Friday, April 29, 2011

Are You Insulting Your Pet?

Are You Insulting Your Pet?

I insult my dog on a fairly regular basis. Did you see that? I just did it again.

According to Oxford professor Andrew Linzey, the editor of the Journal of Animal Ethics, it's insulting to our pets to use terms like "mine" and "my," because it denotes that they're property.

We also shouldn't call them pets, because the term is insulting.

(I'll give you a minute to soak that one in. Take your time.)

Professor Linzey edited and launched the first ever Journal of Animal Ethics, a new academic journal published by Oxford University and the University of Illinois. Having solved all other problems in the world related to animal testing, animal fighting, bull fighting, and PETA's euthanizing shelter animals, they can now turn their attention to whether we should call our pets "our pets."

"Despite its prevalence, 'pets' is surely a derogatory term both of the animals concerned and their human carers," Linzey said in the editorial.

Instead, says the academic, we should refer to the critters and beasts as "companion animals."

Linzey's editorial also says we can't call them "critters" and "beasts," and our idea of "owning" an animal is outdated.

"Again the word 'owners', whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines or things to use without moral constraint," Linzey said in "his editorial."

Excuse me, in the "free living companion essay." Linzey thinks we should be referred to as "human carers," and not as owners, because we can't own animals. Never mind that we paid for them, pay their vet bills, and keep them inside the house.

Here's the thing: the animals themselves don't care. They don't speak English. They don't understand words, unless it's "eat," "outside," and "NO!" My dog — that's right, I said "my" dog — doesn't realize when I'm trash talking her or saying things that would make a human upset.

So when I use a sweet sing-songy voice, and say "who's an emotional burden on her family? Who's an emotional burden?" she gets really excited because I'm speaking sweetly and excitedly. (Note: my dog is not actually an emotional burden; I say this to make my wife laugh.)

That's because animals understand our tone of voice more than the words. They know what the sounds and the tone means. A sharp "NO!" means stop doing that, but "stop doing that" means nothing to them.

So frankly, Professor Linzey, animals don't really care if we call them pets. They care that we feed them, take them outside to do their business, and give them a safe, clean place to sleep. As long as we fill those basic needs, they don't mind if we call them pets, critters, or a poor substitution for real human companionship.

But Linzey and "his" co-editor Priscilla Cohn of Penn State University, home of the Nittany Lions, also want to get people to stop calling wild animals "wild animals."

"We invite authors to use the words 'free-living', 'free-ranging' or 'free-roaming," said Linzey's editorial. Sorry, I mean the editorial that Linzey wrote with his co-editor.

Sorry, not "his co-editor," but a fully self-actualized consenting woman who freely chose to cooperate in writing this drivel.

"For most, 'wildness' is synonymous with uncivilised, unrestrained, barbarous existence," said the editorial. "There is an obvious prejudgment here that should be avoided," it added, completely missing the fact they had just prejudged "most people" by assuming we associated wildness with barbarous existence. (Okay, we totally do, but still, they're prejudging.)

But Linzey and Cohn aren't done with this. They also want to have a go at some of our sayings — "sly as a fox," "eat like a pig," and "drunk as a skunk" — because it's unfair to animals.

No, what's unfair is that foxes aren't that smart, we actually eat pigs (mmm, bacon!), and a skunk has never been drunk as far as I can tell.

"We shall not be able to think clearly unless we discipline ourselves to use less than partial adjectives in our exploration of animals and our moral relations with them," said Linzey and Cohn.

Sorry guys, I think the Good Ship Thinking Clearly sailed the minute you asked us to stop calling our pets "our pets." If you want to focus on ethical animal treatment, you should try putting a stop to dog fighting and product testing on animals.

Or better yet, visit a bear-infested wilderness and explain your views on how they're now considered "free-living" and not "wild" anymore. We'll see how clear thinking you are when they try to eat you.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

The Curse of the Summer Haircut

The Curse of the Summer Haircut

I traumatized my son today. I cut his hair.

My son isn't Samson. He didn't lose his strength when I did it, although I'm sure there were a couple of times he was looking for some pillars he could push to knock the house down and take me with it.

My son is 8, and is from Haiti, but he has fairly loose curly hair. He is also not as diligent about combing and picking out his hair as a father might hope, but as you would expect from an 8 year old boy. So whenever I do it, there are a lot of tangles, which get a death grip on the pick and pull no matter what I do, and the whole thing ends in sobbing and recriminations. My son gets pretty upset too.

So after a grueling 10 minutes of trying to pick it out, I decided to cut his hair.

My son always gets worried when I announce it's haircut time. That's because for a couple years, I was the one who would always saddle him with his Summer Haircut.

The Summer Haircut is the buzz cut many parents invariably give to their sons, usually when they're around 6 or 7. That's the age when boys are not yet fashion-conscious enough to worry about their hair, and too young to know they should put up a fuss. So their parents either haul them off to the barber, or they pull out their own clippers, slap on the 1/8" guard, and go to town.

My own mother gave me my Summer Haircut one year, but she waited too long. I was 8 years old, and cared enough about my appearance — not much, mind you, just a little — to know that my buzz cut looked totally stupid. Combine that with my plastic horn-rimmed glasses and the green plaid pants my mom bought for me, and it was only a matter of luck and a keen interest in playing sports that kept me from becoming a complete nerd. (If it had been five years later, and I'd had access to a computer at age 8, my life would be completely different.)

I sported a crewcut that summer, because my mom thought it would look handsome on me. However, I griped and complained enough that she refused to cut my hair that way the following summer. I was relieved, but I still ended up feeling guilty for not liking it, like she had done something special for me and I had refused it.

Of course, the buzz cut is only slightly worse than the four or so years I tried parting my hair down the middle, as was the fashion in the 1980s. I never considered that since my hair had a cowlick on one side and a natural part on the other, I would spend those four years fighting the forces of nature, or that my staunch refusal to use any hair product would doom my hair style to failure.

I finally gave up and cut my hair short again — funny how things come full circle — and when it grew back, it naturally fell into the part I have now, and I haven't changed it for nearly 25 years. The part has gotten a little easier to maintain in that time, sort of like carrying a bucket of water that has a slow leak.

But despite my own resistance to the buzz cut, I was a little disappointed when, after two summers of very short hair, my son told me he didn't want his Summer Haircut this year. I don't know why. It was an awesome haircut. He has a great shaped head, like Patrick Stewart from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and his haircut really showed that off.

But he decided last fall that he didn't like the Summer Haircut, despite all the prominent athletes and celebrities who sported the shorn look. Instead, he prefers his hair to be somewhat long and in an afro, which brings us back to the problem of the tear-jerking tangles.

After some gentle coaxing and a promise not to tease him about all the girls who will go crazy for his new haircut, he has said he may consider letting me give him another Summer Haircut in June, although after my latest efforts, he's sporting a short afro this Spring. But despite my wife's "what's good for the little goose is good for the big goose" logic, I will not be sporting a similar haircut, shave my goatee, or otherwise alter my appearance.

The hair I have left needs a sporting chance before it's finally gone.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Look Everyone, I'm a Distraction!

Look Everyone, I'm a Distraction!

One of the dumbest things I ever heard when I was a kid was the phrase "distract the other students from their education." I tended to hear it frequently, since I was the distraction, but I heard it in relation to other things too, especially in high school.

We couldn't wear t-shirts with bad words, or insinuations of bad words, because it would distract the other students from their education. We couldn't chew gum because of "the distractions." And we couldn't carry — not play with, just carry — a toy, because it would distract our classmates who apparently had the attention span of a hyperactive chipmunk.

Anytime a teacher or administrator said "distract the other students, I always heard "we don't want you to do this, because we don't want you to have fun or enjoy school. Ever." Just when I found something that brought the slightest sparkle of relief into my day, I could pretty much count on a teacher to squash that tiny ray of hope like a size 12 army boot on a helpless bug.

I thought I had left all that behind as the educational system grew more progressive and enlightened. I thought teachers had developed some new way to keep the kids' attention for more than 10 seconds, before they were distracted by naughty t-shirts, gum chewing, or the thought that someone else had a paddle ball in their locker.

But I'm wrong. Not only are educators regurgitating the same old rules and Thou Shalt Nots from my youth, but this kind of thinking has spread like a fungus to the British educational system.

That's because almost half of the students at the City of Ely Community College in Cambridgeshire, southeastern England, were assigned to five hours of detention to read a booklet on good behavior. (Apparently, a community college in England is different from a community college here in the US. Over there, it serves students up through Grade 12; here, it's a higher education system that teaches post-high school students.)

So what egregious sins did these little hellions — over 600 of the 1,295 students — commit on their unsuspecting classmates, distracting them to near comatose levels?

They chewed gum, ate between classes, ran in the hallways, wore too much makeup, wore earphones, used cell phones, and wore mismatched socks.

Mismatched socks?

Seriously, mismatched socks can be distracting?

Driver: "Well, officer, I ran into the other car because someone was walking down the street with mismatched socks. I was so distracted that I forgot to apply the brakes or even look where I was going."

Police officer: "That's completely understandable, sir. *on radio* All units, be on the lookout for a miscreant in mismatched socks, last seen heading south on Oakwood. Subject is considered dangerous."

The personal identity-eliminating, soul-crushing policy was introduced by Catherine Jenkinson-Dix, the school's principal. She told the Cambridge News, "Low-level issues, such as using mobile phones, affect staff’s ability to teach the pupils and also affect those pupils who are trying to learn. If we can eradicate these, all students will be able to receive the best possible education."

I'll agree that students who use cell phones or wear earphones, especially in class, can be a distraction. I've been a mentor at a local high school, and have had to deal with students who listen to their iPods or text on their cell phones. It can be distracting, both for the students and for the teachers.

But, even though I am not a professional educator, I have never been distracted by a student wearing two different-colored socks. I think I can manage the cognitive dissonance that comes with seeing another human being wear things that don't match. My youngest daughter loves mismatching her socks, and I have never once been distracted, flustered, or discombobulated by them.

Jenkinson-Dix said these jack-booted rules were thrust upon the students for a good reason: "(T)his is fundamental in preparing pupils for their future careers, where they certainly would not get away with being rude, dressing inappropriately and chewing gum."

I don't know if Jenkinson-Dix is the kind of educator we all dreaded in school: either an alien sent to suck out students' brains, or a witch who just wanted to eat children. Either way, she may be a little far-reaching in her new rules.

Loosen up, live a little, and try to remember what it was like to be a kid. You'd be surprised at the happiness that a pair of socks or a piece of gum can bring you.

If not, your students may try to find a little happiness at the end of a thumbtack. In your chair.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interview with Stuart McLean of The Vinyl Cafe [VIDEO]

I had a chance to meet Stuart McLean, host of The Vinyl Cafe from the CBC. The show is played Saturday afternoon on WFYI, the Indianapolis NPR station.

Jess Milton, the show's producer, arranged for me to have a chance to talk to Stuart about an hour before the show. She also provided me with two passes, so I took my wife, Toni, and she helped me with the video (she did the camera work).

We talked about Stuart's life before The Vinyl Cafe, what he would have been doing if he hadn't started the show (probably in public service or even running for public office), how he writes his Dave and Morley stories, whether he creates a story arc, and what his writing process is.

I also gave a copy of my book, Branding Yourself, to Jess in the hopes that 1) they'll start using social media, and 2) they'll need a consultant to come to the CBC to train them on using social media to promote the show.

The Vinyl Cafe was last here in October 2008 — 2.5 years ago — and they're hoping to come back in another two years. With some luck, I'll have a chance to talk to Stuart again.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates "End of School"

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates "End of School"

"I think parents are putting too much effort into their kids' school," said Karl the Curmudgeon, plonking his beer onto the bar.

Are you serious? I said, mouth agape, plonking my own beer. The quality of education in this country is deteriorating, fewer parents are involved with their children's schooling, but you think they're putting in too much effort? What they need is more parental involvement, not less.

"No, not like that," said Karl. "I mean the parents are putting their own lives, as well as their kids' lives, on hold based on some fairly minor stuff."

We were sitting in the Kranky Kroner, a Danish bar, watching the Danish soccer league semi-finals. I drained the last of my Tuborg, and signaled for Sven to bring me another.

No more for him, I said. He's babbling.

"Kid, I'm fine. Sven, give me another please." He finished the last of his beer and continued. "What I mean is we're in the last six weeks of school, and people are already using the end of the school year as an excuse not to do anything. Just last week, I asked my nephew if he wanted to catch a baseball game in the second week of May, and he said he couldn't, because it was near the end of school for his kids."

That's understandable, they have to study for finals and finish up their end of the year projects.

"But he's not in school," said Karl. "And he doesn't help them at all. These kids are in high school. They know how to study, they know how to write their papers. They're not precious flowers that need to be coddled by their parents."

But this can be a stressful time for kids. Don't they need the stability of their parents to help them reduce their stress?

"Oh, bull----!" said Karl. "His kids are about as average as discount vanilla ice cream. If they put any effort into anything, it's seeing who can be the laziest. But what's really stupid is the game is two weeks before the end of school. It's not even finals week until the following week. But he's got his panties in a bunch because some artificial milestone that doesn't even affect him is approaching in 14 days, and he thinks he needs to be there."

I really don't think he's—

"You know what the problem is? It's his wife. She insisted on putting helmets on the kids when they were three and riding their Big Wheels, and now look at them. She's still putting emotional helmets on their soft little heads."

But I don't see—

"Three!" Karl half-shouted. "Their heads were farther from the ground when they're standing up than when they were sitting on that Big Wheel, but she thought that a toy with all the stability of a Sherman tank was going to do an end-over-end into a fiery twisted wreck, and the only thing that was going to save them was a little plastic bubble."

Karl took a few breaths, and I gave up trying to respond. Listening was much more fun.

"Every year, it's the same thing. 'Getting ready for back to school' means two weeks of emotional and social stifling. When I was a kid, my mom took me to LS Ayres and bought me three pairs of pants and three shirts. Then we went to Hook's Drugs and bought my school supplies. The whole thing took two hours."

Just two hours? Your horse and carriage must have been pretty fast.

"Shut up, Kid. These days, my blasted niece-in-law coddles those kids and turns getting ready for school into some 'experience.'" He put air quotes around "experience," so I would know it was code for "she's a crunchy tree hugging, organic tofu snorting twit who needs to get her head out of her. . . the clouds."

"Getting ready for school these days takes more energy and effort than school itself. They don't need all this mental preparation crap or whatever lame excuse she uses to keep her kids on some organic cotton leash so they don't leave her sight," he said.

How'd you get mentally ready for school in your day?

"We got ready by marching up and down the school yard, singing 'This is my pencil, this is my gun, one is for writing, one is for fun.'"

Classy. And how'd that work out for you?

"We usually spent the first couple hours of school in the principal's office, but it was always a great start. We needed the extra time to get into the right frame of mind for the rest of the year."

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, April 01, 2011

Stop Looking At Me!

Stop Looking At Me!

(Editor's note: Erik was right in the middle of writing this week's column when he was floored by a migraine, so we are reprinting a column from 2003.)

Say what you will about them, the Chicago Cubs have always been a perennial baseball favorite. Maybe it's because they haven't won the World Series since 1908. Maybe it's because whenever anyone says "tradition," they point to the Cubs. Maybe it's because everyone loves an underdog, and the Cubs are about as underdoggy as you're going to get.

Let's face it, a winning season for the Cubs is about as elusive as an Academy Award for Ashton Kutcher ("Dude, Where's My Career?!"). But that's why everyone loves them. They're the Average Joe, the little guy, the team everyone loves to love, whether out of pity or because they want to say "I knew them when. . ."

So what's going on with them?

The Chicago Cubs are suing 13 business owners whose rooftops overlook Wrigley Field, because the owners are selling their own tickets so people can watch games from the roof. The Cubs claim these owners are stealing from the team.

The suit was filed by the Cubs organization in December 2002, and charged that the business owners were violating copyright laws and competing with the organization for ticket sales.

Cubs president and CEO Andy MacPhail said, "They do nothing to contribute to our efforts to put a winning team on the field."

Apparently neither does the organization, considering they haven't won a division championship since 1945, or the World Series in nearly a century.

MacPhail says the owners are making "millions of dollars a year," but they're not giving anything back to the organization.

Personally, I don't see what the problem is, since the fans are sitting so far away from the action, they need a live hookup to the Hubble Telescope to watch the game clearly.

Okay, not really. The Hubble Telescope is actually used for scientific research, like watching sunbathers on the roofs of university science buildings around the world.

However the business owners are actually allowing their customers to watch the games on TV, since they ARE so far away from the action. But no one knows if they have the express written consent of Major League Baseball to do that, so I won't say anymore about it.

Not too surprisingly, the Cubs are worried that they're losing valuable revenue. And they are. They're losing the ability to charge $12 to $36 per ticket for most games. They're losing the ability to charge $5 for a dubious-looking hot dog or lukewarm soda or $8 for watery beer. They're losing the ability to charge twice as much for a baseball cap than your average sporting goods store. But those fans probably wouldn't have come to the game anyway, so why worry about it? Why not figure out new ways to get more fans to attend the games instead?

One would think the Cubs would focus on fielding a better baseball team, which would increase fan interest, which would then increase revenues, and MacPhail could worry about something other than phantom "lost" money.

But that's just me. I don't actually know anything about running a baseball team. Putting together a winning team to increase fan support may just be a crazy idea that other baseball experts would laugh at. They would tell me to leave baseball to the real experts, like George Steinbrenner, who spends almost $126 million on his players' salaries, and then cuts his front office employees' dental plans to save $100,000.

So how is watching a game from the roof stealing? The game is already being played, and I could pay $12 to watch it from the cheap seats, or pay $36 to watch it from a slightly better seat. But no matter how much I pay, the Cubs will still play the same baseball game no matter how much I paid, or whether I watch or not.

But the Cubs are undeterred. They are seeking compensatory damages, some of the profits, and a ban on those businesses marketing Cubs products without their permission.

No problem. If I were one of the business owners, I'd start holding parties on the rooftop for free, and charge $10 for a bratwurst, and require a two bratwurst minimum. The parties would only be held on certain days, and at certain times. And if the Cubs happened to be playing at the same time, then that's just a happy coincidence.

And if anyone is interested, you can watch the games from my house through a magical box, and I'll only charge $10 per person. Just don't put your feet on the couch.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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