him with a paintball gun.  (Bonus points if Paul Ryan or Joe Biden show up dressed as Rambo.)
  • Shock collars
  • Instead of dark suits with power ties, candidates wear costumes picked out by the opposing campaign.  Obama will be dressed as Muslim cleric, and Romney will be dressed as Mr. Moneybags from Monopoly.
  • Instead of two minutes, candidates have 12 seconds to answer.
  • The one, truly undecided voter in America is back stage.  After the debate, he comes out and give his candidate a rose.  The other candidate is invited to appear on “The Bachelorette.”
  • Candidates are given a secret word or phrase to be worked in at some point during the debate.  Governor Romney, your word is “onomatopoeia”.
  • When somebody interrupts you, you get to slap them in the face.
  • Replace the podiums with the Wipeout! obstacle course.  You get to talk non-stop until your opponent clears the obstacle.
  • No changes, except both candidates are made aware of the 100 gallon drums of Nickelodeon slime perched above their podiums, and the two switches on the moderator’s desk.
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