Friday, September 26, 2014

Student Punished For Sharing Lunch

A California student was punished for sharing his lunch with a hungry friend this month, because the school district has a policy against students being compassionate and caring.

Kyle Bradford, 13, is an 8th grader at Weaverville Elementary in northern California. At lunch one day, his friend had been served a cheese sandwich, because he may not have been able to afford a full meal. Kyle had gotten the chicken burrito, but he wasn't hungry at the time.

So what do two boys who don't want their lunches typically do? Throw them out and don't eat until dinner.

What did Kyle do? Gave some of his chicken burrito to his friend, so he wouldn't be hungry.

What did the school do? Gave him detention, because school administrators aren't allowed to make common sense decisions.

"We have a policy that prohibits students from exchanging meals," cackled superintendent Tom Barnett, rubbing his hands together. "Of course if students are concerned about other students not having enough to eat we would definitely want to consider that, but because of safety and liability we cannot allow students to actually exchange meals."

Consider it they did. They could have done any number of things: expelled Kyle; made him write "I will not help others" 5,000 times; force fed him chicken burritos every day; or, shoved him in a closet full of rats. Instead they "only" gave him detention.

Nicely done, Weaverville. Your generosity and intelligence has not gone unnoticed.

In fact, it's been so noticed that Weaverville has been forced to shut down its Facebook page, because many other people were similarly "impressed" by their "generosity."

Whatever happened to the days of trading lunches? Swapping your cookies for a bag of potato chips? Or giving that weird kid your pimiento loaf sandwiches because your mom never understood how much you hated them?

I would hope kids today know what they're allergic to and what to avoid. I would hope every cafeteria is taking steps to ensure they don't use allergen-contaminated foods. I would especially hope cafeterias use the best ingredients to create lunches that are healthy and kids will enjoy.

In this column's 19 year history, that last sentence may be the funniest thing I've ever written.

Kyle's mom, Sandy, didn't believe her child should be punished for showing compassion. She thinks Kyle did the right thing.

"By all means the school can teach them math and the arithmetic and physical education, but when it comes to morals and manners and compassion, I believe it needs to start at home with the parent," she told KRCR TV.

I think schools should also be a place to reinforce manners and compassion. When I was a kid, school wasn't just a place where we learned math and history. We were taught the importance of fair play and honesty. We were taught about community, citizenship, and why we should help others.

In northern California, kids are being taught that adherence to the rules is vastly more important and honorable than helping someone in need.

It's lessons like this that create people who "were only following orders," a dark and sinister phrase if there ever was one.

This past school year, my friend, Ryan, learned of some kids at an Indianapolis elementary school who weren't eating lunch because their families were on the delinquent lunch accounts list, and couldn't afford to catch up.

Ryan paid every kids' lunch account so they could eat again.

The response was so overwhelming, he did it at another school, and then another, and friends started helping, and now he's starting a nonprofit called Feed The Kids at KidsLunches.org.

What Ryan is doing is helping kids eat. But what if the schools had policies that other people weren't allowed to pay for lunches? What if they were so inflexible as to not allow a good Samaritan to help those who needed it?

You can imagine the outcry if a school were to point to the policy manual and refuse to let Ryan and his group feed hungry kids. It's no different from what Kyle did, although, admittedly, people don't have allergies to money. Ryan's great work is rightfully rewarded, but Weaverville Elementary has punished Kyle Bradford for the same generous spirit.

Kyle has served his detention, but he's unrepentant. He said that he'll gladly do it again, just to make sure that a friend doesn't go hungry. Maybe, after this outcry, and more of Kyle's compassionate civil disobedience, the school will realize their cold-heartedness is teaching their students a very important lesson.

That blind obedience to stupid, arbitrary rules set by dictatorial authorities should be completely ignored for the sake of humanity.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and 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. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, September 19, 2014

Some Thoughts On My 1,000th Column

This is a major milestone for me. This column, this one right here, is my one thousandth newspaper humor column. Exactly 1,000 weeks or 19.25 years ago, a small town newspaper publisher took a chance on me, and agreed to publish what I now laughingly call a humor column.

Not laughingly because they were good. Laughingly as in "it's so cute that you think you're funny." My first columns are so awful that I can't even read them. If you have any copies of those papers from the second half of 1995, please set fire to them.

I first met my publisher, Al Nich, at a meeting of the Kosciusko County Democrats. I asked if he was looking for any columnists for his paper. I had written a couple of funny essays earlier that year, after trying to write a complaint letter to Fresh Air With Terry Gross. It ended up being nothing but jokes because I don't like direct confrontation. I prefer a more passive-aggressive approach, like secretly signing people up for bedwetting mailing lists. After that letter, I thought I showed some promise, and wanted to keep going.

Al asked for some samples, and said to stop by his office in a couple weeks. When I showed up, he asked me one question: "Are you a Democrat?"

I said, "Well, yeah, we met at the Democrats meeting two weeks ago."

"Then welcome aboard!"

To celebrate, Al and his wife took me to lunch, and we talked about the small town newspaper business. Of course, being a small town newspaper, they couldn't pay me anything, but I was so grateful for the chance, I was willing to do it for free. We agreed that I would get paid if they ever raked in the big bucks.

Nineteen and a quarter years later, and we're all still waiting.

I'm not complaining though. Without that break, I wouldn't be where I am today. So I gladly churn out this column every week. Also, because I don't know what I'd do if my Thursday nights suddenly freed up.

If you want to be a stickler about it, this isn't the 1,000th column I've written; it's the 1,000th column I've published. I occasionally run reprints if I'm traveling for work, on vacation, or sick. But I've never missed a deadline in all that time.

But the Wakarusa Tribune and Mishawaka Enterprise still publish my work, week after week, and I'm just as grateful today as I was back then.

Because they gave me a chance to experiment and learn. They didn't say anything when a piece had a typo, and I had to rush over a correction. They didn't say anything when I tried telling stories with only one punchline at the end. They didn't say anything when I fancied myself a great first draft writer, only to discover I was a horrible first draft writer two months later.

Which makes me wonder if they read these things at all.

Being a beginning humor writer in the early days of the Internet also helped me hone my skills. I joined an email discussion list called The NetWits in 1999, and we're still going strong. I started my own website, and submitted guest articles to friends' sites. I was even listed on a web page of funny writers, only to be removed six months later.

When I emailed the owner about it, he said, "I just don't think you're that funny." I was so mad that I practiced, studied, and read everything I could find about writing, so I could become funnier than anyone else on his list. Then, when he would beg me to rejoin his list, I was going to write something so witty about how he could go have sex with himself.

Eighteen years later, and he still hasn't written. Also, his humor website is long gone. Also I don't remember his name. So I get the last laugh, because I get to commemorate his short-sightedness in my 1,000th column, while he's lost to a sea of anonymity, where I hope he's nibbled to death by buck-toothed lampreys.

Not that I'm still bitter.

This column even helped me realize I was really a writer. That's an important moment in most writers' lives, because many writers don't like to call themselves that. We're afraid a little man with a clipboard will tell us there's been a terrible mistake, and we're supposed to be claims adjusters, so we keep quiet about it.

It was around 2000 that I finally told someone I was a writer. The little man never showed up, and no one laughed at me, so I kept saying it until I finally believed it myself.

Because of this column.

I became a book author. I have co-authored three books on social media and personal branding, ghost co-authored a fourth, helped write two books that have never seen the light of day, and am currently working on another book, plus a super-secret writing project.

Because of this column.

I own my own writing business, give talks at different marketing and writing conferences, and people hire me to help with their own writing projects. I have written radio plays, stage plays, and magazine articles. All told, I've written over three million words in my career.

Because of this column.

So, when I celebrate this milestone, I'm not just commemorating 1,000 deadlines, or 1,000 fart jokes (more like 3,487 if you want to be a stickler about it). I'm using this time and this space to celebrate the man and the newspapers that gave me the break that led to a nearly 20 year span filled with words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters, books, and a career.

All because I was a Democrat who couldn't write a complaint letter to Terry Gross without cracking jokes. Now I'm looking forward to the next 1,000 columns over the next 19.25 years.

I'm also thinking another lunch may be in order.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and 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. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, September 12, 2014

Stop Fearing Your Food

Yet another of my friends is feeling the crushing weight of his age and belly on his knees and lower back. Yet another of my friends has realized his lifetime of cheeseburgers and carb-rich beer may not have been the healthiest of lifestyles.

I, like so many of my friends, have realized too late that we're not as young as we used to be, and the 20-year-old's metabolism, gained from a 20-year-old's lifestyle of riding a bike to class and playing soccer every day, is no longer functional 25 years later.

And all of us were especially surprised to learn that others have noticed we've been carrying a small ottoman down the front of our shirts for the last 10 years.

To be fair, we didn't notice it until eight years ago, and we've been trying to hide it by leaving our shirts untucked. Apparently, this has not fooled anyone.

"You know, all you need to do is eat less and exercise more," our annoying skinny friends say whenever anyone posts a Facebook update about the extra weight they're carrying.

Really? Eat less and exercise more? I'm so glad you said that. Apparently, I've been mistakenly eating more and exercising less. If you hadn't given the same advice everyone else has said for the last 300 years, I might have lived a full life without ever knowing that those five simple words were the key to my success. Thank you for fixing a lifetime of habits with a bumper sticker.

We're not stupid. Every man or woman who's lugging around extra pounds knows what the problem is. And some spinach-and-carrot-birthday-cake-eating fitness guru telling us to eat less and exercise more isn't the solution.

The problem is nearly all of us in this country have an unhealthy attitude toward food. All of us, even the food fanatics.

We treat food like medicine. We think if we eat the right foods, we'll prevent this, and we'll cure that. Eat more of this green thing to reduce your blood pressure, eat a bunch of orange stuff to reduce your cancer risk. Drink red wine to lower your cholesterol. Don't drink too much red wine though, or you'll damage your liver. If we keep treating food this way, the pharmaceutical companies start selling it for $500 a pop.

We also fear our food. I know people who won't touch food if it's not organic, like it was rolled in dog poop before it ever reached their table. They spend way more money on organic food than is necessary, convinced it will wipe away all their health problems, as if they went skinny dipping in Ponce de León's Fountain of Kale Smoothies.

I know people who will only ever buy brown eggs, because they believe brown eggs are "healthier." Know the difference between a brown egg and a white egg?

About $1.20 per dozen.

Having spent several years in the poultry industry, I can tell you that brown eggs are laid by brown chickens, and white eggs are laid by white chickens. Brown chickens are not healthier, their eggs aren't lower in cholesterol, and they won't make you look 10 years younger if you boil them in a quart of bottled spring water.

The French have a good attitude toward food. They treat it like a pleasure, not fuel. They savor it, not fear it. They experience their meals, they don't post Facebook pictures of them. They eat what they enjoy, not what will fix them. Dinner is a time to sit down with family and friends, taking an hour or two. We get celebrity PSAs that tell us families should eat together once a week.

Even our language reflects our attitude toward toward food. There's the "sinful" chocolate cake that we "indulge" in. It's so "decadent," it's "better than sex." Of course, you could make the "sacrifice" and stick with the "guilt free" diet alternatives, so you don't "pay the price" later on.

If the food is good, we use negative words to make us feel guilty. And even the most healthier-than-thou eaters recognize that the awesomeness of "bad" food, because they drone on and on about the "sacrifices" they're making.

This is not a healthy attitude. Our food may not be healthy in itself, but if we could just stop treating it like a reward and/or a dangerous beast, we could be healthier as people. Or at the very least, we could be happier with who we are.

And who we're with. Because if your food is better than sex, you're doing it wrong.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and 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. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, September 05, 2014

Five People You Meet At Dinner

It was the strangest dream. I had been thinking about that "what five historic people would you invite to dinner?" question as I drifted to sleep. Next thing I knew, this happened:

Ernest Hemingway: Can I get a martini? Very dry.

Me: What?

Hemingway: A martini, dry.

Joan of Arc: And I'll have a red wine.

Me: Why are you telling me this?

Vincent Van Gogh: Because we're here for dinner. You invited us.

Me: Oh, of course.

Abraham Lincoln: I'd like a nice cold beer. I don't get many of those where I am now.

Me: Really? I figured you of all people would be up. . . you know.

Lincoln: Oh, I am, I am. But Mrs. Lincoln doesn't approve. Says it's a sin. Even Jesus has tried to get her to lighten up, but she's having none of that, and tells me so several times a day. I sometimes visit Jefferson Davis just to get some peace and quiet.

Van Gogh: You mean he lives. . .?

Lincoln: Just down the street from me.

Hemingway: I have to say, I'm a bit surprised to hear that.

Lincoln: You and me both, brother!

Me: So this is a unique opportunity. I wanted to meet you all and to hear your stories, so I thought—

Joan: Not now, waiter. I am hungry. Some beef bourguignon, s'il vous plait.

Hemingway: Beef bourguignon? That's a little fancy for a soldier, isn't it?

Me: I'm not actually the waiter, I'm—

Joan: Don't be a chauvinist, you bearded old fool.

Hemingway: Ha ha! I like this one. I think I found the fifth ex-Mrs. Hemingway.

Joan: Don't flatter yourself. I could never be with such an ungodly man.

Van Gogh: Maybe she goes for the sensitive artist types, Heer Hemingway.

Joan: Maybe she doesn't appreciate being spoken about in the third person.

Van Gogh: Maybe she should learn that the last 600 years haven't done her any favors!

Joan: Go choke on a sunflower, you one-eared ginger!

Van Gogh: I know what I want for dinner. Steak, burned and crispy.

Joan: Ass!

Lincoln: I thought you were a vegetarian.

Van Gogh: What?

Lincoln: I SAID, I THOUGHT YOU WERE A VEGETARIAN.

Me: If we could return to the topic at hand. I'd like to discuss a few things before we—

Lincoln: Barbecued ribs! That's what I want. Man, nothing says summertime cookout like ribs and a few cold ones with friends.

Hemingway: The wife not let you have those either?

Lincoln: No. She keeps yammering about my cholesterol. I keep telling her, 'Mary, we're already dead,' but she doesn't listen.

Van Gogh: What?

Lincoln: What do you want for dinner? Were you serious about the steak?

Van Gogh: No, I was just—argh, now I don't know. Maybe pizza? Come back to me.

Hemingway: Steak sounds like a grand idea. And can we get another round of drinks here, barkeep?

Me: I'm not actually the barkeep either. I'm the—

Joan: Yeah, yeah, we didn't ask for your life story.

Lincoln: Hey, Hem, you got any cigars?

Hemingway: Sure thing, Abe. Vinnie, Joanie, you want one?

Van Gogh: Sure, why not?

Joan: Well, I usually try to stay away from fire, but I think I can make an exception.

Me: You're going to have cigars before dinner? I thought they came after.

Lincoln: Doesn't look like we're in any danger of that happening anytime soon.

Me: Actually, the dinner has already been planned and prepared, and should be here shortly.

Hemingway: Then why don't you make like a tree, and go get it.

Me: I keep telling you. I. Am not. The waiter. I'm your host, and the entire purpose tonight was to gather five notable people and have some engaging conversations about the world today.

Van Gogh: Five? I only see four of us. You aren't the fifth, are you?

Me: Oh, no. I am merely a humble—

Hemingway: Thought so. I mean, I'd never heard of you.

Me: Our final guest has yet to arrive.

Amelia Earhart: Sorry I'm late everyone. I seem to have gotten lost. Waiter, could I have a gin and tonic, please? I'm parched. There's a good lad.

Me: I give up. You people can just feed yourselves. And I hope you all choke on it!

Van Gogh: Alright, pizza time! Somebody get Alexander Graham Bell in here, and let's order some pies! Waiter, where's our drinks?

There's a lot of laughter and talking as I leave, and I wake up in my own bed.

With a voicemail from my credit card company asking whether I meant to order 12 large pizzas, two cases of beer, and a side of barbecued ribs.




The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and 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. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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