Sheriff answers calls for ‘demilitarization’ of law enforcement
In light of recent tragic events in Utah and elsewhere across the country, a debate has been engaged regarding the militarization of law enforcement, and questioning the need for local police forces to obtain such items as grenade launchers, armored trucks and military rifles. I want to make sure, and feel that it’s only fair, that Box Elder taxpayers hear both sides of the story.
Guest Editorial by Sheriff J. Lynn Yeates- 09/03/14
The Department of Defense Excess Property Program, or 1033 Program, allows law enforcement to purchase surplus military equipment for a small handling fee, usually 1-2 percent of the cost of the item. So rather than purchase a new AR-15 rifle from a vendor for $1,200, we receive a used military M-16 for the cost of shipping. I think most taxpayers see the wisdom in using this system. We have used the system to purchase backpacks and portable shelters for our Search and Rescue. We also purchased rifles, a gas canister launcher—such items have been identified as “grenade launchers”—and an armored vehicle. The Box Elder County Sheriff’s Department is indeed in possession of such items, and I would like to discuss why they were purchased.
I make no apologies for my department carrying rifles. The tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999 changed law enforcement tactics and procedures nationwide. When innocent lives are being taken by an active shooter, there is no time for a SWAT response. Patrol officers are now trained to stop the shooting and a rifle, that can be easily carried with lots of ammunition, and no bolt or lever to work between shots, is the best tool for that job.
Most departments are using the semiautomatic AR-15 or something similar. This is a commercial semiautomatic rifle available to the public. The M-16 is the military’s version of the AR-15 and the ones we use on patrol have been converted to semiautomatic. Before using the military surplus program, we purchased our AR-15s from a public vendor. Those are excellent rifles but they are very expensive and so we supplemented them with M-16s from the 1033 Program.
If the surplus program goes away, we are back to buying commercial rifles. If we buy the commercial AR-15 rifles from a local store and pay full price, is that be considered a military rifle?
BESO does not have grenades or a grenade launcher, we have gas canisters. Only the SWAT team is certified in the use of gas canisters, which are used mainly to get a suspect out of a barricaded position when negotiations have failed.
The launcher is useful in that it allows police to shoot the canister into the house from farther away and while behind cover so that no one has to unnecessarily expose themselves to the suspect. This is a common piece of equipment in all SWAT teams and is commercially available, so is it better to get it nearly for free from military surplus, or pay full price commercially?
These are for the SWAT team and are used to provide cover from rifle fire. A police bullet resistant vest is not meant to stop rifle rounds and neither will a police car.
An armored vehicle allows police to approach and maneuver to a suspect armed with a rifle. Armored vehicles are often called “tanks” but they have no weapons mounted on them. They simply drive the SWAT team to the desired location and are used for cover if necessary. A commercial model would easily cost more than $100,000.
In regards to police adopting a “military look and style” in terms of uniforms and gear, I believe it is detrimental to public relations to wear that style of uniform for day to day police work, but I am not aware of any department that does so.
I trust the public understands that some of the surplus military items are for the SWAT team who will be handling worst case scenarios and would never be used on patrol. I wouldn’t be doing my job as Sheriff if I didn’t recognize and prepare for those occasions. If this nearly free military equipment helps SWAT officers do their job a little more safely, it is a “win” for everyone.
I hope taxpayers see the wisdom in getting items that we would purchase in any case, for almost nothing.
Hope and change
Ever since I was little, all I’ve ever really wanted to be was a reporter. Yes, I flirted with the idea of being a fighter pilot, and for a brief time I thought about becoming a rock star, but journalism was the only constant. I saw reporters as “warriors for truth,” brave, hat-wearing, notepad-holding heroes standing up to the bad guys and shining a disinfecting light onto their nefarious activities… Yeah, that was cool.
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips- 07/01/14
Things didn’t quite work out the way I had envisioned, though. Although I wrote for my high school paper and studied journalism in college, I eventually went into the telecommunications field, building a career at TCI, Primestar and DirecTV. I probably installed satellite equipment for many of you, and if I didn’t, odds are good I either trained those that did, or trained those that trained them. But satellite TV was never my passion, it just kind of happened that way.
In June of last year, after discussions with my wife and several Facebook friends, I answered an ad I saw in the News Journal looking for a reporter. In decades past I probably wouldn’t have considered working for this paper, as it was more about telling vacation stories and documenting ward parties and visiting relatives than it was hard news. Over the last couple of years, though, I noticed something happening with the News Journal that intrigued me. It was actually reporting news, printing stories that weren’t dictated by City Hall or powerful institutions. When I heard a few local politicians complaining about coverage, I realized that the News Journal had gone from being a mild-mannered weekly newsletter to being an actual newspaper, unafraid to print the whole story. That was something I could get excited about. Now, a year later, I still feel that way.
Even as the News Journal has changed, being a reporter has changed me just as much. I used to suspect that most politicians were self-serving borderline sociopaths with a bad case of narcissism, out to make contacts and side deals that would benefit them personally both during and after their time in office. While I still remain skeptical of politicians and their motives in general, I’ve realized that many, I’d even say most, of our local politicians have shown themselves to be good people who are trying to serve their communities as best they can.
Watching the Willard Mayor and City Council struggle with finding ways to fund their sewer deficit without hurting their citizens was an eye-opener for me, as was sitting down with former Rep. Ronda Menlove, and hearing her speak from her heart about people she had tried to help during her time with the legislature. Seeing Brigham City and Box Elder County officials handle accusations of oath-breaking and fiscal mismanagement with smiles and grace raised my level of respect for these public servants. When you make decisions, you are absolutely going to anger those who disagree with you, and you’ll find that some will disagree with you no matter what position you take.
I’ve gone from being pessimistic about local government to giving our hometown politicians the benefit of the doubt. I don’t always agree with their priorities or decisions; as a matter of fact, sometimes I’m left scratching my head in disbelief, but I’m thankful that they are willing to serve. In my reporting I try to keep my personal opinions and editorializing out in order to present an accurate story, which is something I will continue to do. I’ll also continue to be skeptical, unafraid to bring you the whole story.
The free press is the constitutionally protected watchdog of government and industry, and I’m happy to be able to report that this newspaper takes that responsibility seriously.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
Primary duty: Voting for the candidate, not the party
On the Level by Mike Nelson - 07/01/14
If you were among the 4,102 Box Elder County residents who turned out to vote in the Republican primary election last week, your vote helped to all but decide the very close race between candidates for county commission seat A as well as the hotly contested run for county sheriff.
There was no Democratic Party primary election, and it isn’t a rare phenomenon in Box Elder County by any means, but with so much at stake for the roughly 50,000 citizens of Box Elder County (of which nearly half are registered as Republican or unaffiliated), why such a low turn-out in such a decisive race?
My reply is simple and to the point: voter apathy.
“We’re in Republican-dominated Box Elder County in the equally right-leaning State of Utah,” I have heard so many young voters say. “What difference does it make if I vote or not?”
My answer to that is equally simple and to the point: it makes a lot of difference in our county when you are, for all intents and purposes, voting for the candidate and not the party.
Earlier this year, during the legislative session, in an installment of On the Level titled “Caucuses vs. Primaries,” I lamented over the fact that independent voters have no voice during the caucuses. At this time, the Count My Vote initiative was in full swing and hadn’t yet reached a compromise in the legislature.
For one politically active individual, the answer to my conundrum was simple: “Just register as a Republican if you want to become involved in the process.”
But with my “think for yourself” mentality, which does not necessarily subscribe to either political ideology and considers each issue and candidate on their own merits, I couldn’t bring myself to do that.
That is, until the second week in June after early voting opened in the county clerk’s office.
I consulted myself briefly and determined that I could probably stand to pawn my soul to the Republican Party (or any party for that matter) for the time it would take to cast my ballot for commissioner and sheriff. It was hard to ignore the importance of this election and the impact it might have in the county.
With that, I walked over to the old county courthouse to strike a deal. The poll workers didn’t know me from Adam but Marla Young, Box Elder County Clerk, knew I was up to something devious.
“Just doing my civic duty,” I told her as I filled out my affiliation documents, asking Deputy Clerk Diane Fuhriman to ready my registration papers so I might quickly unaffiliate once I had completed my task.
My plan worked flawlessly, even though I realize I stand the chance of receiving letters that amount to little more than panhandling-by-mail from a Republican candidate seeking funds to make a go at a state or federal office.
Moments later, with my soul back in my possession, I swaggered out of the office with one of those “I Voted” stickers on my shirt, just to let everyone know that even a guy like me can figure it out and play the game.
I would submit that the hoops I had to jump through in order to cast my vote, however unnecessary and laughable, were well worth it so that I might exercise my right as an American to vote. As broken as the two party system is in this country, I hope this rant can help illustrate how meaningless partisan politics can be at the local level.
UTOPIA: Getting past ideological hang-ups and moving forward
On the Level by Mike Nelson - 05/28/14
I was never a fan of the management of UTOPIA and, I daresay, was vehemently opposed to the proposed deal by Australian investment firm, Macquarie Capital, to come to Utah—and the three UTOPIA member cities in our county in particular—to save the day.
The firm’s proposal to invest $300 million to complete the build-out of the network and connect an estimated 160,000 structures in the 11 member cities is founded upon a required utility fee for all residents and property owners—regardless of their age, need, or ability to pay—to carry the cost in addition to whatever debt each city has already incurred.
In my mind, there is something fundamentally wrong with making someone, anyone, pay for something they do not want or will not use. This has been an ideological hang-up that has been difficult to overcome. However, last week, at the second of two meetings put together by Brigham City regarding the proposal, my perspective changed quite a bit, even if my ideological principles have not.
I was going to write a column after the first meeting two weeks ago. It was going to start something like, “Brigham City’s Financial Director Jason Roberts must have been sweating bullets as he took the Box Elder Middle School stage for what he likely expected to be a bloodbath.” But I decided I’d wait until after the second meeting, which was to be geared more toward getting questions answered from the proverbial horse’s mouth, and see where it went from there.
As a reporter, I have been frustrated with UTOPIA, cringing every time I heard the acronym—even though I know that Brigham City, the city in the best shape of all member cities, is more than 93 percent built-out. Sometimes begrudgingly, I have shouldered the task of covering the story and have followed it as it has developed to where we are today, with Macquarie looking to swoop in as a savior for UTOPIA member cities and to rid them of the ill-managed UTOPIA enterprise, even planning to offer a clever name change to ease the pain.
Listening to Roberts’ first presentation in March, followed by discussions and conversations that ensued, I found it increasingly difficult to get past my own ideological hang-up of forcing every resident and business into paying the utility fee to fund the project. I was—and remain—convinced that an opt-out clause, for limited and well-defined circumstances, should be part of any plan moving forward.
At the second meeting I learned that a utility fee for every resident was not absolute. Under the proposal, Macquarie would require the city to pay a lump sum based on an established fee per resident. The city could theoretically provide relief through an opt-out program, even though the city would still be responsible to pay the fee for those residents who opted out. That effectively leaves the possibility and details of any opt-out clause in the hands of city officials, and would not kill the deal.
There, I’m past the ideological hang-up; problem solved, right? Not so fast.
While I’m not convinced that the Macquarie option is the only viable one, it seems to be the only deal presently on the table that makes any sense at all. I’m not completely sold on the idea of the Australian firm coming in as the savior of UTOPIA, but that has more to do with my general distaste for large, global corporations, and nothing at all to do with the fact that they’re not an American company.
A good question was raised by several citizens during the first meeting: Why not present this for a citizen vote? Unfortunately, the time for that has long passed. Such a vote should have taken place in 2008 before the project went to bid. Furthermore, such questions lead to arguments and discussions about how we got to this point, which has no bearing on the current problem of how we move forward.
Now the burden of the decision rests on the shoulders of presently elected municipal leaders—in Perry, Brigham City and Tremonton—who will have to decide whether or not to commit the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to participate in Macquarie’s second milestone.
I, for one, do not envy their task.
Caucuses vs. Primaries
On the Level by Mike Nelson - 02/26/14
I am not a Republican. There, I said it. But guess what, I’m not a Democrat either. See, I like to think of my political views as an amalgam of ideas and philosophies that transcend party lines. What’s more, I’d like to think there are more people out there like me. Scary thought, I know.
Think for yourself. Address each issue individually. Give each item careful consideration before making a determination. Don’t just accept a party’s stance on the issue as definite.
These are all great ideals for any voter or politician to consider when selecting a candidate or deciding on legislation. Unfortunately, it seems, the label of one political party or another almost tattoos a list of prescribed doctrine onto the backs of each elected leader.
Obviously, as a state-stamped unaffiliated voter (I prefer the tag “independent”), my voice is limited to nil in the state when it comes to nominating candidates. By refusing to add political affiliation to my collection of tattoos, I relegate myself to waiting until the parties—the Republican Party in particular—have decided who I’ll be allowed to vote for.
The Count My Vote initiative—backed by former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt with nods from the likes of Mitt Romney—is a petition-driven effort to let the people decide by taking the question to the November ballot. With Sen. Curtis Bramble’s SB 54 potentially threatening the constitutional right of the people to redress the government through petition, Gov. Gary Herbert has said he would veto the bill should it pass. And rightfully so.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree with or even like the petition. The citizen-driven process has begun and the heavy hand of the government should not stand in the way of the people. It is my position that the question should be asked of the voters and not skated around by politicians before the people’s voice can even be heard.
Bramble’s bill, as circumventing as it may be, would provide at least some measurable compromise but it would come at the cost of the people’s right to redress through petitioning the government. If the bill did in fact allow for unaffiliated voters such as myself to participate in the electoral process I would be happy, but still I question whether legislators need to become involved in such an endeavor.
Everyone should be able to actively participate regardless of their political affiliation. But it is tough to ignore the Utah GOP’s stance which is to maintain total control and power in the state at every level they are able. Aside from the current caucus-convention system issue, by taking a look at the redistricting two years ago, it is obvious to see what the party’s motivations are.
The way I see it, there are certainly issues with the caucus system as it stands and there would also be considerable issues with a direct primary. The caucus is highly exclusionary of voters, such as myself, who do not pledge in blood absolute fealty to partisan politics. But what’s more, it is also exclusionary of even those die-hard partisan voters who are unable to participate in a caucus because they are out of town for whatever reason. On the flip-side, a direct primary could levy a significantly higher financial burden on candidates who would run for office limiting that number to a stereotypical lot of rich, old white men.
Neither system is perfect by any means. The question I ask is, how do we effectively reform and how do we make the process better? A good start might be for the caucuses themselves to open the candidate selection process up to all voters. No? I didn’t think so.
How terrible it would be to hear from people with a little bit different point of view. It must be nice to be able to elect someone whose political views exactly mirror their own. I’ve never had that luxury and have had to make serious compromises when selecting a candidate. Compromise, then, is the only way to truly address that whole “lesser of two evils” thing.
Change of pace in BC council chambers
On the level by Mike Nelson - 01/22/14
The last two years—and especially the past 15 months or so—it has been difficult to cover Brigham City council meetings. There has been an atmosphere of tense negativity and the feeling that an all-out brawl was just one misspoken word away.
But I left last Thursday’s meeting with a profoundly positive feeling as surprisingly good vibes emanated from the council chambers.
The first meeting of the new council saw a somewhat nervous but very upbeat Mayor Tyler Vincent at the helm with a couple of new council members joining him and the veteran council members at the table. There was an excitement among the citizens in the crowd assembled and city employees were noticeably...happy.
Maybe it had to do with a fresh start. But perhaps it was something else entirely.
There was one familiar face conspicuously absent from the table: the city’s former mayor, who some say ruled by fear, and with a level of micromanagement never before seen from the seat of the city’s highest office.
Employees and other city officials have not confirmed—on the record—that Fife controlled nearly every aspect of the internal goings-on of the city over the last four years; It would really serve no purpose. But certainly, those sources know the extent to which the man was willing to go to accomplish his goals.
In addition, the former mayor’s admission of an affair and criminal assault charges lent to the climate of the chambers.
However, despite any faults or character flaws—be they real or perceived—the former mayor’s tenacity did leave the city in relatively good condition following a very difficult financial downturn as the gavel was passed to his successor. The city is sound and moving forward and residents continue to enjoy all the services provided by the city.
From my perspective as a journalist, under the former mayor’s reign it was difficult to obtain full disclosure on almost any topic—no matter how innocuous—from not only the mayor’s office, but from city departments. Fife continued a disturbing trend over the last several years where Brigham City moved toward less transparency, and any comments or information meant for public consumption had to be approved through the proper channels. That stranglehold began to loosen last year when the former mayor was stripped of his administrative powers. More recently, the relationship between the city and media outlets has seen marked improvements.
Looking ahead, Mayor Vincent has assured a level of transparency from both the city and his office that has not been enjoyed in the past, and an early analysis of Vincent’s administration seems to indicate that will be the case. And it’s vitally important; without that transparency, and with only PR-positive information being released, citizens remain uninformed as to what is really going on in their city.
The purpose of any newspaper is not only to be that “community newsletter,” covering the lives of its citizens, but its most important charge is to keep a watchful eye on government. It is important to note that a watchful eye is different than a suspicious one. The former is the natural and expected role of the media in our country, the latter is the result of a lack of transparency, be it real or perceived.
When I first set foot in the Brigham City council chambers to cover a meeting two years ago, I did so with no expectation and without preconceived notions of what I might find. After this last meeting, I feel like that same journalist again and truly hope this is a fresh start for Brigham City.
Eminent domain not appropriate to claim church property
Our Perspective by Box Elder News Journal Editorial Staff - 11/13/13
The issue of Main Street Church’s property, with respect to the Academy Square, is one that has been simmering on the stove for some time. As the economic development project—to include a Hampton Inn and Suites hotel—ever nears ground breaking, the heat is beginning to turn up.
And the pot is quickly coming to a boil.
Actions from both sides have helped fuel the fire, and now, the two are locked in an ugly stalemate with eminent domain in between them.
One portion of the issue is that the city seemed to put the cart before the horse. After years of land purchases and deals to make way for the city’s downtown revitalization project, the city should have had all of the negotiations and arrangements made before a shovel—be it real or figurative—ever hit the dirt. Furthermore, the hotel developer has admitted the project can be completed without the demolition of the church’s property, though some have said it would be an “eyesore” if it were to remain standing.
On the other side, the city, by the church’s own admission, has offered more than fair market value for the building and the land in order to help Main Street Church relocate. We understand the church’s attachment to their building, its location, and the exposure enjoyed there, but surely there can be found on Main Street another suitable place for the church to meet.
Yet, neither side seems willing to budge, and now the city is voicing a solution that is the most antithetical to freedom-loving people who fear big government: eminent domain.
Certainly, anyone would hate to have their land and property seized by government for any purpose. Imagine, if you will, the outrage if it were the federal government coming in to assist public and private entities in securing parcels on Main Street.
But somehow it is alright here at home.
In the past, eminent domain has required government to exhibit a necessary public good, which generally meant important infrastructure or public health and safety concerns. In a 2004 supreme court decision, Kelo v. City of New London, a new precedent was set that property could be transferred to a private owner for the purpose of economic development. The court found that if an economic project creates new jobs, increases tax and other city revenues, and revitalizes a depressed or blighted urban area it qualifies as a public use.
We disagree with the ruling, and believe it could set the stage for all sorts of corruption and abuses of power under the guise of “economic development for the public good,” when in reality there would be clear winners and losers.
There might be some who would argue that the rules are different for a church, under the consideration of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. According to RLUIPA, “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government can demonstrate that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly or institution is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest...”
The act generally protects churches from burdens that might be imposed by zoning and land use laws. To date, no case precedent has satisfactorily settled the specific issue facing Brigham City and the Main Street Church, although some courts have ruled that zoning/land use laws are distinct and separate from eminent domain.
However, regardless of the situation, we believe any government should have to cite and prove “compelling governmental interest” that achieves the broadest good for the public before exercising eminent domain.
According to designs and plans for the property in question, Main Street Church would be demolished in order to plant grass and create an unobstructed view of what will become the crown jewel of Brigham City: the Hampton Inn and Suites and the Christensen Academy of Dance Convention and Civic Center.
We do not believe that grass to landscape the city’s pet commercial project rises to a level necessary to exercise eminent domain. We hope that the city and church continue to work in good faith to resolve the situation outside a courtroom and in a manner that best serves both interests.
But if that cannot happen, the city needs to simmer down and get used to a view of the project that includes the Main Street Church.
Development of new downtown hotel, convention center will bring ‘new life’ to Brigham City, Box Elder County
Guest Editorial by Brigham City Mayor Dennis Fife
Bringing new development to the downtown area of Brigham City is vital to the long term health of the City. Brigham City is the county seat of Box Elder County and every other Wasatch Front county from Cache County to Utah County, including Tooele County, has a conference center.
The Box Elder Christensen Academy of Music and Dance located on Main Street is an integral part of Brigham City’s history. The Christensen brothers had an enormous influence on the arts and culture of our country. The Academy Building is a hidden gem in our city that has become exposed with the removal of blighted buildings that have been surrounding it for a number of years. The renovation of the Academy Building preserves our heritage and revitalizes the downtown area.
As a conference center, the Academy Building would be used for community events, arts and culture, school proms, wedding receptions, and small conferences. The Academy Building has a stage on the south side adjoining a future park area for outdoor concerts and performances.
The Hilton Hampton Inn being built will bring an increase of approximately $7.5 Million to the County and City tax base. Donations for the final renovation of the Christensen Academy of Music and Dance and hotel tax increment dedicated to the project by the taxing entities should cover the costs of the Academy Square Project.
The concept of preserving the area as a downtown square was started in 1868. The block between Forest Street and 100 North and between Main Street and 100 East was designated as Block 20, Plat A in Brigham City Survey dated 1868.
The area currently occupied by the Box Elder County Courthouse and the Municipal Building was designated “Main Square.”
The Academy building was opened in 1903 by the Christensen family and operated as a family business offering music and dancing lessons and social dancing. The Academy building was sold by the Christensen family in 1909 but continued to operate under the same name and was used by the community through the 1920’s.
Subsequently, it was used for a variety of purposes including dancing, bowling, skating, boxing and later converted to a sewing factory by American Sportswear in 1953.
The current City Hall was constructed in 1973. A Redevelopment Area was created by the Brigham City Redevelopment Agency in 1978, primarily to support the development of Smith’s Food and Drug, but also to support downtown revitalization efforts. The RDA became the mechanism for much of the work that was done on Block 20 after 1978.
The Academy building was acquired by Brigham City Corporation in 1998 as a result of efforts by Heidi Parker (Brigham City Council) and Shelley Walker (Brigham City Main Street Program). Funding for the acquisition came from a portion of a rebate to the City by Utah Risk Management Mutual Association. In the fall of 1999 USU Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning conducted a student exercise to develop concepts for reuse of the Academy building.
This was the first proposed concept of a square surrounded by buildings to the south and east as a city facility. City staff met with land owners between the Academy building and City Hall to gauge willingness to sell to the City to provide for development of the project outlined in the study.
Based on the results of these meetings, the City and RDA began to move forward with property acquisitions. An annex that had been constructed to the south of the Academy building as part of the American Sportswear operation was demolished in 2001 and the Modern Cleaners property on Main Street acquired. Other buildings have been acquired as they have become available from 2001 until now.
The only building left to purchase is what is referred to as Main Street Church, formerly the Living Hope Church.
Pastor Joel Kramer, pastor at the time, and the governing board of the Church were approached in 2002. The project was discussed and the need for the City to acquire the properties between the Academy and City Hall for the project to move forward.
Subsequently, several meetings have taken place and several options proposed without coming to a final resolution. Recently, the Main Street Church had an appraisal completed on the property. Brigham City offered the Church considerably more than the appraised value to help cover other expenses to relocate.
Hopefully, the Main Street Church will realize the value of the project and an agreement can be reached to allow the City Square Project to be completed. The new development to the downtown area of Brigham City will bring new life to downtown and help retain the current merchants and attract others.
News Journal will not run retraction as county commissioner suggested
If anything at all, the core idea suggested in the Box Elder News Journal’s August 28, editorial, “Tune in or tune out, but don’t remove public comment,” was that elected officials are ultimately liable and may be held accountable for their own words in responding to statements made by a citizen during public comment period.
Unfortunately, it appears the call for elected officials to keep quiet and maintain composure during public comment sessions was not clear enough for one commissioner who chose to respond directly to a citizen’s comments.
During the public comment session of last week’s Box Elder County Commission meeting, county resident DeAnna Hardy stood to thank the commission for deciding not to remove public comment from their agenda.
However, Hardy went on to express concern with comments made by Commissioner Ryan Tingey at a Willard City Planning and Zoning Committee meeting last month. During a public comment session at the August 15, meeting, Tingey strongly urged the committee to remove the session from their agenda.
“You may want to reconsider this [public comment]...for your agenda,” Tingey can be heard saying on an audio recording made at the Willard meeting.
At the commission meeting last week, Tingey denied making such suggestions to any government body in the county and told Hardy that the paper would be running a retraction.
No such retraction will be, or was ever going to be, made.
The audio recording can be found here.
Tune in or tune out, but don’t remove public comment
08/28/13Public comment periods recently came under scrutiny by Box Elder County elected officials and their counsel, with the subject raising concern and debate among citizens, politicians, law makers and the media.
An article published in the News Journal last week (“Public comments under fire”) spelled out the issue and how the Box Elder County Commission began to consider the removal of the period from their agenda. While the three elected leaders of the county are placed in the position to do the business of the county on behalf of the citizens, they have, for the past two years, made it a point to hold public comment periods in order to hear the voices of the public they serve.
However, even though not one elected official will come out and admit to it, they cannot deny that at some level this is an attempt to silence the voice of those few who are committed enough to what they believe that they return to public meetings all over the county to voice their concerns, “over and over and over again,” as described by commissioner Ryan Tingey in a meeting in Willard two weeks ago.
Regardless of whether a person wants to approach the podium and, for the three minutes allotted them, speak about the menace of Communism and the modern “Red Scare,” Agenda 21 or selling guns to Egypt, the leaders we elect, at this local level, owe it to their constituents to listen to their concerns.
But there is one thing that citizens hoping to speak at that podium should keep in mind: There is an appropriate time and place for all things, and the public comment period of a rural county commission, city council or school board meeting is neither the place nor the time to engage in philosophical debates about whether or not the Common Core Curriculum is somehow associated with the Communist Manifesto as a way to create a generation of government-handout-loving atheists.
Sadly, there are those who abuse the purpose of public comment to do just that and, worse, attack elected officials and public employees over far-reaching conclusions in volley after volley as they attempt to connect local issues with federal or world concerns.
The bottom line is that public comment should be used to express thanks or gratitude for our elected officials, or voice concerns and criticisms about issues pertinent to the government body’s work and that are within their jurisdiction.
Elected officials should also maintain a high standard of composure and decorum—a standard required by law—during the proceedings of a public business meeting.
As was exhausted in last week’s article, there is no precedent of law, court proceeding, or provision of the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act which would hold a government body liable for the statements made by a citizen during a public comment session, elected officials may, on the other hand, be held liable and accountable for any comment they make in response to those made by a citizen.
When the issue is distilled down, the reality is that problems with public comment only rise to liable levels if an elected official directly responds to statements made by a citizen during a public comment period. Therein lies the liability. If public officials can just sit there and maintain their composure and, for three minutes—as hard as it may be sometimes—tune in, tune out, or completely ignore the individual who has the floor of a public comment session, there will not be an issue of liability on the part of an elected official or government body.
In the article, one First Amendment attorney after another told how they found the fears of the county to be unfounded and without precedent. Even Johnnie Miller, the man who presented the issue to the commission based on his witnessing a commissioner come “very close” to violating the law and thereby compromising himself, came around to the idea that the only liability is when an elected official opens his or her mouth in response to public comment.
After Brigham City explored the issue, officials there agreed that there should in fact be more opportunity for public comment and that it should not be limited or removed from the agenda. A unanimous vote struck the word “privilege,” as it pertains to public comment, from the city code.
But even after Commissioner LuAnn Adams said last week that an announcement may come at the next regular commission meeting declaring public comment is no longer under fire, other commissioners are not so sure.
However, for the good of the many citizens who don’t abuse public comment periods, but fear their demise, the commission should stand down and allow public comment to remain on the agenda, and invest in a good set of industrial-strength earplugs.
07-31-13 - ON THE LEVEL
Some of our readership may have noticed articles bearing my by-line have been missing these last couple of weeks—some may have felt relief, while others, I like to think, truly missed my brand of journalism.
By Mike Nelson
As I reassimilate from a two-week hitch, part of my contractual agreement with the Utah Army National Guard, I thought I’d take a moment to reintroduce myself to the community this newspaper serves.
I’ve never really taken the opportunity to properly introduce myself to the readers of the Box Elder News Journal. In a way, my articles just sort of fell into the pages of the newspaper as I began covering Brigham City Council, and other newsworthy events more than a year ago.
Some may recall my name as being associated with a truant and rebellious youngster here in Brigham City in my formative years, still others may have assumed that I moved here as a transplant of sorts to take this lucrative gig with the county’s only family-owned and operated newspaper.
In fact, I hear quite often from folks throughout the course of my duties here that I “break the mold” of someone they see as being from Brigham City or even from Utah. One woman, who I interviewed some weeks back told me she was convinced that I was “not from around here.”
To be sure, I was actually quite flattered to hear this as I have always considered myself a bit of a traveling man, picking up some of the character of the many places where I have spent time.
It is true that I grew up as a bit of a delinquent, but in June 2001, I left for the United States Army to do what I had always known I wanted to do, become an airborne infantryman. This decision caused a brief, but very real period of introspection, asking, “Just what in the hell have you gotten yourself into this time, Nelson?”
This began many years as a peripatetic paratrooper, moving around from one location, for a short time, to another, including a deployment to Afghanistan (this is an experience that I would not recommend to the weak of mind or body nor to the faint of heart) and to other points on a map that few would recall from geography class.
It was in transition from active duty in the Army to my home where I could raise my young family that I took on another field of endeavors, one that I always felt I had a knack and an interest for—journalism.
While journalism is vastly different than the running and gunning that a paratrooper will experience during his career, there is still conflict. This is to be expected, not all news is sunshine and butterflies. But more often than not there is ample opportunity to do good.
These opportunities include heralding the announcement of a local couple’s decision to engage in marriage—I know, crazy, right?—or a Boy Scout earning his Arrow of Light or Eagle Scout. There is always something good going on in the community, but often we must seek that out; if good deeds go unsung, it is only because for so many of the do-gooders, good deeds are nothing out of the ordinary.
In so many words, this is where I am coming from and it is with a renewed sense of purpose that I return to my desk here at the News Journal. Moving forward—dare I say progressively?—and covering the good, the bad, and the informative here in Box Elder County.
02/27/13 - OUR PERSPECTIVE
We applaud Brigham City council members Scott Ericson and Tyler Vincent in abstaining from voting for a non-binding resolution proposed by council members Ruth Jensen and Bryan Rex requesting the resignation of Mayor Dennis Fife following his admitting to an extra-marital affair in November.
Council members’ abstentions from voting for resolution sends much-needed message
We also commend Mark Thompson for voting “no” and said the city needs to move on.
We appreciate the message from Ericson’s and Vincent’s abstentions, which is more than just “no,” but says that they will no longer participate in the controversial issue. We believe their abstentions, and the comments they made to explain them, were a necessary step to get the council back to doing the city’s business.
The rift caused by the announcement last November of the mayor’s affair has, by many accounts from city council members, created an environment of suspicion, finger-pointing, bickering and backbiting that makes it nearly impossible to do the important work of this city’s residents.
At times, the culture and environment of the council has gotten vicious, which contributes nothing but to pursue the vendetta of council members who have appeared to be single-minded in their pursuit of getting Mayor Fife out of his office with several votes and resolutions. The message is plenty clear: the council doesn’t approve of the mayor’s affair and believe the moral misstep makes him unable to perform the necessary duties.
As the process has gone on, it has appeared that there is no one sitting at the council desk who is completely blameless from contributing from the negative atmosphere, but Ericson and Vincent took an important step at last week’s council meeting by essentially saying, “enough is enough.”
There are big things happening in the city: A large redevelopment project in conjunction with Academy Square that officials hope is the first step to creating a beautiful, vibrant downtown area that will help attract business and bring jobs; the construction of a regional campus of Utah State University; the proposed building of a poultry growing and process operation; and just generally rebuilding the local economy that has been devastated in the last several years by the loss of La-Z-Boy and continued layoffs at ATK.
We believe Brigham City is poised to make some long-term and significant changes that will benefit everyone. Not everyone will agree with all of them; certainly there is some concern in the community as to the process of getting a hotel built downtown, and whether or not the city really needs it.
The mayor’s admitted indiscretions have caused a rift in the city and a wedge at the council table, as is evident in such resolutions and issues that have come to light following his public statement about the affair. It is our hope that the City Council can move forward and put the mayor’s issues behind them as they make decisions on behalf of the citizens of Brigham City and that they are able to do so civilly and in the most productive manner.
Things are happening, and the residents and city need a council focused on things other than whether or not the mayor deserves to remain in office. We understand that there are several factors playing into why people think the mayor should resign. We also understand there are residents who support the mayor and those who think he should step down. However, the mayor has decided to stay in office—as is his right at this point—and any further pursuit of the issue will only fracture the city further and do more harm than good.
02/20/13 - OUR PERSPECTIVE
Brigham City should remove council member from consideration for city administrator post
If Brigham City mayor pro tem, Tyler Vincent, wants to cast a shadow of doubt over anything else he might do as a city council member or future mayor, he is well on his way. His support—and nearly single-handed appointment—of Scott Ericson to the city administrator position, a post from which current administrator Bruce Leonard will retire in July, certainly puts him on that road.
It would be in Vincent’s—and the city’s—best interest to remove Ericson as a possible candidate for the position, if for no other reason than adherence to the old adage: avoid even the appearance of evil. Maybe “evil” is too strong of a word, but at best, this deal certainly reeks of cronyism.
All the things leading up to last week’s closed city council session about filling the vacancy, and the resulting announcement that the position would be opened and advertised for applications, gives us pause. The fact that handing the position over to a city council member was the first consideration, instead of conspicuously posting the position, should trouble any citizen concerned with transparent government, due process, and any other number of values upon which our democracy is based. We urge residents to voice their discontent over this breach of public trust.
But let’s start at the beginning, which, for the News Journal, was several weeks ago when a concerned party within the city called and offered a prediction that Vincent would run for mayor, after which, Leonard would be let go and Ericson would be installed in his place.
Following a few calls to city officials, it became clear that the scenario wasn’t that far-fetched. Leonard was already planning on announcing his retirement, and Ericson and Vincent had already started getting their ducks in a row. It was apparently no big secret among the city council or the administration that Ericson was bucking for Leonard’s position.
Also about this time, Ericson—who had once been employed by Congressman Rob Bishop and had left his employ to manage the campaign of gubernatorial shoo-in, Gary Herbert—found out that he would not be installed on Herbert’s cabinet as he had allegedly been promised.
Two weeks ago, during the closed session of the Brigham City Council meeting, it was only a few vocal council members and Mayor Dennis Fife—who had been previously stripped of administrative personnel duties by the same city council, headed by Vincent as pro tem—who stopped the immediate appointment of Ericson as city administrator and called for the position to be advertised.
Two seemingly simple and potentially insignificant facts would seem to indicate that Ericson fully expected to be appointed that night. The first, is that Ericson was excused from the council chambers for the closed session, indicating that he was the subject of the discussion. The second is that he waited for nearly an hour outside the chambers with his wife, who does not regularly attend council meetings.
It is also telling that, according to sources within the city who attended the meeting, Vincent openly apologized to Ericson for not being able to appoint him on the spot.
As if all that isn’t suspicious enough, the city opened the job posting at the end of the day on February 12, and it closed on February 19. With the weekend and a Monday holiday, the position was open for a grand total of three business days. What’s more, Human Resources Coordinator Rick Bosworth, who was listed as the sole point of contact for applicants, was out of the office for the entirety of those days.
But wait, there’s more.
The listing, as it was posted on the city’s and DWS websites, indicated the position was for an “assistant” city administrator, with no language indicating it was a four-month training period, after which the person would become city administrator. We believe the language of the job posting might deter highly-qualified candidates, but also creates a scenario where the council could appoint whomever they council desired at a later date.
All things considered, it looks as though Ericson’s appointment is a done deal, and the city is simply doing what it has to do to “check the boxes.”
In an interview, Vincent said “I think Scott is highly qualified and he would do a great job. I can’t imagine anyone more qualified than him,” and suggested that Ericson’s connections in Salt Lake and beyond—which Ericson built as an employee of both Rep. Bishop and Gov. Herbert—would make him an effective lobbyist for the city.
We would suggest that if the city needs a lobbyist, Ericson might well be a prime candidate, but the city needs an administrator, not another politician.
No matter what color of lipstick you put on this pig, it looks ugly. At no point should an acting city council member ever be considered for an appointed position, if for no other reason than for appearance’s sake. In fact, we believe the city should pass an ordinance prohibiting such actions in the future.
Lessons in gun control and controlling our guns from the Box Elder News Journal
As the airwaves and social media have been blazing regarding the Sandy Hook tragedy and resulting proposals about gun control, we, here at the News Journal have inadvertently been running micro social experiments about guns, about which I only recently become cognizant.
It all started more than a year ago, when I came to possess a Nerf brand N-Strike pistol. I was the only staff member armed in such a way and I ruled the office with the iron fist of fear and intimidation. If someone said something I didn’t like, POW! If someone started criticizing my work (or, sometimes, even if they complemented my work) POW! If someone started speaking words I didn’t like the initial tone of, I would pull my gun from my its drawer and lay it threateningly on the top of the desk, indicating that the finishing of said sentence would result in POW! Occasionally, I would POW! Someone for no reason at all, simply to reassert the authority provided me by my Nerf brand weapon.
As it is with all tyrants, however, the populace grew weary of the heavy hand of oppression, and, one day their unspoken grievances boiled over. I found myself cornered, surrounded by the enraged faces of my former subjects, armed to the teeth with Nerf brand assault rifles equipped with high capacity magazines. At the end of the revolt, I was curled up under my desk, being mercilessly pummeled by countless rubber-tipped foam darts.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please heed the admonishment to avoid aiming Nerf brand guns at the head or face; those things can sting. And leave welts.
EDITOR’S NOTE II: I was surprised at the ease with which my co-workers were able to obtain their Nerf brand assault rifles and bring them into a place of business.
In any case, a much more humble me—bereft of my Nerf-brand firearm—came into the office the next day, and things have largely been peaceful since.
A couple of weeks ago, however, things again came to a head.
For some weeks I had been neglecting the more mundane responsibilities of my job involving preparing newspaper content for the News Journal website. It’s a thankless, dull task, but something that directly affects a co-worker’s ability to effectively do their job.
One day, the co-worker—who will remain nameless (see how magnanimous I am, Erin Young?)—came out of her office and threatened to “throat punch” me if I didn’t prepare the content for the website, as is my responsibility. She then brandished at me the Nerf brand pistol that had previously belonged to me in my short stint as dictator.
Feeling threatened, I immediately ran out and purchased two Nerf brand, N-Strike Elite pistols (again, without a background check or waiting period or anything) in order to ensure the protection of myself and News Journal associate editor, Mike Nelson.
A fierce battle ensued (again, please heed the admonishment not to aim at the face), and innocents were drawn into—and harmed—in the dispute. But no one won, and until just two days ago, there was a tense stalemate that threatened to explode with new hostilities at the wrong word.
Two days ago, however, the dynamics of the standoff changed. As Nelson and I were discussing the virtues of the new Elite Nerf-brand darts over over the old suction-cup tipped darts, and whether or not modifications could be made to the darts to improve their range or accuracy, the News Journal’s publisher, Casey Claybaugh entered the conversation with, “Guns don’t hurt people, bullets do.”
I perceived the comment as a proposed test. I pulled a dart from my Nerf brand pistol and threw it at Claybaugh. He was non-plussed by the assault as the dart fluttered harmlessly to the floor, and returned to speaking to a co-worker. I regained his attention, however, as I aimed my Nerf pistol at him and fired.
Turns out, it takes a Nerf-brand gun to make those darts pack a punch. (At this point, I can not stress this enough: DO NOT aim Nerf-brand firearms at the face.)
After Claybaugh pulled himself off the floor, and with a hand covering his swelling eye, he demanded that Nelson and I relinquish our guns, and cease and desist with all inter-office hostilities.
Nelson eyed me critically for the irresponsible use of my toy firearm.
I shrugged, “I guess one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch, huh?”
EDITOR’S NOTE III: Despite the light-hearted nature of this column, I do take seriously the impact of, and pain resulting from, all gun-related tragedies. It is my deepest hope, that as we navigate these waters, we can come together and have an open, honest discussion about the relationship between freedom and public safety as they relate to guns. The hard truth of the matter is this: Freedom isn’t free. It is paid for with blood. But neither is safety nor security free. They are paid for with freedom and liberty. The question is, how much of one are we willing to give up to gain the other, and what are we willing to sacrifice, personally, to get it?
Fatal night could have ended in tragedy regardless of deputy’s actions
When news broke last week that Box Elder County Sheriff’s Deputy Austin Bowcutt was justified in using deadly force in a fatal shooting in Corinne in October, the Box Elder News Journal’s social media site exploded, and people debated with more than 200 comments, about whether or not the officer should have been exonerated.
Certainly, some of the comments were insensitive and misguided, most of all those which forwarded the idea that Troy Clark Burkinshaw died for “peeing on the side of the road.”
This is a tragic situation, for both Troy Clark Burkinshaw and his family, and Deputy Bowcutt, and it’s important to discuss it rationally and sensitively for a couple of reasons: First of all, no person, as they might be known to law enforcement, is the same person known to family and friends. Certainly such is the case with Burkinshaw, whose family wrote the News Journal about how much he was loved and needed. Second, we should all hope that no officer of the law ever draws their weapon with a relish for using it, and so, with such an assumption or hope, it would follow that deputy Bowcutt did not, nor would not, draw and fire his weapon unless he thought it was necessary.
Certainly, as many pointed out, the situation could have been prevented—by either party—at any point up until the moment Bowcutt fired his weapon.
However, it is our opinion, given the facts as they are known now, the suspicions and circumstances under which Bowcutt was operating that night, and the actions of Burkinshaw, that Bowcutt did what was necessary for his own, and the public’s, safety.
The facts are simply this: On the night of October 26, deputy Bowcutt stopped Burkinshaw after seeing him urinate in “plain view.” As Bowcutt was getting information from Burkinshaw, he thought he smelled alcohol and saw what could have been a liquor bottle in the passenger compartment. According to Box Elder County Attorney Steve Hadfield, at that point, Bowcutt did not have probable cause to do a field sobriety test on Burkinshaw, so, following common practice, Burkinshaw was left in his car while Bowcutt ran the information, which turned out to be incomplete.
Then Burkinshaw drove away from the scene, leading Bowcutt on a chase through Corinne that ultimately ended in Burkinshaw’s death.
There are certainly plenty of questions that have been asked about the deputy’s conduct that night: Why did Bowcutt let Burkinshaw stay in his vehicle during the initial stop? Why didn’t Bowcutt ram Burkinshaw’s vehicle when he had opportunity, ending the chase earlier and thereby avoiding the fatal moment? When Bowcutt had his gun drawn and was ordering Burkinshaw to stop, why didn’t Bowcutt simply move out of harm’s way and let Burkinshaw pass when Burkinshaw continued to drive forward toward Bowcutt?
We make no judgement of Bowcutt’s actions. It would be impossible for any person to say—when tasked with the responsibility of protecting the public and given the circumstances and suspicions under which Bowcutt was operating—what they might do in the same situation.
Those who have called Bowcutt’s actions into question—even going so far as to imply that the shooting was a state-sanctioned murder that would have been prosecuted but for Bowcutt’s badge—have glossed over another important question: Why did Burkinshaw run in the first place? Given that it was within Bowcutt’s rights and duties as a peace officer to question Burkinshaw about his behavior, Burkinshw’s flight was the precipitating moment.
At this point, it’s impossible to say why Burkinshaw ran, and unfortunately we’ll never know.
What we do know, is that the bottle Bowcutt suspected of being liquor, was indeed that. We also know, that if Burkinshaw had been arrested, he would have been charged with operating a vehicle without an interlock device—a device that forces drivers to pass a breathalyzer before the vehicle can be started—a requirement that stems from Burkinshaw’s multiple DUIs and alcohol-related convictions in Salt Lake County that go back at least as far as 2001. His most recent arrest was in June of 2012, just four months before his run-in with Bowcutt.
We won’t know whether or not Burkinshaw was intoxicated that night until the toxicology report comes back at the first of the new year.
It goes without saying that we wish the outcome of that night had been different; regardless of who did or didn’t do what, it was a senseless death. However, given what we now know about that night, we believe there is a possibility it would have ended in tragedy one way or another, the only question is, whose tragedy would it have been?
News Journal doesn't take any pleasure from BC Mayor's affair
There was a lot of action on the Box Elder News Journal’s Facebook page regarding the news of Brigham City Mayor Dennis Fife’s admission of engaging in an extramarital affair.
Much of the conversation revolved around whether or not the mayor should resign or not, but a couple of comments about the public nature of the affair are what struck me the most, because—and this may surprise some—neither I, nor any of the editorial staff at the News Journal took any pleasure in researching, writing or publishing this article.
We had heard buzz about the affair some weeks before the mayor’s announcement, but did not pursue it; it was our opinion that it was a private matter between the mayor, his family and his church. Certainly, any person who has dealt with infidelity of any level—whether a physical relationship or the more subtle version of emotional infidelity—knows how hard it can be to work through that in the privacy of one’s own home and heart.
The other reason we didn’t pursue it initially is because of something my father often told me (I’ll paraphrase to make it less crass): Don’t defecate where you sleep. After all, we live here too, and don’t think it serves anyone to air another’s private dirty laundry, especially where it might damage our ability to do our real job, which is to keep an eye on government.
However, in any case, the buzz we first heard about the affair grew, at some point, and became a noise we could no longer ignore. It was very grudgingly that we decided to write the story; not because we’re necessarily “cozy” with city government or the mayor, but again, because I was hoping to avoid looking salacious or sensationalistic, which is how these stories always look.
In fact, even though we knew about the mayor’s alleged (at the time) affair, when we heard that the council had scheduled an emergency meeting, the affair was the farthest thing from my mind. I thought it might be about a different story I was looking at at the time.
As for whether or not the mayor should resign, it is my opinion (not necessarily the editorial position of the newspaper, my own personal opinion) that his indiscretion does not necessarily preclude his ability to do his job. I know there are some who think otherwise, but I can’t make the leap from temporary moral failing to professional ineptitude or public corruption.
That’s not saying I don’t have certain issues with the mayor, particularly regarding the tight controls regarding the dissemination of information by city officials. Of course, as a journalist, I tend to think anything but the most transparent and open government is suspect. All that notwithstanding, I simply don’t think this event in any way affects his ability to guide the city through the challenges and opportunities that face it.
There are some council members who have said that their confidence in the mayor has been shaken, and that he may lose council support. If that’s the case, that’s an issue those individual council members will need to address for themselves, because after all, a good idea for the course of the city is a good idea—and should be recognized as such—regardless of whether or not the ideas come from a repentant philanderer.
On the Level:
Truth isn't always sunshine and butterflies
Last week I wrote an article about the impending poultry plant operation that has been dubbed Project Cogburn. Anyone with a finger on the pulse of the community knows that there is public concern with this development.
Officials within Brigham City expressed some concern about the story; not about its factual accuracy, but about that it was published at all and how it was perceived by them.
Let's get one thing straight – truth is truth. Whether it is positive or negative truth is, and can only be, truth.
As a journalist, I take pride in finding and reporting truth. I believe journalists must be public servants of the highest caliber, seeking truth while providing a fair, evenhanded and comprehensive account of local events and issues.
At best, and while making every attempt to cover all angles, a reporter provides but an interpretation of truth to readers. It is the writer's responsibility, through due diligence, to collect and interpret the available information.
Additionally, it is the responsibility of every writer and newspaper to be accountable to their readers and to avoid the pressures of special interests that would influence the free press. If a newspaper such as ours were to be negatively influenced through the leverage or, worse yet, muzzled by officials seeking to control the press, our objectivity would be compromised.
Those in positions of power, real or perceived, must always be held accountable. If these officials are concerned about what the truth really looks like when it is presented to them, perhaps they should step back and take another look at what they are doing.
It is an unwritten, yet moral obligation and responsibility of good journalism to ensure that public business – that of the city, county or any other representative body beholden to the people's interest – be conducted in the open.
The drive that motivates this journalist is inherently human and is as historic as enlightenment and the quest for truth itself. It is only through due examination and analysis of information presented, in whatever medium, that we can decide for ourselves the truth.
As a journalist who is relatively new to this field of endeavor I am grateful for my past experiences, particularly those in combat and lifelong service to this great nation, which I believe have prepared me for this position. To me, the truth remains just that – truth.
On the Level:
Driven to distraction
Police and other emergency response vehicles are some of the most technologically wired vehicles on the road, with on-board computers, cameras, radios, light systems, cell phones and navigation devices. The combination of these systems enables officers to better do their jobs through the connectivity that these mobile devices provide. But there is also an inherent risk and danger in distracted driving by officers – like the crash that occurred last month, for example, that totaled a Brigham City K9 vehicle and effectively grounded the K9 unit.
Utah is one of many states that have imposed very strict laws banning texting and other cellular phone and mobile device use while driving and, as a result, the state is showing a positive downward trend in distracted driving fatalities. David Strayer, a University of Utah psychologist, shows through his research that using mobile devices while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk.
"In terms of accident risk, you're more likely to be hit by someone who's text messaging than someone who's drunk," Strayer says. "Inattention blindness" is the name given by University of Utah researchers to the condition created while using a computer and driving.
The driver of the semi-truck that was struck by Officer Hill's police K9 vehicle last month learned firsthand that "inattention blindness" of police officers is just as dangerous as any other member of society driving distracted. This crash could have been much worse – the officer could have seriously injured or killed himself, his canine partner, or, worse yet, an unsuspecting motorist.
In May 2010, a police officer in Austin, Texas, diverted his attention from driving to enter information into his on-board computer. The police officer failed to yield the right of way at an intersection and struck a 74-year-old motorcyclist who sustained serious injuries – he nearly lost a leg, endured twelve surgeries and is permanently disfigured.
Do we have to wait for something like this to happen before we take action?
There is a certain irony - or double standard - in a policy that creates a texting ban but allows and encourages the officers who must enforce it to use electronic devices behind the wheel. Even with such a policy in place coupled with any amount of advanced drivers training, there should be a built-in ability to disable an officer's on-board computer or, at the very least, lock the keyboard when an officer is driving.
Mike may be contacted by email at email@example.com
What's your number?
What do you think Alexander Graham Bell would say if he could see our world of telephones today? "Holy cow, Mabel, folks are running around talking to themselves with a device stuck to the side of their head." I'm pretty convinced that he would say this because his wife was actually named Mabel.
The way we locate each other has changed quite a bit over the years. Originally, a person started a telephone conversation by hollering across the room, "Hey Edger, pick up so we can talk to each other." It also required keeping the string very tight between the soup cans.
As wires ran to different buildings in a city it became necessary for someone to route the calls by doing more than shouting down the street. The switchboard operator became a coveted career for someone that wanted to be in the middle of everyone's business. A person placing a call would say something like "Operator, Winchester 729 please." With this little bit of information the woman knew which hole to stick the plug into in order to cut you off from civilization forever.
Operators mysteriously knew which plugs and which holes needed to go together to complete the transaction. Calling across great distances required this to happen multiple times until the caller eventually forgot who they were calling and what the subject of the call was. This contributed to the Great Depression when people were left on hold for months at a time.
A party line allowed several homes to all use the same line as long as someone didn't try to hog the phone all the time like my sister did at 14 years old. My grandma had a party line at her home and we would often sneak into the living room and quietly pick up the receiver to listen to people. That is, until someone would overhear our snorts and giggles and say, "I think someone is listening to us. I'll go get the shotgun and you get the pitchfork."
Phones eventually developed to have numbers and a round ring that allowed people to become misdirected all by themselves. The rotating ring greatly improved the process, unless your phone number happened to have many high digits like 7, 8 or 9 in them. Waiting for the dialing ring to spin back to the original position was a monotonous task that was even worse if you dialed the wrong digit when you were nearly done and had to start all over.
Of course, most lived in towns where you only had to dial four numbers to speak to someone. These were the days before caller ID, when kids could stay up late on Friday nights calling a person's numbers and saying, "Is your refrigerator running." And after the individual said yes, the caller would shout, "How are you going to catch it?" and hang up.
As phones evolved, it became much quicker to locate someone by pounding out the numbers on a keypad. Phone numbers were normally found in the phonebook unless the person had a reason to leave it unlisted. Say because they were in the Witness Protection Program or they didn't want people to call them about their appliances in the middle of the night.
Now civilization is evolving to where they don't have phones in their home. You now have to know what their mobile number is because that is the only phone they have. To make matters worse, they don't give out the number to anyone except their Facebook friends.
With caller ID they can decide that they don't want to talk to you even when you do get their number. You can text them that they are a jerk, but there's a chance of getting arrested for harassment. Is it because the evolution process has reversed and we don't want people reaching out to touch us anymore? I guess I'd better keep these soup cans and string handy for an emergency.
See Bryce's past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taking the bully by the horns
This life holds epic moments for each of us, the kind that make you believe you are staring in a movie. A movie, that just so happens to be your life.
I spent hours getting ready for my 20 year high school reunion. There was the pre-pre planning, the pre-planning, the shopping, the returning, and the re-shopping. There was the networking to see who was going to show up, the emailing to try and convince my 'people' to come, and the evenings testing myself by opening up the yearbook, pointing at a face and trying to recall the student's name. There was the yoga to get toned, the running to make my legs look lean, and the balanced diet, which I only really did in my head. And most importantly, there was all the maintenance that goes into making a woman really sparkle, and by sparkle I mean a spray on tan, a new outie, ring bling, and my beloved pair of new Old Gringo boots.
I wanted to arrive at the reunion spilling confidence; this was my second chance at a first impression.
Upon approaching my dear old high school, the excitement started to build, and for a flash of a moment, I was back on those steps as a teenager. Making sure I matched, fixing my hair in the glass door reflection, and giving myself an awesome internal pep talk that, "Great things are about to happen!" Then the doors swung open, and there they were, a sea of familiar classmates.
I passed out hugs, hellos, and how ya doings before settling in with a group of my girlfriends who have always been constant. Nice, happy, fun, and very smart. My reunion girls.
And then, I saw him.
I wanted so bad to lose weight at this reunion. Not pounds, but hate.
Through my tough years of elementary school he was the one who spit words at me so painful that it felt like my face was being dragged across asphalt. The teasing was relentless. His hollow laugh accompanied the brash language and would echo in my ears long after the sting of his words was gone.
I learned to cope, as kids do, and thankfully I had a bodyguard in my fearless sister Jeannie, who used to file her nails to a point (for better scratching), and don her Sunday shoes for school (for better kicking). Once, she even put my bully up against the wall and smashed his nose in, all in an effort to defend me.
I hated him.
And yet, there he was, all these years later. Looking like he had grown into a very nice, happy person.
There was no time to really think about what I wanted to do or say. I just knew I had to get rid of the weight of hate, and I had to do it all on my own.
With my reunion girls cheering me on, I walked over to where he stood, all alone. After exchanging awkward small talk, I looked him square in the eyes and drilled, "Why were you so mean to me in elementary?" His eyes filled with tears almost the instant I asked. And then a string of the most beautiful, sincere words came out of his mouth. Words I had been waiting a lifetime to hear. With each sentence that was said, the wound closed a little more. At last. The heavy, heavy hate was gone. In the void was forgiveness… and perhaps even a new friend.
I glanced to my group of girls and saw them standing in a half moon shape, hands clasped, breath held, and eyes fixed.
Then it was my turn. I told him thank you, while wiping tears from my own eyes. I realize that most would think I was crazy for saying so, but in a way, he is the one who built my character. "Even on my worst days as an adult, nothing has come close to those bad days of elementary," I honestly told him. "But, if it had been easy, I would not be who I am today, so thank you."
Yes, epic moments do happen.
I nearly danced back to the girls, who with smiles as big as the ocean, grabbed me and instantly pulled me into a sandwich hug that lasted a full three seconds.
And just like magic, I felt as light as a feather.
Read more 'Atmosphere' from Amy Wilde on her blog - http://www.amywildeatmosphere.blogspot.com,email her at email@example.com, or follower her on twitter @wildeatmosphere.
Working our way through the ages
There are fundamental elements of the Protestant work ethic that appear to have been changing over the years. For one thing, the number of Protestants working has diminished considerably with the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. The other factor is that ethics aren't being taught with the same intensity as in the past, based on the example of Arnold Schwarzenegger and a host of congresspersons.
God established a simple system to motivate Adam and Eve to get to work. If they wanted to eat bread, they would have to do it by the sweat of their brow. "Hey Adam," Eve could be heard to say as she was pounding on the dough, "bring me some more of your brow sweat for this bread."
Life on earth progressed for a time with the understanding that survival required you to rummage around in the wilderness for dinner. This is when foods were put into groups that either helped you stay alive or killed you. Eventually civilization progressed to a more reliable system.
The Egyptians devised a plan after a few thousand years of watching the Israelites take over the neighborhood. The conflict is played out in the movie The Ten Commandments with Moses being played by Charleton Heston. The notion of whipping and beating your employees was a fashionable and effective way to complete projects like giant pyramids, mummifying cats, and transporting people around the kingdom on a slave's back.
Can you think of a bonus program that would have gotten such excellent results? "You're going to pay us how many sheckles to get that 50 ton stone to the top of this overgrown cat with a human face and a headdress?" the slaves say as they look up into the baking sun. It was during this time that the motivational poster was invented that says, "The beatings will continue, until moral improves."
Next, we had the dark ages because not many people could afford lights. The ones who could justify the expense were referred to as royalty and they invented the concept that if you wanted food you enticed someone else to get it for you. This group of people were referred to as peasants and they worked under a simple yet prosperous employee/employer arrangement.
Someone like King Walter of Footrott would claim that he owned a bunch of land and would let people live on it and grow food as long as they shared an abundant portion with him and his knights. The knights - who suffered severe chaffing from metal breeches – were charged to protect the peasants from being raided by knights from other kingdoms that were out crusading the neighborhood.
In exchange, the peasants were grateful for the opportunity to live under such pleasant conditions and willingly gave up to 90 percent of their produce to a branch of the king's court that would later be known as the Internal Revenue Service.
I've just finished a book that is on the cutting edge of human resource theory. I say this because I suffered three paper cuts while reading it from cover to cover. The Carrot Principle is an excellent source of ideas to get people to do more by congratulating them on how well they are producing brow sweat.
The title comes from the stick and carrot principle wherein we get more from someone by offering them a chunk of vegetable than threatening to hit them with a stick. The shocking discovery is that employees are actually most effective when you show them the stick before hitting them with the carrot.
Personally, I perform my best when I have a piece of bread made with a heavy serving of brow sweat.
See Bryce's past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The greatest inventions - part 2
Not since the wheel and modern day flight has man been responsible for such amazing creations as what are now available to us. You may not agree with this statement unless you've heard Wilbur Wright's famous words to Orville after the first flight on the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. "Orfill, weef neef toof geff tirefers onff thuuth flyfer soff I'ff donf gefth anfy morf of thith santh inth myth moufth."
Finding a new and entertaining way to get food into our mouths seems to be the primary interest of scientists. "Now that we've gotten to the moon," the inventors say, "we've got to find a new way through the digestive tract." This is why you can now buy your own breakfast bowl with the spoon firmly clamped to a lid on the bowl.
This drastically reduced the rash of cereal spillers (ha, ha, a little breakfast cereal humor) but doesn't prevent soggy flakes. This is why there's a child's sippy cup with a secret bottom made for contraband stock. Toddlers will never be without crunchy munchies again.
If the family dog is lapping at your child's chin after a meal then I suggest you consider the sippy spoon. This helpful device has a hollow handle that allows the user to suck the meal safely out of the bowl and into his or her stomach. That is, unless you have large pieces of chicken in your soup or marshmallows in your hot chocolate.
In fact, child safety and cleanliness is a major part of the consumer market based on the miles of available shelf space. I don't know how we developed as children without these amazing devices that ensure human survival.
Take the "table corner bumper guards" for example. These foam formations eliminate the need for hats. A new generation of scalps free from dents and scars will be able to go into public without leaving wads of hair sticking out from the head like a random tail.
Electricity presents a problem for most of us, let alone someone who's face is covered in spit. We applaud the invention of protective caps for outlets, light switches, and wood chippers. We have to; the Clapper is the only hope we have of turning anything on, now that we can't gain access without the aid of a chisel and hammer.
There are latches that keep the fridge and stove safely sealed from tiny hands that would surely find a way of deactivating the appliance. This is sure to strike a mighty blow to the auto repair industry that has relied heavily on youth that exhibited such skills. When was the last time you heard of a preschooler hot-rodding the bread mixer around the kitchen?
Cupboard safety latches have been around for quite a while in spite of the harm they cause. Oh, we say that they protect children, but how many adults do you know who have nearly suffered a stroke trying to break into their own medicine cabinet. Bank safes have been secured with these elementary devices for years, to the ignorance of the public.
Think of how often you've nearly thrown your back out as you grab the handle expecting to swing the door open, only to have it stop dead in mid-swing. Hyper-extended elbows, dislocated shoulders, and cracked nerves are escalating in the name of safety.
It's no wonder we have an array of eating disorders, from people chewing on cabinet doors and licking appliance handles for nourishment.
The only device still needing improvement is the infant pacifier. I'm going to equip it with two elastics that fit over the ears with the security of a boat plug. Not only will it cut down on infant howling, think of what it could have done to keep the sand out of Wilbur's mouth on his maiden flight?
See Bryce's past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at email@example.com.
The greatest inventions are in the grocery aisle
It is said that in 1899 Mr. Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. patent office made the comment, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." The next sentence that he uttered, and that you may not be aware of is, "That can operate without the aid of a remote control." Let's pause while you push a button to turn the page.
In spite of this dim view over a century ago, it is easy to see that the human race is out to build a better mousetrap. If you don't believe me then wander down the grocery store aisle with a new frame of mind - the mental state that comes when you've overeaten food samples, so you are looking for intestinal relief from a toilet plunger.
It's impossible to know how civilization survived without the amazing inventions found today. Let's look at some of these creations and the antiquated systems they replaced. You may even know someone who has blown their money on one of these fine items.
Take the modern day sandwich. It is no longer kosher to carry it in wax paper, a piece of leather, or under your armpit like we did in our youth. Kids don't know what it's like to find a sandwich looking like the peanut butter and jelly were applied to the outside of the bread, after it has spent five hours smashed in a paper bag under a can of soda.
Now you can carry your food in a sturdy plastic case shaped like bread. That is if your sandwich has its original shape; not if you purchase your own crust removal cutters that create interesting shapes like dolphins or ducks.
Why does a toaster pastry need protection in its own case? The handy box couldn't save the tart from drying out since the average pastry is about as moist as a piece of cardboard? Maybe its purpose is to keep the frosting from rubbing off.
There's a wider variety of kitchen tools used to preserve food that you've cut in half. You can own a lemon saver that resembles a miniature round bottomed bowl with a lid. Then there's a device that looks like a battery cable clamp for the half of your banana that you want to save. Heaven forbid we let it go brown and cut the dry part off later.
Speaking of cutting things off, have you seen the tool that decimated the demand for dental floss? There's a gadget with a metal band welded between two metal handles that you slide down the corncob to shave the kernels off. Gone are the days of the social shame that comes from looking like you have grubs caught between your teeth at the company picnic.
Another practical gadget that's been around a while is the corn cob ends that keep juice from dripping off your elbows as you chew on an ear. They now make sharpened wooden sticks that save the host the frustration of digging in the garbage can after the party to save the plastic ones. They are also a handy weapon if you have to defend yourself from a rabid raccoon.
There's no shortage to the wild inventions that are available to replace the practical products of yesteryear. So many, in fact, that this will be a two-part series where we will review food inventions and gadgets to stump your babies.
Check in next week when Mr. Charles H. Duell emits the prophetic statement, "How do I change the batteries in this remote?" (Which is actually said to be invented by Nikola Tesla in 1998). See Bryce's past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other side of the story
I got caught in a phone triangle the other day. That's when someone uses you to relay a message to a third party in order to increase the confusion. The conversation with the second person went something like this.
"(Blank) said that you haven't been returning her phone calls and she really needs to talk to you."
"Well, tell (Blank) that I have tried to return her phone calls but since her voicemail is full I can't leave a message."
Now I know what you are thinking. What kind of a name is (Blank)? Is it someone who is very confused or conceived through artificial insemination?
Having both sides of the story makes so much more sense for why people act the way they do; only sometimes it takes all of the drama out of it. This raises the question, what is the other side of the story in these historic settings. After a lengthy stretch of research, I came up with the following answers.
Why didn't people smile in early photographs and portraits like the Mona Lisa? It's a common belief that people failed to grin because of poor hygiene that left their teeth looking stained and gross. The fact is that you wouldn't be smiling much (picture or not) if your undergarments were made from wool and had the texture of burlap.
During this same time of not smiling, Washington posed for the famous crossing of the Delaware River. Why did he stand up in a boat that was clearly unsafe for this sort of travel? If you look at the picture closely, you can see that General Washington is wearing a pair of white pants.
There are two breaches of etiquette in this case. One is that you aren't supposed to wear white until after Easter, and the other is that the boat loading party failed to uphold an important maritime practice. "ALL RIGHT" Washington snorted, "who got their muddy boot prints all over MY SEAT?"
Why did Neil Armstrong take different sized steps for his first walk on the moon? While we are led to believe that it's the historical significance of the first moon stroll, let's not forget that Neil was an avid Yoga enthusiast who hadn't been able to stretch for weeks. Not to mention that this was the first time he had been out of the capsule alone and was walking off a little indigestion from the Italian dinner he ate the night before.
What political forces led to the Berlin Wall coming down? Most historians will point to the historic speech by President Ronald Reagan where he challenged Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev to take a belt sander and remove that birthmark from his forehead.
The real reason for the toppling of the wall was due to the fact that the cement contractor hadn't been paid and following a dispute resolution was entitled to take back his material. This and the fact that the wall became unbalanced from the layers of graffiti lead to the wall's fall and unification of Germany.
Why do we have the Statue of Liberty? "Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses. . ." These famous words represent the migration of millions of people wanting to enter the greatest country in the world. The fact that France was ranked number two at the time lead the French to attempt a project similar to a Trojan Horse.
The plan was to hide soldiers inside the statue until everyone went to bed and then they would jump out and overtake the country. The downfall came when the French military dressed as tourists were inadvertently herded onto a New York subway and never heard from again. Maybe they got lost in a phone triangle?
See Bryce's past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at email@example.com.
BC hires career fire chief, makes rules to eliminate others
Last Wednesday, June 1, Brigham City mayor and council agreed in a council meeting that started at 5 p.m. to hire a ¾ time paid Fire Chief for Brigham City. They also agreed to make changes to the personnel structure of the Fire Department. The biggest change was the elimination of support member status for firefighters.
As of May 31, to be eligible for support member status, a firefighter needed to have 25 years of service or be 55 years of age. Support members where not required to meet all the physical standards of a firefighter.
Later that evening, city officials met with Fire Department personnel at their regular 7 p.m. monthly business meeting to inform them of the changes. Mayor Dennis Fife told the department that any member with 20 years experience and age 50 could opt for a severance payment of $100 for each year of service, or he must comply with the physical requirements of an active firefighter.
Eligible members were given seven days to decide what they wanted to do, despite the fact that the specifics for physical fitness had not been determined. The next day Mayor Fife and city officials agreed to allow 90 days for an eligible member to either become physically fit or take the severance pay.
If the member took the physical test and did not pass, he would be given another 90-day period to pass the test. All firefighters will be allowed the two 90-day periods to pass the physical requirements test in order to remain members of the Brigham City Fire Department.
Currently all members of the Fire Department (paid on call) are given the option of buying health insurance through Brigham City Corporation at the same rate fulltime employees pay. The city will maintain that option for current active members but will not offer it to any future hires.
When Mayor Fife was asked what brought about these changes, he stated that city officials became aware of some liability issues associated with the Fire Department and they believed changes had to be made. A committee of several fire department personnel was formed to make recommendations for changes.
The committee came up with four different recommendations, without input from the rest of the Fire Department since they were instructed not to discuss committee meetings with other firefighters. One of their recommendations was to hire a more experienced Fire Chief. No specifics were given as to what the liability issues are.
City officials want firefighters to be able to pass two tests to be qualified. One is an SCBA (self contained breathing abaratus) mask fit test, where a firefighter has to wear a breathing apparatus mask with an airtight seal for a specific amount of time. The other is a physical condition test of traveling by foot, three miles with a 45 pound backpack in 45 minutes.
The Mayor and city officials maintain the stance that every firefighter should be physically fit and capable of performing every task required of an active firefighter. They also believe that mutual aid contracts with other cities and counties can help alleviate any manpower issues for large fires.
Many in the Fire Department believe they should maintain as many experienced firefighters as possible, even if some of them are not capable of performing every task required of a firefighter. Having more men to operate trucks and equipment, watch for safety issues, and roll hoses etc., leaves the department with more men capable of performing the more physically tasking jobs and not be tied to pump panels and fire hydrants.
It is the opinion of this newspaper that the city is being overly critical of the Fire Department. To make statements such as "bringing the Fire Department into the 21st Century" is an insult to the Department. The current firefighters have a lot of training under their belts and are proud of their capabilities.
City officials believe they are going to save money by making these changes. It is difficult to understand how that is going to happen by adding more rules, regulations and levels of bureaucracy. In the long run, it will cost the city more money as they may be forced to hire full-time employees to man fire trucks.
It is a gamble by the city as to how many firefighters they will be able to retain. Not only will possibly all of the support members be gone, many of the current active members may decide that enough is enough and they will no longer be willing to sacrifice their family time and careers to the Fire Department.
By removing perceived liability issues from the Fire Department and reducing the manpower immediately available to the Fire Department, the city is creating more risk to fire personnel, life and property of Brigham City.
The day the world didn't end
What an incredible let down when someone messes up predicting the end of the world. Not that I wanted it to end on May 21, as predicted by evangelist Harold Camping. Now I have to get back to work and do all the things that I put off doing, like writing this article.
Actually, I procrastinate writing every week, just in case time as we know it ceases to exist. Heaven knows, a columnist doesn't want to go to a lot of trouble writing a story that no one ever reads. By the time a deadline arrives, it becomes obvious that "The End" is a no show and we scramble to create something using the "Big Bang" theory.
There have been many times I was sure the world was over. The time that I shot out my grandparents' television with a BB gun ranks near the top. The time my friend and I played fire fighters and broke most of the windows out of my parents' storage shed is a close second.
While these instances could have spelled the end of my existence, I figured if I was on the way out, time should end for everyone so my family couldn't sit around and gloat over my demise. "We'd be enjoying his birthday today," someone would say, "if he hadn't been so determined to ruin a perfectly good shed, trying to save people that weren't there, from a fire that didn't exist!"
We've all had days when we wished the world would end. Normally it involves some violation of the law, whether it be a law of the land or of nature. There's a moment when time stands still so you and your brain have a meaningful conversation that goes something like this.
Brain: "This is not going to be good."
You: "What in the world was I thinking."
Brain: "You weren't, that's why you're going to be fitted for a body cast or a casket when this is over."
You (out loud): "OH, *%^&/@$"
Now that the world didn't come to an end, there's a lot of things that you can get back to doing. With this close brush with the end, you can decide if those activities are really all that important and how committed you are to getting them done.
Would you gather with family and friends to tell them how much you love them or that you are cutting them out of your will? Is the amount of money that you earned more important than how you influenced people? Did you take a $125,000 deductions on your income taxes hoping for the end and now you jump with every telephone call, expecting it to be the IRS?
It's disappointing that some individuals became so committed to Harold Camping they invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise that the end was near. The news showed both believers and non-believers calling the other group stupid at public rallies. Camping hopes the bad investments can be reimbursed under the TARP relief fund. The President is skeptically optimistic.
The real winners were the businesses posting profits from selling end-of-the-world markers and sign-boards. Office supply manager Daryl Druthers from Winchester, Alabama, is quoted as saying, "We need to have these "end-of-the-world" days more often. It's really good for business."
It's hard to say when the end is coming and I doubt many of us worry much about it. All I know is that I've got a story to turn in and I'm sure glad this non-event turned out so well. Now if I can just get my fingers to work in this body cast.
See Bryce's past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuning up the yard one blade of grass at a time
Having a green thumb is a coveted trait unless you happen to be a proctologist. Some people are born with a unique ability to love and nurture plants until they chop them down to eat them. The rest of us would starve if it weren't for the first group who laugh at us because we can't keep a cactus alive.
While keeping a yard alive is not the same as, say, an orchard of artichokes, most of us agree that having a bed of green grass does the body and soul good until it gives us a rash from laying on it. Imagine your own patch of well-groomed lawn that rolls out in front of you like nature's carpet. In this case, be prepared to hear someone say "Excuse me, do you mind if we play through?"
It is highly unlikely that any turf actually exists like the samples found on fertilizer bags. Just like the fashion industry, high paid models and photo editing are used to ensure that you can't see where the dog do-do killed a large patch of lawn. If you don't have a dog, don't worry, someone in the neighborhood is sure to provide you with one at no expense.
Many people employ professional lawn groomers today instead of hiring the neighbor boy to do it for them. This is because children like me made a habit of spilling gas on the lawn during routine pit stops. This activity, combined with missing sprinkler heads and mutilated toys contributed to a business decision that made paying a professional much cheaper.
Automated lawn sprinklers are a great way to ensure that you remain hydrated all summer long as you scamper around the yard adjusting them for pinpoint accuracy. No one can explain how a finely tuned sprinkler head suddenly begins pounding water against the side of your home at 3 a.m. but I think it's the lawn gnomes.
In spite of the fact that it has been proven lethal to mix electricity with water, we tempt fate by standing in a puddle of water while we adjust the sprinkler clock. Landscape contractors are required by law to locate a sprinkler head in close proximity to the timer. This ensures that you look like you wet your pants after adjusting the clock.
Be sure to take the shattered sprinkler part with you to the hardware store when you have to replace it. It's unlikely you will ever be able to come back with anything comparable to the original part because sprinkler manufactures rarely make more than ten of any sprinkler type. The reason you take the part is so that the store employee can say, "Wow, is that what happens when one of those goes through the lawnmower?" and then they giggle and tell other customers about you all week long.
Striving for peace in the Middle East is easier to achieve than the dream of a weed free yard. Rumor has it this goal became unattainable when Adam lost focus in the Garden of Eden. Ever since then, the dandelion has been known as the lawn pimple among the vigilant homeowners associations.
Don't panic if your lawn doesn't look as good as the White House lawn. You would need a budget as large as the US Government to do that and even then, most of the deficit is blamed on over fertilization.
Don't shy away from this challenge, your neighbors are praying you will turn your lawn into something more than a pasture with a case of mange. You may increase the value of your home, or find something useful in that jungle, like a car. Whatever you do, watch out for the lawn gnomes. . . they know which direction your sprinkler heads are pointing and it's a long night.
See Bryce's past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or email him at email@example.com.
It is an honor to share some thoughts with the graduating class of 2011 because it would seem silly to speak to the class of 1978 (although you may still have a lot to learn). This is a unique opportunity for me because both my son and I are graduating this spring. He will graduate with a Doctorate in Parent Rearing and a minor in high school subjects, and I'm receiving a migraine to the third power and a major state of confusion.
To the graduating class of 2011
Seriously students, you need to contemplate how you got to this point in your lives so that you recognize that a large yellow school bus is not the most stylish mode of transportation. On the other hand, don't expect to drive something like a Mercedes-Benz SL 550 Roadster until you've held a hostile takeover of four or five corporations before lunch.
The unique thing about an education is that it sticks better to some people than others. You may look at your report card with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Or, you may bury it in the backyard hoping that your children never find it. In case you are wondering, it's rare for a prospective employer to ask what grade you got in seventh grade biology.
Don't forget the fine educators who made it possible for you to achieve this goal. Sure, some of them passed you just so they wouldn't have to endure you in summer school. But most of them taught you with the ultimate goal of a marginal retirement.
You high school graduates may be trying to decide what line of work you will pursue, or what secondary degree you want to earn. Don't be discouraged that the current economy is second only to the Great Depression in financial disaster. Be glad that you didn't have a retirement plan decimated by the stock market crash and that your most promising investment plan consists of sticking cash in your mattress.
Now set your bearings on a course destined for greatness. Align your vision with the stars and maintain a heading toward your hopes and dreams. Only then will you want to double check your GPS unit for low batteries.
To the college graduates, I take my hat off to you for the millions of miles driven around campus looking for a decent parking space. You may be ready to pursue your career, or complete the first step of a longer journey toward an even higher education. Whatever the case may be, remember your alma mater and don't hesitate to show your allegiance and solidarity by making a large donation upon request.
Take heart in knowing that you can now divert your hard-earned cash from textbooks that cost more than a kidney transplant and put it toward more useful things like food and shelter. If your parents paid for your education then the least you can do is show your appreciation by becoming a productive member of society. If they didn't, then you can get revenge by refusing to move out of their basement.
Economists say that we have 3-6 more years of financial hardship before the economy fully recovers. You will be stronger, smarter, and able to endure more hardship than most generations preceding you. I don't mean to rub it in, but weren't you the generation that voted for change?
If I can leave one final thought with you, it is the immortal words of the computer pioneer William "The Peanut Crusher" Gates who said. "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one." Now if you will excuse me I have to go comb the dreadlocks out of my graduation tassel.
Bryce will surpass the expectation of his high school guidance counselor by graduating with a Masters of Public Administration this spring. His son Spencer is graduating from Parowan High School.
See past stories at www.readloosescrews.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's the curse, of course
By Bryce Haderlie
"You're going to kill me" are the words that cause a parent to shudder. That is, when a child fesses up to avoid interrogation. My mind conjures up a million ideas of what our son has done to justify capital punishment.
Our boys learned at an early age that triggering the calamity response in Dad actually helps the situation. How they learned reverse psychology so young is amazing. Their ability to outthink me has hampered my parenting options to a short list of idle threats.
My imagination jumps to wild conclusions like "HE BURNED THE HOUSE DOWN!" Then my brain says, "No you idiot, you are standing in the house." Traffic accident, failed grades, showing someone my 7th grade yearbook picture . . . the possibilities are endless.
Just when my blood pressure is threatening to cause an aneurism, he brings me down with, "The snow blower's broken. It's so far from tragic that all I can do is whimper the words, "I'm sure we can fix it."
Owning a reliable and dependable machine means that purchasing replacement parts contributes greatly to the economic recovery. Thank goodness we can buy a machine already assembled because if you paid for each part separately and assemble it at home, it would be cheaper to clear the driveway with a Chinook helicopter.
Blaming our son for breaking the machine would be logical if it weren't for the curse we live under. Any good parent knows that part of raising children is the ability to place a spell on the grandchildren. It is that the pain and suffering we caused our parents during our childhood will be repaid to us in equal measure.
Let me share a few examples. The fact that I used my Dad's entire screwdriver set for tent stakes means that my wrenches are permanent sand box toys. Any mechanic project begins with scouring the yard for tools.
We just replaced a tire on the kid's car that mysteriously lacked air for the last 10,000 miles. We can't seem to find anyone (including the driver) that can explain how this happened. In reality, it came from a hex that my father-in-law put on his teenage daughters for driving a flat tire down to the mangled rim.
Do you ever curse under your breath when pen ink or lip balm show up all over the freshly washed laundry? Ask your mother how often you did this to her and see if she gets a gleam in her eye. She would deny ever saying it, but it's more than likely she at least thought on countless occasions, "I hope someday you end up with a child just like you."
Therefore, it came as no surprise that parts of the snow blower mysteriously turned into even smaller individual pieces of unrecognizable shapes. My son swears he has no idea what caused the malfunction, unless it was too much snow. A web search confirmed that the machine is on a military spec list and I'm being treated like the Air Force.
Then I recalled an experience from so many years ago that it's little more than a faint memory. It was while I was mowing a lawn that the mower blade made solid contact with a pipe sticking out of the ground. Apparently, several laws of nature were broken along with the internal organs on the mower.
I have no doubt that the repair bill was far more than what I earned that entire summer and thank goodness Dad footed the bill. While biting my lip I fixed the machine and said a little prayer. "Someday my boy," I uttered, "I hope that you end up with a child just like you." Now the question is, will it be the lawnmower, snow blower, or his helicopter?
See Bryce's past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at email@example.com
Battle for the Bandwidth
By Bryce HaderlieWhoever coined the phrase, "All is fair in love and war" had no clue that hand-to-hand combat would be necessary in the information age. Some people adhere to the golden rule of, "The one with the gold, makes the rules." The challenge with that decree is deciding who has the ultimate authority to the most internet access.
That's correct, the latest frontier of human struggle isn't for food, water, or shelter, but the greatest amount of bandwidth. If you aren't familiar with this concept, let's step back in time to a parallel universe. Try to remember, if you will, when most homes had one television.
The kids raced home from school to watch their favorite after-school television show. Most times, there would be peace and harmony if everyone agreed to watch the Brady Bunch. Problems developed when there was a sibling feud, or Dad came home to watch the news.
Fast forward to the present and imagine the ongoing battle with absolutely no one agreeing on the same internet site. Up until a few months ago, we had one internet connection at our house, attached to one computer. Members of the family bartered and begged for their time on the system depending on the seriousness of the matter.
Homework always got first dibs, weather and world news were second (because that's Dad's primary interest). Next came general information gathering and sharing, although I don't know how Facebook and YouTube became a qualifier. Lastly were video games and iTunes, which were strictly entertainment value, except for the children's definition as media "homework."
Then the kids convinced us that we were living below third-world standards because we didn't own a "router." Come to find out, it is a device enabling a single family to engage in multiple arguments over the use of the internet simultaneously.
We selected our unit based on two qualifications, looks and price. Based on the back of the box it was capable of running the Pentagon and NASA while still having memory for a game of solitaire.
Somehow, the gadgets in our home started spontaneously reproducing, until devices were starving for information. Telephones, games, and gear were fighting for internet access to the point that they forgot to do what they were made for. Then the kids found a way to teleport movies through the router and into our television.
Suddenly the bundle of bandwidth laid down and died on the trail like an overworked burrow. In other words, if you were to see our entire five-member family together on the internet highway, you would witness five people on a moped.
Under these circumstances, family members resorted to a new form of Wi-Fi bartering. Because it's happening between multiple floors of our home, we use a civil and calm approach.
"HEY! WHO'S ON THE INTERNET WHEN WE'RE TRYING TO WATCH THIS MOVIE!" Someone will yell from upstairs as a 90-minute movie takes four hours to watch between play and download modes. "I'M TRYING TO GET MY HOMEWORK DONE! THAT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR MOVIE!!!!" I holler between five minute screen changes.
It goes on like this until I implement the Golden Rule, which is, "SINCE I'M THE ONE PAYING FOR THIS INTERNET SERVICE YOU CAN TURN THAT MOVIE OFF UNTIL I'M THOUGH!"
Boy, it's hard trying to check the weather report around this house.
See Bryce's past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
There isn't much time to save GRAMA
Members of the press are obviously upset about the passage of H.B. 477 by the Utah Legislature, but so are many citizens. The bill cripples GRAMA (Government Records Access Management Act), the public's access to government records. Social media were the hardest hit by the bill, but our pocketbooks will be hit when the cost of copies of the records we will still have access to increases.
We are all in the throes of learning how to live in the age of social media. There have been many changes and there are more to come. Not just in our personal lives but in our professions, our politics, national trends and in the overthrow of unpopular governments. We'll figure it out but it is going to take time and there will be mistakes along the way.
And passage of H.B. 477, which further limits access to government records, is a huge mistake.
An explanation of the bill was well put in an editorial written by Charles N. Davies, Associate Professor of the Missouri School of Journalism and former Freedom of Information Chair for the Society of Professional Journalists.
He wrote, "Let's begin with perhaps the most startling section, which would exempt a variety of electronic communications, including text messages, voice mails or video chat from disclosure, regardless of whether public officials are conducting public business.
"This is a lobbyist's dream, and a citizen's nightmare, an untraceable communications channel in which the privileged have exclusive, real-time access to lawmakers on the floor. It's also a real boon for the city council that wishes to hash things out in private rather than debate publicly. Imagine your school board, heads down, texting away while doing "the public's business." It's coming to a public meeting near you, soon, if this bill becomes law.
"Unlike every other state in the country, Utah is now embracing the concept that the medium, rather than the message, is what's important when it comes to openness.
"The law your legislature wishes to scuttle wisely provides that public access depends on the content, not the physical form, of the record. That's more important than ever in an era of fast-changing communication devices.
"For example, text messaging may already be giving way to even faster and more personal one-to-one messaging as the tool of choice for corrupt officials bent on doing things in the dark," Davies stated.
At a time when the public distrusts the government at all levels, it seems unwise to make a move that so blatantly adds another layer of secrey to the governing process.
Regardless of what any of those who voted in favor of the bill say, actions speak louder than words.
There is a citizen effort to get 100,000 signatures for a referendum to place the issue on the ballot. The problem is, there are only 40 days to do so, from the time the referendum was filed with the Lieutenant Governor's office. The president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government, Linda Petersen, said she estimates the deadline will probably be April 22.
The Box Elder News Journal, 55 South 100 West, Brigham City, will have a numbered referendum packet for citizens to sign which will be available on Monday, March 21. The office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
To contact organizers or to volunteer, visit the website savegrama.com.
While Governor Herbert has stated he will call a special session of the legislature to discuss and rework the bill, legislators need to hear from the public about how they wish to be represented. Again, quoting Davies' editorial, " Think the public is going to have that chummy level of access with these officials? Wouldn't you think they all might behave just a tad better knowing that text messages that concern the public's business are subject to disclosure under the GRAMA?
"In their rush to pass this law, I've read as lawmakers talk about protecting their own privacy, and the privacy of constituents. Balderdash – I can read as plain as day in the current statute that private communications unrelated to the public's business are already exempt from GRAMA.
"In an era in which more and more governmental business will be conducted through electronic means, this is a stunning reversal. It removes any semblance of public and press scrutiny from a whole range of government communications, forever, in a single section," he concluded.
Nothing Personal: Should 'a' done
By Tom LaDanyeThere's a current TV commercial running regularly which depicts a man who is a candidate for a heart attack if he doesn't purchase a leading heart medicine and no matter where he goes, a dangerous and life-threatening physical condition is lurking behind him.
This commercial brings to my mind a very common physical condition we all live with. That condition is commonly referred to as "should 'a done."
Here are some should 'a' dones that are commonly neglected:
1. A tendency to find fault with another. The should 'a' done solution is instead of a quick negative judgment, we should first look inward and be sure we are not unwisely seeing in others a primary should 'a done that lies within us.
2. We are constantly beating ourselves down instead of exercising some self-praise by looking at what's best in us rather than a negative self-judgment.
3. The most rewarding should 'a' dones are those expressions of love and gratitude we see in others.
One of my personal experiences - Some years ago, I promised my 16-year-old son I'd take him fishing that weekend. After I promised him, I promptly forgot the promise when someone called and asked me to fulfill a church assignment. I explained my dilemma to my son and told him I was needed somewhere else. He meekly said he understood.
It's 40 years later and I realize that was a should 'a' done I should not have done. My son and I have long since drifted apart and I realize how stupid I was. A broken heart does not make much noise.
Be careful as you prioritize things in your life that you never have to regret a most important should 'a' done that cannot be retrieved.
Tom Ladanye can be contacted at 723-7000.
Rules of order help us disagree agreeably
We're living in crucial times. With so much global and national upheaval, many of us are feeling anxiety, uncertainty and distrust. Whichever side of the issues anyone is on, public input in government affairs has increased, and that's a good thing. Meaningful dialogue is essential to our success as a nation.
There's also a lot of discussion about civility, or the lack of it, in the public forum. We've witnessed what seems to be an increasing number of vitriolic attacks against elected leaders recently.
But that's not anything new. Conflicts have been going on for over two centuries here in the U.S. The union of the colonies was a herculean task. Men with diametrically opposed views came together to find common ground. That hasn't changed much. With such a diverse nation, the need continues for individuals with opposing backgrounds to find that common ground.
Several of the earliest political campaigns in our nation make today's incivility seem mild in comparison. In the presidential campaign of 1800 Thomas Jefferson was characterized as a godless Jacobin who would unleash the forces of bloody terror upon the land. A private letter about John Adams was leaked to the press which stated he had great and intrinsic defects in his character. He was attacked as a hypocritical fool and tyrant, according to the Miller Center of Public Affairs website.
With all the in-fighting that's going on in Washington D.C. - in Congress itself and also in relation to the White House - at least the decorum on the floors of the House and Senate seems to be intact. When the infamous outburst of "You lie!" was heard during President Obama's 2010 State of the Union address, most were shocked such behavior would occur in that august setting, since it rarely occurs in that forum.
Contrast that with the brawl in the Taiwan parliament last July. Injuries resulted from a clock being thrown across the room and a lawmaker being thrown from the podium by opponents. There were several other minor injuries reported.
So how can we disagree agreeably?
Over the weeks and years of covering public meetings, a pattern emerges in local government - county commission, city and town councils, school board. The elected bodies have published agendas which they follow, but with the flexibility to listen to citizens who want to jump into the discussion. Those opportunities for the public are given within the bounds of Robert's Rules of Order, at the discretion of the chair, president, mayor or mayor pro-tem of the elected body.
Robert's Rules of Order are based on parliamentary procedure, first recorded during self-government in Athens, Greece, about 750 B.C., in the general assembly. The next example was the Roman Forum in about 450 B.C. British Parliament followed the practice about 2,000 years later. That tradition continues in various forms throughout the world, including the United States on the federal, state and local levels.
Robert's Rules of Order provide guidelines to allow meaningful dialogue. What that means in a local meeting is that as each agenda item is brought up, there is discussion within the elected body and anyone who has been invited to participate, including city, county or school staff as needed. Members of the public are able to listen to the discussion but not to take part unless the person conducting the meeting recognizes an individual and invites him/her to speak.
Brigham City and Perry city councils and Box Elder Board of Education have a public comment period during each of their meetings. Box Elder County Commission made a change last week and will hold public comment meetings whenever there is a fifth Wednesday of the month. This year those dates are March 30, June 29, August 31 and November 30. Also, law requires that some types of business must have a public hearing before a vote is taken.
Citizens and groups can also be placed on an agenda to discuss an item of concern. For Brigham City, call the Recorder's Office at 734-6621. For the county, call the Clerk's office at 734-3354. For the Board of Education call 734-4800.
Also, elected officials can be contacted individually by any of their constituents in the grocery store, by phone or by appointment, as needed.
Let's continue, here in Box Elder County, to disagree agreeably. It's a win-win for everyone.
My smart phone is making me look dumber
By Bryce Haderlie
I was in a meeting when my phone started ringing and no matter what I did, I couldn't answer it, stop it from ringing, or make me invisible. A few minutes later, it blurted out a random noise that caused others in the room to look at me as if I were suffering from chili Chernobyl. I'm ready to hang a sign around my neck that says, "suffering from smart phone stupidity."
I was perfectly happy with my Blackberry that allowed me to e-mail and text quick messages when I didn't want to go through the pleasantries of a phone conversation. My intelligence and the phone's capabilities were one with the universe. Then the communication world joined the space race.
My new phone is capable of joining MySpace, Facebook, YourFace and Your-Face-Is-In-My-Space. If I can't phone, text, or e-mail you, then you may want to Twitter me to see if I've sent a Tweet. They call it social networking, but it's just a fancy way of communicating without having to talk to each other.
The phone also comes with plenty of "apps" which is an abbreviation for tools. Most phones come with more gadgets than a handyman's workbench. If there aren't enough apps on your phone, you can download more until you're overloaded.
My brother-in-law has the "Swiss Army Knife" of phone apps that truly makes a Boy Scout drool. It has conversion charts, the Periodic Table of Elements, and a financial calculator to figure how many more decades you will need to work before your 401k is large enough to use as a restaurant tip. It's questionable if he'll be able to clean a trout with it.
Smart phones have cameras that can take still photos, action shots, and movies. There's even an app to order movies to watch on the phone. I doubt I'll try that feature for fear I'll go cross-eyed staring at a three inch screen for two hours.
I've seen people using their phones in church to look up biblical references. They can pretty well smoke me in a scripture chase contest unless it lasts for more than 18 hours. There's nothing like seeing an unrepentant soul that's lost their way to heaven because of a dead battery.
If getting lost is normal for you then bring your phone to find your way. Not only can it serve as a flashlight and compass, with the right app you can look at maps of where you are, and where you want to go. Just don't be like the lady in Park City, Utah, who was hit by a car because her map didn't tell her to look both ways before crossing the street.
Smart phones now have hands-off features that allow you to do things by talking to it. I don't care how smart the phones are getting, someone should know that this isn't going to work even though every customer service center thinks otherwise.
I said to my phone, "Call Angie" in hopes of talking to my wife. Somehow, the internet activated and everything I wanted to know about "collagen treatments" was at my disposal. I don't remember what I was calling home for, but my lips sure are fuller and plumper after the doctor visit that my phone scheduled for me.
Sometimes I can use my smart phone to actually speak to other people; unless I lock it and can't remember how to revive it. In that case it rings, blings, and sings as I wrestle with it. Which brings up one last point, for all the tools you can use it for, it doesn't make for a good hammer.
See Bryce's stories on his www.readloosescrews.com or by email at email@example.com.
Are we living with higher standards than before
By Bryce Haderlie
With the economy in a slump and people looking for a brighter future, many are asking the question, "Are we better off than we used to be." The question really depends on how far back you want to look. Is it a few months, eons, or episodes of Gilligan's Island?
Are we better off than Adam and Eve when they were in the Garden of Eden? That really all depends on if you're a fruit lover or not. It's one thing to know that eating green peaches is going to give you stomach ache, but at least it doesn't result in an automatic eviction notice.
I'd say we are much better off than most of the population during the days of Noah. I'm all for a fun woodshop project but I doubt that I would have been sharp enough to be standing on the right side of the gangplank when it was raised. If I had been, I probably would have been part of the stable cleaning crew, which would have raised the question of how long I could tread water.
Some wish that they could have lived in the days of the Greeks and Romans. It was probably a great time with the invention of Socrates, Plato, and the two seated chariot. The question is, what if you weren't one of societies upper crust, would you have been lion food at the Coliseum?
Some women long for the medieval days of England. The big flowing dresses, masquerade balls, and men having enough chivalry to put the toilet seat down on the chamber pot are admirable. But how many women today would put up with wearing a corset that makes you pass out and a chastity belt for safe keeping.
How would it be to say that you lived in the days of the American Revolution? We know that these brave men and women were hoping for a better day. Transcripts from the first Continental Congress show that most of the debate was over losing the itchy wigs. The first draft said, "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for us to dissolve the bands that hold these blasted knee socks up. . ."
Little House on the Prairie episodes showed a time when the pioneering spirit and good old blood sweat and tears stood for something. What we don't realize is how long it took for them to travel. Pa was always hitching up the team to go somewhere like to town, church, or the fields to make hay.
We watched the Engles struggle with bad crops, snowstorms, and bullying neighbors. However, we never saw the most heart wrenching story of when Laura was stuck in the outhouse because Albert took the Sears and Roebuck catalogue to build fires in the hay loft.
You may say that growing up during the 50s and early 60s were great times. Having watched My Three Son's and Leave It To Beaver I believe we can all agree that if we had lived during those times we would have wanted a dog like Lassie. With the farm accidents and people falling into wells and such during those days, that dog was like today's 911 system.
Unless of course you count the number of shirts and pants torn when the rest of the family couldn't figure out what the dog's spastic yapping was all about. A dog like that today would have been put down for aggression or the constant barking that upset the neighbors.
While our 401k accounts have shriveled like a corndog under a warming lamp, we can be grateful that we have it better off than any time in history. I think I'll just go hitch up the team and ride into town to see if they have some fresh fruit. Hopefully there won't be an eviction notice on the door when I get home.
If Neil Diamond were my Valentine
By Amy Wilde
If Neil Diamond were my Valentine he would send me flowers and sing me love songs. We would wear blue jeans pretty much forever all day long, and life would be so good, sooo gooood, SOOOOO GOOD!!! I would go to all his concerts, buy his t-shirts, glue his loose rhinestones on his $5,000 black stage jacket and possibly have Thanksgiving, but not Christmas, in Brooklyn with his family.
If Neil Diamond were my Valentine we would double date with Barb and talk about the good old days with the 'All City Choir'. He would teach me to fence, and take me to Russia and perhaps Poland. We would spend our days watching the grass grow green, where the sun shines all the time, and man, we would be so laid back.
Each time we were apart and then together again, he would say, "Hello, my friend hello." I don't think we would break up, but if we did, it would be no surprise.
Maybe under all that Brooklyn soul and continuous crazy magnetic energy, Neil is just a regular guy, a guy like mine.
My Valentine, well, he is not a singing super star. He owns nothing in the shade of magenta, and would not be caught dead with anything sparkly. Even better, he lets me be me, and doesn't try to change who I am. He is my regular, everyday Valentine.
This month we celebrate all levels of love. Those who are falling in love. Those who have been in love. Those who are in love and those who will soon find love.
Even Neil must know that love is not as easy as it sounds in lyric. Married twice -- divorced twice. He wrote a song at age 16 for his high school sweetheart, a song all about falling in love and running away together. Which is exactly what they did. Until the love stopped working. In truth, love often gets mixed up with a myriad of other emotions. Fear being one of them.
Fear is a cousin to love. Emotionally, it sits side by side.
Fear of heights -- joy of falling. Fear of spiders -- joy of butterflies. Fear of tight spaces -- joy of closeness. Fear of snakes -- joy of being bitten. Fear of getting lost -- joy of being found.
If you want to find love you have to let go of the fear and embrace the joy. Be less eager, and more interesting. Make the first move, but not the second. Try something that pushes you out of your comfort zone, such as a triathlon, and see who you meet. And by all means, learn the art of conversation. Of listening. Of responding. Of mixing mystery with just the right amount of allure.
And if you have a Valentine of your very own – turn on your heart-light and keep believing in love. Never stop flirting with each other. Write a sincere love note with oodles of gratitude. Go on your first date, over and over again, if only to remember all the reasons why you originally fell. Love is not immune to the heart getting bumped and bruised, but just like a "Neil" concert, love is best experienced for yourself. Dancing in the aisles, singing along, and not paying mind to what anyone else thinks.
Loose Screws: Manners still matter at every meal
By Bryce Haderlie
Good etiquette is very important in social settings. This is why Winston Churchill constantly won people over with quotes like, "I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly." Today we will have Mr. Manners tackle proper behavior at the dinner table.
What is the correct way to open your napkin when dinning?
a. Tug at the corners and tie it around your neck.
b. Shake the napkin gently by a corner and tuck it into your shirt.
c. Wait for your waiter to open the napkin and place it gently in your lap.
The answer is none of the above because paper napkins normally unfold when they are pulled from the dispenser. If you happen to eat at a place that uses cloth napkins, be sure to unroll your silverware so that it doesn't fall on the floor.
Is it ever polite to eat with your mouth open?
The answer is yes if your sports team can only score with you shouting words of encouragement at the television until they respond. Just be sure not to spit large particles of food that can become lodged in other people's hair.
When is it polite to put your elbows on the table?
a. When you pray.
b. When signaling the server that you want your plate removed.
c. When you're protecting your food, so that your older brother can's spit on it.
The correct answer is all of the above. The most important thing to remember is that you get less traction on a tabletop with long sleeves, so for maximum grip you should stick to wearing tank tops.
I was having dinner at my future in-laws and I got laughing so hard that I accidently broke wind. Was there a better way to handle this then me running to the restroom and locking myself in until everyone went to bed? Yes, you should have looked at your fiancé, poked him in the ribs with your elbow, and said, "I'd give that a 7."
When you get a piece of gristle in your mouth, you should remove it by?
a. Politely spitting it into your hand and placing it on the table.
b. Calling the dog over and spitting it into his mouth.
c. Having a friend at the table hold his fingers up in a goalpost shape and spit it over his shoulder.
The answer is b unless you fear hitting the dog in the eye, in which case you just spit it on the floor and let the dog fend for itself.
When is it acceptable to pick food up with my fingers? As food quality improves, it is not only okay to pick food up by hand, but in many cases, essential to prevent starvation. Take the average piece of pizza for example. Most plastic restaurant forks lack the structural integrity to break through the cheese, let alone the crust.
I was at a business lunch where my boss had a large piece of lettuce stuck to his chin through his entire Power Point presentation. What should I have done? Mr. Manners suggest shooting it off his chin with spit wads. Tune in next week when Mr. Manners tackles the challenge of telling your date that toilet paper is hanging from the back of her skirt.
See Bryce's past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loose Screws: Finding a picture perfect moment
By Bryce Haderlie
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a face can launch a thousand ships. So does that mean that a picture of you can launch a thousand ships without a word? The answer to this question and many others that don't benefit humanity will be answered here today; or maybe they won't.
Every few years my wife gets the urge to freeze our family in time through photography. It's much easier than being frozen by cryogenics and much less permanent. When was the last time you heard from Walt Disney?
When the budget is tight, we grab the family camera and rush off into the woods to find a piece of nature for a backdrop. One year we wanted snow in our Christmas card photo but hadn't received any yet. If you could see just outside the picture border of us posing in a field of snow, you would see the ski resort crew repositioning the snow making machines.
Angie was feeling the need for a real photo moment when we met Melody and Rhonda who work as professional photographers. We aren't talking about the type of photo studio at the shopping center. These women are capable of taking an average looking family and making them look like professional models. Which is exactly what we needed since my head looks like a marshmallow that's been dropped into the fire ashes.
Melody met us on the edge of nature on a crisp morning when the autumn leaves and sun were cooperating nicely. I wish I could have said the same thing for our three boys. If creating art requires a performance, they were giving it everything they had to be the star of the show.
When they were younger the sight of a camera brought them to tears. After 30 minutes of them acting like it was open mike night at the comedy club, I thought Angie was going to cry. Like a true professional, Melody maintained her composure and didn't hit any of them upside the head with her tripod.
Digital photography advancements have revolutionized the industry. Gone are the days of developing rolls of film, only to find that little Jimmy has his finger up his nose in every frame. Now they can take the head off Aunt Zelda and replace it with a thumb if you want.
In our case, we were perched on a rock, draped in crimson and gold leaves, with a rather large Herford cow deposit right at our feet. Melody didn't seem the least bit concerned by the situation. I'm convinced that with her computer powers, she could have turned that cow pie into matching hats for us if she wanted to.
A few weeks later, we met with Rhonda in their studio to preview the results. Seeing that our boys had grown into young men, that no one's eyes were closed, and that I am definitely gray, brought me to tears. Angie doesn't like me joking that it's the best photo available to use for my obituary.
One of my favorite shots is of us walking down a dirt road as a family. To me it symbolizes the journey we are sharing together. I hope for the most part, we are as truly happy with each other as we look in the picture. There's an old dead aspen tree to one side that I demanded stay in the picture. It's the only visible object that is older and grayer than I am.
I'm thrilled with the photograph hanging over our piano. We're frozen in a time of our lives when our boys still look a little like kids, and we don't look like we are members of AARP. I just wonder what Melody and Rhonda did with that cow pie?
Email Bryce at email@example.com to find out where to contact Rhonda and Melody for your own timeless memories.
Loose Screws: Generation Y, or Generation Why, what does the future hold?
By Bryce Haderlie
As history unfolds, members of the older generation look upon the up and coming offspring and say to their spouses, "I think there's something in her diaper, I'll let you get it." We also ask ourselves if the next generation will ever move out of our homes and stop eating our food. With the recent housing crash that dream may be light years away.
You Baby Boomers are anxiously anticipating retirement judging by the grip that you have on your golf clubs. You are the product of the "Greatest Generation That Ever Lived." Isn't it interesting that this title was bestowed upon this group of citizens after everyone older than them had passed away?
As with each period of time, these wise sages look upon each succeeding generation, wondering if there is any hope for the future. At the very least they are wondering what is going on with the television programming. What they wouldn't give for some new Jacky Gleason episodes over the mountain of hospital and police CSI dramas.
Anyway, the Baby Boomers are the product of a post war celebration that occurred without a reliable form of birth control. This resulted in an extremely large bulge in the product of humanity here in the United States, and we aren't referring to the impact of fast food either. As this group retires, we look for someone to take their place at the helm of society and start producing.
At least this would have been the case if the Baby Boomers hadn't lost all their 401K money and are now extending retirement until they are 84, but that's another story. The Generation X folks, those who aren't on unemployment at the moment, see a future with the demise of Social Security and underperforming mutual funds. As a result, most of them are putting their investments into lotto tickets, which appear to have a slightly higher return on investment than stuffing cash under the mattress.
This leaves us with our next generation, the Y generation. Why do we call you the Y generation? Because it comes after X, silly. Didn't they teach you that in kindergarten?
According to a December 17, 2010 Kiplinger Letters article written by Managing Editor, Melissa S. Bristow, the members of the Y Generation are poised to set the course of our future. As mentioned above, it makes us old geezers nervous. Not because they aren't capable, it's just that we saw them go through drivers education.
According to the article, the Y Generation is more technically savvy. Our response to this is "no kidding!" The medical industry has been downloading children's minds with computer knowledge for years and we didn't even know it. Do you think that the ultrasound was really invented to tell you the baby's sex?
Their grasp of computers is a big step away from past generations who spent their time on the farm "threshing" food products. Don't worry about their work ethic though, these young whipper-snappers know what a callus is; even if it did come from the Play Station controller. They aren't afraid to thresh in the fields either, as long as it's on the Farmville computer game.
The article does warn that we will need to get used to this next generation looking different than older citizens. It reports that 40 percent of this group have a tattoo, with 18 percent of them owning six or more, and that a quarter of these 77-million citizens have a body piercing that is not located in the earlobe. Do you know what that means, America? We will never get through the airport screening and metal detectors in time to catch our flight!
Other than that, the article says we have nothing to fear. The next generation will be fully capable of taking over the reins, and leading us into the future. That is as soon as someone figures out how to attach reins to a computer keyboard.
Dirty Little Secret
By Amy Wilde
Miss America contestants do it, my friend Jessica does it, and I have heard big-time celebrities are doing it to. That's right. I am taking about dirty hair.
Last fall I attended the annual 'Wilde Barn Dance' when out of the corner of my eye I saw this amazing, full, happy hair coming toward me. It was my friend Jessica's marvelous hair. I said, "Girl, how do you get your hair to DO that??" to which she replied, "Feel it! It's totally dirty." She was right. It had a texture that was keeping it in place and giving it the va-va-voom I so desired.
All night my thoughts kept going back to how I could achieve the dirty hair look. Finally brilliance hit me right in the face! I remembered when I was a kid and my Dad had just returned from the desert with the Army Reserve, and he was telling us that he could not wash his hair for a week (gross!). Then, he pulled out a small green Army container labeled 'dry shampoo'. It was filled with a cornstarch like substance that required no water. Huh?? No water?? No way would I ever put that white powder on my hair, not even in a survival situation where looking pretty is top priority. And, that was that. Until now of course.
The thing is, as most women know, a gal has to wash her hair often or it looks as if the oil spill happened on top of her head instead of the gulf coast. Hence, most of us wash frequently. If you are an average age woman, with average hair, of average length, you probably spend 20-45 minutes doing your hair in the morning. That is 121 to 273 hours a year!
I would like a little of that time back in 2011.
So, out of curiosity, I googled 'dry shampoo', and guess what? No mention of anything military or survival. All of the words pointed to trendy, celebrity, fashionable, and green (as in 'saving water green'). I was sold. I hustled to my local grocer and with much searching found a dusty can of spray-on dry shampoo. Looks like I was the only one on a mission to save time styling AND our planet. I kept my expectations low, and tried to remind myself that my Dad used to use this same kind of product at Summer Camp. Once home I sprayed, then waited, then fluffed, then…wow…my hair was filled with body and just the right balance of dirt and clean to make it really sing!
Oh freedom!! I immediately put a plan of action together for the next seven days. I wanted to test this stuff out on a full scale model. Would people notice my hair more? Would I really have extra time? Would I dare tell people my secret? Yes, yes, and yes.
Now, twice a week I skip my real shampoo and spray on the magic. For me, that equates to just about 78 hours a year that I get back. Seventy eight hours - or 936 bed-time stories, or 56,160 five-second hugs, or 468 one-mile jogs, or 156 phone calls with my closest friend.
But the one I like best is the extra minutes I get back at night for holding my baby, giving her kisses, smelling her skin, not watching the clock, and wishing she could stay small forever.
And that is exactly the kind of time I like to buy.
Follow Amy on her blog www.amywildeatmosphere.blogspot.com, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for comment.
Loose Screws: Re-gift or revolt, the dilemma after the big day
By Bryce Haderlie
Now that the Christmas hubbub has calmed down, there may be a gift under the tree that hasn't found a home. The gift that makes you wonder if the giver has an overabundance of tree flock between his ears. Don't despair, because some gifts are able to give all year long.
To the co-worker who spent countless hours slaving away at the gym to lose those pesky ten pounds. Your boss' thoughtful gesture was a membership in the "Chocolate Around the World" club. Bring those one-pound boxes of goodies to the office each month within his easy reach and watch his seams swell with joy.
For the 16 year old who's parents want to keep you a little boy by giving you 10,000 piece Lego sets each year instead of a new Mustang. Line the tiny pieces up under the edge of the couch in easy reach of the vacuum, or lose a few in the garbage disposal occasionally. It may be time for a family automobile upgrade if some of those pieces fall into the car's defrost vents.
There's the poor housewife hoping to take the winter chill off her bones with a new flannel nightgown. Instead, your gallant groom gives you sleepwear with the total area and material thickness of a hair net. Send the message of your devoted gratitude by turning the thermostat up to 120 degrees, then sleep in long underwear, wool socks, and a chastity belt until April.
Grandpa, we know you don't expect much on the big day because you've probably already bought it for yourself. The kids give you a cheap golf ball distance finder in hopes that you will gush about their generosity. Take a long hard look through the viewfinder as the crowd waits apprehensively for approval and say, "Wow, it looks like your inheritance is further off than I thought."
Somewhere out there is a fair young maiden who waited through the Christmas holiday for her knight in shining armor to present her with an engagement ring. However, he chose to stay out of the commitment circle by giving you a new blender. Resist your urge to see if his head will fit inside the bowl while it is running. Instead, make him a fruit smoothie with healthy banana, orange, and kiwi peelings.
Are you the parents of a seven-year-old child, whose optimistic grandparents gave her a chemistry set "for children 16 and older"? The same child, who at the age of three, received an Easy Bake Oven, that resulted in a city wide blackout and trauma therapy for the family cat? Tell your little scientist that this wonderful gift will stay at her grandparent's house where she can conduct experiments with acid and the Bunsen burner on Grandma's kitchen counter.
And finally, to the man of the house who is still recovering from third degree burns on his fingers and singed chest hair from the paramedic's heart defibrillator paddles, remember that you were on a one-way walk to the eternal light from the simple task of changing a cracked light switch cover. Now you're looking at a 1,079 piece tool set and a book on 101 home remodeling projects from your wife. It might be time to up your life insurance policy.
If these suggestions don't fit the bill, don't despair, that's what re-gifting is all about. Your mother-in-law may not be all that wild about you, but wait until she opens those size 12 Bugs Bunny slippers on her birthday and see how her feelings for you change.
It might cause some family friction to pass on that "nightgown" to your sixteen-year-old niece. So let her develop her talents with that "Last Supper" needle point project you received.
Remember, it's not about the gift, it's about the thought. Now you can get rid of the thought that you're stuck with that gift.
Nothing Personal: Quiet things
By Tom LaDanye
Steve Callahan spent 76 days adrift in a raft in the Atlantic Ocean when his sloop sank in a severe storm. In writing about his harrowing experience, he said, "In these special moment of pure peace, I discovered a strange gift. I was able to secure food in a short time by fishing each day and water to drink caught in my raft, and I sought shelter in my rubber tent. For the first time in my life, I saw how complicated my past life seemed and I saw the vast difference between our wants and needs. I always had the basics: food, shelter, clothing and companionship, yet I was often dissatisfied when I didnt get everything I wanted. When others didn't meet my expectations, when a goal was thwarted or when I couldn't get some material goody I got very uptight.
"My plight gave me a strange kind of wealth, the most important kind . . . inner peace and perhaps the greatest gift was that in the face of great obstacles, I felt no fear. I valued each moment that I didn't have pain, desperation, hunger, thirst or loneliness. Here, there is richness all around me. I see God's face in the smooth waves, His grace in the dolphins' swim as they glide through the sea, feel His breath on my face as it sweeps down from the sky and sense His love burning in my breast."
Today, it seems like everything is blaring, loud, rude, crude, hurried, violent, impersonal, disconnected . . . and busy. Too busy, in fact, to notice the quiet things like a beautiful sunrise or sunset, new buds springing forth on the trees, a purple pansy poking out of the melting snow in the spring, a child's laugh, a neihgbor's warm smile, a flock of geese overhead and the warm sunshine streaming through the windows, the passing of the lyrics of a familiar tune through your mind or a pleasant thought or memory touching your soul.
Pure love, at its deepest level, is wordless. So is kindness. Communion with the Spirit is a special calming influence that can only be felt in the heart.
Some of life's most precious gifts aren't for sale and aren't things you can buy, touch or see; they are the quiet things.
Tom Ladanye can be reached at 279-1000.
Loose Screws: Is this gift appropriate? Mr. Fixit knows the answer
By Bryce Haderlie
Once again the mailbags are overflowing with eager readers wanting to know what they should get their favorite someone for Christmas. As always, Mr. Fixit has conjured up some common sense answers to your gift choice; ideas that when considered in retrospect, will seem slightly better than a case of violent food poisoning. Join us as we decide what size shotgun is suitable for a child.
Shelling Out For a Great Gift: I really want to get our six year old a shotgun for Christmas but my wife thinks this is not an age appropriate toy for our daughter. What do you think?
Mr. Fixit: Many people would argue that getting a girl of this age a weapon would be a sign of immaturity on the part of an adult. However, there are many immature adults out who would agree that a 12-gauge pump action Mossberg is a swell starter unit. Of course, you should be willing to trade her your "Beach Mate Barbie" when you borrow the gun to sight it in for her.
Rolling In The Dough: My wife doesn't like to get kitchen appliances for gifts, judging by the way she threw her new toaster into the street last Christmas. But we need a new bread mixer since I used ours as a parts washer for my boat trailer axle bearings. What do you suggest?
Mr. Fixit: Then don't buy her anything that could be confused as a food preparation tool. My suggestion is a half-inch heavy duty drill mounted to a drywall mud mixing paddle will be a great stand-in for the dough mixer. Don't forget the five gallon bucket for the mixing bowl. This combination has proven to work well with pancake mix and salad preparation as well.
Out In Left Field: My son wants a new baseball glove waiting under the tree from Santa on Christmas morning. We can't afford the $200 mitt that he wants, can you suggest an alternative?
Mr. Fixit: Since your boy has a few months until the season starts, I suggest three yards of heavy-duty leather, some stitching string, and a pack of needles. Tell the boy that if he wants something bad enough he can build it himself. Developing that "can-do" attitude is important in our youth during this worldwide recession.
Pardon Me: Grandma says that all she wants for the holiday season is her grandchildren's help cleaning and fixing up her place. Do you think I can get work release for this type of activity?
Mr. Fixit: Judging by the list of offenses that you provided with your letter it appears highly unlikely that you will be allowed any time away from your current arrangement. I base this on the fact that high priced vehicles have a way of following you home. This might be a good year to put a stamp collection together for Granny.
Making A Heavy Decision: My husband has put on a little weight and his doctor ordered him to watch what he eats, and to exercise more regularly than once a month. Do you think it would be in poor taste to get him some sort of exercise machine for Christmas?
Mr. Fixit: Not at all, because most people just need a little motivation to get off the couch and burn a few calories off the old caboose. Pick exercise equipment that will hold his interest and give him something to work towards. Put a book together with surprise gifts that can be redeemed for every few hundred miles that he rides or walks. Most of all remember that I like black, I like my exercise equipment to be black and shiny.
Loose Screws: Finding new ways to spice up date night
By Bryce Haderlie
Has your dating life turned dull? Would your spouse or friend rather balance the checkbook than be with you? Does a night out on the town mean fast food and a video store before returning home to pick belly button lint on the couch? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you may need to add a little spice to your dating life.
Grabbing a bite to eat and doing something interesting for a date should not amount to scouring the food sample tables at Costco while looking for loose change in the aisles. To make it more interesting, pretend that someone is suffering a heart attack and practice a mild version of CPR on them.
The key to a great date is finding activities out of the norm. Ladies, this may be a great time to join your man for a game of golf. Let him play the entire game with only the putter while you get the rest of the clubs. You could make him use the cupped pond ball retriever pole but it’s likely he will use it like a Lacrosse stick and fling the ball down the fairway.
Change up a dinner date by letting the other person order your food. If you’re daring, you will plug your ears while they order. Take it up one more notch by feeding each other while blindfolded. This might be a wise occasion to eat with spoons.
If you go to a movie, one wears a blindfold while the other person explains what’s going on. Judging by all the chatter I hear during the movies, it seems this game has caught on with many of you already.
Angie and I (this is a true story) went on a party date where we each had five to ten dollars to buy our spouse something we thought they would want if we were stranded together for a week on a deserted island. When we got back from the stores we opened the gifts to enjoy some great surprises and laughs. I bought Angie some candy and magazines to pass the time.
I got an XXXL pink night gown with spaghetti straps and a ruffled bottom that hit me about mid thigh. There was probably an underlying message with this gift that went right over my head. I was mostly overwhelmed at how good my cleavage looked in the outfit.
Get your date involved with a winter activity by going night skiing together. Play chase though the trees or mix a game of Frisbee into the evening. Everyone looks like a great skier in the dark if you are wearing sunglasses and a football helmet.
Find a way to give service to others and earn some serious points with your date. Helping an elderly person across the street is a great gesture. It’s even more appreciated when the person actually wants to go that direction.
Too often we think that a date has to cost a lot of money. This is a great time to show your ingenuity by making up games or creating a fun time from the resources around you. Dumpster diving can be fun if you visit some of the wealthier neighborhoods. Be sure to stick to the garbage cans outside the homes.
Keep the memories alive with pictures of your adventures so that your kids will believe your stories and try to exploit you with them later in life. Keep the camera handy because you never know when an opportunity for a great shot might come up. If all you have is mug shots in your photo album you could be taking things too far.
Above all, remember that dating is an opportunity to reconnect with the things that you like most about the other person. Think of it as an exciting adventure to experience something new. Even if it’s saying to the lady in the hairnet pushing egg rolls, “Are you choking? I can help.”
See Bryce’s past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at email@example.com.
By Amy Wilde
Hesitate or Jump
Today I hesitated. I saw a couple, well advanced in age, in the parking lot of Walmart who clearly needed help. Their car alarm was going off, loud as could be, and while she waited in the car with her perfect white curls, her husband, dressed in a cardigan and slacks, tried to stop the darn thing from sounding.
It was likely an easy fix. Most cars require you to unlock the driver’s side door with the key in order to quiet the alarm (assuming you don’t have a key-less entry). He was trying to free her from the passenger side. It was clearly frustrating to him as he tried to find a way to unlock the door and help his wife like the gentleman he appeared to be. I hesitated. Maybe I could have helped, and maybe not, but I wish I could have a “redo” of that moment. I thought about it long after the day had passed.
I was just six years and two weeks old when a few of us neighborhood kids decided to take a walk to the new pond just up the street and around the block. The pond, which was actually a deep and dangerous reservoir basin, had been filling up for days. Independence and adventure called to us, as it often did, and so with my older sister Jeannie (7 years old), younger sister Tami (3), brother Todd (5), and a neighborhood friend, David (3), we set out with sweaters in hand on an expedition to the pond.
It did not take us long to find a pathway to the water’s edge that led to a steep and thrilling drop off, or to find rocks to roll in and make a splash. Soon, a game of who could make the biggest splash with the rocks began. First the rocks were the size of golf balls, then baseballs. Oh how they made a great entrance into the water!
While we older kids were celebrating a game well invented, we didn’t notice three-year-old David trying to throw a rock nearly the size of his head into the water. And in a flash he was drowning. The rock was too big, and he was too small. I saw his body floating in the water. It was a terrifying moment, one that has burned its memory into my mind. I screamed to my sister Jeannie, who was, and still is a heroine.
In an instant she was down at the water’s edge trying all her tricks to get little David out of the water. When nothing seemed to work from the bank, she made a split no-thinking decision to jump in and save him. And save him she did. After several tense minutes, she pulled him out of the water, and they lay, both gasping for air in the cool of the entering night.
Then, drawing her red sweater around David, she led the pack of kids along the trails and back to the safety of home. When the newspaper interviewed Jeannie the next day she said, “I didn’t think about going to get some help because I knew he would be drowned before then.” That spring day there was no hesitation.
Hesitation is delay, pause, doubt and indecision. It is reluctance and fear. We have the choice each day to help those in need, to skip hesitation, and go right for the good stuff. You may not be saving a life, but I can tell you that this Christmas Season, if you listen to your heart and not to hesitation, you will find moments to show your true character. And those moments, will never ask for a “redo”.
Follow Amy on her blog www.amywildeatmosphere.blogspot.com, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for comment.
Thanks for your patience, we’ll be with you in an eternity
By Bryce Haderlie
In the name of improved customer service, many businesses are resorting to novel ways of lowering costs to increase corporate dividends. One of these is to replace live customer service agents with computer generated personalities who are hard of hearing, forgetful, and miserably pleasant, no matter how many vulgarities you scream during the conversation.
The call goes like this. “Welcome to Snodenhefer groceries, hardware, mulch and more. In order to assist you better, will you please state the reason for your call.” This would seem like a perfectly natural time to say, “I have my left arm stuck in your wood chipper and I want to know if the sheer pin is covered under warranty.”
You could actually say this if it was your problem, but since the computer on the other end of the line is also multi-tasking by working for the IRS, it gets easily distracted, which leads to, “I’m sorry, I did not hear your response, will you please repeat it?”
What you don’t know is that there’s a loud speaker in the call center and when someone gets a real live wire on the line they turn the sound system up for everyone to hear. “Hey, listen to this one,” a service rep yells as she manipulates the computer’s response, asking you to repeat your concern.
“Um,” the caller responds hesitantly, “My stove is shooting flames across our kitchen and I can’t shut it off.” At which time the computer kindly states, “I did not hear your selection, will you please repeat it?” They do this several times as everyone erupts in laughter and they high-five each other.
There’s a particular company that sells, repairs, and provides funeral services for major kitchen appliances. Each time we speak, the computer lady asks a list of questions with a highly concerned and caring tone in her mechanical voice.
“What’s your full name, what is the reason for your call, how many kidneys do you have?”
After each response she repeats it back to me just to be sure that we are on the same page and that she is working to resolve my problem. This goes on for several minutes to be sure she doesn’t accidentally transfer me to someone in their air traffic control department.
Soon we are on a first name basis (hers is Violet), exchanging jokes and recipes. Although every time I ask her what state she lives in and what the weather is like she says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your last response, will you please repeat it.” The ironic thing is that once a live person gets on the line, the same questions start all over again.
I just got off the phone with a computer service rep who had me say my name and spell it. She then repeated back, “So your name is Blagh Hell.” She played back the recording of my response to prove that I sounded like a whale using mating calls.
The conversation went downhill from that point until I was screaming my name, how to spell it, and several other words that were outside her vocabulary list. Apparently, these computer people haven’t had to herd cows before.
In a state of frustration I started pounding the “0” button, which in computer service language says “ABORT, ABORT, ABORT!” I spent 15 minutes holding, and being told every minute, “Thank you for your patience, a service representative will be with you shortly.” Finally, I heard a human voice, a voice with intellect and common sense. He said, “Good morning, Mr. Blagh Hell, what can I do for you today?” See Bryce’s past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or email him at email@example.com.
Hearts & Hands: Avoiding seasonal stressBy Lori Nawyn
Our reactions to life’s challenges and heartaches can impact our health and happiness year round. But during the holidays, when our expectations of ourselves and others run high, defining our priorities and choosing a positive outlook is especially important when it comes to avoiding stress.
Seasonal stress - yes there’s a name for it - can occur when we worry we won’t be able to meet the expectations of others, or when we believe someone else has not or will not meet our expectations. When we fear holiday peace and joy are unattainable, the resulting anxiety can lead us to believe the holidays are something to dread.
If you’re tired of seasonal stress the good news is that past holiday history does not have to become unchangeable destiny. The first step is to recognize the three Ds,
Discouragement - Discouragement can creep in when we compare ourselves to others, particularly when it comes to finances. Television and movies show people of all ages engaged in shopping for things they know they can’t afford simply because the season dictates the behavior. Not only is spending a lot portrayed as necessary to finding happiness, there’s also sentiment that communicates the message that spending equals love. Often the media makes it look trendy to go into debt because no one wants to be known as a cheapskate. And the bigger, the more expensive the gift, the more gifts, the more it proves our love for someone, right?
That’s a question only we can, and should, answer for ourselves. Along with what our motives are for holiday spending.
Just as physically unhealthy habits can at first appear to be attractive, spending too much can seem appealing as well. When we see other holiday shoppers with arms and carts loaded down, we may feel a sort of obligation to follow suit because we don’t want our loved ones to go without, or possibly ourselves. Remember that even during the holidays there’s a need to separate needs from wants.
Discontent - Discontent can come about when we feel the demands of the season outweigh what we have to offer emotionally. Not only do we find ourselves at different stages in our lives every year as we age, and those around us do too, holiday traditions are frequently altered due to additional circumstances. Economic changes, divorce, illness, and death impact everyone in different ways.
When we feel pressured to be happy, and to do our best to make those around us happy, the holidays can become painful. Just like spending too much can put us into debt, and eating too much can cause us to feel miserable and even impact our health, anticipated or expected holiday togetherness can be difficult to cope with.
Expectations and perceptions of one’s self and others can vary widely. Our life experiences and interpretations of trials and challenges can shape us into individuals who may at given times in our lives grow either closer or further apart from family ideals. While it’s true the holidays can help soften hearts and heal fractured relationships, the expectation that all wrongs will be set right by spending holiday time together is unrealistic. When emotions run high, relationship problems or differences of opinion are unlikely to be resolved.
Disillusionment - Disillusionment can occur as we find ourselves engaged in seasonal Olympics that lead to perceived failure when we don’t possess superhuman qualities. What we feel are our responsibilities, decorating, shopping, cooking and baking, and socializing, even wrapping gifts and sending cards, can easily overwhelm us. Most of us generally expect more of ourselves during the period of December 1 through the end of the holidays than we do at any other time of the year. Deficiencies we might see and forgive during other months become inexcusable and fear of failure intolerable. We push ourselves hard and end up run down, exhausted and ill. When our bodies refuse to comply with what our minds demand it’s easy to believe we’re inferior and lose sight of why we chose to celebrate the season in the first place.
Add our physical limitations, plopping themselves down squarely in the way of our good intentions, to discouragement over finances, and discontent among or with others, and it becomes a potent mix that can lead to despair and depression.
Time spent asking ourselves what it is we really desire from the holidays is time well spent, time that can help us replace the three Ds with the three positives we can control, three Ps.
Prioritize: Think back to years past. What brought you true happiness? What did you enjoy the most? In what ways were relationships strengthened? What brought you peace? What is your definition of the perfect Christmas? What should stay the same? What would you like to change? If there are circumstances beyond your control, like the loss of a loved one, what are some things you can impact for the better? Are there new traditions you’d like to incorporate into your commemoration of the season?
Plan: Let your mind leap over and past the season for a few minutes. Set goals for where you want to be and how you want to feel after the holidays. Where would you like to be financially? In your relationships with others? How would you like to feel physically? Emotionally? Spiritually?
In your planner or on a calendar, begin to record what you want to do and when during the season. As you recall your priorities and goals, schedule first the things you look forward to, the things you know you’ll enjoy, and the things that will help you attain your after holiday objectives.
Next, schedule in the things you realistically need to do. Last of all, jot down the things you feel you have to do, things you’re not really thrilled about but may feel an obligation for. Along with the need-to-do’s and have-to-do’s also schedule something enjoyable, even if it’s small, that has some significance for you, and/or an element that will let you refocus and take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Prepare: Even with priorities and plan in place, there will be some rough spots. Throughout the year proper rest, nutrition, and exercise help you stay on your game and those same elements will help ensure you’re in the best physical condition possible to celebrate the holidays. Taking care of your body will better equip you for any emotional obstacles.
You can’t change how others will act, but you can choose to maintain an attitude of thankfulness for your power to chose your reactions and pick your priorities. What’s true during the rest of the year is also true during the holidays: everyone has good days, everyone has days that are not so great, no two people think exactly alike, and relationships take work.
Give everyone, even yourself, the benefit of the doubt. Try to find common ground with others, even if it’s only a tiny island in a vast sea of difference. Maintain healthy boundaries. Dismiss criticism; show respect and kindness. Cry if you need to. Show gratitude for those who are indeed trying to do their best. And remember to look for the silver lining in every crowd.
The solutions to avoiding seasonal stress can be as simple as they are complex, but well worth the effort to recognize what you believe to be truly important when it comes to celebrating the holidays.
Loose Screws: When the day after Thanksgiving leaves you black and blue
By Bryce Haderlie
Should you really be sitting around reading the newspaper when the threat of mortal combat hangs in the air? We aren’t talking about fighting Grandpa for the drumstick, or arm wrestling Aunt Ethel for the last slice of pie. For many of you, Thursday is just a chance to load up on carbohydrates like a marathon runner before the big race.
We’re talking about Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. In American civilization, this is the closest experience we have to the brutal Huns from medieval times invading your local Target store. I’m not suggesting that those of you flocking to shopping centers at 3 a.m. are barbarians. Heaven knows you don’t wear your loin cloth in those temperatures.
The news is buzzing about all of the great deals coming your way this Friday in an effort for retailers to pry the last dollar from your pocket. It seems that flat screen televisions are a hot item again. So what if you already have a 42” flat screen in every room of your home from the past 18 deep discount holidays? Mount one in the minivan for the GPS guidance system. Put legs on it and place it in the living room as an interactive coffee table. Or, just keep an extra one around for a platter to serve the Thanksgiving turkey on.
Getting quickly into the store Friday morning to nab the coveted products is a high priority. This is even more important than parking your car directly in the fire lane in front of the store with the engine running. Spend a few days scouting the fastest route through the store, clear your path, even if it means pushing unsuspecting shoppers into the produce bins.
If you intend to shop in a pack like wolves, you can use diversionary tactics. Have someone run through the store shouting, “Oh look, they’ve moved the electronics section over here!” as they lead a mob of shoppers into the diaper isle.
Shopping carts placed in key locations are as effective as orange cones on the freeway. Print up some traffic signs the night before and tape them to carts placed at key locations through the store. It’s likely that most people won’t even realize they’ve been detoured into the tire service center in all the chaos.
Women, now is the time to study Monday night football to brush up on some aggression tactics for the big day. Just like a linebacker works to strip the football while tackling the runner, you may need to rip the last iPod from another shopper’s hands as they dive toward the checkout counter.
Don’t underestimate the importance of hand to hand combat. I’m not suggesting that you want to hit someone with your bare fist. No, that’s too easy for police to identify you from your fingerprints. Use an aluminum lawn chair just like the World Wrestling Federation matches.
Dress in loose clothing that allows you to flex and move with agility. You might even want to wear an extra layer in case someone gets a hold of you and you need to roll out of a jogging suit to avoid being taken down by a herd of angry shoppers. No detail is too small when you’re after the CSI Ballistics Expert Barbie.
In the current economic state, we can’t look at the holiday season as a time to inflate our own selfish desires with material goods. This is your opportunity to contribute to the prosperity of America. So eat another helping of potatoes, you’ll need your strength in the checkout aisle. See Bryce’s past stories on his blog www.readloosescrews.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.