1-3-2014 5-05-06 PMYour great aunt’s pictures of the new dog are now cluttering your newsfeed, and someone missed the fact that they were on caps lock all afternoon. Your best friend found a new stash of Pinterest cake stands to appreciate, and as much as you love her, you’re wishing she would find a hobby that doesn’t send you notifications.

Social media is not just a database or a forum – it’s a world unto itself. A world so structured, it has its own legal system. Break the code, and you end up in someone’s black book. Or, like your cake-stand-happy friend, your acquaintances start considering blocking you out of their social media lives.

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As a public service announcement, I have listed a few of the more commonly broken laws below.

First, don’t stalk. That sounds simple, but it’s actually a fine line. You are stalking if you comment on a picture someone posted a long time ago; you are not stalking if you comment on the picture immediately after you become their friend. Posting on someone else’s wall is not stalking, but if they aren’t your best friend, you’d better do it very rarely and for very good reasons. If you’re confused, don’t worry – so is everyone else. This brings us to the second rule.

Act like you know what you’re doing. The uncertain ones don’t make it far. Pretend if you must, but always give the impression that you are totally confident. It’s a vicious world out there, and you don’t want to be the one left reciting mule-in-the-hole stories to yourself. Believe me, they aren’t nearly as funny the second time.

NEVER POST IN ALL CAPS. There’s no reason for this rule, it’s just hard to read. Online, caps mean yelling, and if you read enough posts or comments or tweets by someone who yells all the time, the little person screaming at you from inside your head gets very tired.

Get to the point. When you post things like, “I’ve been so sad this week,” and “Guess what I did today,” you are shouting that you need someone to give you their attention and ask what you mean. Again, this denotes insecurity. Never act insecure.

On the other hand, avoid too much information. That picture of you in a Rockette outfit in your bathroom mirror? Well, good for you, but you remember that you friended your father, and he can see that, right? And the next time you meet an acquaintance in Wal-Mart, you think they’re just shaking your hand, but they’re actually envisioning you with reindeer antlers on your head.

Anyone can get online and “like” and “heart” and post pictures that no one else cares about, but to climb the ladder of social media popularity, and gain all those friends and followers you’ve dreamed of, a strict observance of the regulations that govern this world is a necessity.
By: Melissa Kirby

The Lost Art of Apologizing

12-20-2013 3-39-45 PM

Despite the growing popularity of internet shopping, this month tends to be one of traffic, travelers, and shoppers on a frantic mission. If you’ve been out in the holiday shopping this season, you may have ended up, like me, wrestling for a simple lane change in what should have been a mid-afternoon lull.

12-20-2013 3-39-02 PMI was raised on winding roads where hay bailers and cotton pickers are the only things that slow you down, and you wave when you pass another vehicle. In four lanes, scattered red lights, and 60 mph, I tend to do some of my worst driving.

Years ago, as a teenager, I took a car full of people to an event. The officer who pulled me over said I was going 58 in a 45. I couldn’t believe I had been moving that fast, but I was in a hurry and distracted, and – it didn’t matter. It was my word against the officer’s.

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I didn’t try to argue with him; I took the blame and apologized. Taken aback, the officer let me go with a warning.

I was told later that having a speeder simply apologize is so uncommon that he probably wasn’t sure what to do with me. Granted, I was also on the verge of tears, and I don’t care what you wear on your belt, no man likes to make a woman cry.

But the power of an apology is hard to overrate. Think of how many times a dangerous situation has been defused by someone taking the blame. Unless it’s a major, or a repeat offense, it is hard to hold something against someone who will totally accept that they are at fault. What would politics be like if those who ran our government contritely offered their apologies and their willingness to make amends, rather than denying the obvious? What if we had leaders who actually understood that the first rule of leadership is, like Hopper tells the princess in “A Bug’s Life:” “Everything is your fault.”

I’m not talking about the kind of apology that is immediately followed by a “but.” That’s not an apology; that’s a quantifier. An excuse, wrapped in its politest form. I’m talking about saying sorry, and meaning it.

A true apology is a forgotten art.

Section 32-5A-11 of the Alabama traffic law says, “This chapter shall be so interpreted and construed as to effectuate its general purpose to make uniform the law of various jurisdictions.”

When you get pulled over, the verdict is up to the person in the uniform. Anyone who has seen Barney Fife at work knows that you don’t flaunt your disregard for the law without consequences. But what about asking for forgiveness? How about admitting a fault, promising to turn it around, and penitently requesting a pardon?

We all mess up. There’s no shame in admitting your guilt, and promising to do better, as long as you do as you promise. Let’s make an apology, and carry it out. Let’s remember the forgotten art.
By: Melissa Kirby

12-20-2013 3-39-31 PM

Carrying a Popsicle Stick

12-7-2013 10-21-00 AMTheodore Roosevelt was the first to record the proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” a term that would be used to define his foreign policy. Meaning, roughly, that you smile nicely until you have to use force – and then you make sure you have that force available.

As policies go, this one has proven to be pretty effective, but it is highly reliant on your enemy believing that you have the ability to use force. And sometimes, to prove it, you have to actually use it.

Fifty years ago, the United States believed that we had a president who was young and healthy, when JFK was actually in such terrible physical shape that he wore a back brace that would prevent him from dodging the second and fatal bullet.

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And when he had to act on the illusion he had created, he ended up dead on a hospital bed in Dallas.

In 1980, Ruhollah Khomeini, the Ayatollah of Iran, did not believe that President Jimmy Carter was actually carrying a stick. Or at least, he thought it was a popsicle stick. Unfortunately, he was right, and for 444 days, 52 Americans were held hostage by Iranian terrorists. Khomeini also believed that Ronald Reagan had the power that Carter did not, and that this new American president was willing to use it. He believed it enough that he let 52 hostages walk free, rather than risk Reagan visiting his doorstep.

Forty years before that, the country of Japan believed that the United States didn’t have the strength to hold onto dozens of islands in the South Pacific – or, in fact, the strength to avenge a strike on a large naval base.

They were wrong, but it took four years and 16 million soldiers to convince them otherwise.

Famous despots such as Caesar Nero and Joseph Stalin were so terrified of dying that they saw plots against their lives everywhere they looked. They knew that when it came down to it, given an assassin and a weapon, they were just like everyone else: human.

Interestingly enough, both Nero and Stalin suffered violent deaths as a direct result of their tyranny.

When you’re afraid of having your strength tested, you may not have any left.

As a nation, having the ability to back up what we threaten is paramount to our ability to sway the world, to force other countries into some semblance of social freedom and equality.

A military operation into Syria would be an awful thing to have to do. And our ventures into Afghanistan and Iraq haven’t been the rose-strewn avenues we optimistically hoped for.

But the day we refuse to use the strength we hold over our enemies’ heads, is the day we will officially be carrying a popsicle stick.
By: Melissa Kirby

12-7-2013 10-24-53 AM

12-7-2013 10-21-48 AM

11-1-2013 6-07-21 PMYou didn’t know that, did you? But it’s quite true. The ABC liquor stores’ advertisements and displays – all the marketing that makes the stores more pleasing to the customer – are paid for by you, the taxpayer.

You see, for the sake of a slight profit margin, we are, to quote State Senator Arthur Orr, “putting the state in competition with the guy down the street – the one paying taxes.”

11-1-2013 6-07-31 PMJump back to post-prohibition-era. In December of 1933, the Twenty-First United States Amendment permitted the sale and distribution of intoxicating beverages, privy to local and state laws. There are currently 18 “control” states, who, while allowing the sale of alcohol, keep it highly regulated. Alabama is one of the dozen or so that actually staff, promote, and stock their own liquor stores – on the state’s dime.

The Alabama Alcohol Beverage Control board serves as a warehouse and supply center for the liquor retail stores. It also has an enforcement and licensing division for the regulation of spirits and hard liquor, as well as beer and wine.

But the ABC board has another function. It actually operates liquor stores, such as the one in Athens on Hwy 31. We, the state, are in the retail business.
Senator Orr is spearheading a bill to privatize these stores, while carefully controlling the privatization. The number of stores will be highly regulated. The city of Athens, for instance, may not be allowed to have more than four. The “liquor store on every corner” phenomenon is not prevented by a state-run store; it is prevented by enforcement, which liquidating the state’s retail interest will leave the ABC board free to focus on.

The ABC employees don’t have to worry about losing their jobs: they will get hiring preference for other government positions they may qualify for, and private businesses that hire them will get preferential treatment in the bidding for limited slots.

There is some concern over losing revenue. Here is where a bit of speculation has to be incorporated into the plain ole’ math, because it’s hard to tell who buys from where, and why. That’s called marketing, as a matter of fact; something that started this conversation in the first place.

If we’re being honest here, the only things the government does better than the common man are enforcing the law (mostly because they made sure no one else has the authority to), building roads (that’s because the common man doesn’t have a paving machine out back), and going to war (same problem with a tank). Some would add printing money, but that’s debatable.

The ABC stores do see a small profit margin. But that’s not considering government pension plans and retirement and health care. That’s ignoring inefficiency and the possibility of mismanagement that would be eliminated in the private sector. And that’s assuming that we want our state to be in the business of selling liquor.
Alabama has had less financial difficulties than plenty of our fellow states. But watching the distress around us without changing what we’re doing would be idiotic. We cannot place the burden of more pensions, more departments, and a bigger, badder beast of a government on the shoulders of the next generation. It isn’t fair, it isn’t kind, and it really isn’t smart.
By: Melissa Kirby

11-1-2013 6-12-34 PM

11-1-2013 6-07-48 PM
10-19-2013 8-24-58 AM

By now, you’ve probably heard that the federal government has shut down. Of course, going into this, we could probably have guessed that the IRS and the EPA would close, and Yosemite National Park wouldn’t be staffed. We didn’t exactly expect an error message when trying to locate abducted children and the criminals who kidnapped them, but that’s beside the point. And given that most computers don’t have an elephant key, we’ll assume White House keyboards are still intact.

10-19-2013 8-25-09 AM

In case you haven’t been keeping up, a quick history lesson: the House of Representatives – currently Republican controlled – proposed a budget in the days leading up to October 1st. Unfortunately, they were selective about what they funded. In other words, healthcare wasn’t on the agenda, which was problematic, since that’s the president’s new toy, and taking away politicians’ new toys is generally a bad idea.

10-19-2013 8-25-18 AM

A second proposal suggested delaying healthcare for another year. In a conversation about the hiccups on the brand new website, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer seemed to agree. “If they had three years to get this ready,” he said; “if they weren’t fully ready, they should accept the advice that a lot of Republicans are giving them, delay it another year, get it ready, and make sure it works.” Given that we’re talking about a site that provides propaganda and a calculator, I’m going to suggest that it might also take some extra time to implement a healthcare plan that covers 314 million people. But then, the government may turn out to be wildly efficient on this one. You never know.

10-19-2013 8-26-50 AMThe Affordable Care Act is law, they say. It can’t be changed. Like the Medes and the Persians, we’ll stand here and be eaten by lions, ‘cuz that’s how this works.

(I wouldn’t mention the implemented delays for businesses, or the fourteen wording changes, that have occurred since it was “signed into law.” It’s a sore point.)

As Thomas Sowell wisely reminds us, this was the reason for a government with three separate branches. They are checks and balances for each other. Our executive branch has decided that we need healthcare. Our judicial branch has upheld the validity of a legal requirement to enforce the purchase of healthcare.

And our legislative branch just stood up and said, “No.” Right or wrong, that means they’re doing exactly what they were organized to do: create balance.

Pointing fingers at a legislative branch that can’t “get it together” is like a pilot who blames his plane’s reaction to turbulence on the spinning instruments.

Or like a political opportunist who sees widespread disease in other countries, and blames it on the absence of an agenda that coerces healthy people into buying a product they don’t want, to remedy a problem American insurance can’t fix.

Oh, yeah. That’s what we’re doing.

Well, like I said. Just because government and efficiency have been mutually exclusive in the past is no guarantee that they won’t settle their differences before federal workers start perishing in the street. After all, at this point, adding money to the Affordable Care Act to pay for starvation treatment would be practically impossible.
By: Melissa Kirby

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