Friday, October 30, 2009

24 Hours on Facebook

Friends and family had been bugging me. “You gotta get on Facebook!”

Half of the technology and marketing articles I’ve read for my industry – Real Estate, insisted you’ve gotta have a Facebook page to be an effective and successful Realtor.

But everything I read, observed, and just plain sensed about Facebook told me it could easily become a 2nd job. So I put it off. That is, until Wednesday of this week. I finally logged on, set up a page with photos and links to my blog and my company website, and quickly clicked through the names of a couple dozen friends, family and neighbors to add as friends.

Then all hell broke loose.

I’ve got a lot of home listings right now and get an email notification every time a Realtor sets up an appointment, and then again when they’ve shown it and provided feedback. I get another burst of emails for the listings I’m showing to my buyers – showing instructions and feedback requests. Add on top of that emails from home inspectors, title companies, other agents, and just plain friends, family and column readers. Some days it can literally take hours to sift through my emails.

Now add Facebook.

In my first 24 hours on Facebook I got 39 emails notifying me about each person who confirmed me as a friend, every comment they wrote on my wall and every event I was invited to. Just a couple hours after creating the page I left the office at 4:15 with my email inbox clean. When I opened my laptop at 9:00 that evening volumes of information had arrived on my Facebook page.

-My cousin Jennifer went home sick from work and lots of her friends (who I don’t know) are praying for her.
-My brother-in-law Paul is in Spain, updating his itinerary as he goes, and his friends, (who I don’t know) are commenting on his various locations.
-Geoff updates his status: “Geoff Davis is at home” He only lives a couple blocks away from me – I saw him drive down the street a little while ago so I already know he’s home.
-Amy and Susan (sisters) are sharing jabs about the World Series.
-Richard got thrown out of a bar in Daytona;-)
-When I added my niece, Laura as a friend, it gives me two twisted words to retype for verification: they spell, “laxative late.” The word “constipation” flashes in my mind for a moment. I move on.
-My son Jack and his friends give a shout-out to their favorite skateboard shop, including pictures of skateboards and them just horsing around.
-Jack’s girlfriend comments on my last column.
-Past client, Adam keeps updating me every time he beats a level in a video game.
-My niece, Laura in Santiago, Chile has taken a poll about the foreign language she would most like to speak (German, by the way,) and her friends (who I don’t know) are commenting.
-Nikki’s anticipating an airplane trip and is exited.
-My cousin Jennifer is doing something regarding electronic gifts under electronic Christmas trees.
-My neighbor and friend Julie has just gotten over H1N1 and her friends and family (more people I don’t know) are commenting.
-My uncle Max mowed the lawn.
-My brother, Tom took a quiz to guess the identities of movie stars with their eyes whited out and sends the pictures so I can play, too.
-Doug, a past real estate client is offering smoked hams and turkeys for Thanksgiving.
-My cousin Jennifer is updating her status, again? Oh hell, that girl’s spending too damn much time on the computer telling people what she’s doing.

I realize my iphone has already downloaded a Facebook app.
Oh, good:-( I can update my status anytime, anywhere.

-Amy and Peggy are planning to get coffee together.
-Jack sends more horsing around photos.
-Adam is done with the video games and now he and Nikki are at the airport to fly to a Phish concert.
-I realize my 14-year-old daughter, Sally has rejected my friend request.
-My oldest son Cal sends pictures of someone in a Power Rangers costume.
-Hannah is going to see the Sufjan Stevens film, again.
– and damn-it-all, my cousin Jennifer is doing something again! "Girl, get off the computer and do something productive."

I made none of this up. Not one word. Skipped a lot of less interesting stuff, and it’s only the first 24 hours!

Will anyone go back to work when the recession is over or will we all just sit unshaven in pajamas for days, sending polls to our friends asking, “Which is the hottest Kardashian?” and “Should Barack Obama be allowed to shut down Fox News?” and “Toilet Paper Installation: Over or Under?” – three actual polls I’ve seen in my first 24 hours.

The only really useful information I got in this first day was from my mother, who saw my comment about Facebook being a second job and wrote, “I usually can't find my spot on the thing, never find anybody’s' pictures, and can't figure out what I'm really suppose to do. I find this too time consuming.”

Thanks Mom.

Status Update: Kurt’s at the doctor’s office getting his regular allergy shot. I’ll update you all when I get back to the office.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"That's So Gay"

Warning: Some language in this column may be offensive to some people. (It’s certainly offensive to me.)

“That’s so gay!”

Having been a high school teacher for 16+ years up until 2002 – and having teenage children for much of the time since, I’ve heard that phrase more times than I can count. If a teenager thinks something is unstylish, or silly, or just plain stupid, they’ll say, “That’s so gay.”

My wife was even surprised recently reading a Rolling Stone interview with Madonna to hear the queen of pop use the phrase. I even heard a Noblesville mom say it recently.

I wonder if the mom or Madonna or the typical teenager would say, “That’s so black?

Of course they wouldn’t, because they understand that such a comment would be offensive to African Americans. So what makes anyone think that gays feel any differently?

When I recently questioned a Noblesville High School student about this they were defensive. “The phrase has nothing to do with homosexuality. It’s just something people say.”


When I was in elementary school back in the 1960s in a small Indiana town, it wasn’t unusual for schoolchildren to call you a “dumb” or “stupid ‘N’ word” if you messed something up. It’s hard to believe looking back from 2009. But when everyone uses a particular phrase, it seems normal.

I may have been the stupidest kid ever, because under the age of perhaps 8 or 9, I never associated that usage of the “N” word with African Americans. At least not until I said it at home and got slapped in the face by my mother (the first and only slap she ever gave me).

When I was a high school teacher, there was a period in the early ‘90s when my students actually used the phrase, “That’s so Jewish.” It meant the same thing as, “That’s so gay.” In talking about the Jewish version of the phrase with that Noblesville High School student, she told me she has a friend at Westfield High School who says, “That’s so Jewish,” all the time. She felt that was going over the line and clearly not right, and told her friend to stop saying it. Yet she thinks saying, “That’s so gay,” is perfectly fine.

On a day when I’d heard, “That’s so Jewish,” more times than I could tolerate I put all my students on notice that I would not tolerate the use of the phrase in my classroom any longer. But sure enough, within a couple days someone used the phrase to describe something they didn’t like. I sent the boy to the office for using offensive language.

He was dumbfounded. He thought I was nuts, insisting there’s nothing wrong with the phrase because (here we go again), “It has nothing to do with Jewish people.”

Kinda coincidental that it carried a negative, instead of a positive connotation. How come none of these supposedly harmless phrases that reference historically maligned minorities are never complementary?

Let’s just be honest with ourselves. Homosexuals are the last group that it’s still socially acceptable to openly hate or discriminate against. Let’s also be honest and admit that a phrase that was once meant to clearly ridicule gays became so ubiquitous, that lot’s of people don’t even associate it with its original meaning. But for the person being offended, the meaning is still there.

You can say I’m caught up in political correctness, but I base my objection to the phrase on my Christian upbringing and the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you’re Catholic, would you like to repeatedly hear people say, “That’s so Catholic,” to describe something they hate? Oh, c’mon now, it has nothing to do with Catholics, it’s just a harmless phrase, right?

Or how about, “That’s so Hoosier?” Or perhaps, “That’s so female,” to describe something ugly or dumb or foolish?” Why be so touchy? It’s just a phrase.

Sound ridiculous? No more ridiculous than, “That’s so gay.”

Just as we look back and shake our heads in disbelief at the insensitive phrases once used that negatively reflected upon African Americans or Mexicans or Jews, one day in the not so distant future, we’ll look back and wonder how regular people could have been so cruel and rude to say, “That’s so gay.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rembering Brown County (and a little about the Nobel Prize)

Drove down to Brown County with friends last Saturday for a party in the woods at Susie and Larry’s cabin. They call it Larryland.

South of Trafalgar, as the predictable grid of northern roads gave way to winding and turning lanes among the hills, I got to thinking about the year and a half I lived in Brown County after graduating college.

I’d spent so much of my life on the flat land of northern Indiana, moving to Brown County in the mid-‘80s at the age of 24, the place just didn’t feel like any part of Indiana I knew. It felt like the south.

I rented a guesthouse from an elderly woman named Angie, just west of Nashville off 46, up a steep hill and in the forest right across from the Little Nashville Opry. My place was one room, maybe 20’ x 20’ with a kitchenette built into one wall and an entire bank of windows, ceiling to floor, looking out on a ravine on the opposite wall.

Angie was a remarkable woman. She’d spent her life in New York as an editor at various fashion magazines. At retirement she followed her daughter and son-in-law to Brown County in the 60’s. They lived next door to us. Angie’s frail body was bent and twisted by arthritis, but she lived with a determined joy for life, her house filled with mementos from her life out east.

Angie had a dog named Ky. He was half German shepherd, half coyote. My first night there I came home from work after dark. As I walked from my car in the pitch black of the forest, I could hear Ky growling as he circled me in the undergrowth. In a scene right out of a horror film, I fumbled with the key in the unfamiliar lock, panicking as Ky drew closer, his growls more insistent. I burst inside, quickly slammed the door and flipped on the porch light. Ky glared back at me, teeth bared.

Angie had apparently watched the whole thing from her window.

She met me in the driveway in the morning and said, “Maybe you better feed the dog for a few days. You need to make friends with him” I did and Ky and I were friends from then on. Many nights he would sit outside my window and howl at the darkness. Coyotes on neighboring hills would howl in response, their cries echoing through the woods.

Angie’s son-in-law Sam was a former New York attorney who retired to Nashville and got elected County judge. Sam was an expert on mushrooms and had written a book, “A Judge Judges Mushrooms,” detailing every kind of mushroom that could be found within a mile of his house. Occasionally he would show up at the door exclaiming, “There are these fabulous little red mushrooms growing under the propane tank. Sauté those in some butter. You’ll love ‘em. But watch out for the puffball mushrooms. They’re poisonous.”

His enthusiasm usually included a casual warning that made you afraid to pick and eat anything.

As I sat around a campfire at “Larryland” on Saturday I thought too about the cultural differences between northern and southern Indiana. There are towns down there with names like Gnaw Bone and Bean Blossom. There’s a little bit of a nasal twang down there that you don’t hear so much in Marion or Ft. Wayne. Listen carefully next time you hear John Mellancamp being interviewed and you’ll hear what I mean. And I heard the term “you-uns” for the first time and then often, a term interchangeable with “ya-all.”

And there’s a driving culture too. Brown County drivers will pull out in front of you no matter what, forcing you to slam on your breaks to avoid a rear-end collision. Locals spend so much time trapped on those winding-curving roads behind slow-driving northerners who’ve come down to gawk at the scenery, they’d just rather get in front of you, no matter the risk.

When I originally went down for the job interview, Nashville looked like a happenin’ little town. What I didn’t know until I moved there was that, at least in those days, it closed down around 6 o’clock. Bloomington was my salvation. Younger friends from high school, still at IU provided nightlife. There were sorority dances, movies, and bars in what has to be one of Indiana’s best towns.

It was there that my wife and I first dated. She would drive down from Bluffton (the flat northland) and spend the weekend with me.

Saturday, as I watched the guests – mostly Noblesville folks – the adults playing corn hole and Mexican horseshoes while the kids rode 4 wheelers and played kickball amid the towering trees, I couldn’t help remembering that there’s just something a little different about the southern part of the state.

Thoughts on Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize
Of course there are those . . . bothered because the President of the United States got the Nobel Peace Prize. Interesting that it was just a few years ago these same folks were calling Bush’s detractors, “un-American,” for not supporting the president. But even some fans of Obama are a little puzzled by the award. I was surprised the Nobel committee did it, but not puzzled about why.

Just after the announcement, one of the smartest, quiet observers of politics I know, fellow Realtor Bill Campbell, came in the office and asked me what I thought. Trying to boil it down to the simplest terms, I answered, “He got it because he isn’t Bush.”

Bill smiled and paused, as he often does at my blunt observations and offered a similar, though far more insightful answer. “It was the Nobel Committee’s way of saying: America, if you want to be the leader of the free world, this man’s approach is what we want.”

Bill said it better than any high-priced media pundit has in the past week.

The world never understood why we elected George Bush. Where some Americans saw tough resolve in Bush’s foreign policy, the world saw belligerence. Where some Americans saw folksy style in Bush’s gaffs and stammering, the world saw ignorance.

From the world’s perspective, the only tool George Bush had in his foreign policy tool kit was a sledgehammer. So every problem was addressed with that sledgehammer, whether verbal (“You’re with us or against us,” & “Axis of Evil”) or militarily (2 wars, torture, illegal wire-taps, Guantanamo). In Obama, they see a person whose tool kit includes precision tools for delicate work. The kinds of tools of diplomacy that do less unintended damage and destroy fewer friendships.

Bill was right. This wasn’t about a specific accomplishment, as Obama’s detractors will insist it should be. It’s about an international preference for how America presents itself on the national stage. Like many of the Nobel Committee’s picks over the years, it was a choice that said, “We think “this (Obama),” rather than “that (Bush)” is what the world needs now.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Political Correctness - Noblesville Style

We often hear complaints about political correctness on the national level. But in Noblesville’s resurrected Daily Times, in its weekly (though downsized) insert in the Star, and in its new Noblesville Current free newspaper, we have our own version of political correctness.

It manifests itself in a troubling uniformity. Our local news feels carefully sanitized.

It seems near exclusively aimed at community cheerleading. If there’s something negative going on, well it better be petty conflict or something juicy like an abducted child, a bank robbery, or a house fire if it’s to find its way into print. If there’s news with critical meaning that reflects splits in the community or questionable behavior on the part of our leaders, you better not blink, or you won’t know it happened.

There’s nothing wrong with community cheerleading. In general, I think Hoosiers are so self-deprecating; they tend not to cheerlead their communities and state enough. But what happens when we cheerlead to the point where we speak no evil, see no evil, and hear no evil?

Consider the puzzling story of a tax increase currently being promoted by Mayor John Ditslear and councilmen like Roy Johnson and Dale Snelling. They have a budget deficit. But instead of making serious, far-reaching budget cuts, they want to impose a “fee” for trash collection. They’ve argued that Westfield and Zionsville residents pay a trash fee, so it’s time Noblesville residents paid for their trash pick-up too. Problem is, we’ve already been paying for trash pickup through our property taxes. They’re not giving us a rebate on that, but adding the trash tax in addition. And think how easy it will be in the future to fund extra spending by raising the trash tax a dollar or two next year, and maybe again the year after that, and perhaps again the year after that.

You’d think the local media would want to tell residents that city leaders want to impose a $120 or $140 annual tax increase. But even with three local print news outlets, you’d have to look pretty hard to find it in print.

Back in August the Noblesville Star did one story about the trash tax, but used the City’s “fee” term, and never questioned the flimsy rationale behind the arguments City leaders presented.

How about the Noblesville Times? I’ve scoured its pages since August and can find not one story referring to the tax increase. They’ve run several columns from Mayor Ditslear and endless city press releases. But none mention the tax. The only mention I’ve found in their pages came in a couple letters to the editor. If the Times is the only local paper you read, you’d probably have no idea Ditslear, Johnson and Snelling are trying to raise your taxes.

Which raises a glaring question: Why?

There’s a neighborhood group on the north side of Old Town going door to door across the community organizing opposition to the trash tax. No story has been done about them.


The Star, The Times, and The Current all ran glowing stories about the Mayor’s State of The City Address. The Current said the address was “filled with good news.” There was not a single mention from the Mayor or the papers that a budget deficit was leading the Mayor to push for a tax increase on Noblesville residents.

Kinda hard to believe they all forgot to mention that little detail.

And that local style of political correctness can pervade the community. When a resident in the Wellingtons tried to get his homeowners association to alert association members about the proposed tax increase, they refused.

A community is like a family. Imagine a family where the members never complain because of an aversion to appearing impolite, who never have a heart to heart about a problem for fear of being negative, who never question authority for fear of being in disfavor with the leader?

Many of us have known a family like this. These families are usually led by a dictatorial head of household who only offers affection in return for obedience and does not tolerate dissention. And imagine that this family lives in a lovely house, drives shiny new cars, dresses in the latest fashions and belongs to all the right organizations. On the surface this dysfunctional family looks perfect. But that perception is of course superficial.

And the strangest thing about such families is that the members who allow problems to go unmentioned are tolerated. But members who dare points out the problem are not. In that world, it’s a greater wrong to point out sin, than to commit it. As my father-in-law puts it, “They wouldn’t say ‘shit’ if they had a mouthful.”

A community can be a little like that if you’re not careful.

I recall my college political science professor, Dr. Minez; a bald, rotund, grandfatherly Portuguese immigrant with a thick accent and a passion for American democracy. When a student complained about partisan arguing in Washington, Dr. Minez shot back, “That arguing is oil on the machinery of democracy. Never worry when a contentious debate is taking place. Worry when everyone seems to agree. Because in a democracy the silence of agreement is usually imposed by a powerful central force that has no meaningful opposition. And that’s when a democracy is in the greatest danger.”

Now all of that is pretty dramatic talk when referring to a little trash tax increase of $10 or $12 a month. But the trash tax and the way talk of it is being glaringly avoided by our local media is just the latest minor manifestation of the way our community – our community family, deals with unpleasant realities. We pretend they’re not happening and marginalize those who point out that they are.

That’s political correctness – Noblesville style.

And in case you don’t read it in the papers, Mayor Ditslear’s trash tax is tentatively scheduled to be considered at the Common Council meeting on Tuesday the 13th of October at Noblesville City Hall. To find out more about the citizen opposition to the trash tax and how you can get involved, contact Dwight Dickerson at