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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Quick Hits Christmas Edition...sort of

  • A special lump of coal awaits - So earlier this week in the Chicago area one of those bell ringers for the Salvation Army left his post to go use the restroom inside the grocery store where he had been stationed. While he was away, some A-hole stole his red kettle. Now, granted, I can't stand those kettles. I hate the feeling of guilt that comes with not putting money into the kettle. I hate that I find myself sometimes ducking out of a different exit when I leave a store, so as to avoid the bell ringer and the kettle. But to be fair, what I hate about it is that my conscience nags at me. It's not that the bell ringer has done anything wrong. On the contrary, they're about the least aggressive charitable solicitors I've ever run across. So anyone with the cold stones to run off with the Salvation Army kettle deserves a fist full of karma. Hopefully she does her job with that thief, and soon. But I'm rambling again. My bigger problem with this situation was that a Chicagoland Salvation Army official told a TV reporter that while it was an accident, maybe the bell ringer could've handled things differently and taken better precautions to protect the kettle. I understand that is the "proper" managerial thing to say, but the truth is the bell ringer didn't need to adjust anything. The bell ringer didn't do anything wrong. The thief did. It should be a safe assumption that a Salvation Army kettle won't be tampered with if left unattended for a few minutes. That's like stealing a church collection plate. I don't think I'm naive, but even with my level of cynicism, I wouldn't even think someone could be so ballsy as to rob the Salvation Army.
  • Politics - I'm not endorsing parties or candidates - not that my endorsement would be worth anything - but if you watched the CNN/YouTube debate for Republican presidential hopefuls on Wednesday tell me who you thought won. In that particular debate I thought Mike Huckabee bested the rest of 'em. The whole down home southern, gee whiz thing seemed to work well for him. And in the last Democratic debate, I thought Joe Biden did himself justice. Just my humble opinion.
  • Miracles do happen - The college girls living in the duplex next to my house are moving out. Ten years ago I would have thought they were cute, sexy bad girls who party all the time, party all the time. Of course, 10 years ago I wasn't married and slightly overweight. Ten years ago I wouldn't have minded a thumpin' car stereo in the driveway next to mine. I wouldn't have minded their yappy little dog who sits outside and yelps for 20 minutes. And I wouldn't have minded their Eminem-look-alike boyfriends hanging out in the front driveway, holding onto their goodie bags, and saying "yo" to one another as though it was the law to utter that word in between each breath taken. Wait. On second thought, I would have minded all those things...just not as much. And these girls aren't that cute, anyway. A few needle tracks and elbow scabs, and I'd swear I saw them in a gentleman's club in Tijuana once. And their little dog is useless. Good riddance to all of 'em.
  • The Grinch needs a shrink - I have never listened closely to Christmas music. For the most part, it's 'cause I don't like Christmas music. I can't stand the reindeer and sleigh bells, and hos - I mean ho ho hos. Even when I was a kid I didn't get it or get into it, except for some of the old churchy Christmas songs. But Mrs. B loves the stuff, all of it. So lately when we're driving around after work, on the weekend, etc., she puts on the Christmas music radio station. I have tolerated it to the point that I catch myself humming along sometimes now. I'll even sing along when the song is an old-fashioned hymn. But the other day some really deep-voiced dude who sounded like Darth Vader came on and started singing "You're a mean one Mr. Grinch..." And I listened. I mean I listened to every word for the first time ever, and you know what? That song was disturbing. Termites in his teeth? Seriously, does this sound like stability to you? "You're a monster, Mr. Grinch. Your heart's an empty hole. Your brain is full of spiders, you've got garlic in your soul...." Down the line, I'm not sure if I'm gonna have my kid listening to songs about Mr. Grinch. He sounds depressed. And the song doesn't make me feel holly, jolly at all.
  • Hardy har har! - What do I keep telling you guys about Political Correctness being out of control? In Sydney, Australia, recently, Santas were banned from saying "ho ho ho!" because it might be offensive to women. I'm not playin'. I couldn't make that up if I wanted to. Instead, the Santas were told they should say "ha ha ha!" This one is so dumb, I'm not even sure what else to say about it, other than I don't think it's funny.
  • Annual tribute - OK, this last one has nothing to do with Christmas, but since there's just one day left in November, I have to slip in that we just passed the 33rd anniversary of the Player's Ball, the yearly pimp academy awards that once took place exclusively in Milwaukee, Wis., and Chicago, Ill. These days mini player's balls spring up all around the country, usually hosted by some corny nightclub, giving people an excuse to wear the flimsiest of holiday costumes. For the record, I do not endorse pimpin'. Cops I know say real pimps, hardcore pimps are violent headcases who often physically and psychologically abuse the women who "work" for them. They should all be in jail, I say. I mean, I believe that pimpin' ain't easy. But I still do not approve of it. Nevertheless, I share many Americans' fascination with pimps, in the same way we get fascinated with serial killers. I don't know what to tell you. Maybe it was sneaking behind my parents' back and watching Dolemite when I was waaaaay to young. Maybe that left a permanent mark on my imagination. Maybe it's the gator shoes, the fuzzy rearview mirror dice, and the rat-fur coats. Part of it is definitely the pimp stick. I am easily impressed by a gold-plated cane. It's like carrying a sword or something. And the names. How high an opinion must you have of yourself, before you can walk around with a straight face and introduce yourself as "Iceberg Slim," or "Mack'n Cheese," or "Mr. White Folks," or "Willie Dynomite?" A bit of trivia: I was sort of featured a couple of years ago in a pimpish documentary called From the Ghetto Streets to the Executive Suites, produced by Pimpin' Ken Ivy, star of the award-winning HBO documentary Pimps Up, Hos Down. It wasn't 'cause I have a diamond encrusted goblet or anything. And I don't have any gator shoes. I once had some snakeskin boots. But that was another lifetime. I had written a profile of Ken for another newspaper, pre-Miami Herald. Apparently he thought it was a fair portrayal. So I got a frantic call from a friend who was out on a date one night, and she blurted out that Pimpin' Ken was in a cocktail lounge talking about me. Not something you hear every day. He said he was relieved that more than one side of him was shown in the profile. So in his documentary he talked a few minutes about me and even held up a copy of of the newspaper. Funny. What can I say, other than pimp pimp hooray! Oh, if you're inclined to observe the passing of the Player's Ball, you should spend the rest of the day referring to yourself not as "I" or "me," but as "My bad self." Try it. It does wonders for your ego.
  • Finally, on a serious tip - Police in Florida have arrested two teenagers and a man in his 20s in connection with the murder earlier this week of Miami native and Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor. They're due a day in court. But if it's found that they really did it - that they shot this man as he stood helpless, no doubt in fear for his life and hoping they didn't harm his girlfriend or child - may they get 50,000 volt lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My shoes are really fast

Tell me I'm not the only person who blurted that out as a kid.

Seriously, when my folks would hook me up in elementary school with a new pair of Pro Keds, I would immediately lace them up and then run to the playground behind our house and yell to the other kids that I had a new pair of fast shoes.

Alas, by the time I became a slow, lumbering working man I had long since figured out that any speed I had as a child was physical. My shoes hadn't helped a bit. Wish someone had told me that when I was seven or eight.

I thought about the shoe thing earlier today, as I was reading stories by my colleagues about the death of Washington Redskins football player Sean Taylor. Taylor was shot in his Miami-Dade County home on Monday. According to police, an intruder broke in, confronted Taylor in his bedroom, and shot him in his leg. Taylor's femoral artery was apparently severed. He lost a lot of blood, and early Tuesday he died.

Taylor was shot, and somewhere in South Florida, a numbnut is walking around feeling brave, because he used a gun on an unarmed man and walked away from the face-off.

I support honest folks' right to own and carry. But guns - at least guns as used in this instance and others like it - do not make people brave. If the person holding a gun is a moron, the weapon is just gonna make his stupidity manifest 10-fold. If the person holding a gun has common sense and good intentions, the weapon is not going to seem "reckless" in his hands.

Rumors abound as to whether Taylor's death might have been the result of something other than an armed burglary attempt, especially considering his house was broken into a week or so earlier. And in this case the shooter apparently didn't take anything but Taylor's life.

Plus there was the allegation that a few years ago Taylor pulled a gun on people he thought had stolen from him. His lawyer told the Miami Herald the allegation was not true, that Taylor had not pulled a gun. I don't know who's right, or if it even matters at this point.

Another young guy is dead, and his killer, probably thinking he's the man, is walking around.

We've all heard our parents' stories about how back in the day, everyone fought with their fists. And no matter how battered, they lived to fight again.

I wish this killer had just punched Taylor. But I wish more someone had taught him when he was a kid that holding a gun wouldn't make him brave.

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T. Day Images

What's crackin' folks? Hope you had a good Thanksgiving week. For me it was as much about recharging my batteries as it was about being thankful and eating dead birds.

I have a lot of writing to do on lots of madness in the news. But I just got back to Miami last evening and I'm still dotting my i's and crossing my t's. So for now, check out these family pics from Thanksgiving. Enjoy, and M@, no snide comments about my fam, please.

We spent the week in Hampton Roads, Va., where my dad served most of his military career. The cool thing is like all military retirees he still has access to the facilities. So he and my mom scored us a log cabin on the Fort Story U.S. Army Base in Virginia Beach. The cabin, within a couple hundred yards of the beach, is just a stone's throw from the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1792 near the site of the early settler's First Landing, on their way to the Jamestown Settlement, I believe. So that's pretty much the extent of my shaky history lesson. Here are the pics:

This is a sea snail. You can't see the body, 'cause it's nestled in the sand. And it's about four times bigger than the photo suggests. But I'm a lousy photographer and didn't adequately convey the creature's size.

This is Mrs. B and me along with my sister, my stupid bro-in-law (I kid, I kid!) and Ma and Pa Burnett at Ma and Pa's house.

This is the front of our log cabin. Pretty cool. There's a fire pit right next to it, and that's where I spent a couple of evenings, meditating w/the flames and a can of Burnettiquette brand beverage. I also confess though I spent a couple of evenings zoning out on the couch in front of the TV. Yes, the cabin had electricity...and cable...but really lousy Internet access options.

Me, Mrs. B, and Burnettiquette dog in front of the cabin.

Me and Burnettiquette dog after a stroll through the surf, looking for king crab shells on the beach by the cabin.

Here's a pic from the beach of the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse next to the new Cape Henry Lighthouse. The new one is used to help guide ship traffic in the Chesapeake Bay.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On the road again

Greetings sports fans. Burnettiquette World Headquarters is in the hands of Brinks Home Security, a police officer friend, and a capable pet sitter who is looking after the stupid cat.

Mrs. B, Cheko the Dog, and me are en route to Hampton Roads, Va., to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family.

We drove 'cause Cheko does not play well on airplanes. And we stopped half way, arriving early Monday afternoon in Savannah, Ga. Had I remembered ahead of time I'd have dug up the number of my old college buddy Mark, a U.S. Marshal in Savannah and emailed our blog friend Savannah, who lives in this lovely city. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a fun evening downtown - a little shopping, a lot of strolling, and a little eating/drinking. Good times. And lots of southern hospitality. Take note, Miami.

Anyway, let's call this a start-of-the-week roundup:

  • The value of good PR - Every time I read a story like this I think about how Mark Twain said that the differences between the right word and the almost right word are the differences between lightning and lightning bugs. Whatever you think of Heather Mills-McCartney's marital "abilities," or her semi-public battle for a bigger divorce settlement, I'm willing to consider giving her a fraction of a point for seeming to care about the earth. But then I read that she believes drinking cow's milk is no better than chugging rat milk. And in full context - something partly missing in the above link - she suggests we might help the earth by drinking rat's milk instead of moo juice. I'm guessing she meant well, but personally, I don't think Earth cares how much milk we drink. Still, I have to admit Mill's rat milk rant did make me wonder how we chose cows. I mean, way back in the day before fire was invented and humans first figured out that some animals are virtual dairy vending machines, why did we choose cows? Why not dog milk or rabbit milk or camel milk? Did cow milk taste better or something, and how did we figure that out - blind taste test? But I digress. Here's a tip to all Mills-esque vegans out there: the best way to try to get regular folks to buy into your no-dairy argument is not to suggest they drink milk from diseased rodents. That would be the proverbial lightning bug. Marketing 101. Bad imagery doesn't sell. Just ask Sheryl "One Square" Crow. Besides, it would take a whole fleet of rats to produce a gallon's worth.
  • Abuse of baked goods - This has Scarface or Goodfellas written all over it, just on a smaller scale with dumber characters. The link leads to a story about two Southern Illinois University students who burned a guy with fresh-baked cookies as punishment after their drug deal with him went bad. OK, who takes the time to bake cookies prior to or during a drug deal? Were they trying to be hospitable or something? I can't imagine that conversation. Rosario: Yo Jordan, the crack man's coming over in 30 minutes. Should we serve coffee or tea? Jordan: Good idea! And I'll bake some cookies, in case he's hungry! I will give these guys creative torture points. Based on the drug/mob movies I've seen, they usually burn each other with cigarettes. But creativity never works for bad guys. Just look at all those James Bond villains who strapped him to tables and aimed lasers at him, or tied him up and suspended him over a shark tank. If they'd just smacked him in the head with a baseball bat or shot him or something they'd all have taken over the world by now and he'd be a blank face on a nameless plaque in a hallway at MI-6.
  • Soft answers don't work - This one's personal. If you've read this blog for any amount of time you know one of my biggest pet peeves is bad customer service. And almost as much as the bad service, I get bugged when good people bend over and take it. Some of you have suggested to me in the past that a soft answer helps resolve things, a take off on the scripture that says "a soft answer turneth away wrath." Sorry, but I'm convinced that only works when you're preaching to someone or trying to make peace with your disgruntled spouse. So about five weeks ago, a few days after Mrs. B and I lost the baby, I was driving her car and noticed it felt funny. The next day I realized what was wrong. The transmission was slipping. The car is only a year old though, and has only had tire rotations, fluid flushes, and oil changes. It took the service department at the dealership where we bought the car just minutes to figure out that the transmission was seriously damaged and that the damage had been caused a few weeks earlier when a Jiffy Lube service tech, in his haste to quickly change the oil, accidentally removed the transmission fluid filter and then, after realizing his mistake, put it back on, thinking no one would know. The problem was he punctured the filter in the process, and Mrs. B's car had been leaking fluid up until I noticed the symptoms. So there we were facing a $5,800 tab for a new transmission in a nearly new car. And no, the manufacturer's warranty didn't cover it 'cause the damage was caused by a mechanic and a service shop, Jiffy Lube, not certified by the vehicle's manufacturer to tamper with the transmission. So I called Jiffy Lube and demanded they make things right. The short of this story is that they strung me along for nearly four weeks, slowly inching in the right direction. In the end, about a week ago, after Mrs. B's transmission was replaced, the Jiffy Lube customer service manager in Houston who had been handling our case, decided to get cute. She spent several days telling me the check was in the mail. I know that excuse. I used it in college. Finally on Thursday, she scornfully, almost gleefully told me that Jiffy Lube had decided to not pay for the repair, and she sarcastically wished me good luck getting Mrs. B's car back from the shop 'cause it wasn't Jiffy Lube's problem anymore. So, as my grandma would say, I had to show my arse. I think that's southern for freeing the beast. I promised her that she would have egg on her face before the week was over. Then I called up the Jiffy Lube corporate chain. I called and called and called, till I had to be no more than a couple of layers removed from the Big Kahuna's office. By that point they had to be wondering who the mad man from Miami was. And I can't imagine it hurt that among the several call back numbers I left in one voicemail was my office the Miami Herald. And when one Jiffy Lube exec returned my call, she called me at work, and I answered in my angry reporter voice. Seriously, it's a practiced voice. Anywho, in a matter of two hours, not only had I received an apology from Jiffy Lube, but they paid the repair costs in full by the next morning, and paid the cost for Mrs. B's rental car in full by the next afternoon, and, according to the big boss who set this correction in motion, the customer service agent I dealt with was being put under a disciplinary review. So let's review: I'm nice and mild mannered, a virtual Clark Kent for four weeks, and the car remains broken while I talk to a brick wall called Jiffy Lube customer service. But I change my tone, put on my red cape, and start growling at people, and almost immediately - literally in less than a day - everything is fixed? Hmmm.

OK, I'm signing off. In the morning we have another seven hours of driving ahead. I'll post more later in the week. Until then, peace and hair grease - JB.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Am I overreacting?

OK, so I have a not-so-hypothetical for you.

As I write this, Mrs. B is in the surgical recovery room at our friendly neighborhood hospital. Why am I writing a blog post and not by her side? Because I'm not allowed back there yet, and because I'm half loopy for lack of sleep, and because I'm so happy that the docs say she's gonna be alright.

Business first: Mrs. B suffered what appeared to be a pretty serious postpartum complication late last night/early this morning, and lost a lot of blood. We've pretty much been at a hospital since 3 a.m. I say "a" hospital, because our true neighborhood hospital, which is about five minutes from our house, discharged her at around lunch time today and sent her to her doctor's private office, because he wanted her examined further by his partner. Upon conducting that exam, the partner basically concluded that Mrs. B shouldn't have left the hospital and that she needed a simple surgery to correct the problem that manifest last night. So the partner sent us to another hospital a little further away to prep for surgery, which brings us to the here and now.

Thanks in advance for prayers, concerns, etc. Mrs. B is actually doing very well, and the problem that manifest last night, while scary, was quickly and easily fixed this evening in surgery.

What can I tell you? What doesn't kill you.... I'm telling you, she and I joke almost daily that we've squeezed about 50 years worth of those life's lessons our elders keep telling us about into the past 12 months. If they gave out a trophy for positive outlook and pragmatism, Mrs. B would get it. I have to give her credit. By nature, I'm way more cynical than she is about human suffering and way more likely to jump to the conclusion that the Cosmos hates us, or at least hates me, and is making us both pay karma in spades because of it. She is taking things in stride. I am learning from her.

So knowing that Mrs. B is OK, let's move on to my not-so-hypothetical. At one point early this morning when we were in the E.R. of the first hospital, I left to run back to our house and get Mrs. B a few things, let the dog out and clean the stupid cat's litter box.

As I walked out of the E.R., I noticed out of the corner of my eye a scruffy, middle-aged gent with several serious-looking scrapes and bruises about his face, hovering in front of an E.R. room. In a split second, I assumed he had been in an accident or something and was maybe there to be treated himself or was waiting outside the room of someone close to him who was being treated. I thought nothing more of the guy and kept going.

When I returned to the hospital 35 minutes later, the guy was gone, I noticed a city cop on hospital security detail hovering around the triage desk, and the atmosphere felt slightly different.

I got back to Mrs. B's room, and the curtain was half open. I'd left it closed. She appeared to be resting comfortably. I walked in with her things, took a seat, and picked up where I'd left off on my coffee. Something was bothering her, and knowing how much "secrets" annoy me, Mrs. B told me something to the effect of "JB, I don't want you getting angry, but that guy who was out in the hall in front of that other room? Well the police dragged him away. He came over here after you walked away. You had barely gotten around the corner, when he walked over here."

So the guy walked up to Mrs. B's room, stuck his head in and asked "Was that your boyfriend?" Mrs. B replied "No, my husband." The guy shoots back, "Oh, a nigger."

Let us pause here for a second: My temper dictates that I should have walked around the E.R. till I found this guy, and then beaten him like he stole something. But my common sense dictates that I am too pretty to go to jail. Him referring to me that way isn't what bothered me. This was a guy who looked like he might think 1 + 1 equals 11. It would have taken a little more for him to offend me....It was him getting within a few feet of my wife, unchecked - that he had the nerve to approach her, and the cowardice to do it after I'd walked away. Still, if I'm going to be honest, it's my occasional, but still too frequent, run-ins with guys like him that make me wonder if I maybe I should be an angry militant dude. As far as I'm concerned, turning the other cheek only works twice, unless you're gonna bend over and let whoever kick you in your butt cheeks. But that's another post another time.

Again, I did not react to that idiot's language. I did react, however, to the fact that in an E.R. swarming with armed security guards and a sworn police officer, this nut job could walk right up to my wife's room and poke his head in. No one noticed, no one stopped him. No one questioned him.

Ultimately, police dragged him off and he was taken to a psych ward in the hospital for a 72-hour observation.

As I tried to calm down and flush my thoughts of hurting this man, Mrs. B went on to tell me that a nurse had relayed that the guy was brought into the ER by police - as a patient, not as an inmate in custody - because he had sustained his injuries in a bar fight.

So I went to the triage desk and confronted everyone I could. I wanted a police report. And I wanted to know why, if this guy had been in a bar fight, security hadn't kept a closer eye on him. Even if he had not started the fight, he had still engaged his opponent, and in my civilian mind that warrants a little more scrutiny - especially if there was any chance he was still under the influence of alcohol.

The E.R. director initially defended her staff by saying she couldn't verify why this man had been brought to the hospital or by whom and that he wasn't displaying aggressive behavior when he was admitted, so no one had any reason to watch him a little more closely.

Later, after we had moved on to Mrs. B's doctor's office, the E.R. director called me and said the nurse had been incorrect, that the guy had not been brought in by police for any reason. He was homeless, and had wandered into the E.R. claiming he had been assaulted.

So that let's the cops off the hook. But tell me if I'm nuts here: I don't think it lets the E.R. staff or E.R. security off the hook. See, if I as a total stranger walk up to you, grimy, bruised, beaten, and sullen, with furtive mannerisms, and I tell you I need help, you may help me, but just by virtue of my appearance and my attitude, I'll bet you're also going to keep one eye or the corner of an eye trained on me just in case.

Am I right? Or am I overreacting? I mean, I'm no doctor or nurse. Just a journalist, but common sense dictates to me that I would have watched that guy a little more than say the little old lady who walked in clean, calm, and collected. Call it profiling if you want. I call it a sensible precaution.

That's it. Nothing more to this story. The E.R. director called me a couple times more, as if she was trying to change my mind. I suspected though, having gotten my business card (when I demanded on the way out that someone call me quickly and give me answers), that she was concerned that if they didn't appease me I might become the boogey man and write something negative about them in the newspaper. Sorry, that only happens in the movies.

Anyway, thoughts, please?

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Veteran's Day - Better Late...

I don't want to get into a debate on illegal immigration, and who "belongs" in the U.S. or should be allowed, etc., etc.

However, this article by my Miami Herald colleagues Amy Driscoll and Trenton Daniel moved me.

I gotta tell you, I understand why people from depressed countries would want to slip into the U.S., legally or not. For all the criticisms from abroad of the U.S., there's no country in the world that presents fewer hindrances to civil liberties and what not. You can hate the government here and say it out loud, and no one will come for you in the middle of the night. You can own weapons legally. You can protest folks who own weapons legally. You can get an abortion. You can protest folks who get abortions. You can say/do just about anything you want. And while the reason for it isn't as simple as 1+1 or A to B, it all comes back to what American troops fought for in dozens of world conflicts and in a few fights here at home over the past 200-plus years.

But while we debate who should be allowed to stay and for what reasons, this article highlights a special group of people who so deeply understand what American citizenship means that they're willing to jump right into frays they could argue have little to do with them. They're immigrants who are serving in the U.S. military in exchange for fast-tracked citizenship.

Again, whatever you think of the politics behind this, you have to give these people props for the lengths their willing to go to, to demonstrate their feelings about this country.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Can anyone be trusted to do the right thing...without being told to?

As a rule, I never ever ever ever ever ever give people who owe me the option of just doing the right thing, in terms of compensating me. I never tell them "It's up to you!"

Going back to my childhood, I learned that nine times out of 10, people just won't do the right thing if there's another option.

When I was a 10-year-old kid mowing lawns around the neighborhood - Willoughby Spit in Ocean View on the Chesapeake Bay, in Norfolk, Va. - during summers, my original business strategy for beating out the other "seasonal child laborers" was to do a butt-kicking mow job and then tell the resident "Just give me what you think is fair." My logic was that the resident would be so grateful for the good job and that I wasn't trying to stick it to them that they would ultimately pay me more than I would have asked.

That strategy lasted about a week, as slimy adult after slimy adult gave me just a buck or two or three, while the other kids were charging anywhere from $10 to $20 for the same work. Finally, I realized that I was being bent over without even getting kissed first, so I set a firm price for my services, eliminating all doubts about what my work was worth.

Even in adulthood, I didn't fully learn this lesson till a few years ago. I was on my way to a writing convention - this one in Atlanta, I think. And a buddy of mine asked if he could share my hotel room. I told him sure, so he asked what the tab was. I told him I wasn't sure, but off the top of my head I thought 50% for him would be about $300. And that's where things stayed until a week before the convention when I dug up the reservation and realized I had been way off. The total tab would be closer to $850. So I told my buddy about the difference, apologized, and reminded him that I was going from weak memory in our first conversation.

Now, considering our friendship, what I fully expected him to say was "No worries. So that makes my half $425, right?" or "I didn't set aside that much cash, but some time after the convention, when I get paid again I'll get you the difference." Instead, he said nothing. There was dead silence on the phone for a minute. So to break the awkward pause I said something to the effect of "Listen, you know what the tab really is now. Just do me right." And I left it at that. And how much money do you think my buddy gave me when he arrived in ATL and showed up at the hotel? That's right, $300.

So, my personal experiences aside, I was a little amused when I read that a recent "sales" experiment conducted by the band Radiohead did not go so well. The band recently released its new album In Rainbows. They made the album available on their Web site for free download and they invited fans to pay what they thought was fair.

Over a four-week period, it turns out that 62% of people who downloaded In Rainbows paid a whopping NADA! Zip, zero, nothing.

Of the 38% that chose to pay, an average of $6 was coughed up for the album. Forty percent of U.S. residents who downloaded the album paid for it, at an average of about $8. Thirty-six percent of people outside the U.S. who downloaded the album paid for it. They averaged about $4.60.

I applaud the members of Radiohead for being so progressive in how they share their music. But this brings us back to doing the right thing.

I believe a majority of people can do the right thing. But without a foot in the behind or some firm guidance, I'm just not convinced a majority of people will do the right thing.

Now that I've said all the serious stuff, I have this to say about any band thinking average people, even fans, would pay for something when they're not made to: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Those moments

Pop quiz: Is it possible for you to say or do something and not be that something? Can you have a moment in which you are wrong that doesn't define you?

I bought a box of six generic, Krispy Kreme-like doughnuts over the weekend from my local grocery. Against my common sense and Mrs. B's protestations, I scarfed down every one of those sugary heart disease boosters in just two-and-a-half days. Does that make me an icing addict, a doughnut fiend? Man, I hope not, 'cause I only eat that stupidly every now and then.

But I asked the quiz question 'cause I'm sitting here watching Duane "Dog" Chapman on Hannity and Colmes explaining that the N-word never meant to him what it does to other people, that just as many black guys use it in the context of camaraderie, he meant it in a "brotherly fashion."

Hmmm. I know gay guys who call each other the F-word. If I see two men walking down the street holding hands - an obvious couple - I can't approach them, smile, and blurt out, "What's up, my (F-word)s!" I mean, I could say it. There's no law stopping me. But I have no desire to do something like that. It would be stupid. It could be mean. And common sense would prevent me from doing it, anyway.

Whatever the case, I like to think I'm a pretty reasonable guy. And my friends will tell you that I'm a sucker to a fault for what appears to be a heartfelt apology.

So back to my question. Based on my own experiences over the years with a lots of different people who live by lots of different philosophies, I think the answer is yes...with a couple of exceptions.

If, for example, you occasionally go to a party and someone offers you weed and you try it, that does not make you a marijuana addict or even a user, as "user" is defined in casual conversation. It makes you a periodic risk taker. And if your employer has the right to make you randomly pee in a cup, it makes you an idiot.

I once was at a hockey game with a bunch of managers from a newspaper where I used to work. They had taken me and several other younger reporters to watch the game from the company's luxury box 'cause we were all such arse-kicking writing machines. I kid. We were all wet behind the ears. But the bosses appreciated our rookie effort and decided to reward us. So at the end of the hockey match the WWE set up a wrestling ring on the ice for a 30 minute demo showcase of some of the league's new talent. One of their gimmicks was to have Saved by the Bell alum Dustin Diamond grapple with a real wrestler. I'm told that I was a "little" toasty by the end of the hockey game and that I spent about 10 minutes heckling Diamond by yelling Screech jokes at him from the box. Did that rant make me in need of AA? Nope. It made me feel like a fool at work the next day, after which I went right back to my "habit" of moderation.

Under these mundane examples, I'm convinced that in order to be something your relative behavior must be habitual.

And then there are the exceptions, extremes where one time'll sink ya: Murder someone, and the I-only-did-it-once defense won't get you off the hook. Beat your wife, and the I-only-did-it-once explanation won't get you off the hook.

So, Chapman's mea culpa is over now. I'm still not sure what to think. He says he's sorry. Who am I to question that? Even so, at what point do we tell folks their apologies are accepted, but they must still pay some price? If, as a child my parents let me slide every time I said sorry, I'd have made out like a bandit. I would never have "served" one day of grounding in my bedroom with no comic book or tune or telephone privileges. And I'd never have gotten several memorable smacks on the behind. Punishment does have a purpose.

Chapman also reiterated that he has so many black friends who have used the N-word around him that he's always felt he had "honorary" status that allowed him to use it too, as a friendly greeting.

I could buy that, in theory. Except that his taped conversation was not about friendly greetings. It was an expression of anger. If he really disapproved of his son's girlfriend's character, he could have called her anything, anything at all, crooked, shady, sneaky, vile, skankish, etc., but he chose to use that word. And that word, in a critical, lashing context is about a skin color, a race, nothing friendly. And that's where Chapman hurt himself.

Finally, as this show ends, I feel a little sorry for Dog. Shame on him for using this word in such anger and for not having good sense enough to know not to use it at all. Hell, even when I used to use it way back when to greet black male friends, I never, ever, ever, ever, let it be overheard. That sort of caution is what helped convince me to eventually ditch the word: If I had to be ashamed of it in mixed company I didn't need to be uttering it, regardless of context, I figured. Anyway, shame on Chapman's crackhead kid for selling him out to a tabloid for $15,000. And shame on us all that in 2007 in this country, we still haven't worked "it" out.

I hope Dog finds the peace and forgiveness he's looking for. And I hope we all take his situation as a reminder that no matter how cool or insulated we think we are, some things just aren't cool to say.

Oh, and a programming note to Fox News Channel: Since you guys are in such a forgiving mood for racially charged "slips of the tongue" and angry outbursts, are you going to give an hour long interview to former National Basketball Association star Tim Hardaway? I hear he's seeking redemption too, after being blacklisted and socially excommunicated earlier this year for a sexual orientation bias-charged rant. Hardaway said in a radio interview last spring that he hated gay people and that he didn't think homosexuals belonged in the NBA. C'mon FOX. Prove you're not hypocrites. Put Hardaway on the air...unless, of course, you think he's being a phony in his I-had-a-brain-fart, I-was-just-being-an-idiot explanations.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Weekend Roundup - Karma Edition

There's strange happenin's out there. And I don't think it's 'cause Halloween just passed.

  • Santana - I just learned that Deborah Santana has filed for divorce from her genius musician husband Carlos. And it bums me out. I don't know the Santanas. I'd love to have substituted either one of them for some of the numbnut celebrities I've met and interviewed. Everything I've ever read about the two of them suggested that in spite of rough childhoods and young adulthoods they were decent people. Still may be. But they have been married for 34 years. Anything that lasts that long had to have some good attached to it. So I feel for them. Who knows? Maybe they'll work it out.
  • Getting pantsed - In case you hadn't heard, the administrative judge in Washington D.C. who tried to take his dry cleaners to the cleaners, 'cause the dry cleaners occasionally completed a job late - later than their one-hour guarantee - and once lost the pants to the judge's new suit for about a week, has been canned. The district board that oversees his office decided not to grant Judge Roy Pearson a 10-year extension on his job. Instead they told him to clean out his office and scram. I don't like dry cleaners either, as a rule. Inevitably, whenever I take my best shirts to them - and I have some pretty cool shirts, a couple of them are one-of-a-kind creations, seriously - I get my shirts back with broken or missing buttons. But I don't think I'd ever sue my cleaners for $50 million or $60 million. Pearson didn't belong on the bench anyway. Now he can write a book, chronicling how Karma bit him in the ass and left a bruise.
  • To whom much is given... - Some of you aren't religious. And that's OK. But surely you don't have an argument with the scripture that says "To whom much is given, much is required." As with Roy "The Pants" Pearson, it's a Karma thing. If life blesses you, you should bless life by trying to be a decent person and, maybe more importantly, trying to be decent toward other people, and maybe even more importantly, demonstrating to the rest of the world that you fully grasp how fortunate you are and that you really do appreciate how blessed you are. All that being said, my "faith" wavers when I read things like this. Apparently as part of disclosures in her ongoing custody battle with her ex-private dancer, Britney Spears turned over her finance and income statements to the court. Turns out she brings in about $730,000 a month in income. Of that she spends about $49,000 on two mortgage payments, more than $4,700 eating out - and it's mostly junk food, $16,000 for clothes, $100,000 or so on entertainment, gifts, and vacations, and, drum roll please, $500 on charity. To be fair, her pant-load of an ex-husband gets $35,000 a month of Britney's money, $15,000 for child support and $20,000 for spousal support. He spends over $13,000 a month on rent and private security, $2,000 for clothes, $5,000 for entertainment, gifts, and vacation, and $1,500 eating out. No mention of charitable spending. Are you with me? Does your faith get shaky too, when you read about mouth breathers making millions?
  • Dog the Bounty Hunter - What is there to say? If you hadn't heard, Duane "Dog" Chapman, the bounty hunter with the golden pomadour-topped mullet, was captured on tape earlier this week strongly "encouraging" one of his sons to break up with his black girlfriend, because he feared the rest of the Chapman family would get caught using the N-word around her. Of course, Dog didn't say N-word. He said N-word. And he said it a lot on the tape. He said he wasn't going to lose everything he'd worked for over 30 years because some N-word heard him say N-word and recorded it and turned it over to the tabloids. A&E Network has suspended production of the show Dog the Bounty Hunter. Chapman has issued a statement apologizing and insisting that his problem wasn't with his son's girlfriend's race, but rather with her character. OK. So why didn't he tell his son "I don't want you dating this shady (or bad, or dangerous, or crooked, etc.) young woman?" If this was about her character and not her appearance, why use that word to describe her? There are three ironies here: During the taped conversation, Chapman refers to the N-word as "a racial slur"...and then he continues to use it a few more times; Chapman's pastor/spiritual advisor is black; and in continuation of this karma-themed day, it seems that Chapman's son is the one who recorded the conversation between father and son and then sold the tape to the tabloid. Ouch! That's gotta know, like teeth marks, 'cause dogs bite? Sorry, weak joke.
  • Finally, a useful piece of "fabric technology" - Two Ohio boys have created wedgie-proof undies. And I'm predicting these things are gonna sell like hot cakes. When I was in first and second grade I'd have given them a little business. Laugh if you want. But they're about to be loaded. And when one of them runs for president in 30 years, I'll vote for him.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Please, do snitch!

Hello folks. I haven't posted the past week or so, 'cause to be frank I came back too soon.

I found after that last post on cell phones that it took Herculean effort to try to crack a joke. Couldn't do it. So since then I've just been easing back into my groove by focusing on the element of my gig that pays the bills: reporting.

I'm wrapping up one story on child custody today (hopefully) that I was working on for weeks before my bereavement leave, and I have another on political partisanship among 30- and 40-somethings that I'll be knocking out early next week. And for those of you who need a good laugh, I'm working on a video project in which I will take on my nemesis - knock down furniture, complete with unclear assembly instructions - in time trials. That video story is scheduled to post on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

On a personal note, Mrs. B is doing very well. We're getting there. Things are looking up. Etc. Etc. As the kid's say, it's all good...or is on it's way to being so.

So without further ado, back to blogging.

A colleague of mine, Andrea Robinson, wrote an article about the "Stop Snitching" movement last week, explaining that this "movement" appears to be gaining ground again and that it's frustrating local law enforcement. The next day, the mother of the late rapper Jam Master Jay, of Run-DMC fame, spoke out about the "Stop Snitching" movement hindering the solution of her son's murder. If you're not aware, "stop snitching" is a bit of tough guy slang that discourages witnesses to violent crimes from telling the police what they saw.

Some folks call it hip-hop/rap jargon. Some folks are ballsy enough to call it a black thing. But if you know your American pop culture history then you know the notion of "stop snitching" goes back to gangster movies from the Prohibition era in which white characters with names like Johnny the Nose and Frankie the Chin would declare "I ain't talkin!" or "I didn't see nothin'!"

We even encourage "stop snitching" in kids. Think about it. What happened when your older sibling smacked you in the head and you ran crying to mom or dad? What did your folks say? "Don't be a tattle tale!" In other words, "Suck it up and deal with the fact that you got assaulted, because your silence is more admirable than your assailant's behavior is distasteful!"

Still, in recent years the movement has been bolstered, unfortunately, by its commercial promotion in some rap music. An artist in Baltimore several years ago even made a widely distributed documentary-type video in which "snitches" were lambasted. At least one professional athlete gleefully appeared in the video. T-shirts bearing the phrase sold like hot cakes too.

Aside from the immorality of seeing one person harm another and not making an effort to help set things right by reporting the perpetrator, here's my problem with this movement: Not "snitching" does not help the depressed neighborhoods where so much violent crime takes place. It does not bring residents closer together. It does not prevent further violent crime.

Not snitching helps one person and one person only: the person who allegedly committed the crime. No doubt he appreciates you keeping what you witnessed to yourself. But what are you getting out of it?

A buddy of mine attempted to answer that rhetorical question with this history reminder: Back in the day, waaaaaaay back in the day, when poor people in depressed communities (very often minority-populated) declined to tell police anything it was 'cause they had a reasonable belief that a criminal suspect would not be given due process. Let's not forget that in some parts of this country, as recently as 40 years ago mob "justice" went unchecked. Turn over a kid who allegedly stole a loaf of bread, and your local sheriff may well hang that kid or shoot him just because. Turn over a kid who allegedly whistled at a woman who was the wrong color, and your local sheriff and friends may well hang that kid or shoot him. So fear of police for all the wrong reasons in many cases was legitimate back then.

It's a powerful argument, but like I told my buddy the difference between then and now is way back when, those suspects who couldn't count on fair treatment from the cops were not tearing their neighborhoods apart. These days? The guys who are not being snitched on, aren't taking their neighbors' silence as a sign from God that they have a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth...) chance to clean up their acts and do the right thing. Instead they're taking it as a sign that since no one will tell on them, their drug/gang/violent activity can continue as usual.

Fear of reprisal from alleged criminals is also a fair argument to not snitching. A woman in Baltimore's West End called police repeatedly several years ago to report neighborhood drug dealers doing business on her block. And several times they got arrested. But the dealers always got out. And each time they threatened her. Finally, one dealer got out and fire-bombed the woman's home. She and her kids died in the blaze.

It's easy for me to say this, 'cause I don't have neighborhood thugs menacing me. But at some point folks have to take a stand, weigh the future they're leaving for their kids or younger siblings and just do the right thing, for no bigger reason than it's the right thing.

And as cultural movements go, the first thing we can do is stop referring - even casually and even jokingly - to people who point out alleged criminals as "snitches."

Second? Until we excise that word from our vocabularies in the context of reporting violent criminals, then let's all be snitches.

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