Monday, September 24, 2012

Blast from the past -- Cop Etiquette Edition

This brought to mind this oldie:

The kid arrested with Ohio State football player Ken-Yon Rambo last week is glad that Rambo was defended by coach John Cooper.

"Every newscaster, every reporter in town is calling me, and what they're trying to do is get me to say that Ken-Yon Rambo is getting some kind of special treatment because he is a football player, " said Ohio State junior Charles Lewis, whom nobody heard of until he landed in the Franklin County jail.

"I tell you what, that coach is doing exactly what he should be doing" in defending Rambo, he said.

"He never should have been arrested, " said Lewis, 20, a business finance major on academic scholarship. "I never should have been arrested."

Cooper, bless his heart, temporarily stood up for his kid Rambo, who apparently had nothing to do with the fight the cops were supposed to be quelling at a Downtown restaurant last week. Cooper has since apologized to police.

"I don't think Cooper ever should have apologized, " Lewis said. "Maybe if he had heard what I had to say, he wouldn't have. I'm glad he stands up for his football players. It would be nice if the academic dean was up there fighting for me, saying, 'This is my scholarship student.' "

The problem may be that Rambo did not receive special treatment.

How many people who are not star football players - people like Lewis - are harassed or manhandled by the police every day?

There have been too many incidents lately, too many questions about basic cop behavior, for people to ignore witnesses who say that Rambo's only crime was not being deferential to the men in blue.

When the cops arrived at the restaurant, "their behavior was totally ridiculous, " Lewis said. "By the time the cops got there it was all over, but they had to push people around."

Lewis, like Rambo, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Rambo also was charged with drug abuse; police said he was carrying a small amount of marijuana.

Both students are black. Lewis said the cops who arrested him were white.

Lewis said the charges are a joke.

"Basically, I got arrested for having a smart mouth, " he said.

"I was arguing with another student, and this cop just came up to me and started screaming profanities.

"I said, 'Hey, I'm too busy for that right now.'

"And before I know it five cops were on top of me. They were laughing and stuff, and I was, like, down.

"As you can see, I'm a pretty small guy. Even if I had been resisting arrest, it would have taken at most two guys to get me down, but I guess the other guys wanted to join the fun.

"I just hoped my mom wouldn't find out, " said Lewis, from Toledo.

Fat chance. Everybody in the state is talking about the story.

"It's strange, " Lewis said. "I found out I was the topic of conversation in my roommate's criminology class. He said it turned into kind of a black and white thing, with the blacks saying Rambo and I were innocent and the whites saying Rambo was guilty, primarily because of the drugs."

But the behavior of the cops also is a real issue.

Cops are public employees. They serve at our pleasure. We allow them to carry guns so we don't have to. They should be painfully polite up until - and even after - the moment they are forced to shoot.

"I think the insecure cops are the ones giving the whole cop profession a bad name, " Lewis said. "I think that's why some of them become cops. They are so insecure that they wake up in the morning, and that badge is the only thing that gives them courage to face the day - the badge and, ultimately, the gun. Maybe they got bullied when they were kids or something."

Most Columbus cops are good cops. But a rude cop is a bad cop. A cop just looking for an excuse to make an arrest is a bad cop. A cop who doesn't respect others is a bad cop.

Granted, such respect is a lot to demand from people paid to deal with society's scum, but society should demand it. The alternative is a breakdown in respect for the law.

Friday, September 21, 2012

WARNING! WARNING! -- Public radio edition.

Citizen Nothing's BFF will appear on All Sides Weekend on Friday, Sept. 21 at 11 a.m. to talk about fall travel. Tune in (or out) at WOSU-FM 89.7 in Columbus or at

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Best of Citizen Nothing: The Restaurant of the Future

NYC Mayor Bloomberg's latest antics have spurred me to post this oldie from 1994:

"Hello, sir, my name is Todd, and I'll be your waiter today.

"Before I tell you about our Independence Day luncheon special, let me remind you that in this public establishment federal law prohibits smoking, alcohol, gum chewing, burping, unpleasant body odor, shouting or loud talking, and any sudden move that might unnecessarily startle other diners.

"Jokes are permitted, except those that might be interpreted as deprecating to a member of any specific race, creed, religion, gender, sexual preference, species, height or weight, or to the chef.

"Exits are located in the front, rear and behind the cash register. By sitting near the grill, you certify your willingness to assist with an extinguisher in the event of a grease fire. If you are unwilling or unable to assist, alert the hostess and she will reseat you.

"In case of flash flood, your table can be used as an emergency flotation device - instructions can be found on page 3B of your menu instructions.

"Ketchup is available to our patrons over age 35. Sugar, salt or dijon mustard will be provided upon presentation of a doctor's signed waiver. The surgeon general has determined that if you spill honey on yourself you will become sticky.

"To reduce your chance of choking, all our food has been pre-cut to pass through a hoop with a diameter of no more than 3.325 centimeters. Should you choke, emergency alert cords are located above your head. If you are dining with a child who chokes, first make sure that you are not yourself choking, then give the emergency cord a single sharp pull. The cord is for emergencies only; if you wish to complain about your food, request Form 193-B.

"If you have trouble removing your childproof fork protector, please ask me or another waiter for assistance.

"We certify that none of our food requires a steak knife for proper consumption. If you still desire a steak knife, you will be asked to produce a state identification card and sign a Bureau of Utensils form certifying your intention to cut no more than 8 ounces of red meat.

"Now, sir, if you'll fasten your safety napkin, I'm ready to take your order.

"May I recommend the oatmeal?"

Monday, February 27, 2012

All the Little Travel Writers Go Tweet Tweet Tweet

Follow my BFF on Twitter @SteveStephens.
My boss forced me to say that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Best of Citizen Nothing: Dublin, Mexico edition

My pulse quickened when I saw the sign.

"Kelly's Irish Pub."

I had been wandering the beach at Cancun, marveling at the colors of the Caribbean, taking photos and notes and downing tiny $2.95 cups of Corona at seaside bars along the way.

I wanted to go on all day. I was, after all, on the clock. But while my mind was willing, my flesh, especially on my feet, was weak.

Darn these Tevas. The sports sandals might be fine for a stroll through a tide pool but aren't meant for long-distance work. Not only had I hiked up and down the beach, but I had also wandered the hot concrete along Kulkulcan Boulevard between kilometer posts 10 and 14, past the Planet Hollywood, La Isla Mall, Margaritaville, McDonald's and Senor Frogs.

I was ready for the shuttle back to my downtown hotel where I could take a dip in the pool, tend to my notes and my wounds and watch Yogi Bear dubbed into Spanish.

Maybe I would even break out the xtabentun, a honey-and-anise Yucatan liqueur I'd bought.

My shuttle wasn't due for 45 minutes, though. I could have hopped a city bus, but that would have added several weary blocks at the end of my trip.

Then I noticed the sign in the lobby of the Avalon Grand Hotel.

Irish pub? The saints be praised!

Thoughts of Guinness Stout and Jameson's whiskey filled my head.

I made my way down the steps and sidled up to the bar.

The bartender, who was definitely not Irish, offered me a cerveza.


"What? No, we have only Corona."

Indeed. Quickly checking the bottles shelved behind the bar, I saw the usual lineup, mostly tequila.

The only foreign booze in evidence was Stolichnaya and Smirnoff. Perhaps, I thought, there is no Mexican vodka? But then I noted Oso Negro, which ruined that theory.

A bottle of Beefeater gin -- hardly Irish -- also held prominent shelf space.

And in the corner, lonesome, sat a bottle of J&B Scotch.

The one Irish note in the place was Sinead O'Connor singing on the jukebox.

"So what is it, my good man, that makes this place an Irish bar?"

The bartender just smiled and laughed, and I suspected a language barrier. But facility with English is not something I demand from barkeeps. In fact, those who speak my native tongue tend to interrupt my monologues far too frequently.

While I was babbling, a waiter, who spoke a little more English, approached and asked my hometown.

"How close is Ohio to Boston, where my girlfriend lives?" he asked.

As I tried to explain the vast gulf, he showed me a phone number, supposedly hers.

"This is for Boston?"

It might have been. The number of digits was right. It looked correct, but he couldn't connect.

"She is very beautiful," he told me, explaining that he had met her recently in the bar. "I want very much to talk to her again."

I kept pondering the number, trying to figure out how he could be misdialing. In a halting mix of Spanish and English, we hashed over the intricacies of international area codes and dialing protocols.

The sad and obvious likelihood -- that the number he had been given was never meant to be correct -- didn't strike me until my fourth Corona, when it was almost time to catch my shuttle.

"I'm sorry, amigo. I hope you reach her and everything esta bien."

I got up from the barstool and he went back to work.

"Wherever you go," I mumbled to myself. "A bar is a bar."

I left a tip, wondering what would happen if I tried to order xtabentun at a Mexican taberna in Belfast or Boston. 

MARCH 20, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Radio is a sound salvation

Yep. Citizen Nothing's BFF appeared once again on WOSU radio, 89.7 FM in Columbus, Friday Dec. 16 at 11 a.m. He talked about the joys of Ohio winter travel, so yeah, it was a short program.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I'm touched. (Yeah, yeah. Save yer snark.)

I had to share this note that came to my mailbox via postcard today.

Dear Mr. Stephens,
Before I die (I'll be 80 soon) and while you are still the columnist for the Travel section of The Dispatch, I want to tell you how much I have enjoyed your articles for the past several years. As I recall, you were once a reporter with a "liberal bent," so we didn't always see eye to eye. So I was really pleasantly surprised when you started writing for Travel and your photos aren't bad either. 
                                                                                Bettie Margeson

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer in the city, a pain in my ears.

It wouldn't be summer without CN's alter ego appearing on All Sides Weekend on WOSU radio, 89.7 FM in Columbus.
He was on May 27. The topic -- summer travel in Ohio.
(Well, not literally, according to my calculations.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Best of Citizen Nothing -- The Perks of Public Service Edition

I think I might be a john, or maybe a pimp: I've been paying Columbus vice officers to have sex.

Not with me, of course, but with women they meet at strip clubs and escort services.

Strangely enough, it's always the strippers and escorts who are arrested.

For the cops, who can get naked, be masturbated and "momentarily" engage in sex, the transaction is merely a perk.

One officer used my tax dollars to purchase a total of five lap dances in one week from the same woman.

Other reports show detectives putting their mouths on strippers' bare breasts, touching the ladies' groins and being masturbated. And the cops can drink during the festivities.

"On the surface, it appears officers are engaging in sexual contact," said Deputy Chief Antone Lanata, who knows hanky-panky when he sees it.

Lanata, after viewing vice-squad reports from 2002 and 2003, tried to put a stop to the fun. But he was overruled by Chief James G. Jackson.

Perhaps the chief feared that the police union would balk at losing a long-standing fringe benefit.

In 1999, The Dispatch reported that at least one vice officer regularly had sexual intercourse with prostitutes before arresting them. Vice-squad rules were tightened, but Jackson relaxed them in 2000.

The Police Division's ethics board, made up of citizens and officers, suggested more-conservative guidelines in 2000.

"If the public perceives us doing something wrong to catch something wrong, it doesn't help our cause," Sgt. Michael Woods told The Dispatch.

But the suggestion was ignored and the ethics board disbanded.

I'd prefer my tax dollars go to fighting real crime. Strippers and escorts operate behind closed doors, where customers presumably are consenting adults. And prostitution is only a misdemeanor, anyway.

Cops can arrest streetwalkers who are disturbing peaceable neighborhoods on charges of soliciting, which requires no physical contact to prove. So why are the police putting so much time, effort and money into chasing strippers and escorts?

Perhaps the booze, the naked chicks, the sex?

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But paying cops to engage in the same activities that working girls are arrested for seems hypocritical, at the least.

And vice officers seem to target just working girls. What about working boys? Are our men in blue willing to do their professional duty and be masturbated by and engage in "momentary" sex with gay male prostitutes?

Sgt. Brent Mull, the Police Division spokesman, said he really couldn't tell me.

"But you can assume there are minor changes depending on the sex of the individual" suspect, he said.

Some police officials insist that vice officers' actions are not as sordid as reports make them sound. Officers are not now having intercourse or oral sex, said Lt. Larry Champlin of the vice squad.

So what kind of sex are cops "momentarily" engaging in?

Mull said that information is classified.

"We're not going to tell you how to beat us," he said. "If the general public knows, then the idiot (prostitute) out there will know."

Maybe so. But I always like to know upfront what I'm paying for.

-- April 28, 2003

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

When it's Springtime in Cleveland (It's 40 below).

Once again, CN's alter ego will appear on All Sides Weekend on WOSU radio, 89.7 FM in Columbus.
He'll appear from 11 a.m. to noon on March 18, gabbing about spring travel in Ohio.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Travel Scam Alert

There's a scam making the rounds in Columbus and elsewhere involving a letter that claims the recipient has won two free airline tickets.
Your first clue that this is a scam: Free airline tickets.
The second: The letterhead is from US Airlines (motto: "Fly the US Skies"). There is no US Airlines.
When you call the toll-free number, you learn you have to attend an "open house" at a "discount travel agency."
The open house is a high-pressure sales pitch for a high-price "travel club."
Don't fall for it.
Of course, if you're reading this, you're probably already smart enough to have thrown the letter away.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Best of Citizen Nothing -- Discourage the Vote Edition

Wondering whether to vote on Tuesday?

Then don't.

Just say nay.

Columbus is better off if fence-sitting, apathetic, reluctant, would-be voters stay home.

Our system works only in the hands of a well-informed electorate that understands the importance of its task and can pry itself from the BarcaLounger or bar stool long enough to vote.

Democracy can't survive voters who must be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the polls.

However, instead of discouraging the indolent and the ignorant, public officials keep trying to make voting easier, which says more about them than about the electorate.

Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio secretary of state, favors legislation allowing any voter to cast an absentee ballot.

It's not saying much, but Blackwell usually is a reasonable politician. The idea, however, is goofy.

An absentee ballot is fine for those who are bedridden, imprisoned or traveling in Kazakhstan. But why encourage voters so unmotivated or uninformed that they can't bother to haul their sorry carcasses down to the polling place?

If I were secretary of state, I'd do all I could to ensure elections were decided by voters who really valued and deserved their franchise.

To weed out pikers, elections would be on Super Bowl Sunday, with marathon sessions of Touched by an Angel and South Park on the other stations.

Residents of homeless shelters and members of country clubs would be disqualified. (Vagrants don't vote much anyway, but something really must be done about golfers.)

Eligible Ohioans would gather at a single polling place on North Bass Island. (Lake Erie usually is frozen by late January, and the hike is just 15 miles across the ice from Port Clinton.)

Voters who made it to shore but agreed to turn back would be offered a choice of free Lotto tickets, lawn-care service or Lilith Fair admission.

Finally, survivors would face a one- way exit labeled Extra Sensory Psychic Voting Booth. Anyone remaining behind would be eligible to vote.

My system might unjustly favor snowmobile owners, but otherwise I see few flaws.

The right not to vote and to ignore politics should be held precious by all Americans. In an ideal world, government would hold so little power that the only voters would be wonk hobbyists dabbling in politics the way some folks dabble in watercolor.

But this isn't an ideal world, and voting is important -- too important to leave to those who don't give a hoot. (And the more of those people who stay home, the more valuable my vote becomes.)

In truth, the next mayor of Columbus could be chosen by a coin toss: Candidates Michael B. Coleman and Dorothy Teater are hard to tell apart. (I think Dorothy's the one in the dress.)

But several Election Day issues address important and complex questions of who robs whom. And even motivated, well-informed voters can't explain tax-increment financing or the difference between high-tech commuter rail and a high-tech money vacuum.

Voters shouldn't really be expected to pass civics tests, much less navigate ice floes. But they should at least be required to get out of bed.

--Nov. 1, 1999

Monday, August 23, 2010

More blah blah blah on Ohio travel --

-- from some dude I know on the "All Sides Weekend" program on Aug. 27, now archived on WOSU 820 AM in Columbus and at You've been warned.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Remembering Peter McWilliams

Peter McWilliams died 10 years ago today. Here's my piece from shortly after:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die.
These words from Ecclesiastes begin best-selling author Peter McWilliams' book How To Survive the Loss of a Love.
McWilliams' time to die came last month. The government did not kill him directly, although McWilliams would still be alive if not for the hounding of federal prosecutors and the decisions of a federal judge.
McWilliams, 50, admittedly smoked dope and encouraged others to do the same.
Marijuana was the only substance that relieved McWilliams' nausea, which was caused by the drugs that fought his AIDS and cancer. He founded Medical Marijuana Magazine online to help others.
But, despite California laws legalizing medical marijuana, DEA agents stormed McWilliams' Los Angeles home and the offices of his publishing company and charged him with growing, possessing and conspiring to sell the evil weed.
McWilliams pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after federal Judge George King denied him a defense. The judge would not allow McWilliams to introduce into evidence information about his illness or California's law.
And, of course, King ordered weekly urine tests for McWilliams, whose nausea, without the marijuana, became uncontrollable.
McWilliams was out on bail and awaiting sentencing when he died, choking on his own vomit, in his bathtub.
I knew McWilliams only casually. We traded a few e-mails after he read one of my columns on the Dispatch Web site last year. He retained his humor and optimism, although the feds had started the campaign that ended in his destruction.
Conservative commentator William F. Buckley knew McWilliams much better than I.
In a recent column, Buckley called his friend "a wry, mythogenic guy, humorous, affectionate, articulate, shrewd, sassy."
"Imagine such a spirit ending its life at 50, just because they wouldn't let him have a toke," Buckley wrote.
McWilliams' political philosophy was summed up in the title of his 1993 book Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society.
"This book is based on a single idea," McWilliams wrote. "You should be allowed to do whatever you want with your own person and property, as long as you don't physically harm the person or property of a nonconsenting other."
In the book, McWilliams notes that the government has jailed more than 750,000 people for acts "that did not physically harm the person or property of another."
"Throwing people in jail is the extreme," McWilliams wrote, but the DEA proved him wrong.
The war on drugs now transcends questions of liberal vs. conservative. It now pits government against citizen, power against liberty, politics against common sense.
McWilliams was targeted not because he used marijuana but because he spoke out.
"If the DEA has seized my computer to silence me, it has failed," McWilliams wrote recently in Liberty magazine.
But that failure was only temporary. McWilliams -- a voice favoring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a voice opposing conformity -- is now silenced forever.
But they can't silence everyone.
As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to keep silence and a time to speak.
The time to speak is now.

-- July 3, 2000

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Best of Citizen Nothing: Fab Four Edition

"I've got this new theory," said Jack Nolan to no one in particular.
Everyone in the bar groaned, except for the punk playing pinball. The punk didn't know Nolan.
Nolan, as always, plunged ahead. "In every relationship between two people, one is the John Lennon and the other the Paul McCartney."
"What the heck are you talking about?" asked the bartender.
"You know, the musicians, the Beatles."
"Duh. Of course I know the Beatles."
"Well, Lennon was the visionary, the rebel," explained Nolan. "McCartney was the stabilizer, the organizer."
"Oh," said a man slumped precariously over a Pabst Blue Ribbon."Like Nixon and Agnew."
Nolan ignored him. "Take any two people in a relationship - siblings, friends, spouses, lovers. One is always more like Lennon, the other like McCartney. You can even be the Lennon in one relationship and the McCartney in another."
"But why Lennon and McCartney?" asked a vaguely attractive woman two stools down. "Why not Abbott and Costello, Mantle and Maris, Martin and Lewis?"
"Or Lewis and Lambchop," said the punk, who had tilted.
"I've worked this all out," Nolan insisted. "I'm sure it's Lennon and McCartney."
"OK," challenged the bartender. "You and me, Nolan. Which is which?"
"Oh," said Nolan. "I'm definitely Lennon. I'm the more daring, you're the more stable. I'm the creativity, you're the salability. I order Killian's Red, you never have it."
The bartender waved his hands in disgust and turned away.
Just then, While My Guitar Gently Weeps floated from the jukebox.
"Criminy," said Nolan. "Of all the . . . ."
"I like George," interrupted the punk, who had dropped the quarter. "He reminds me of my dad."
The Pabst man looked up from his beer. "Come to think of it, my ex-wife looks a lot like Ringo," he said.
"Hey, Nolan," said the woman. "If you and me got together, would I be Lennon?"
"If you go out with Nolan, you'd be Mother Teresa," the bartender said.
"Yeah," said Nolan softly. "You'd be Lennon."
"That's what I thought," she said. "Sorry, Nolan. I've had my fill of McCartneys.

-- Feb. 17, 1992

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Best of Citizen Nothing: A Pirate Looks at Beachfront Entertainment Edition

Here's a surefire bar bet, at least if the bar is on a bigger body of water than, say, Buckeye Lake.
When the guy up on the little open-air stage gets done tuning his guitar and checking his microphone, the song he launches into will be something written by Jimmy Buffett. If you can get odds -- two mojitos to one, perhaps -- specify Margaritaville, unless the singer appears middle-aged, in which case you should go with A Pirate Looks at 40.
You'll find Buffett songs everywhere you find tourists, booze and the smell of fish. At any moment during business hours, renditions of Cheeseburger in Paradise are being performed in at least 57 venues, all of them eligible for federal flood insurance.
Although water is a requirement, a tropical climate is not. I'm sure I could take a dog sled across the ice to South Bass Island in mid-January and still find some guy in the shadow of Perry's Monument singing Fins for drinks and tips -- which is ironic, considering the heroine of that song "came down from Cincinnati."
I often wonder what these coastal bar singers sang B.B. -- before Buffett. Don Ho, maybe?
I don't begrudge these musicians the good thing they have going. In the Buffett songbook, they're bound to find at least one familiar tune able to pry a tip from the fingers of even the stingiest tourists, at least those with a blood-alcohol level of .05 percent or higher.
But I ofter wonder whether aspiring singer-songwriters, after hearing the 10,000th request for Why Don't We Get Drunk?, feel resentful of the monopoly that Buffett has on the coastal bar scene.
The last time I was in Key West, I had lunch on a patio where some young guy with a guitar was playing the fourth Buffett request of the set. I got the impression that this forced homage was painful to him.
So I pulled out a fiver, grandly placed it in his tip pitcher, and requested "A tune of your own, my good man."
"Thanks, dude," he said, and happily changed gears.
I don't remember much about what came next, except thinking, "Dang. There's five bucks wasted," and slinking away while the other patrons gave me the stink eye.
OK. There's a reason Buffett is Buffett.
A few weeks ago I was sitting on the patio of a little place on a barrier island, enjoying a mahi sandwich and a pint of Palmetto Pale Ale, watching a gray-beard guitar picker set up for his lunchtime show.
I was alone, so I couldn't place a bet. Sure enough, though, the guy led off with A Pirate Looks at 40. But he looked as if he had made his peace with that, long ago.
So I put a five in the tip pitcher -- without a request.
Although I've never been a Parrot Head, after hearing Buffett songs so many times in so many places, they eventually attached themselves to my brain, like remoras. I finally broke down and bought a greatest-hits collection on a trip to some coastal city -- maybe Pensacola, maybe San Juan, maybe Saugatuck.
Sometimes, when I catch a whiff of something that smells of salt water, or at least of sardines, I'll play my favorite track: Buffett's cover of Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Best of Citizen Nothing: Willie Nelson Edition

Willie Nelson's been busted for pot possession again. So here's an old favorite I hope ya'll enjoy:

Dear Willie Nelson,
Something amazing comes out just about every time you open your mouth, man. I just wish you'd have kept it shut before your concert last week at the Ohio State Fair.
You're a hero of mine, Willie. I'd love to visit one of your barbecues, just like Hank Hill on that TV show - maybe take along my mandolin, get real mellow, do Merle Haggard's part on Pancho and Lefty.
But you know the conversation would turn to politics, and before long you'd start in about Farm Aid, just like you did at the fair, and pretty soon we'd both be cussin', and then somebody would break a whiskey bottle against the fender of somebody's truck, and the evening would go downhill.
Willie, you said we've got to defend the family farmer and shut down factory farms like the Buckeye Egg Farm.
Family farmers, you said, care about the people and the land. You say there's something especially spiritual about family farming.
Willie, I admire American farmers as much as anyone else. They feed the world - not because of some weird mojo tying them to the earth, but in search of an honest buck. And they do a heck of a job.
But barns are not cathedrals, Willie. Grain silos are not shrines. Only one stable I know of qualifies as a holy place, and that's 8,000 miles east of here.
Family farms are just like family funeral homes or family pharmacies: small businesses that have to pay the freight or go bust.
Farmers are no more saintly than blacksmiths, and who today misses the family forge, Willie? Factory farming, like factory smithery, is not necessarily a bad idea. If the government had protected smithies, today 1,000 little forges might be standing between here and Nashville.
Of course, only the wealthy could afford nails. (And the pollution from 1,000 scattered coal furnaces would be a lot worse than from one factory smokestack.)
Factory farming holds out the promise of cheaper food for all mankind. That's got to mean something.
Willie, it's easy to sit on our lard-filled American butts and argue that higher food prices are no big deal, but a difference of a few pennies a bushel in the price of U.S. wheat can feed a lot of hungry villages in Africa.
OK, Willie, I've said my piece. I hope you don't think too poorly of me. As a peace offering, I wrote you this song, set to the tune of Poncho and Lefty:

Buckeye (Egg Farm) and Lefty
Livin' on the farm, my friend
Is gonna keep you poor and lean.
And now you plow your fields like sand
And rain's more scarce than gasoline.
You weren't your banker's only mark
But his favorite one, it seems.
He began to sigh when you said goodbye
And sank into his schemes.

Buckeye was a factory farm.
Investors wanted dividends.
They piled all the cages high,
Containing fifty thousand hens.
The farmers met their match, you know
In a field in Croton, Ohio.
Nobody begs to buy their eggs -
Ah, but that's the way it goes.

All the family farmers say
You'll love our hen manure's bouquet.
Big business chicks don't smell that way
You've got to hold your nose.

Reporters tell how Buckeye errs
With flies in all the neighbors' hair.
The dust that chickens peck and claw
Ends up in Licking County's craw.
But the day they lay old Buckeye low,
Egg prices rise in Ohio.
Then where the poor will get the dough,
There ain't nobody knows.

Farmers they can't reap the checks
All year long for growin' nix:
The budget's tight, the Congress cold,
And so the story ends we're told.
Farmers need your prayers, it's true
But save a few for Buckeye, too.
They only do what they have to do
To keep their omelets sold.

So Willie, about that barbecue? I'll even leave my mandolin home.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Best of Citizen Nothing: Thursday Night at the Bar Edition, Vol. II

"It's funny," Nolan said, sitting on his usual bar stool, watching the condensation form on his beer bottle. "They never write songs about sleet. They write about sunshine, and they write about rain. Oh yes, they write plenty about rain."
A drop ran down the bottle and onto the bar and into a tiny gouge in the wood, where it stayed. Nolan didn't recall that he had made the gouge doing a trick with an iced-tea spoon years before.
"Oh, yes," he said and laughed bitterly. "They write plenty about rain."
"Why would anyone want to write about sleet?" asked the woman sitting next to him.
"Raindrops falling on my head, in my heart, down my cheek," Nolan said, paying no attention to the woman's comment. "Like it's some kind of tragedy, like rain is bad. Rain is kinetic; it makes things grow, makes rivers run. Sleet is static. You'll get a broken foot trying to run on sleet."
"But metaphorically . . . " the woman began.
"Metaphorically, metaphysically, metatarsally - it's no excuse," Nolan said, taking a drink. "All these songwriters weeping over rain. Sleet, now there's a demon. Sleet can paralyze an entire city, bring everything to a standstill."
"Maybe nothing rhymes with sleet."
"That's crazy. What about heat? What about feet?" Nolan asked. He paused, looking off toward the pinball machine for inspiration. "What about, 'You froze my sheets, With your heart of sleet'?"
"Oh, lovely," said the woman.
"No, don't go," Nolan said. "I know that wasn't very good, but it was just to illustrate a point. Sleet is bad. Bad, I tell you."
"You sound as if you speak from experience."
"No," said Nolan. "No, I don't. But sometimes I imagine things."
"I imagine you do," said the woman, eyeing him suspiciously and getting off her stool.
Nolan didn't notice. "Sometimes I imagine being outside when a sleet storm hits, standing perfectly motionless and allowing it to cover me from head to foot, freezing me to the spot."
"So don't stand motionless," said the woman, leaving.
"You just can't talk to some people," Nolan said to nobody, and ordered another beer.

-- June 17, 1991

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Best of Citizen Nothing -- Asset Forfeiture Edition

Radley Balko, who is doing yeoman's work at Reason magazine, posted this great piece on asset forfeiture today:

So I thought I'd dust off the archives and rerun this piece of mine from 11 years ago this month:

David Stern must wish he had the kind of negotiating power wielded by the State Highway Patrol.
The commissioner watched as team owners in the National Basketball Association staged a six-month lockout to get contract concessions from NBA players.
But when the Highway Patrol wanted to squeeze some money from Los Angeles Laker Corie Blount, it simply seized a big bag of cash from his car.
Blount, a Columbus resident, was pulled over near Wilmington on Christmas Eve because the tint on his car windows was deemed too dark. The trooper who stopped him just happened to have a drug-sniffing dog along for the ride.
The dog found no drugs but did alert its handler to a bag filled with $19,000. (Where can I get one of these money-sniffing dogs?)
No charges were filed, but the money was turned over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. A fine of $19,000 seems pretty stiff for a window-tint violation, but U.S. law permits authorities to confiscate cash pretty much at will these days.
If the cops decide they want a particular pile of money, they need only claim that it would probably have been used to buy drugs.
To get the money back, the (former) owner of the cash must take the cops to court to prove otherwise.
The police undoubtedly would intervene if citizens began seizing squad cars and returning them only when cops proved the vehicles were not being used for doughnut runs. But the rules applying to citizens do not apply to the authorities. (Maybe that's why we have so many authorities.)
Now Blount will have to sue to get back the money.
What was he doing with $19,000 in cash? That's none of your business. None of mine, either.
As Blount made $1.43 million last year, $19,000 represents less than a week's pay for him.
Blount said he got the cash from selling a car, but he shouldn't have to explain that to anyone - including the Highway Patrol and the DEA - unless charges are filed.
Citizens should have the right to drive cars filled with money (probably nickels in my case) around DEA headquarters, unimpeded, for hours on end if they so choose.
Those with the inclination should be allowed - if not encouraged - to fashion two-piece suits of $50 bills, with matching vests of $100s, and wear them as they ride the elevators at FBI headquarters.
A person's money should be his own, to do with what he will.
Authorities should be forced to prove that money is connected to a crime before taking it. But we are living in a time when basic rights are routinely sacrificed to the "War on Drugs," and the Bill of Rights no longer means what it appears to say.
All money is now the government's, whenever it wants to come get it.
If the proposed U.S. flag-burning amendment passes, it will likely become illegal even to light cigars with $20 bills, because they depict Old Glory atop the White House.
Blount probably won't miss his $19,000. But many other innocent citizens, less able to afford the loss and the high-priced attorneys needed for a court fight, have suffered from the same seizure laws.
How many basic rights will be seized before citizens demand their return?

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Some Folks Never Learn: Radio Edition

Those damn fools at public radio are at it again. The unmasked Citizen Nothing appeared Jan. 15 at 11 a.m. on All Sides Weekend on WOSU-AM in Columbus. That's 820 AM, or, for those who wanted to listen or call in with jeers. He was asked to yak about Ohio winter travel. WTF?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Best of Citizen Nothing -- Nanny Cafe edition

"Hello, sir, my name is Todd, and I'll be your waiter today.
"Before I tell you about our Independence Day luncheon special, let me remind you that in this public establishment federal law prohibits smoking, alcohol, gum chewing, burping, unpleasant body odor, shouting or loud talking, and any sudden move that might unnecessarily startle other diners.
"Jokes are permitted, except those that might be interpreted as deprecating to a member of any specific race, creed, religion, gender, sexual preference, species, height or weight, or to the chef.
"Exits are located in the front, rear and behind the cash register. By sitting near the grill, you certify your willingness to assist with an extinguisher in the event of a grease fire. If you are unwilling or unable to assist, alert the hostess and she will reseat you.
"In case of flash flood, your table can be used as an emergency flotation device - instructions can be found on page 3B of your menu introduction.
"Ketchup is available to our patrons over age 35. Sugar, salt or dijon mustard will be provided upon presentation of a doctor's signed waiver. The surgeon general has determined that if you spill honey on yourself you will become sticky.
"To reduce your chance of choking, all our food has been pre-cut to pass through a hoop with a diameter of no more than 3.325 centimeters. Should you choke, emergency alert cords are located above your head. If you are dining with a child who chokes, first make sure that you are not yourself choking, then give the emergency cord a single sharp pull. The cord is for emergencies only; if you wish to complain about your food, request Form 193-B.
"If you have trouble removing your childproof fork protector, please ask me or another waiter for assistance.
"We certify that none of our food requires a steak knife for proper consumption. If you still desire a steak knife, you will be asked to produce a state identification card and sign a Bureau of Utensils form certifying your intention to cut no more than 8 ounces of red meat.
"Now, sir, if you'll fasten your safety napkin, I'm ready to take your order.
"May I recommend the oatmeal?"

-- July 4, 1994.

Proof They Want You Dead: Pasadena Edition

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fun with iPhones: Pasadena Edition

Check out my YouTube channel to see my all iPhone (shot and edited) videos from the road in Pasadena. ( Why?

That's a toughie, I'll admit...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Best of Citizen Nothing: Stuck at Niagara

As I watched water hurtle over Horseshoe Falls, I felt the undeniable urge to join the Niagara River and plunge to the rocks below.
I have no death wish, being far too narcissistic to think my demise will be anything but tragic for all involved, especially me.
But whenever I find myself on the brink of a cliff or the rim of a waterfall, a small voice always urges me to jump, making my stomach feel as if I had.
The urge is not unusual; many of my colleagues admit to hearing gravity's siren song whenever they stand atop a high place.
The impulse might be a tool of natural selection. Those too weak to resist will not pass on their gravity-defying gene.
Colorado or Arizona residents, gazing upon the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon each day, must become inured to the urge. But the impulse must always be a surprise to central Ohio denizens, where the grandest natural features are no more than 35 feet high or 4 feet deep.
At Niagara, I knew my sons, ages 8 and 11, were old enough and strong enough to resist temptation. But I still experienced that top-of-the-roller-coaster sensation as they leaned far over the railing.
I fought another, even stronger, urge to pull them back from the brink, throw them on the ground, cover them with my body and hold them there until they turned 21.
Joe and Mike were fascinated with tales of daredevils going over the falls in barrels. And, fortunately, waiting in the motel room was a surrogate daredevil -- Sticky.
Joe befriended Sticky -- a 3-foot-long, 1-inch-square piece of pressure-treated lumber -- earlier in the week on the beach in Monroe, Mich.
My boys each fall into one of the two classic primate types: pounders and flingers.
Mike, the younger, is a classic flinger. He spent his beach time whirling along the sand like a waterspout, skipping rocks and throwing shells. If he had had a tail, he would have flown into the air like a kite.
Joe is a classic pounder. He was fascinated by the problem posed by a mysterious piece of plastic pipe sticking out of the ground. He sought out Sticky from the beach detritus, and boy and stick bonded as they persistently pounded and pried at the pipe.
I wasn't surprised when Joe insisted that his new friend accompany us on our travels. The boy can be as emotional as his old man, who occasionally finds sentimental value in stained T-shirts, unusual coffee stirrers or chewed pencils.
So, while Sticky was sort of a joke, he also became a full-fledged traveling companion, riding along in the car, listening as we read Harry Potter, joining us in our motel rooms, marveling with us at the strangeness of Canadian money and usually voting with Joe when the family chose a restaurant or sightseeing stop.
Mike, naturally, became irritated with the newcomer, and soon it became obvious, even to Joe, that Sticky was wearing out his welcome and his novelty.
I think the idea of sending Sticky over the falls, in an honorable sort of Viking/ Canuck funeral, struck the entire family at once. As we stood on the brink and felt the tug from the bottom, I looked from my wife, to Joe, to Mike, and as one the family shouted, "Sticky!"
Our plan was to take Sticky from our motel down the Incline Railway and nonchalantly sidle over to Table Rock. There we'd say a brief adieu, slide Sticky through the railing and throw him to immortality before anyone could say, "What are you people doing with that log?"
Alas, the affection between boy and stick was still too strong, and Joe conveniently forgot Sticky in the room when we left for the falls again that evening.
The oversight was probably for the best. The next morning, as we rode the Spanish Aero Car over the Niagara River whirlpool, we saw the great mass of debris that had poured over the falls the previous evening.
Had Sticky gone over, we probably would have seen his thin body floating 100 feet below us and laughed and cried ourselves to death.
Sticky accompanied us home. The plan now is to send him rafting down the Little Darby like Huck Finn down the Mississippi -- an end less dramatic, true, but also less stomach-churning to us flatlanders.