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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Adventures in health care and other random crap

Sorry for the lack of posts the past couple of days. I started my Monday at about 5:30 a.m. by tripping over my dog as I went to let him outside to handle his business.

What I got for my trouble was a severely wrenched ankle - that I was already nursing, a set of X-rays that showed my ankle bits a bit out of order, and the inability to walk. I could not take a step without excruciating pain. Luckily, I remembered that when Mrs. B and I bought our house two years ago we found an old hand-carved cane in the shed. She wanted to toss it. I thought it was cool, in spite of the paint chipping off. So I kept it. Don't you know I was beyond thrilled to find that cane on Monday. So, funny as it looked I found myself a couple hours later hobbling at a snail's pace with this cane into an urgent care clinic a few miles from my house. I figured it would be as fast, maybe faster than a traditional emergency room. Mrs. B walked next to me, though I'm not sure what she would have done if I'd fallen, since I'm nearly twice her weight, I think.

Anyway, after checking in, handing over my insurance card, and a $20 co-pay, I found a seat just a couple of feet from the check-in window, and over the next eight-plus hours I waited for my turn to see a doctor. Clearly, I was wrong in my assumptions about the speed of these places and the definition of "urgent." So while I sat, I people-watched. And I observed and overheard about 40 people check-in during that period. About two dozen of them did not have have insurance. I know this, because the nurse's aide doing the check-in asked each person, like she'd asked me. Then she'd tell those who said no that there was a $70 clinic fee for the uninsured. Interestingly, there were two categories of non-insured. I heard a few answer that they were flat-out poor and could not afford the $70 fee. Most of this category counter-offered with $10 or $20 or whatever they had on them. The nurse's aide gratefully accepted. The other category of uninsured folks chose their words carefully when presented with the $70 fee. BTW, the folks in the second category were pretty much all very well dressed, verrrrry well dressed. As much as I make fun of the looks-obsessed among us, I can tell you that my working knowledge of fashion is good enough to know that these folks were all dressed in things I couldn't afford on average. So when told of the fee the folks in this second category answered cautiously to the effect of "The sign at the door says you have to treat me even if I 'don't' pay, right?" The nurse's aide nodded wearily each time. Category two would then respond to the effect of "Well, um, then no I'm not going to pay anything."

It wasn't necessarily that they couldn't pay. They said they weren't going to.

Suddenly, I had an epiphany about why health insurance costs so much. I'm not mad at the genuinely poor folks who just couldn't pay and had a legitimate urgent medical need. But those folks who by their own indirect admission could pay but wouldn’t are screwing the rest of us who at least try to pay for medical care.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe hospital corporations are almost cruel in what/how they charge for certain types of care and accessories. Hundreds of dollars for minor injections, $1,000-plus per night if you have to be admitted, $30 or $40 for use of an assless hospital gown that you don’t get to keep, and so on and so forth. But what medical facilities charge isn’t all the fault of corporate greed. Hospitals pass some of the costs on to the federal government, which in turn finds a way to stick health insurance companies for some of those costs. And the health insurance companies then raise the rates of the people already paying for their medical care, in order to compensate for folks like those at the urgent care clinic who refused to pay for even a portion of their care.

Oh, and even though it’s gonna make me seem calloused, if I paid for my visit, and you could have but didn’t, and we both arrive at about the same time and have ailments that are similar in seriousness, I’m seeing the doctor first. And I’ll trip you and drop a chair on your head if I have to, to make sure you don’t see him before me. It’s the principle, dammit!

So I finally made it out of the “urgent” care clinic at about 6 p.m. Monday, hopping on a pair of shiny new crutches. Mrs. B was kind enough to carry my cane for me.

Have you ever seen a news report about a person “accidentally” walking through airport security and forgetting that he had a loaded pistol or a Bowie knife in his carry-on? I have, and about 50% of the time I’m skeptical. I think “that dude is a nut job who was planning on taking hostages.” Well, my handy-dandy cane? The one I was so grateful to find on Monday, considering it had been a cast off by my house’s previous owner? It’s a weapon. Seriously, I don’t mean it can be used as a weapon. It is a weapon. As I was lounging and waiting Monday, feeling sorry for myself over my ankle, I started fiddling with the cane. It loosened up near the top, right below the handle. So I gave it a tug, and it came apart. Turns out it’s one of those secret-sword canes. The sword part is rusty. So who knows how old the thing is or if it was ever “used.” But can you imagine how I would have stammered and blustered if there had been a metal detector at the clinic? Not sure I could have explained myself to security. I guess those “I didn’t know it was in my bag, officer” excuses are legit sometimes.

Here's my rusty sword cane. I took a break working from home today to try to figure out how to restore the thing. It'll make for a great conversation starter some day.

Finally, where health is concerned, I’m glad to hear that Nick Bollea, teenage son of legendary wrestler Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea, is OK following his jaw-dropping car wreck from a few days ago. I say a prayer for his friend and passenger though, who remains in the hospital in critical condition.

Not sure how to say this delicately, so I won’t: This kid should not be driving. In fact, if he wants to make a career out of something involving forward motion, he should be a mail man. They do lots of walking, and on a good day they walk fast. In the 10 months or so the Bollea family lived in Miami Beach, young Nick decided he wanted to pursue a career as a race car driver. He crashed a car at a race track during a practice/time trial. He was behind the wheel of the family Lamborghini, when it inexplicably burst into flames and burnt to a crisp. And he was pulled over and ticketed at least once for speeding.

OK, I'm done. I'm gonna pop another Motrin and go to sleep. One more thing: Up late, trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in, and watching bad movies I stumbled onto 1990's Dark Man. And I finally figured out what about that film has been bugging me all these years. The bottom half of Liam Neeson's title character's face gets burned off. He has no lips. And yet he still manages to perfectly pronounce "Ms," "Ps," and "Bs." How is that possible?

I know. I'm going to sleep right now.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Michael Vick is a skinny blond addict

It's official now, or will be in a few days: Michael Vick is guilty. Sort of. So feel free to bash him now.

He's poised to cop pleas next week to some wrong doing, but in the usual manner curiously reserved for people who can afford the best attorneys, it appears he won't actually have to plead guilty to the worst of what he was accused of - dog fighting, dog murder, etc. It looks like he'll get to plead to something like conspiracy, and violating interstate commerce laws, etc.

Maybe he'll get a year-and-a-half in prison, maybe a little more, maybe less. One thing's for sure. He'll serve a lot less time than if he wasn't rich and famous and hadn't had the best lawyers arguing on his behalf. The rich and famous part wouldn't be as relevant if it wasn't tied to the best (meaning high-priced) lawyers part. But who are we kidding? It would have been refreshing to see him step up and say "I did it. I didn't think about the harm, the foul, etc. But I did it. I allowed dog-fighting and executions to go on on my property. I watched the fights. I gave money to finance the fights and back the gambling element of it....I was wrong. No excuses. I'll take my lumps." To be fair though, in his position I guess I'd have tried to get a deal too. I'm pretty sure I'm not noble.

So anyway, Michael Vick has become Paris Hilton. Actually he has become Nicole Richie. Lindsay Lohan. He is rich and famous and has managed to secure a fraction of the punishment his behavior calls for. He has become another symbol of irresponsible privilege getting away with "murder." What the hell? Do you have to eat a live baby on a plate made from endangered elephant tusks to actually get a substantial punishment if you're young, rich, and famous in this country? If I ever decide to misuse the great pimp-slap of justice I'm either gonna go to Los Angeles to do it or I'll try out for a pro sports team. That way I'll be assured at least a ticker tape parade on my way into jail and on my way back out an hour-and-a-half later.

Thank God I'm unable - and unwilling to try - to picture Michael Vick in high heels, drunk, with a breast accidentally falling out of his shirt, or a drawerless butt cheek peeking out from under his skirt, or crack rocks falling out of his pocket, or crashing his car into a tree, or speeding with his lights off the wrong way up a one-way street.

But he is now a member of the sisterhood. He is a Lohan, a Richie, a Hilton. Even after he gets out of prison (if he goes). I'll never look at Vick the same again, because he'll look like a skinny blond woman to me.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Co-opted Innocence

Have you ever started to say something - a completely innocent word or phrase on its surface - and then caught yourself and stopped 'cause you worried your word(s) could be misinterpreted?

I know you have. I know I have, anyway. Perfect example - silly, but perfect. Waaaay, waaaay back if we referred to one of these

we had no problem saying ass. Now, I'm so squeamish these days that someone will think badly of me I can't even say that word when I am referring to the four-legged variety.

And what about bitch, or, if you're the enemy of a rapper, beeeee-atch? It's a female dog. Always has been. But when someone, somewhere (as far back as the year 1400, if you believe this blog post on the origins of curse words) decided it should also be a put-down to human females people freaked out and stopped calling their female canines that word.

We're way past slippery slope when it comes to what we won't do in order to not appear as one of the bad guys. Modesty is a good thing. Erring on the side of manners and caution is a good thing.

But not doing something 'cause a "bad" person does it too? Not good.

A few days ago my hometown newspaper the Virginian-Pilot reported that the state of Virginia Department of Tourism nearly killed an ad campaign called "Live Passionately," designed to portray the state as romantic place to vacation. I guess "Virginia is for Lovers" is too last decade or something to stand on its own. Anyway, they nearly killed the campaign, 'cause an actress in a campaign poster held her hands together to form a heart symbol. The ad campaign cost the state about $400,000. Members of the Virginia Gang Investigators Association told the tourism department they shouldn't use the poster, 'cause while the intent was innocent, the gesture was one also used by members of a street gang affiliated with the Chicago-based Gangsta Disciples.

The tourism folks, worried that the campaign might appear to support gang activity or inadvertently stoke gang strife, decided to save the campaign but use a different image.

Why? I respect the cops' desire to not give attention to gang activity. But this wasn't about gang activity. It was about a simple, innocent ad campaign. We're so worried about looking like gang bangers and stoking a gang war that we can't do something similar to this?

Damn shame, if you ask me. We'd better quit not doing things because a bad guy or group has tried to lay claim to them, or pretty soon we'll run out of stuff to do.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What gives?

First, I have a bragging point to make: Getting off of the freeway this morning on the way to the Miami Herald to start work, I saw the usual panhandler at the bottom of the ramp. There's a traffic signal there, so often he paces, hitting up the cars that are waiting to exit.

A couple of months ago, I speculated that the panhandlers - I won't call 'em homeless, 'cause for all I know they live in nicer homes than mine - "worked" the freeway ramps in shifts. I was only half joking, 'cause depending on the time of day you exited or entered the freeway there was a different crew.

Well, this morning I'm waiting at the red light at the bottom of the ramp, and the usual guy is there. I catch movement out the corner of my eye and turn in time to see another grown man running up, out of breath, holding a big paper cup, like a fast food cup, or as I like to call 'em change-collecting cups. When he got about three feet from the corner, he looked up and pulled up short. He had seen the regular guy. They look at one another and exchange friendly smiles. The runner says to the regular "Oh, my bad. I didn't know you were 'working' this side. I'll be working over here." He gestures to the on-ramp about 20 yards away and strolls that direction.

I was right. They do work in organized shifts.

Second, there was some computer trouble at the paper this morning, apparently not affecting all computers, but definitely mine. So, since I have a story to finish writing by tomorrow morning I did the expedient thing. I grabbed my laptop and headed to the nearest place as dusty and stodgy as a newsroom: the local public library.

I found a good seat in a corner with a set of four chairs and a center table. I plugged in, whipped out my notes, and started writing. Within 30 minutes I was surrounded on three sides by presumably homeless guys. Immediately they became disruptive. They didn't aim anything directly at me. But they engaged in loud, boisterous conversation, they kicked off shoes and lounged as if they were at home, they slurped loudly from cans and bottles, they whipped out loaves of bread and deli meats and began slapping sandwiches together and passing them around. Leaving bits of food and huge bread rinds all over the place. And they were swearing a lot...with small children walking by.

I tried to ignore and keep writing. Apparently another patron, less patient than me, found a cop on the premises and asked her to do something.

Know what she did? Approached the quad, where the four of "us" sat and proceeded to scold "us" for being too noisy and asked "us," very nearly pleaded with "us" to be a little quieter. Not a word about the food. Not a word about the shoeless lounging. Not a word about the general disruptive behavior. Nothing.

I'm no elitist. Never have been. But if you can't get quiet time in a library, then it's time to put these cats out on their behinds. It's nothing against homelessness. It's not pretending homelessness isn't a problem. This is about making grown folks behave in public. And what the hell good is a cop who isn't gonna police that behavior? She could've told these guys to pipe down or else. I've seen folks get disorderly conduct tickets for giving cross looks to police officers in public. This didn't warrant a warning, at least?

The drama ended when the officer walked away all smiley as if she'd just accomplished something. What did the guy directly across from me say? "I'll bet it was that guy at that table over there who said something. Bet he wouldn't say anything if we smacked him in his mouth."

Yeah, that's gonna generate my sympathy.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

The Price is Right

I discovered recently that I could never be a contestant on the Price is Right.

It seems like a lovely show. The concept is fun, even with Bob Barker retired. In fact, way back when I was a weird little child I used to watch game shows. I had my cartoon Jones. But I loved game shows. What can I tell you?

Anyway, think back to when Bob Barker used to yell "Come on down!" And one at a time, four contestants would scream and wave their hands and run down front and begin bidding on the value of various household items to determine who could get closest to the actual price and move to the next step in the game.

Even as a kid I used to wonder how people really felt inside when they bid $699.97 for a nice fridge, and the person next to them subsequently bid $699.98, and the latter bidder won.

The other contestants always maintained smiles on their faces and applauded enthusiastically, win or lose. I always guessed though that if there hadn't been cameras on them some of those contestants would have sworn like sailors and tried to strangle the person next to them who undercut them by a penny or a dollar.

So skip ahead a couple of decades to last week. I had to fill in for the Herald's arts writer on Wednesday. And my job that day was to cover a scheduled bankruptcy auction for a piece of property belonging to a local historic theater. I learned later that day that the theater had come up with the funds the night before and successfully avoided the auction. But that morning I had to sit there and wait till the theater's case number was called...or not.

While I waited I got in some good people watching. First, I noticed the people in the gallery were all a hyper bunch - mostly guys, by a 30-to-1 margin. They'd all either had a lot of coffee or smoked a little crack before coming to the courthouse, 'cause they were all over the place. Second, the whole auction process was fascinating. It was almost like what you'd imagine from campy old cattle auction scenes in the movies. There was an administrative judge announcing each property for sale, and she called out each property in that stereotypical auctioneer's voice - you know, 100 words a second, going once, going twice, three times, sold! That sort of thing.

Some of the auctions were to take over mortgages. Others were to buy properties outright. All of the bids started at $100. And most were still at that price when sold. But in some cases the bidding rose into the thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands.

Here's what really fascinated me: Most of the time the first person to bid got the property. Rarely did anyone try to outdo the first bidder. However, on the few occasions when the bidding went higher, I noticed that people were outbidding each other by as little as $1. Seriously, someone would call out "$1,000," and before they closed their mouth the next person was calling out "$1,001."

And the funny thing is, unlike the Price is Right, people were getting really ticked off. No applause, for sure. But not even the gracious smile. I saw so many red faces and grimaces in that room I thought there was a group heart attack taking place.

Part of me wanted to laugh. But an equal part of me felt the anger of those folks who were being outbid by mere dollars. The combo of emotions drove me to sympathy.

I watched one guy bid, $500,000 for a high condo that had gone into foreclosure. The next guy bid $500,700, I believe. They went back and forth until the second guy finally won at something like $504,002. The first guy was livid and had to stalk out of the room to regain his composure.

These guys would not have made good Price is Right contestants. Sore losers. To be fair to them though? Under the circumstances I'd be a sore loser too. I'd be really, really, pissed off.

Had I been outbid by a dollar, or even $100 on a property I badly wanted I think I might have drop-kicked the person who beat me out of that 9th story window.

If ever I decide to pursue a game show, I think it might have to be Jeopardy, or some other show where only my wits will propel me to the top or sink my ship.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Barnyard religion

Hmmm. Not sure how to make this believable, since the picture below me is kind of fuzzy. Nevertheless, can you guess what you're looking at? I mean other than the obvious - the back of a purple shirt-wearing human, a folding chair with a white piece of paper and a digital camera on it, a door slightly ajar, and a little black and white thing's face in a plate.

Give up? The little black and white thing is a pig. That's right, bacon, small bacon, but very real bacon, captured on my cell phone - thus the poor picture quality.

Anyway, Mrs. B and I decided to try to stave off heathendom this morning and went to church. We sit about 3/4 of the way back 'cause its right by the exit. Well, about halfway through the service we hear a commotion outside the sanctuary.

Later, as Mrs. B returned from one of the 278 bathroom breaks-per-day she's taken since becoming pregnant, she tells me "There's a pig out there." Naturally, I want to scold her and remind her that Homer Simpson would say people with voracious appetites need Jebus too.

But she quickly explains that she's not insulting large or hungry humans. She means there really is a pig in the hallway. Apparently it wandered into the parking lot and approached the open doors.

So the minister's wife and another woman ushered the pig inside, brought it something to eat and gave it a room to chill in while they tried to figure out what to do about it. On my own bathroom break a short time later I snapped the photo.

Why was a pig at church? That answer is about as readily available as why the chicken crossed the road or why that crossing was anyone's business.

There must be some sort of religious metaphor or simile here in church doors always being open and to everyone. I'm just too sober to figure it out.

I'd say "only in Miami," but in order for that cliche to work in this case, a gator would have had to come to church this morning.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Liar, liar!

Show of hands - both hands, how many of us have ever lied about a romantic conquest?

Now, I have to imagine that there are more male hands than female in the air right now.

And I base that opinion on nothing more than the experience that most women I've known don't consider it a badge of honor to claim to have bedded a guy, any guy, unless he's a Pitt, or a Clooney, or some other stereotype.

Most guys I've known, however, will tell you that at some point they have lied about hookin' up. Most I know say those lies were most prevalent in their teens and early 20s.

All this leads me to a very interesting article from New York Times science writer Gina Kolata. Ms. Kolata reported that men claim a median of seven female sexual partners, while women claim a median of four male partners. Scientists and mathematicians cited by Ms. Kolata concluded the guys must be lying. Men interviewed in a recent British study claimed 12.7 female partners. And women in that study claimed 6.5 male partners.

So. Somebody's lyin', lyin' like a rug. Or maybe not.

Math was not always my strong suit, but I know that when you measure these sorts of things using a strict group of subjects in strict parameters - say 100 men and 100 women who are known to socialize in the same circle in the same areas, the numbers of partners each can legitimately claim will be close to even. And I know that when it comes to "romance" you can't apply those types of parameters. It won't work.

Consider this:
  • As of the 2000 Census the female to male population in the U.S. was almost 51% to 49%. There are more women than men, so it stands to reason guys will have a shot at a greater number of women than women have at guys.
  • It's a completely non-scientific theory, but women are pickier than guys. A straight guy - my buddies, anyway - would have jumped into the sack with any woman who was born a woman and had two breasts and appropriate plumbing when they were younger. Women seem to be able to "do without" easier than guys. And so I don't think it's a stretch to think the average woman is hooking up with one out of umpteen guys who take a shot at her.
  • In terms of pure effort, guys, who seem to have an inherent need to "spread" themselves around when they're younger, just try harder to hook up. Guys of a certain age are desperate to make things happen. It is logical that if I try to hook up with 20 women, and 80% of them shoot me down, that still leaves four women who caved in. If my female counterpart, without breaking a sweat, entertains pitches from just 10 guys and shoots down 90% of 'em, well that's just one hookup for her.

On the other hand, guys do lie about this stuff. I haven't for some time, 'cause I haven't had anything to prove and my ego has lost weight over the years thus needing less support. But back in the day, in my late teens and very early 20s - I'd say 17ish to 21ish - I lied like gangbusters about how many young women I hooked up with. It wasn't that I never hooked up with any. It was just that I always claimed more. If the actual number was one in a month, I claimed two. If the number was two in three months, I claimed four. My guys did it too. I think we knew we were all lying to each other, but we got some humor in trying to out tall-tale each other. Claiming another partner was like bragging about getting an "A" on a test for us. And we were eggheads. We were getting "A's" on tests. Probably part of the reason we felt compelled to lie so much about the hookups.

You know what? I think I just changed my own mind. Scratch my skepticism of the article. I think the studies cited in the Times are right. The guys probably are lying...just not for the statistical and scientific reasons given in the Times article.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hmmm, maybe they're not so bad after all

Until I read this article, I was convinced some of my neighbors were the worst ever.

There are the loud college girls who blast their car stereos when they arrive home from work in the middle of the night and early morning. And for some reason they can't turn off the car or get out of the car until whatever song is playing has run its course.

There's the capital A-hole whose little rat dog bends biscuits on the swale in front of my house. Of course, he doesn't pick up after the dog.

There are Cletus and Earl a few doors down, who have been "repairing" the facade of their house for nearly a year. Every day after work they start, and every Saturday morning they start. Twelve or so Budweisers later and the "foreman" has stopped work for the day. So the house looks like it was struck by a hurricane. It wasn't. But it will never be finished. My kid who isn't even born yet will graduate high school before these guys finish the job.

There's the chucklehead across the street who bought a crotch rocket a few months ago and now sits at the curb in front of my house for 10 - 20 minutes at a time just revving the engine. I don't get that. Is he checking to make sure the damn thing works? It's sort of like dress shirts with the wearer's initials on the cuffs. What - without the initials we'd forget who our shirts belong too? Your motorcycle works, bro! Take off or shut it off.

They all bite worse than sharks. And if they were on fire on the sidewalk, I don't even think I'd pee on 'em to douse the flames.

But then again, I could live next door to P.K. Boobs or Buck Nekkit. So consider this a glass half full revelation: my neighbors could be worse.

BTW: Don't forget to check this link too, to get to my Sunday article on a crime-ridden neighborhood struggling to rebuild.


Almost forgot

Not to toot my own horn, but for several weeks I told you guys about a project I was working on that involved me staying a few nights and spending a few weeks in a historically tough neighborhood and analyzing the place from the residents' perspective, rather than the usual drive-by glance at the "spooky 'hood."

The story ran in Sunday's paper. Here is the link. Warning!!!! It's a long article. Hope you have a few minutes.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Killer logic

In the midst of all that's right with the world...and all that's wrong that I've grown accustomed, calloused, or numb to, I've been reeling for the past couple of weeks over the murders of three young people and the attempted murder of one in Newark, NJ. Three were college students, and one had just enrolled. By all accounts they were good kids, not criminals, and not violent or bad people.

On the slight, slight chance that you don't know about these killings, these victims were apparently hanging out, listening to music in a school parking lot when they were accosted by four to five young men, lined up against the rear wall of the school, forced to kneel, and shot execution style. One young woman survived and is recovering in a Newark hospital. Police say robbery was the apparent motive.

And when the requisite blame was assigned by some justifiably outraged, outspoken Newark residents, who do you think was the first person blamed? Newark Mayor Cory Booker, of course. Apparently the murders were indirectly caused by Booker not doing more to stop violent crime.

Wait. Don't tell me you actually guessed the killers were blamed? And, puhleaaaaase tell me you didn't dare question how the killers might have been raised?


I understand that among their many duties as custodians of our tax dollars, elected officials have a responsibility to field the best police forces money can buy.

But how many times do I have to say police work is only half preventative? Seriously, cops can prevent things like burglaries when alarms tip them off. They can prevent a few things like drug deals when surveillance or instinct tips them off to shady behavior. They can prevent a few crimes by pure luck - stumbling on a crime about to happen or in progress. The other half of police work? Reactionary. It has to be, unless cops become psychics or Minority Report actually comes true some day.

So what is the best solution to violent, outrageous criminal behavior, the stuff that stokes the strongest reaction from police? It's simple. You change the way violent people think. You change the way they think, and you will change the way they act. If they think that robbery is an acceptable way to make money they will act on it. If they think that murder is an acceptable way to clean up the robbery they will act on it.

Before you react with "easier said than done," consider that most psych and sociological experts agree that the moral standards we live by most of our lives are established during our childhoods.

So if you think about it, parents really can shape the way their kids think. Sure there are exceptions. The occasional birth of a Jeffrey Dahmer is proof of that. But a strong parent that keeps a kid in check and doesn't take crap from a kid, and makes a kid study and do homework and go to bed at a reasonable hour, and tells a kid no sometimes, and regulates the music and movies the kid listens to and watches, and regulates the kid's friends, and reacts swiftly and consistently when the kid hits another person for any reason but self defense, can usually shape that kid into a reasonably decent person, a person with enough common sense to not ever consider cold-blooded murder as an option.

You know I spent most of last week in Las Vegas. One evening while waiting in the lobby of my hotel to rendezvous for dinner with a few friends from other newspapers, I observed a family - mom, dad, two kids (boy and girl), and someone I'm guessing was grandma. The boy was cracked up, yelling, stomping, hitting his sister, screaming "no!" to his mother, brushing grandma's hand away as she tried to soothe him. The worse he acted, the more his folks and grandma shrank away. He won. I'm not saying that a temper tantrum by a kid who appeared to be somewhere between 9 and 11 translates to him becoming a murderer. But 10 years from now if that kid ever finds himself in a tough, desperate situation, or a hopeless dead-end lifestyle, I guarantee you he'll have fewer reservations about doing something stupid, and maybe violent to "fix" his situation than the kid whose parents would have checked him hard and shut him down the minute that tantrum started. Substitute the tantrum with refusals to do homework, go to bed on time, stop hitting, etc., and parents who let those things slide too, and you have the same result.

When reached by the media, James Harvey, the father of Newark victim Dashon Harvey, said "To have our kids nowadays act the way they act, I don't blame Mayor Booker. It's not on Mayor Booker. It's on you guys. It's on the parents of the city of Newark, or whoever you are in the world. It's on the parents. When you raise your kids up you teach 'em right from wrong...Innocent people are dying needlessly, unnecessarily and for what? I blame you guys, the parents of America. If you raised your kids better this world would be a better place to live."

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Vegas Wrap-up

So I have to confess that I am back home in Florida. I got home a couple of hours ago. And please accept my sincere apologies that I didn't post more while I was in Las Vegas, but I was swamped with workshops and seminars and company mixers, etc.

Anyway, just a few random observations to close the book on this one:

Thanks for all the recommendations for places to eat. My convention was at Bally's. And most of its attendees stayed at Bally's. So, honestly, most of my meals were either on the grounds of Bally's or at the adjacent Paris hotel/casino. A couple of Miami Herald colleagues, a couple of Herald bosses and I had dinner at a really fun, dive sort of French restaurant, Josette's Bistro, featuring the dinner cabaret show of Kiki Kalor. Certain people had better not piss me off. I have photos and video of them dancing with well as a few pics of us all shaking tambourines and wearing stupid hats.

I can see how easily-influenced people could get overwhelmed in Vegas. It has an air about that mimics the old New York City stereotype of a city where people come to chase their dreams or flee their nightmares. Over just a few days I met a handful of younger people who had moved to Vegas from small and/or quiet towns in order to get discovered as singers or dancers or actors, etc. They were all bartenders. Several of them had been slinging suds for two or more years. I wish them luck, but...

The lights on the strip are sick, as the kids say. At night I always felt like I was on the verge of a seizure or sensory overload or something.

I was blown away by how many older folks I saw sitting at the slots when I'd cross the casino floor on the way back to my hotel room after a day's work. And after I'd changed clothes and come back downstairs for an entertaining evening they were still there - same people. And when I headed back to my room in the wee hours of the morning to call it a night, they were still there - same people. Is that really a fun way to enjoy the twilight years?

There is an airline that rhymes with Irit Airlines that is the real life incarnation of Soul Plane. I don't mean that as a racial commentary. I mean it in the sense that this airline whose name rhymes with Irit Airlines is triflin'. Seriously, I don't think anyone who has ever flown Rhymes-with-Irit will fault me for saying that airline can go and violate itself with a rusty pipe and a tree branch. I got more grief this morning trying to get checked in and get to my plane than anyone who isn't on the TSA's no-fly list ever should. And Rhymes-with-Irit charges you to check luggage and only allows you to use credit/debit cards to buy drinks or snacks on their flights. Tsk, tsk.

OK, I could ramble on for hours, but I'm tired. Jet lag is no joke after five-plus hours on Rhymes-with-Irit and a three-hour time difference.

I'll write more tomorrow. In the mean time, enjoy a few pics from the trip:

Me and my "adopted" kid sister, Sarah Hoye, a great reporter for the Tampa Tribune newspaper, outside of the Eiffel Tower and the Paris hotel/casino.

Elvis - the real one, seriously; he promised he was the real deal, me, and a Marilyn who came to Vegas a few years ago to chase her dreams but then gave up. I swear I'm not joking. Funny as this was, it was also kind of sad. Good dreams suck when they don't come to fruition.

The light/water show in the fountains outside the Bellagio.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Vegas Baby!

If I never hear those two words in the same sentence again, I'll be happy. During my four hour and change flight here early Tuesday, the elderly woman in the seat in front of me repeated that line over, and over, and over...and over. The first time she blurted it out, she drew laughs from the people in surrounding rows. They (we) thought it was cute and funny. But then she kept going.

Interesting week so far. I'm here for a journalism convention. I've had a chance to catch up with old friends, make some new acquaintances, and develop, break, and redevelop tension with an old friend.

My closest buddies and I are like brothers, meaning we argue as often as we get along. But one of my buddies and me are at polar opposites on just how carefree friends can be with one another. I say close friends can be casual and blunt with one another. If there are off-limit subjects, they can't be too close of friends. On the other hand, one buddy takes the no-topic's-off-limits thing too far sometimes, I think. He sometimes has a bad habit of speaking before he thinks on serious matters, and thus creating unnecessary gloomy palls over otherwise festive and/or lighthearted moments - something he did the evening we arrived by announcing during a meal for another buddy's birthday celebration something to the effect of our friendship was smoke and mirrors and not serious, because the birthday boy and me are apparently all talk and no action. Deep thoughts for a birthday dinner at which we were all laughing just moments before. I think this could possibly be the guy who would speak ill of the dead at a funeral and then look puzzled at the rest of the mourners when they started tsk-tsking. But to be fair to him, he later acknowledged his very bad timing and explained he didn't say what he meant. Nevertheless, the damage was done. Still, he seems to think I may be too stodgy to truly be his friend, because I scolded him to think before he speaks - not just about the accuracy and legitimacy of what he plans to say, but of the timing, of how it will affect whatever else is happening at the moment. I'll stop now. I think we're starting to sound like elementary school kids.

Moving right along, we heard a pretty good Barry White cover band in Bally's last night. And I've decided to stay away from the tables...ALL of them. They're trouble.

And Karma must have followed me here. After my rant two weeks ago about the prostitute problem affecting some of my neighbors on the northern end of my neighborhood, I leave my hotel Tuesday afternoon to stroll to a nearby drug store, and at least twice on every block I'm stopped by hawkers waving cards in my face. I brush several of them aside, and finally, absentmindedly accept a card. I turn it face up. It's an advertisement for a prostitution service that will have "Janie" in your hotel room within 20 minutes of your calling the service. And there was a discount being offered: $99. I fly to the other side of the country and still can't escape the ho stroll. No, I did not keep the card.

Hillary Clinton will be speaking to the convention I'm at today. Barack Obama will be here tomorrow. I'm disappointed that none of the Republican presidential candidates accepted invitations to speak. But it's their prerogative.

OK, I'm gonna bounce, as they say, I have a few workshops to attend - gotta get some learnin' while I'm here - and some old friends to compare notes with. We took some pretty funny pictures in front of the Bellagio's fountains and with Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. May post later, if I decide they don't make me look too stupid.

Till tonight (hopefully) then.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Quick Hits Friday Edition

No different from any other weekday edition, of course. I just couldn't think of a better title.

Anyway, it's just about Friday, and I'm winding down. You don't stay this pretty without sleep.
  • First, Mrs. B is knocking on the door of the second trimester. She had an ultrasound a couple of days ago, and for the first time we were able to hear a heartbeat and actually see more than a blob. James IV was doing somersaults in there. Wild.
  • Second, morning sickness is a sham. The constantly changing food tastes, Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk-like mood swings, and other assorted ailments are 24-7. Morning doesn't even factor into it. Someone should have warned me. To her credit, Mrs. B has been handling all of this with a sense of humor. I'm the one who is about to go run into oncoming traffic, pulling at my hair, and screaming that Mel Gibson and Martin Lawrence are chasing me.
  • Third, Burnettiquette is taking a road trip next week. I'll blog while I'm away though. And I'm even gonna try to post pictures, for once. I don't do that often. But new habits are hard to get into. Anyway, if any of y'all are in Las Vegas next week and want to say hello, shoot me a message.
  • Fourth, after four weeks of brain-draining work on a lengthy story project I get some lighthearted time Friday afternoon. I'll be sitting with actor Cuba Gooding Jr. for an interview about his life and career and a chat about his current film, Daddy Day Camp. I guess I'm not thrown off by Gooding doing a family-friendly film. He's done plenty of them before. What threw me about this film was that it's directed by Fred Savage. I'm trying to picture the Wonder Years dude yelling "action," and "cut!"
  • Fifth, here's a perfect example of my admitted hypocrisy over finding people guilty before they're convicted: R. Kelly is finally going on trial! Seriously, I can't be the only one who wondered if this day would ever come. I figured he'd get tried about the time they found JFK's second, third, and fourth shooters. All the while though, Kelly has been guilty as sin in my mind, and I've been itching to see the book - a very, very big book - get thrown at this guy. Why? He is alleged to have messed w/teenage girls, children when you take away the window dressing. He is actually charged w/having kiddie porn, because apparently his "alleged" sex acts w/at least one teenage girl were videotaped. Even if he didn't have sex w/a teen (and yes, like everyone else, I assume the dirty dog did it), they should lock him up just for peeing on one of his alleged victims. Yes, that was caught on tape too. And that's just nasty. And he should be locked up for being dumb enough to videotape the act(s). And his attorneys should be slapped for suggesting Kelly's image might have been computer-generated, faked, on those sex/pee tapes. I guess anything's possible. But that's the best defense they could come up with? Maybe the NAACP will reconsider giving this guy (Presumably Good) Image Awards. Sounds like he should get a stream-aiming award instead.
  • Finally, Karma is so cool. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Crime might "earn" you silver or gold. But it could also get you two bits of lead.

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Michael Vick

I love dogs.

Not like those chowderheads running the rent-a-dog outfit in Cali. I mean I am a dog lover. I'm one of those people who doesn't mind a big clumsy dog slobbering on his face, or catching a face full of hot, steamy dragon breath. It's my second least favorite chore behind cleaning the cat's litter box, but I even carry my plastic baggies on walks to pick up my dog's fresh biscuits.

Dogs are cool.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick used to be cool to some people. I already wasn't a fan, 'cause like so many other gifted jocks, even if he didn't do this dog fighting thing, Vick doesn't seem to grasp the concept of "To whom much is given, much is required." But that's another post. So regardless, in theory Vick still should be cool to his fans, because he has not been convicted of anything.

Charged? Yes. And yes, criminal charges are typically based on prosecutors declaring they have enough alleged evidence to nail a suspect to the wall. But "innocent until proven guilty" has to be more than a cliche. It's scary to me that it isn't anymore.

I admit I am one of the worst about calling for people's heads after I see them accused of something on Nancy Grace, or under investigation on Court TV. But it is a dangerous place we're in when an accusation is enough to completely write a person off. I'm watching people march and picket and declare what sort of punishment Vick should suffer, and as far as I know he hasn't even had the chance via due process to put on a formal defense against the formal charges. I mean, it may be unlikely, but it is possible he didn't have anything to do with his cousins, friends, and acquaintances fighting and killing dogs on his secondary property.

I read what was available of the Vick indictment. Doesn't look good for him. But for now that stuff is still just accusation. Let the man work. Let him throw footballs until/unless he's convicted. I mean if he was charged with messing with kids then yes, I could see keeping him away from his elementary school teaching job, until his case is decided. Better safe than sorry, right? And when the job description for NFL quarterback starts including "must train dogs," then I say bench Vick. Otherwise, let the man earn his keep until he either pleads guilty or a jury convicts or acquits him, one way or another.

In the mean time, I'm gonna start P.E.T.H., People for the Ethical Treatment of Humans (there's already PETH in Canada, but that group's about medical research and science), 'cause once we figure how to consistently exercise common sense toward "animals" with whom we have the ability to communicate on equal terms, we'll instinctively start treating the so-called less intelligent animals with the care and kindness they deserve.

But I'm still not going vegetarian. I have my limits. I will compromise though. I will allow the next chicken I eat to give a victim impact statement before I dig in.

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