Monthly Archives: March 2008

Today’s Word — Nomophobia

Nomophobia, according to this story in the UK’s Evening Standard, the fear of being out of cell phone signal range, or of letting your phone die for lack of charge.

It’s all the rage:

More than 13million Britons fear being out of mobile phone contact, according to research.

Keeping in touch with friends or family is the main reason why they are so wedded to their mobile.

More than one in two said this is why they never switch it off.

One in ten said they needed to be contactable at all times because of their jobs, while 9 per cent said that having their phone switched off made them anxious.

Experts say nomophobia could affect up to 53 per cent of mobile phone users, with 48 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men questioned admitting to experiencing feelings of anxiety when they run out of battery or credit, lose their phone or have no network coverage.

The Post Office questioned more than 2,100 mobile phone users. Stewart Fox-Mills, the company’s telecom expert, said: “Nomophobia is all too real for many people.

Hi, my name is Todd, and I have nomophobia.

Hi Todd.

It seems strange to be so reliant on something that I lived without for the first 28 years of my life. I first bought a cell phone in 1998. We moved during the infamous US West, now Qwest, strike and were unable, for weeks, to get a land line hooked up. Consequently, our mobile addiction was born.

A decade after hauling that giant phone in its snappy, fashionable holster, I now have a slim BlackBerry that rings with phone calls and buzzes with e-mail. I never turn it off. I set its alarm so it wakes me up in the morning. If I have to wait in line for more than 30 seconds, I pull it from my pocket and begin tapping away. I’m a loser, I know.

It’s handy. If a column idea hits me, I thumb it in and save it before I forget. I make lists and read newspapers online. I’m not sure what I’d do without it.

The I found out. A few weeks back, when I went fishing north of Decorah, I found myself completely out of cell phone service range. No bars, no calls, no e-mails.

I felt the symptoms nomophobia. Cold sweats, restless thumbs.

For one thing, my wife was home with a child getting over the flu and I realized she couldn’t reach me easily to give me sniffle-by-sniffle updates. Second, NCAA selection Sunday was just hours away, and I couldn’t get instant score updates.

But I adapted. I survived. I remembered a little something known to our primitive ancestors as the “collect call.” And when I couldn’t reach my wife at home, I called my parents to relay a message. It all worked out fine, and once I had made contact with my tribe, the absence of beeping and ringing and buzzing was welcome.

As we departed Sunday and climbed upward on a hilly road, my pocket buzzed and beeped for the first time in 48 hours. It told me I had a voicemail message from my very annoyed wife back on Friday, wondering why I hadn’t called. I’m no expert, but it sounded like classic nomophobia.



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Sunday Column — Don’t Mess with My Charcoal

Hey, I love hugging trees and going green and shrinking my carbon footprint as much as the next enlightened bloke. We’ve got compact fluorescent bulbs in every socket.

On top of that, we’re … uh, did I mention the light bulbs?

Anyway, we’re doing stuff, or at least we plan to, and I’ve been glad to join in the fight against climate change.

At least I was glad, until I came across a few troubling Internet sites.

Turns out, according to some environmentalists, my charcoal grill, the spiritual focal point of my backyard existence, is an environmental offender. It spews greenhouse gas and soot into the atmosphere. My beautiful American-made Weber kettle grill, with its handy prep table and utensil hooks, is a culinary Hummer.

Yeah? Well, just try and take it, greenies. I’ve got tongs, and I’m not afraid to use them.

Some of the best moments of my life have been tinged with charcoal smoke. It’s the smell of all our Memorial Day and Independence Day and Labor Day celebrations. It’s the aroma of football season.

I charmed my wife-to-be on the back deck of my apartment in Fort Dodge with nightly grilling sessions.

“Something deep in our human DNA drives us toward the primordial satisfaction of cooking over crackling flames and glowing embers,” writes Chef Jamie Purviance in Weber’s official charcoal cookbook. “Each time we light a live fire, we reconnect with generations of ancestors all the way back to the beginning of civilization.”

OK, that’s seriously over the top. But I can relate.

Most people grill with propane, but I’ve refused to convert. They say gas is quicker. I say guys can solve a lot of the world’s persistent problems standing around a grill, waiting for the coals to heat up.

Now I find out I’m part of the world’s big climate problem every time I light up. Several Web sites argue that gas grilling is environmentally cleaner. But is this really an inconvenient truth?

Not necessarily, according to the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Last July, the lab’s research showed that, in the long term, charcoal has an environmental advantage.

“Charcoal is made from wood,” said researcher Tris West in a news release. “It is a renewable energy source, which means once that CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere, forests are then regrown wherever they were cut down and they take up CO2 from the atmosphere. There’s a carbon cycle. We release it and then it’s taken back up by the trees.”

The trees. I knew it. I think I’ll go hug one.

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Legislative Forecast

Here are 5 big issues the Legislature has yet to resolve with just three weeks left in the 2008 session, and the percentage chance something will get done.

1. Road Construction — Most Democrats are backing a plan that would plow higher car and truck registration fees into the cash-strapped road fund, although they’re covering their political asphalt by making the higher fees applicable only to new vehicles starting with the 2009 model year. Republican leaders oppose any fee hikes and want to pick road money from a magical tree. If we could fill potholes with shameless politics, we’d all be driving on glass-smooth autobahns. Still, I think they have to do something. Chance something will happen this year: 50 percent.

2. Immigration — Democrats have yet to move a bill penalizing executives who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. It’s now sitting in a House committee. Democrats are dithering and bickering over how to proceed while Republicans hope to use the debate to showcase their get-tough plan for making everyone from the state patrol to school crossing guards into immigration officers. Chance: 40 percent.

3. Collective bargaining — Legislative Democrats deserve the flak they’re getting for shoving the bill through at warp speed. But the bottom line is, it’s a good deal for thousands of workers and Culver will sign it. The only question now is whether lawmakers will change the bill first to please the guv or pass separate fix-up legislation later. Chance: 90 percent.

4. Bottle Bill expansion — It’s no miracle that leaders briefly revived Chet’s pet issue  just as the collective bargaining feud broke out. It still faces too much opposition to become law. It’s tough to imagine lawmakers saying, “Hi hometown grocer. Sorry I raised the minimum wage and hiked the cigarette tax and pulled out your TouchPlay machine and turned you into a pseudoephedrine cop. But I’m going to have to kick you just one more time, OK? No hard feelings.” Chance: 10 percent.

5. Statewide school infrastructure tax — The guv did no favors to statewide tax backers when he suggested some of the proceeds from a permanent penny could be used for teacher salaries instead of building needs. It played into the biggest objection to turning a temporary, local tax into an endless state trough — you can’t trust politicians to keep their mitts off the money. Backers have spent the entire session trying to ease that discomfort. I don’t think they’ve succeeded. Chance: 20 percent.

There are plenty of other issues. Feel free to add to the list.


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Golf Joke

As fellow Gazette bloganista Dave Rasdal points out, Cedar Rapids’ municipal golf courses open on Monday. It’s welcome news.

Some of the best rounds I’ve played in my life came the first day I walked on the course at the beginning of the season. That’s when my game is pure, unencumbered by all the tinkering I’m apt to do the rest of the year.

But enough about me. Here’s one among the world’s six million golf jokes. Maybe you haven’t heard it, so you’ll have a new joke in your bag to go with that $300 driver you can’t hit worth a damn.

A gentleman golfing by himself one day hits a hole in one. As he’s pulling the flag and retrieving his ball, a genie appears in a puff of smoke rising from the cup.

“For your incredible shot, I will grant you three wishes,” the genie said.

“But, there’s a catch,” the genie quickly added. “Anything you wish for, your wife will receive 100 times over.”

“Oh, well…OK,” the golfer said, after thinking for a few moments. “First, I’d like to have a billion dollars.”

“Done,” said the genie. “But your wife will have $100 billion.”

“Fair enough,” the golfer said. “Second, I’d like to be the world’s best golfer”

“Done,” said the genie. “But you will never beat your wife’s scores.”

“No worries,” said the golfer.

“Last, I’d like to have a mild heart attack.”

Sorry, but my sense of humor is a little dark. And ladies, feel free to substitute husband for wife. It’s just as funny.

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I’d Rather Have a Bottle Bill Study In Front of Me…

So should we do what polls show a majority of Iowans want or should we do what the grocery industry wants? And what about the Big Lug? Tough call.

I know, I know, let’s do a worthless study. From Radio Iowa:

The Iowa House has voted to create a new commission to study changes in the state’s bottle deposit law.

It’s a go-slow approach at odds with Governor Culver’s call for adding water bottles and other noncarbonated drink containers to the state’s nickel deposit process.

The group will be charged with reviewing the state’s 34-year-old “bottle bill” which places a nickel deposit on many beverage containers. Iowans return most of the empties to a retailer to redeem their deposits.  

The new task force studying the issue would have 28 members, including representatives from environmental groups, redemption centers, the League of Women Voters and landfill operators who’ve been pushing for the bottle bill expansion as well as grocers and beverage distributors who’ve balked at the idea.  The Iowa Senate must endorse creation of the task force, too, before the group would begin its work.

This is going to be great. Hopefully, this task force will turn in its report at the same time the property tax reform study group hands in its work. We could have a ceremonial double shelving. That would be historic.

We’re about to enter the heart of study creation season. As lawmakers push more and more issues off the cliff in an effort to escape the Capitol next month, they’ll create interim study committees to cushion the fall. The issues are dead, no doubt about it, but at least they’ll get a nice send off in an ornate Statehouse meeting room with lots of distinguished Iowans around the table.

It’s a time-honored tradition. Sort of chokes me up.

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Grub — Red Robin

I know, I know, I should probably confine my restaurant roaming and tavern travels to locally owned joints. That would be a perfect world.

But I have small children. And occasionally, this happy/challenging  fact leads me through the doors of one of America’s successful/tiresome standbys. And, as anyone who lives here knows, you can’t swing a Bloomin’ Onion in this town without hitting a chain restaurant. Some are actually good.

Red Robin fascinated me because, until I moved here, I had never seen one. Turns out there are 350 of them, according to the company Web site, and the whole thing started in the 1940s at Sam’s Tavern on the University of Washington campus. Evidently Sam made a good burger. From there, a chain was born.

The best thing I can say about Red Robin is that it’s loud, very loud. It’s so loud that when my children raise the curtain on a full Broadway production of “Yelling, Singing, Crying and Pounding — The Musical” no one really notices. Crayons and balloons are also available. Bonus.  Just have something comforting ready to say when the balloon floats skyward over Home Depot.

Beers are available cold and big, which is also a plus. As for the food, well, it’s a chain. The place admirably focuses on hamburgers. And I give it points for not trying to convince me, like some of its familiar contemporaries, that it’s serving me high-end grub invented at the Tuscan Institute of Tastiness. Right.

Let’s keep our relationship on the level — fully cooked, no surprises, nice tip.

The burgers are good, maybe not $8 good, but good. I like the tangy relish they slather on them, and am intrigued by the burger that comes with a fried egg on top. I have not ordered it, but the part of me that thinks a heartbeat is overrated is tempted.

All in all, not bad. So I’ll probably be back, as long as my kids remain loud.

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Culver and Rants — Odd Couple

Gov. Chet Culver is strongly hinting that he might veto the collective bargaining expansion for public employees that passed the House and Senate at light speed. From The Gazette:

DES MOINES – Gov. Chet Culver warned today there is a “strong possibility” he will veto a Democratic-passed bill that expands Iowa’s collective bargaining law unless more work is done to find the “right balance between labor and management concerns.

The governor said he hopes bipartisan discussions can take place to find common ground on a number of controversial issues that he doesn’t believe have an enough discussion by Iowans who potentially could be impacted by “open scope” bargaining included in the bill that has passed both the House and Senate.

Culver had urged a go-slow approach Monday, calling on the Senate to conduct a public hearing and solicit more public input before proceeding to a final vote. That call went ignored when the Senate voted 27-23 to approve the House version unchanged, but to put a procedural hold on the measure to give Culver time to review the legislative work product.

“I am disappointed our concerns were not addressed and the bill was pushed through anyway,” the governor told reporters at a Statehouse news conference today.

“I want to be clear that there is a strong possibility I will veto this bill if a real effort to listen to the concerns of Iowans, local elected officials, and government stakeholders at all levels does not take place,” he added. “As I’ve said before, a real effort to reach a consensus must be made. I stand ready to do my part.”

And in a sure sign of the apocalypse, House Republican leader Christopher Rants praised the governor.

“I am pleased to see the governor is inclined to veto this legislation,” Rants said in a short press release.

But Rants then chided Culver for messing up the living room and for being unable to identify a ladle.  (Sorry to those of you too young to understand this lame Odd Couple reference)

Meanwhile in the Senate, where Culver’s misgivings were seriously considered Monday and carefully filed in the nearest recycling bin, Majority Leader Mike Gronstal slowed things down by filing a motion to reconsider the bargaining bill. In real-people talk, that means he’s holding onto the bill to give Culver time to think this through.

The Lug better think, think, think about what he’s trying to do to them. (Blues Brothers. See apology above)

Back to The Gazette story, Gronstal issued a statement today:

“I am incredibly disappointed by the governor’s threat to veto legislation that would help thousands of working families across our state.

“I remain confident that once the Governor understands the modest but important changes in this collective bargaining legislation, he will reverse course, side with Iowa workers and sign the bill into law,” he added.

So everybody but Christopher Rants is disappointed. Which party is running this place again? These things can be tough to follow.

Personally, as I’ve said before, I think legislative Democrats bungled this. I actually support expanding bargaining rights, perhaps not to the extent the bill expands them, but I don’t like this sort of pedal-down, drive-by lawmaking. It almost always means trouble.

I’ve already had e-mail today deriding me for not understanding that this has been a top union issue for years. Sure, you’re right. It has been around.

But just because an issue has a long history doesn’t mean it should be shoved through from draft to final passage in less than a week. Not all Iowans closely follow labor issues. They just pay taxes. And they should have time to consider this.

Culver is smart to take a dim view of this process. He’ll be under enormous political pressure to sign the bill and may still scrawl his Lug Hancock across the bottom. Or maybe the Senate backs up and reconsiders to meet his demands.

Or he vetoes it, and we get more drama. Someone’s gotta blink.


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