Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What I shall miss, what I shall not

I am leaving Omaha tomorrow. I was planning on leaving it anyway but circumstances didn't quite allow me to leave in the way I had wished, but such is life, I suppose. Although I do plan to return in January at the latest or sooner if I can find a place with a room to rent that won't milk for more than maybe $300, it is a bittersweet farewell. I've been here for five years and I'm spending my last night in my apartment, much the same way I spent my first night--in a sleeping bag with hardly any of my possessions. I thought I would take these last few hours of my being here to reflect on what I will miss most about Nebraska and what I shall not miss. Let's start with the "not miss."

10) Drivers who cannot drive 45 mph on Cornhusker between Fort Crook and the Highway 75 interchange, especially in the passing lane! People, some of us have things to do and don't have the luxury of being lazy, bored or just sheer incompetent.

9) Drivers who do not know they have the right of way at a stop sign. This happened so much outside on the street out of my apartment complex. It was a two way stop with crossing traffic having not to. When it was clearly the driver opposite me to go, they would just sit there and motion for me to do so. It's not about being nice; it's about doing what the law requires.

8) Streets. Omaha is so ridiculously laid out. Streets end and begin with no discernible reason as to why. I thought I could take 60th street all the way to Dodge. Apparently not!

7) Nebraska wine. Yeah, right.

6) Two license plates. WHy isn't one on the back of your car sufficient? It is for most states!

5) Construction. Always construction on Highway 75. Never and in sight.

4) Anti-intellectualism. There is a fierce strain of anti-intellectualism in this part of the country, but I've never seen it so focussed other than here. Being smart and thinking is regarded as so east coast or the domain of the rich. I even had parents tell me, at parent-teacher conferences, that they couldn't understand why their son/daugther would ever take Latin because that was only for the rich kids.

3) The idea of fun always has to involve drinking. I don't think that this is necessarily a Nebraskan thing, but I've never encountered it more than here. Why, at any social event, especially when going out, does it always have to involve going to bars and drinking. Why?

2) Nebraska Football. If it were not for UNL and its football program this place would have nothing. I liken Nebraska to Hannibal, MO. The only thing that keeps Hannibal, MO alive is Mark Twain. That whole city is built upon the myth that he helped create. Nebraska is much the same. Everyone is into the Cornhuskers up here. It's been good to be up here when they've been in a down cycle so that they can see what it's like on the other side. Nebraska fans are obnoxious and their whole Saturday schedule revolves around that game.

1) Corn. I've seen enough to last me 10 lifetimes.

The things I will miss the most.

10) The trails. There are so many great trails around here where you can run, walk, bike, rollerblade or whatever. They extend for so many miles around the metro area along beautiful waterways and forests and even get into the city. I wish I could have spent more time on them.

9) Amarillo's BBQ. This is a Bellevue staple. This restaurant has awesome BBQ. I wonder when Guy Fieri will come to this place for his show on Food Network. It's a hole in the wall, very dark inside and the seats are not comfortable and the table is built for people whose height has to be 5'5" or smaller. But what great BBQ. I will never eat at famous dave's again.

8) The Holland and the Orpheum. What great places to see a concert or a show! The Holland is a modern building where the Omaha Symphony plays and let me tell you, the Omaha Symphony is one of the finest I have heard and the acoustics in the Holland are magnificent. My only complaint is that the conductor for the Omaha Symphony takes things way too fast. It is unfortunate that most Omahans and Nebraskans do not know what a great treasure they have in this symphony. I suppose that it goes with my complaint (see #4 above). And the Orpheum just has that classic appeal. The monstrous chandelier that hangs from the ceiling is breathtaking. My only complaint is that the seats were intended for people who were no taller than 5'8". I've seen several great shows there including "Spamalot" and "Mamma Mia" and the opera, "Aida."

7) The Old Market. THere are so many great restaurants and shops down there featuring every type of cuisine you can imagine. There's O! which is Asian Fusion, Ahmad's, a restaurant featuring Persian Cuisine, La Bouvette, a French restaurant and several others (I'm sick to death of the Upstream. Way too expensive and way over-hyped and way overcrowded). THere's also great stores. My favorite was a bookstore called the Antiquariam. I loved this place. I would get books in my field that were so old and so good for pennies of what they were worth. I found a lot of magnificent stuff there.

6) Speeding on I-80. Though I had little reason to drive past Lincoln, I always liked how you could really go fast on I-80, pushing even 90 mph legally.

5) My job. THough I parted from my job for reasons that were not ultimately pleasing, I did enjoy what I did. Teaching is both a blessing and a frustration at the same time. But for five years, I got to teach what I wanted and how I wanted. I don't know if I'll ever have that autonomy again. The pay was low and many of my students were corrupted because of # 4 from the previous list.

4) My students. I had so many great students and I'm pleased that I can still keep in touch with them. I always am beside myself with pride when I hear that they are succeeding and doing well. They will be missed.

3) Taxes are reasonable. The sales tax rate in Nebraska is 7%. Even in Columbia it was 7.335% Property taxes, though are a different story.

2) St. Mary Orthodox Church. This is where I was received into the Holy Orthodox Church on Pascha of 2006 after a spiritual journey that lasted many years. Since that time I became a very active member in the church and the people became my spiritual family. It will be very difficult to leave them.

1) My friends. I have been so fortunate to make and keep some great friends here, both from my job and from the church. When I first came here, I did everything I could to isolate myself simply because I just wanted to be left alone, do my job and do what I wanted. But the people at work wouldn't allow that to happen. So, thanks to people like Bogatz, Bossman, Campbell, Manchester, Shari, Tracy and Justin and a whole lot of others, I broke out of my shell and realized what treasures they are. They have helped me through thick and thin and I can only hope that I am 1/4 of importance to them as they are to me. I shall miss them most of all.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Congratulations, Stephanie

My sister, Stephanie, today received good news of employment with a company that she really wants to work for. I am overjoyed for her and I know she will do very well.

Stephanie was in England for over a year studying International Business and Marketing and earned an M.A. for her efforts. After returning to the states in December of 2008, she had many difficulties finding a job. But she persevered, she kept working to find what she wanted, she was patient and things worked out for her. When she interviewed for this job, she was given, more or less, a job offer, but the HR department of this company said that there was a hiring freeze until Oct. 1. Needless to say, Stephanie was disheartened, but, today, the company, upon hearing that Stephanie was offered another job (not what she wanted, not even close, btw), decided to forget the freeze and hire her. She starts Oct. 5.

Good for her and I wish her well.

New game show--Are you smarter than a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader?

I have to confess that lately I've been watching a lot of questionable, if not utterly stupid TV, both game shows and so-called "reality TV". I haven't necessarily watched the entire show but it was more than just a two second stopover to see if what was on was really worth my time. Anyway, here is a short list of some of the shows I have given more than 5 minutes of my attention to: Tool Academy 2, Project: Runway, Are you smarter than a 5th grader?, Hell's Kitchen, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team and a few others. All of them are ridiculous and yet I am drawn to them.

However, let me speak about the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders show. These girls go through a very rough physical and mental regimen to qualify to be part of the organization still billed, though wrongly as "America's Team." When was the last time the Dallas Cowboys even got to the Superbowl? But, I digress. Nonetheless, what these girls go through is excruciating. I've never really thought much of cheerleading over the years, especially about the claims from its proponents that it is, in fact, a sport. But seeing this, I've changed my mind. I still don't call it a sport (it is a more legitimate claim to call this a sport as opposed to the "sport" which involves sitting on your ass driving a car like NASCAR), but it is physically intense. You have to be really in shape to do this and you have to be have some mental acumen to perform the tasks that these girls are asked to do. It's no different than football players being required to memorize their playbooks.

These Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders though are required to be good role models for the organization. They are expected to know a lot about the Dallas Cowboys organization itself, about Texas history and even about world events. In fact, they have to take a test on those very subjects, a written test. Why? Because the Dallas Cowboys organization wants to make sure that these girls defy the stereotype of the ditzy cheerleader especially when they are interviewed. Now I grant that no one is going to ask these cheerleaders for foreign policy advice (not that I believe they are incapable of giving their opinions), but even without that specific knowledge, these girls are expected to be informed and articulate.

Now, why don't we ask the players in the Dallas Cowboys or in the NFL or in all of sports to take written tests like this? If cheereleaders have a reputation as being ditzy fools then so do players. How many times have I heard just absolutely ridiculous rantings from players on issues such as foreign policy, race relations or who have no idea who the vice-president of the United States is, etc.? Too many times to count. Rick Reilly of ESPN asks why the players of the Dallas Cowboys should be exempt from these same questions. Where the cheerleaders are expected to be proficient, the players can get away with ignorance. Twelve players were given the test. Here are some of the results (paraphrased from the article).

Q: Name the Six Flags of Texas.

Answer: Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederate States of America and U.S.A.

A very tough question. Only backup QB Jon Kitna nailed it. The other 11 thought it referred to an amusement park.

Q: Name the two ex-Cowboys quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Answer: Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.

G Travis Bright answered Troy Aikman but forgot Roger Staubach, and S Pat Watkins, who answered, "Joe Namath and Troy Aikman." Yep, who can forget ol' Beltway Joe?

Q: Name a country that borders Iraq.

Answer: Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and Turkey.

Ten of 12 got it right.

Q: Who is the governor of Texas?

Answer: Rick Perry.

This one was hopeless. Only TE Jason Witten and DE Marcus Spears got it right: Rick Perry.

There were other questions too related to nutrition, world events and, of course, Dallas Cowboys trivia. Now, how representative of the answers by the Dallas Cowboy athletes be for the sporting world as a whole? Who knows? But, if the Dallas Cowboys has such high standards for those who cheer them on, why shouldn't they expect the same from their players, one of whom gets more media time than all the cheerleaders put together? So, my suggestion for a new game show: Are you smarter than a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader? Mandatory participation for all Dallas Cowboys players. Maybe coaches, too.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's Back!

That's right, the annual St. Mary Orthodox Church Middle East Food Faire is back! For the past two years, in October, St. Mary Orthodox Church has treated local Omaha residents and out-of-towners to delicacies from the Middle East to wow your taste buds and leave you coming back for more.

If you're in the Omaha area on Sunday, October 19 from 12:00--6:00 pm, please come out to St. Mary and enjoy some good Middle Eastern cooking. There will be kibbe, zata, fataya, grape leaves, cabbage rolls and always good tasting baklava, the way only the Arabs make it. Are you a vegetarian? No problem! There will be couscous, tabouli and fataya, grape leaves and cabbage rolls are just as good without the meat in them!

We look forward to seeing you. Contact and ticket information is on the flier. Thank you.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why did Rome fall?

Perhaps the greatest question to come out of antiquity: Why did Rome fall? How could the greatest civilization of all time (in my opinion, of course) simply just collapse? To find the answer, visit my blog Roma Victrix (Rome, the Conqueror) to find out. Many have tried to answer the question, many have given up and many more were simply wrong.

However, when reading Dr. Demandt's explanation, note how everything has its diametric opposite? So apparently lack of education and too much education can have the same result. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An old moral tale with a new twist

OLD VERSION: The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away. Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed.The grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be responsible for yourself!

MODERN VERSION: The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long,building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away. Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

CBS, NBC , PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the sharp contrast and they want our country to be more fair.

How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper, and everybody cries when they sing, 'It's Not Easy Being Green.'

Jesse Jackson stages a demonstration in front of the ant 's house where the news stations film the group singing,'We shall overcome.' Jesse then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

Nancy Pelosi & John Kerry exclaim in an interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity & Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer. The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his
home is confiscated by the government.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper finishing up the last bits of the ant's food while the government housing he is in, which just happens to be the ant's old house, crumbles around him because he didn't maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow. The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the once peaceful neighborhood.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be VERY careful how you vote in 2010

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

School bus violence racially motivated

Already a number of people are aware of this video that surfaced which shows a white student being beaten by several black students while others stood around and cheered on a schoolbus.

After I posted yesterday, my first immediate thought about this attack was whether this would be viewed as a hate crime. In fact Belleville Police Captain Don Sax said in an initial interview that there was a racial motivation for the attack. Now he is retracting his statement saying that he jumped to conclusions spurred on by the emotions which the video incited. You can read the initial story and follow-up here.

I'm glad that the police officer admitted he rushed to judgment, which is bad for any investigation. But had the siutation been the opposite, if white students had beaten up a black student, the NAACP would have already booked hotel rooms in Belleville for the next few weeks to decry this, go to the schoolboard and demand a racial tolerance curriculum for a day, etc..

As I wrote yesterday, the election of Barack Obama, historic as it was, was not going to quell the racism that does still exist in this country, but in many ways will exascerbate the issue. But still, the vast majority of people in this country are tolerant people. Yet, we are seeing race in everything that transpires on a daily basis in this country or at least we are if the victims are black.

I also wrote yesterday about a Newsweek article which reproduces a study which concludes that white babies are racist. However, there was no study done about babies who are black, Latino or Oriental and whether they grow up to be racist. If we want to have a racism discussion in this country, as Attorney General Holder thinks we are too cowardly to do, then it must engage in all aspects of racism, regardless of which racial group it is directed towards. But Attorney General Holder doesn't want an honest discussion. His dropping of the charges against a group of New Black Panthers in Philadelphia where they were clearly intimidating voters.
I don't think Holder wants a discussion on race relations, he wants to lecture.

And it's only going to continue...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Must we find racism in everything?

Kanye West is infamous for shooting his mouth off. I don't care much for his "music" and that's a generous appraisal. Over the years, Mr. West has compared himself to Jesus (I keep overlooking that part in the Gospels where Jesus is driving in his pimped out ride with his posse of the 12 looking for hos!) and has even declared that, in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, President Bush must hate black people since many blacks perished. (Note to Kanye: Look at the stats. More white people died in Katrina than blacks!) And yesterday at the VMAs, Kanye West wrestled the microphone away from Taylor Swift who won the award for Best Female Song to say that singer Beyonce, who is black (well, half-black anyway), was more deserving of it. Taylor was stunned and after the microphone was returned to her, she could barely say anything. To her credit, even Beyonce was stunned! Now I can read between the lines of Kanye's little rant: Beyonce's race was the factor that denied her the award.

Is everything racist now? For months now, legitimate opposition to Obama's policies has been decried as racist. Apparently, even not liking the Chicago White Sox can be construed as a racist attack because Obama is a fan of them. But it doesn't stop there. Charlie Rangel, the representative under numerous ethical probes by the House Ethics committee is crying that it is an underlying racism that is causing this investigation. The governor of New York, Patterson, who is performing abysmally at his job with near record low approval ratings is also starting to play the race card. Now a Newsweek article, which is part of a series that the news magazine is running as a dialogue on race, suggests that children are born racist from a study conducted. The testing sample was limited to white families only. I assume that one of the "variables held constant" in this study was the assumption that racism is endemic only to white families! And Maureen Dowd, the persistently irrelevant New York Times Op-ed columnist, declared that Joe Wilson's (inappropriate) outburst of "You lie" should have been heard as "You lie, boy!" This weekend, Serena Williams was called for a foot fault and immediately started to threaten the judge, cursing at her which resulted in Serena forfeiting her match point. And though the call was a terrible one (and it was!), there were numerous insinuations that racism was behind the call.

And the examples are too myriad to list.

We were told that when Obama ascended to the highest political office in the land, that racism would be on its deathbed. Such is not the case. In fact, it has been exascerbated! Too much is being thought in terms of race when that was never the case prior. Mr. Holder, Obama's Attorney General, called the United States a nation of cowards because we don't engage in racial discussions. Perhaps we don't, because the great vast majority of Americans are NOT racist nor harbor racist tendencies.
We're too busy treating our neighbor like ourselves. Are there racists in this country? Only a naive person would say no! But to see racism in every facet of ordinary life by polticians, news pundits, entertainers, etc. is ridiculous. They will never admit it, but it is they who are exascerbating the race issue, not ordinary Americans.

On a positive note, despite the ridiculous platitudes contained in the "I Pledge" video that ran on Youtube, there was a good part of this video. Michael Strahan, former defensive end for the New York Giants said (parphrasing) that he pledged to see himself as an American and not an African American! If only more would heed that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I remember where I was...

when 9/11 occurred. I was living in Columbia, MO where I was attending Graduate School at the University of Missouri-Columbia. It was a Tuesday morning and I had only one class later that day, my Latin epigraphy class. I woke up around 8:00 am. My clock/alarm was always funky. I could never quite get it tuned to an exact station so when I woke up that morning, I woke up to just a bunch of static noise. Occasionally, I could hear something intelligible. It was set to the local news/talk station so sometimes I did hear a report or something, but nothing really that I could understand. I walked into my living area of my Columbia apartment and turned on the TV. I just had to have some noise on that wasn't just random noise. The first image I saw was one of the the twin towers, in flames. At this point, just watching what was going on and trying to make sense of news flashing on the ticker as well as the reporter trying to give all this information at once, I saw a plane, like a black shadow hit the second tower. Before this, there was still the belief that this was just a serious accident of a plane horribly off course. But when I saw the second plane hit the second building, I knew that this was an attack.

I've always taught my students that geography is destiny. To prove this, I have taught them that the reason the United States has become such a power in the world is due to its geographic isolation because of the two ponds separating us from Europe and Asia. The United States has been attacked on its soil only three times in its history: 1) War of 1812 2) Pearl Harbor and 3) 9/11. Speaking academically, that's something incredible. But dispassionate academics must sometime give way to human suffering.

I tried to go through the rest of my day as if everything was OK. On the shuttle over to campus, the driver had the radio set to the talk station where all these reports were being speedily read over the air. Politicians were interviewed. I remember even hearing a statement from the Taliban that they insisted they were not responsible for what had happened which basically told me that they were lying.

I went to my epigraphy class and all of us sitting in the seminar room were just sitting. We didn't say anything, we didn't do anything. We just sat there. Dr. Trout walked into the room and he could clearly see that we were bothered by the events of the day and I know he was, too. He said we could go through the day's assignments as if nothing had changed, though clearly things had or we could discuss it. We opted to discuss things at first. I found out that no one had immediate family that had been killed in the event, but, at the same time, many reports were still very preliminary and needed follow-up. But we then went on to read some inscriptions--I don't even remember what they were of.

The next day I was to teach my myth class at 8:00 in the morning. I had everything laid out that I was going to talk about. That day's subject was Artemis (I remember that clearly for some reason). As I went in, I could see the look of despair, shock, anger in their faces. I told them that we could go through with the lesson as I had planned it, as if nothing had changed, though things have, or we could talk about it. They opted to talk about it. Reactions and statements ranged from fearful to anger. I had even one student say to me that if he had been on a plane he would have single-handedly taken out the terrorists. I decided not to address his bravado, though clearly a few students rolled their eyes at his suggestion.

The events on that Tuesday became all any of us could talk about for that week. Media wasn't talking about anything else Editorials screamed suggestions. But one thing was clear--Terrorism had come to America and we were now living in a post 9/11 world. It was the day everything changed.

To the victims of this horror, all of them, +Memory eternal.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Interesting discovery

A skull that rewrites the history of man

The conventional view of human evolution and how early man colonised the world has been thrown into doubt by a series of stunning palaeontological discoveries suggesting that Africa was not the sole cradle of humankind. Scientists have found a handful of ancient human skulls at an archaeological site two hours from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, that suggest a Eurasian chapter in the long evolutionary story of man.

The skulls, jawbones and fragments of limb bones suggest that our ancient human ancestors migrated out of Africa far earlier than previously thought and spent a long evolutionary interlude in Eurasia – before moving back into Africa to complete the story of man.

Experts believe fossilised bones unearthed at the medieval village of Dmanisi in the foothills of the Caucuses, and dated to about 1.8 million years ago, are the oldest indisputable remains of humans discovered outside of Africa.

I find this particularly fascinating. Considering Georgia's close proximity to the Tigris and Euphrates, the two rivers that make up Mesopotamia and the fertile crescent, and which are also mentioned in Genesis as the rivers which border the Garden of Eden, could this perhaps maybe lend some creedence that the Genesis account does have some factual information in it and that Eden perhaps is not a myth and that man, at least a certain population of man, inhabited the area? It's not necessary to reconcile Genesis and scientific inquiry because the two, I believe, are not in conflict as many people will say. I'm curious to see if more discoveries are to come.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some shameless self-promotion

I've started to do a little freelance writing. It's not something I would say that I am great at, but I do like to do it. Anyway, I've started writing for theexaminer.com which has articles on pretty much every subject you can imagine. Well, I completed my first article for the examiner and you can read it here. it deals with the farmers market going on at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Omaha. Comments are very welcome. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Secrets to Success

In this economy, everyone is looking for any kind of advantage so that they may be propelled to the top and start raking it in. Patience is being sacrifice. Watching TV this evening, I stumbled upon a way that may allow you to become successful.

First, a question. What do the following people--Chef Ramsey, Simon Cowell, Anne Robinson, and Piers Morgan--have in common?

a) They're British
b) They're TV personalities on American shows
c) They're incredibly bitter, angry, self-deprecating, loathing, controlling people
d) All the above

And the answer is, of course, "d." All of them are extraordinarily mean, love being in control, hate stupidity or talent-less people (nothing inherently wrong with that)and all have that stuck-up droning British accent that conveys nothing else except the fact that they are better than you in every way possible, not least becuase they hail from Britannia and sing "God save the Queen" at every opportunity they get. OK, that's a stretch. But, let's be honest, with the exception of the Weakest Link, the game show that Anne Robinson hosted and is no longer on the air, all of these shows are currently successful and draw huge ratings.

But do you honestly believe people tune in to American Idol because these young "singers" actually have talent? Or watch America's Got Talent because they are so in need of seeing the person who can shoot milk out of his nose or pop his eyes out of the socket? Or watch Hell's Kitchen for the latest recipes to try at home? Of course not! No! We watch them because we want to see the stuck-up, angry man from across the pond, in his proud British accent blow up and be extraordinarily hateful to stupid Americans!

So, perhaps, if you want to get ahead in this turbulent time, pass yourself off as British! Hey, if Madonna can do it, maybe you can, too and get a TV reality-show deal out of it. It's just a thought!