Friday, March 29, 2013

Taking Easter Out of Easter Egg Hunts

"I just don't get it, Kid," said Karl. "How the hell do you take Easter out of an Easter egg hunt?"

Are we still talking about that thing in Seattle? I said.

"Yeah, $#@&! Seattle," growled Karl. "The blasted parks and rec department wants to be inclusive of everyone and so they take out the word Easter from their Easter egg hunt, and think that magically makes everything all better."

We were sitting in First Editions, our favorite literary-themed bar, watching a friend read from her novel-in-progress about Dizzy Gillespie's wife, Lorraine Willis Gillespie.

Well, you have to admit, having a Christian-only holiday celebration does leave out other people who might want to participate, I said.

"So let 'em participate. No one's stopping them." Karl plonked his beer mug on the bar. Our friend looked up, startled at the noise, but continued reading. She had gotten to the part where Dizzy had tried to cut Cab Calloway with a switchblade during a fight, and the audience was riveted.

We had actually been drifting in and out of this conversation for the past 30 minutes, and this was our third time around. The city of Edmonds, Washington, which is near Seattle, had removed the word "Easter" from their Easter egg hunt, and now just had an "egg hunt." In fact, they had been doing it for the past 13 years, but it was only this month that a bunch of people had gotten their robes in a twist about it.

Wouldn't you feel funny if you wanted to go to an event for Ramadan or Chanukah, and weren't of that faith? I asked. Wouldn't you feel out of place at a pancake breakfast fundraiser at a Jewish temple?

"Ah, but you forget, Kid. My first wife was Jewish, and so I've been to Chanukah and Yom Kippur and Passover," said Karl. "And I've fasted with friends on Ramadan. Did I feel funny? Maybe a little, but I still did it, because I wanted to support my friends and family, and understand their cultures a little better."

Yeah, yeah, nobody's as open-minded as you. But given that Easter is a Christian holiday, don't you think people from other faiths will assume that Easter isn't for them?

"Possibly. So why can't they just explain it in the title? Call it the 'Easter Egg Hunt for Everyone of All Faiths.'"

Or just call it 'Egg Hunt.'

"But who the hell hunts eggs for fun?"


"Be serious, Kid. We're talking about the dismantling of tradition and history. What's next, taking the 'thanks' out of Thanksgiving so we can appease the chronically ungrateful?" Karl waved down Kurt the bartender. "Kurt, a couple more Cole's porters, please."

What the hell do you care anyway? I said. You're agnostic.

"Well. . ." Karl paused and took a drink. I could hear the gears grinding as he thought about his answer. He finally sighed and set his beer down.

"If I had to be honest with myself, I'm being nostalgic. I remember when I was a little kid, about five or six, in Lansing, Michigan, and the city had an Easter egg hunt. I always got a little wicker basket stuffed with fake grass and lots of candy. And I loved hunting for eggs. My parents watched from the sides and I got to have a little adventure in the park."

So your resistance is really less about religion and more about you just miss being a little boy?

"Shut up, Kid." Karl turned away and tried not to be obvious about swiping at the corner of his eye. He turned back.

"Look, Easter is Easter, Christmas is Christmas. It's a fun, magical time for little kids, and I think we're sucking the magic out of it when a bunch of wooly-headed bureaucrats start telling everyone how to feel and what to believe.

"No one makes Muslims stop fasting on Ramadan, and no one makes the Jews call the Menorah 'holiday candles.' These are traditional religious practices that other people continue to follow without worrying about being forced to change to be inclusive. I think we should just show the same respect to all religions."

Yes, but the Easter egg originated in pagan times. It was a symbol of fertility and rebirth, and the Easter bunny was adopted as an additional symbol because of how quickly rabbits reproduce. It's not like Jesus had anything to do with the eggs. In fact, the Christians co-opted the symbolism of the eggs into the celebration just so they could convert the pagans.

"So they weren't originally part of the Easter celebration?"

Not in the least, Karl.

"Well. . ." he thought for a minute. "I guess that's okay. At least jelly beans are still an official part of Easter."

Yeah, about that. . .?

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


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Friday, March 22, 2013

U.S. Teens Need Better History Education

Erik has been sick this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2001, which only seems like a few years ago.

Parents, educators, and humor writers across the country were shocked and amazed several years ago when we discovered that American high school students were seriously deficient in simple geography. That's when the now-famous statistic "one in four high school students can't identify Canada on a map" was bandied about like a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel.

Now we're pretending to be shocked — but we're not really that surprised — by news out of Norfolk, Virginia that American teenagers are equally as bad at simple American history.

Colonial Williamsburg, a living history community dedicated to educating people about life in America in the 1700s, polled 1,020 US teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 on basic fourth-grade level history questions.

What they found may shock you. But then again, if you have a teenager between the ages of 12 and 17, it probably won't

Answer this simple question: Who was the first president of the United States?

If you said George Washington, you were right, as were 90% of the teenagers surveyed. Sure, 90% is pretty good, but that also means that one out of 10 teenagers didn't know that George W. (no, the other George W.) was the father of our country.

How about this one? What country did America win its independence from?

Twenty-two percent didn't know it was England, fourteen percent of them thought it was France, and one percent thought it was Canada.

"When you look at these numbers, it means that more than five million U.S. teenagers don't understand the true meaning of Independence Day," Colin Campbell, president and chairman of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation said in an online press release. "In fact, one in eight teens thought Independence Day involves a large rabbit who hides colored eggs."

Okay, he really didn't say that. But you believed me for a second.

If you didn't know we won our independence from England either, don't feel too bad. To decorate for Independence Day, a church in my community has hung a picture of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president. He was elected 84 years after we declared our independence.

Here's an easy one for you. Who fought in the Civil War? The North and South, the East and West, the US and Canada, or the US and Great Britain?

Believe it or not, 13 percent of the respondents thought it was the US and Great Britain, five percent thought it was the East and West, and two percent thought it was the US and Canada. (Hey, we had to win our independence from them somehow.)

So were you one of the nearly one in seven who guessed the US and Great Britain? Don't feel too bad. When I took the quiz on the Colonial Williamsburg website, I discovered they had inadvertently highlighted that answer as the correct one.

When I called and pointed the error out to Tim Andrews, the Director of Public Relations at Colonial Williamsburg, he said he appreciated the irony, but that the mistake was quickly caught and corrected. And since he's not around to disagree with me, I'm taking full credit for pointing it out.

Andrews, who works in the back office, doesn't get to wear any of the traditional costumes the rest of the CWF staff wears. Which I suppose is for the best, since Public Relations Directors were usually burned at the stake as witches in this country until 1987. When I, secretly posing as a serious journalist, asked him if the CWF had any recommendations to President George W. Bush for teaching history, he said the CWF encourages ". . . more hands-on history educating and continue strong funding for teachers and educators."

Speaking of President Bush, he actually fared pretty well in the quiz. 96% of the teens knew that he was president. Two percent thought it was Al Gore, two thought it was Bill Clinton.

So how did you do on the quiz? If you have more than a passing awareness of American history, you scored at least 90 percent. So hold your head high this holiday weekend, place your hand on your heart, and sing our national anthem, the "Star Spangled Banner," with pride because you know that Francis Scott Key wrote it, while 31 percent of the teenagers didn't.

They think it was Britney Spears.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


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Friday, March 15, 2013

Students Suspended for Disarming Gunman

In all my years of writing about school administrators who suspend students for the dumbest reasons known to man — a teenager holding an ibuprofen; making a gun with a finger and thumb; or, having a replica baseball bat in a car — this case may actually take the cake.

Last month, an unnamed 16-year-old Cypress Lake High student in Fort Myers, Florida was involved in an altercation on the bus when student Quadryle Davis pointed a loaded revolver at another student and threatened to shoot him. Our 16-year-old wrestled Davis to the floor and took the gun away from him. The kid believed Davis was going to shoot the other student, so he jumped on Davis, saving the other boy's life.

And got suspended for it.

In fact, there were three students who tackled Davis and they were all suspended.

According to a story on, the student's referral slip said he received an "emergency suspension" because he was involved with an "incident with a weapon." That's because, according to a statement by Lee County School District spokesman Alberto Rodriguez, "If there is a potentially dangerous situation, Florida law allows the principal to suspend a student immediately pending a hearing."

Allows, Alberto. Allows.

That means a principal may choose to suspend a student. He or she is not required to suspend them. This isn't Olympic figure skating.

Rather than err on the side of common sense, the school administration, led by principal Tracy Perkins, chose to make what may be the most boneheaded decision of the school year.

Zero Tolerance is a fungal growth on the brains of many school administrators, causing them to refuse to exercise any discretion or consider any mitigating circumstances, like "he saved someone's life." In this case, they suspended the unnamed student because he didn't sit idly by to see what might happen. According to some people, he may have saved several lives with his actions.

But that's not how Cypress Lake High administrators see it. He stepped in, that made him "involved," and so now he was punished. Like the scene in The Incredibles where Bob "Mr. Incredible" Parr's boss refused to let him leave the office to stop a mugging.

By this logic, the victim should have also been suspended, since he was "involved" as well.

It gets worse. According to a story on WTFX Fox 4, the teenage hero was interrogated for four hours against his will by school officials and the Lee County Sheriff's office.

"He was consistently denied access to his mother or to an attorney," said Jeffrey Nadel, president of the National Youth Rights Association.

Based on my own in-depth understanding of the law, gleaned from hours and hours of watching Law and Order, the police are not allowed to question minors without a parent present, and they definitely aren't allowed to question anyone once a lawyer has been requested.

Nadel is fighting to have the suspension expunged from the kid's record, and he's considering a lawsuit against the school district to get it done.

"He should not have a suspension on his record for his heroism," Nadel told WTFX. "If the district signals to us clearly that they are unwilling to do the right thing, then a lawsuit is definitely in the cards."

Nadel says if they file a lawsuit on the student's behalf, it would only be to cover attorney fees and force the district to remove the suspension from his permanent record.

Personally, I think they need to go one step further, sue the bejeezus out of the Lee County School District, and get his college education paid for. Hopefully he can go somewhere far away from — and smarter than — Lee County.

Meanwhile, according to, the alleged gunman was only charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon "without intent to kill." They reported that the sheriff's office said the gunman's charges are "based on our findings at this time."

In other words, he told us he wasn't really going to do it, so we're going to lighten the charges. But the kid who didn't feel like waiting around to see was subjected to four hours of illegal questioning.

If Cypress Lake wants to suspend someone, they need to suspend or even fire the administrator who said, "You know, we need to take a strong stand against being involved in incidents involving a weapon. Let's suspend the kids who saved the other boy's life."

That may end up being the smartest decision they'll make all year.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


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Friday, March 08, 2013

How Bananas Turn Brown

My family doesn't like brown bananas. They prefer the bright yellow ones with a slight greenish tinge. The kind where they're still bitter because they're not yet ripe.

I'm the only one who likes brown bananas. Not icky brown, when they're completely mushy, but when they start getting their spots. Like a leopard.

"Bananas are not like leopards," said my son. At age ten, he usually believes everything I tell him, but he wasn't buying this one.

"Sure they are," I said. "Bananas are like leopards. When they're born, they don't have any spots. They're smooth and brown, kind of orange. But as they get older — and this all happens within a few hours after they're first exposed to sunlight — their spots begin to emerge."

"Daddy, I don't think that's how leopards work."

"Sure it is. They kind of work like fawns, only in reverse. When a fawn is born, they have spots."

"What's a fawn?"

"A baby deer."

"You mean like Bambi?"

"Yes, like Bambi. And leopards are like that, but only in reverse. When a deer is first born, it has spots. But because their fur is so short, you can see the spots on their skin, and it gets on their fur. As the fawn grows bigger, their fur grows longer, their mothers get shot by hunters, and they finally grow out of their their spots. But leopards work the opposite way — as they grow, they reach their spots, and those appear on their fur."

"But that's not what they said on the Discovery Channel," said my son.

"What does the Discovery Channel know?"

"A lot. They're a TV channel. You have to know a lot to have a TV channel."

"That's not true. To have a TV channel, a group of greedy investors come up with a way to get advertisers to give them a lot of money. Since no one will just pay to put commercials on a station that shows nothing but commercials, they need to put something interesting on. So, someone made a TV station for sports, and someone made a TV station for food, and then someone else made a TV station for cultural and artistic programs. And then those people decided there was more money to be made in programs where people wallow in their own filth and misery, and they took the culture and art away."

"What are you talking about?"

"Bananas. Now pay attention."

"What do TV stations have to do with bananas?"

"A lot. You know that food channel I mentioned?"


"Well, bananas are food. Now let me finish. The station owners come up with some terrible programming they think a lot of people will watch. If a lot of people watch, they can sell air time for a lot of money so advertisers can reach people who like terrible TV shows. And the dumber the shows, the more people will watch, which means they can charge more for ads. And that's what it takes to have a TV station."

"But what does all that mean?"

"It means you can't believe everything you've seen on TV. Which means all that BS you heard about bananas from the Discovery Channel—"



"Leopards. I learned about leopards on the Discovery Channel."

"Well, I'm talking about the Food Network and bananas. You see, bananas turn brown, because they're reaching full maturity. When a banana starts getting brown and spotty, that's when it reaches its peak, because it tastes more like a banana than any other time in its life."

"But why?"

"Because all the true essence of the banana flavor is in the skin. And when it has a chance to sit, it soaks into the banana, filling it with flavor, sort of like how you let a wine age. When a wine ages, it pulls all of its flavor from the oak barrel and all the different fruits they put in the wine barrels."

"Fruit like bananas?"

"Absolutely. A lot of wine is made with bananas. Anyway, as the flavor runs out of the skin, it gets empty in that spot, and the skin turns brown."


"You bet. So when the banana turns a really spotty brown, like freckles—"

"Or a leopard?" asked my son.

"Yes, like a leopard — then that means the flavor has run out and it's ready to eat."

"Are you serious?"

"Hand to God, son. Hand to God."

My wife, who had been reading on the couch, finally spoke up.

"If you don't know how something works, just say so," she said. "This is why I don't let you do home school with the kids."

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


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Friday, March 01, 2013

Indiana Is NOT 2nd Most Depressing State

"Kid, I don't think I can take it any more," said Karl, closing his eyes and running a hand through his hair.

But we were having a good time, and now you're tired of it?

"No, not you, this," he said, waving an arm at the room.

What, you mean First Edition? Was Kurt watering down the rum again? We were sitting in the literary themed bar for Manly Mojito Night, celebrating Papa Hemingway's favorite drink, and lying to each other about our current book projects.

Karl shot me a look that somehow incorporated a middle finger without him ever raising a hand. "No, Indiana. I'm just so damn. . . tired. This place is depressing."

But you're one of Indiana's biggest supporters. You talk constantly about state trivia, you sent your kids to IU, and you've named your last three dogs 'Hoosier.'

"I know, Kid, I know. But I've been here for 64 years, and I'm getting tired of the cold, gray winters."

What brought all this on? I asked. Karl pulled a newspaper out of his coat pocket and whacked it on the bar.


I read the headline out loud: 'Indiana Second Most Depressing State.' I yelled a word that rhymed with bull spit. Kurt the bartender cast a worried glance at me, and I signaled for two more mojitos. I skimmed through the article, while Karl continued.

"It says we're the second most depressing state in the country. Health Magazine compiled different health and mental health statistics, as well as economic factors, and found that we were second only to Arkansas."

What could be depressing about Indiana? I love this place. We've got great summers, gorgeous falls, and character-building winters. We've got every sport you could ever want, including the biggest auto race in the world. And we've got a literary and arts tradition that dates back to our earliest days. We're even going to turn 200 in three years. What more could you possibly want?

Karl stared at me for a few seconds, not saying a word. "I don't know, Kid. That's how depressed I am. I can't even think of a witty retort to that."

You must have been depressed for decades because I have yet to hear you make a witty retort.

He opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, and raised his palms up. "See?" he said.

This was bad. Even at his drunkest and most maudlin, I had never seen Karl like this.

"I think I have SAD," he said.

You mean, you are sad.

"No, not sad," he said, catching the lower case tone in my voice. "SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder. It means I'm not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight, and so my energy levels and mood are very low."

That's easily fixed. Go to a tanning salon once a week, and get a bed with UV-B rays. Ten minutes, and you'll feel great. I know a lot of people who do it for the vitamin D.

"But what about the rest of the report? It says that we've got a sluggish economy, high unemployment, and massive budget shortfalls, which are having an impact on our mental health centers, and we've got a shortage of psychiatrists." He buried his head in his hands and sighed deeply. "No wonder we so depressed."

Karl, have you forgotten how to read a newspaper? Check this out. First, the article says the states are ranked in alphabetical order. We fall second behind Arkansas and ahead of Kentucky because of the alphabet. The odds of these ten states being depressing in alphabetical order are astronomical. That means we don't know our number. We could be the 41st state, and not the 49th.

Karl raised his head and looked at me. I continued.

Second, this headline, plus all the other headlines about the subject, keep talking about Indiana being a 'depressing' state. The correct term is 'depressed.' It means we're unhappy, morose, and just plain sad. To be 'depressing' means we cause sadness, which we do not do. We're not Rhode Island.

And lastly, our economic conditions aren't that bad. Our unemployment is on par with the national rate, we have a budget surplus of $2.15 billion, and we just increased education funding without raising taxes. So the 'economic outlook' of these reporters is incorrect. As far as I'm concerned, Indiana shouldn't even be on the list. We're doing fine, and those Health Magazine hacks can suck it.

Karl rubbed his eyes hard, and took a big drink of his mojito. "Kid, believe it or not, that actually helped. Thank you. I needed that."

You're welcome. You need to cheer up anyway. I just read a study that says pessimistic people live up to six years longer than their optimistic counterparts.

"Oh God, you mean this could go on longer?" he groaned.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


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