Blowing in a New Direction, Renewables on the Rise, Republican Sells Power to OPPD

By Cheril Lee

“It’s worth it to have a hobby I enjoy. I’m a Republican but I still believe in the environment,” said homeowner Ken Engle from his home in Midtown Omaha.


Everything runs off solar in Engle’s house. He said he pumps power out but also gets it back. For Engle, having solar has already paid dividends. He has been selling power back to OPPD and rarely gets a bill.


As solar and wind are increasingly affordable, the Omaha Public Power District has been making a major shift away from the dirty energy sources increasing the cost of electrical bills and threatening Nebraska and the world’s climate. Environmental groups have played an important role and are turning up their urgency. Individual homeowners are making some big differences.


The Sierra Club is running a Beyond Coal Campaign with a goal of shutting down a certain number of coal plants by 2020 and 2030. Associate Organizing Representative Graham Jordison, on sabbatical with the Dave Domina campaign, said Beyond Coal started because the Sierra Club realized that if they really wanted to address climate change on a serious level they would have to go after the largest and biggest polluters in the country. Most of those polluters were coal fired power plants. 


“That’s where we realized 40 percent of the carbon dioxide in our air was coming from. To do our part in the country, we realized we were going to have to shut down a certain number of coal plants and replace that with clean energy like wind and solar,” Jordison explained.


He said many of the pollutants created by coal generation contribute to global climate change, including sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter. And Jordison said there is scientific evidence that individuals living near these types of plants are more likely to develop conditions like asthma because of the particulate matter that is dispersed into the air through coal generation.


“We can move in a fast direction toward coming up with a retirement date for the North Omaha coal plant. We don’t expect to shut the plant down overnight but we do think OPPD could commit now to projecting a shutdown in 2015/2016,” Jordison said.


He cites Fort Calhoun as evidence this is possible. When that station was offline, OPPD didn’t need to supplement the power lost. Jordison said the power was fine for 2 ½ years, with no blackouts.


There are four options being considered by OPPD regarding North Omaha Station. “Converting the plant to natural gas, installing technology so the plant can continue to burn coal, replacing the coal production with energy efficiency options or shutting it down,” said Jordison.


“It’s not worth discussing installing control technology to retrofit the plant. There is a billion dollar technology that would keep some of the pollutants, like mercury and sulfur dioxide, out of the environment. But that doesn’t do anything about carbon dioxide and it doesn’t address the issue of mining coal or disposing of coal. The people of Nebraska don’t want to have that discussion,” asserted Jordison.


He said Nebraskans are intelligent and there have been lots of studies done across the state that show Nebraskans understand climate change. More than 50 percent get climate change. They understand that humans are causing it and that we should do something about it. Jordison said a lot of Nebraskans really like the idea of using wind energy.


As President of the Nebraska Farmers Union John Hansen would say, “There are no documented wind spill damages.”


Nebraska is finally starting to catch up with its neighbor. Anyone who has driven east on I-80 toward Des Moines has likely noticed the large, white wind turbines peppering fields to the left and right of the interstate near cities like Adair and Walnut.


Based on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) ranking of wind capacity, Nebraska is actually third in the nation in wind resources. Hansen said the NREL’s rankings are based on their modeling which is shaped by actual data from wind projects and their actual generation.


So the wind is blowing steadily in Nebraska and wind farmers are ready to increase their production.


“At the start of last year, we had 459 megawatts of wind and by the end of next year, we will have 1207 megawatts,” said Hansen.


But what exactly is a megawatt?


To better understand just how much energy we are talking about, it takes 746 watts of electricity to equal one horsepower. 1 kilowatt is a thousand watts. And a megawatt is 1000 kilowatts or a million watts. A megawatt is a lot of electricity. 


Iowa currently has 5133 megawatts of wind, Wyoming has 1410, Colorado has 2301 and South Dakota has 783. Nebraska is still a bit behind in terms of wind production but Hansen said we are starting to catch up.


Choosing a site for a wind farm isn’t as easy as plopping a turbine in the ground and watching the blades spin. Hansen said because Nebraska is home to the North American migratory flyway, we have to be mindful of those portions of the Platte River where there are huge concentrations of migratory birds.


The Nebraska Farmers Union works with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and other federal wildlife agencies to be mindful of wind project sitings where there are obvious migratory bird conflicts.


The good news is there is a substantial portion of our state that has good wind resources. Hansen said a lot depends on prevailing wind patterns and flows as well as elevations.


“As you go up in the air, wind speeds increase in more of the wind streams. That’s why towers these days are on average 80 meters in the air. More and more towers are being built up to 100 meters in the air,” Hansen explained.


And he said once you get the up-front capital costs paid for, there’s no fuel cost associated with wind energy production. There are other benefits as well.


“Wind doesn’t consume any water and it doesn’t emit any carbon. It also helps provide domestic economic development in our state and benefits to rural communities. There are lease payments to landowners and increases to the local property tax base. There are a whole host of industries and sectors that benefit from wind generation and activity,” said Hansen.


There are small wind and solar projects in the state, but they are for commercial wind development. Hansen said we don’t export any wind out of the state at this point. All wind generated in the state goes to Nebraska utilities.


“We have built our utility on a diversity of fuels and now that wind is a viable fuel for us to use, it will create benefits and value for our customer owners in that diversity and in those longer-term low cost contracts that we have in place,” said Tim Burke, Vice President of Customer Service and Public Affairs for Omaha Public Power District (OPPD).


OPPD has been holding a series of open meetings where they provide stakeholders the opportunity to not only listen to the information shared at the meetings but also to offer their thoughts or ask questions of OPPD. Burke said the objective of the open meetings is to make sure that all decisions they make are equitable for all customers.


He said by the end of 2018, around 33 percent of OPPD’s portfolio will be made up of renewable sources, with most of that coming from wind. Burke explained most states, even on the west coast, may have a 30 percent renewable energy standard but aren’t expected to reach that goal until 2020-2025.


And more wind equals less coal generation. As recently as last month, Burke said OPPD has been getting some pretty good performance out of the wind farms they have today. That has meant some significant reductions in OPPD’s North Omaha facility production.


Burke said because the wind doesn’t blow every day, it’s considered an intermittent source of energy. That means wind energy will never be able to fully replace all current power sources.


“You can’t make the wind blow but you can help schedule the power from it and use it efficiently because we are increasingly able to predict when the wind is going to blow,” explained Hansen. “It’s actually easier to predict wind blowing than when it’s going to rain.”


Broken down, Burke said wind is an important component in energy generation, “A base load unit is traditionally a nuclear or coal unit or even natural gas in some parts of the U.S. If you picture a chart, nuclear is on the bottom. It’s a must-run (meant to start, operate and run). Intermittent resources like wind are above that. Natural gas is on top and is used in the event OPPD needs additional generation to support an increased peak load.”


One of the common questions that has come up during the stakeholder process has to do with people asking why we can’t just put up a bunch of solar panels and wind farms and shut down other power plants, such as the North Omaha coal plant.


According to Burke, it isn’t that simple. When the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, you still have to have the capacity to be able to support the power load needed and you do that by maintaining that coal facility, even if it may mean on most days you operate at a lower capacity or end up replacing it with something that can ramp up fast like a natural gas facility.


It’s tough for most people to fit a wind turbine in their yard, especially if they don’t live in a rural area. So what can you do if you want to create your own energy from your very own home? Solar energy may be a viable option. It was for homeowner Ken Engle. Engle has Solar World Panels at his house that he ordered through United Electric Supply and he couldn’t be happier.


“I love my system. It’s a wonderful way to live and cut down on your electric bills,” he said.


Engle has 16 panels at his home and each inverter puts out a maximum of 225 watts, so he ultimately has 3600 watts capability. He said the inverter is what converts the electricity from DC current to AC.


The panels are daisy chained together in his system. The power they harness from the sun runs through a central inverter and subsequently moves through a charge controller, which charges batteries so Engle can use his battery system at night when there is no sun. 


Though it didn’t take him long to have the system installed, Engle said it’s important to educate yourself and get the appropriate help to avoid costly and potentially injurious mistakes.


“There are a lot of electrical things you can hook up and they will work. But it’s not safe and you shouldn’t have it working,” Engle said.


Robert Webber, Master Electrician and Inspector General of the IAEI (International Association of Electrical Inspectors), was recommended to Engle by an electrical inspector. Webber went to Engle’s house, helped him make some corrections and got his system up and running, code compliant and working properly.


“Ken is a mechanical person and he is still adamant about saying you have to get someone to help you design and install your solar panels. When I went over there, I found he had some pretty dangerous situations that he hooked up and didn’t realize it,” said Webber.


He said a big part of the problem with people trying to do-it-themselves is when they do grab solar panels, put them in and don’t do it right, they just assume solar is not good because it doesn’t work. Webber said solar works when you pay attention to every detail and install it correctly.


Not limited to rooftops, there are a variety of ways to take advantage of solar panels. You can do them over a carport or cover your back patio. Engle has one in the backyard on an actuator so he can adjust the panels by moving them up or down to get full maximum usage of the sun.


And Nebraska is a great place to try solar with an average of 4 ½ to 5 hours of peak sun per day.


Webber said it’s important to remember that investing in a solar power production system is like investing in a house. He said payback, if the system is installed and designed correctly, would take about 7-10 years, depending on what you’re putting in.


Admittedly, there is a lot less power generation on cloudy days, especially in winter when it’s colder.


“In winter, the panels produce more voltage so Ken actually has a three pronged approach to his power: battery backup, solar panels and a generator,” Webber said.



The key to selling power back to the utility company is a piece of equipment known as a net meter. The net meter keeps track of the energy that’s produced and also tracks how much is used. If Engle produces more than he uses, the power company (through a purchase power agreement) credits him back.


Hansen said the state net metering law could definitely be improved, “We are not near as robust as we should be in Nebraska with smaller wind and solar producers. The Nebraska Farmers Union fought to help get net metering in the state for 15 years before we finally got it done. It’s not what we would like but it’s a start.”


For Webber, he said the only way to overcome the myths and misconceptions associated with solar energy are with installations that are correct, safe and maximize power production. He said there haven’t been any wars over sunshine yet.


“Given the challenges we are facing, from human impact that releases large amounts of additional carbon into the atmosphere, if we can generate a fourth or a third of our nation’s electrical generation by not emitting any carbon, then that’s a huge win for the environment and for society as a whole. It improves air quality. Renewable energy has no harmful emissions,” Hansen said.


He said it’s important that all people become responsible stewards of our earth.


For their part, Burke said OPPD is purchasing wind to help hedge against rising prices of other generating fuels, such as natural gas and coal.


OPPD will continue to offer open meetings for stakeholders to allow people to engage with the utility on a number of different items, including renewable energy in the state and the future of the North Omaha coal plant.


“You will continue to see us out in the public gathering that information and feedback from our customer owners. We are really trying to put the ‘public’ back into public power,” said Burke.


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posted at 10:30 am
on Monday, April 07th, 2014

<p>  Jeremy Lafrentz from Backstage Entertainment interviewing Jeph and Quinn from The Used</p>

photo by

Backstage Entertainment

Jeremy Lafrentz from Backstage Entertainment interviewing Jeph and Quinn from The Used

Taking Back Sunday and The Used at Sokol Auditorium

Backstage Entertainment interviews Taking Back Sunday and The Used

On Wednesday, April 2nd the much anticipated show with Taking Back Sunday and The Used came to Sokol Auditorium in Omaha, NE. Many fans remember that the show was supposed to take place a few months back but had to be rescheduled. I think I speak for many of the fans when I say it was worth the wait! Along with Taking Back Sunday and The Used, Tonight Alive and Sleepwave opened the show for the sold out crowd and got the crowd ready and energized for the main acts.


Backstage Entertainment was there covering the show and got a chance to meet with members from Taking Back Sunday and The Used to talk about the tour and their new music. First, we talked to Shaun Cooper from Taking Back Sunday and asked about some of the interview questions he hates to answer along with Shaun telling us a weird question he got asked about playing shows on Sundays. We also discussed their new album, “Happiness Is,” and if it’s easier or harder in the writing process releasing new albums.


Next, we talked to Jeph and Quinn from The Used and mentioned that the new album is out, “Imaginary Enemy,” and discussed their thoughts on digital piracy. The guys like people supporting the local record stores and buying the album from those stores but think how we’ll obtain music may change in the near future. Their hit single off the new album, “Cry,” is on the radio now and we asked their feelings on what their thoughts are when singles are released now compared to when they first heard themselves on the radio. Another topic of discussion was their Wikipedia page and how they have a “cult” following.


Make sure to check out the links below to watch the interviews and see the photos from the night.


Taking Back Sunday Interview

The Used Interview

Photos from the Night

Article courtesy of Jeremy Lafrentz of Backstage Entertainment. Check out their interviews, photos and contests to win autographed prizes by going to their Facebook page and clicking “Like” on the page: Backstage Entertainment.

posted at 09:59 am
on Monday, April 07th, 2014

Great Migration stories

For African Americans who left the South for Omaha, the specter of down home is never far away

The July 31-August 5 Native Omaha Days will feature metro-wide black heritage celebrations that on the surface don't seem to have much to do with the American South. But when local African American families gather for the biennial Days most can point to someone in their family tree who migrated from the South.

The same holds true for almost any black family gathering of any size here. Whatever the occasion, there's likely a Southern strain rich in history, tradition and nostalgia.

The Great Migration saw millions of African Americans leave the oppressive pre-civil rights South for parts all over the nation from the 1920s through the 1960s. Everyone who participated in the movement has a story. That's certainly the case with two Omaha women who made the migration during its waning years, Luriese Moore and Lorraine Jackson.

Moore, 72, came from Boligee, Ala. in 1959 in her late teens. Her family had been sharecroppers but eventually become land owners.

"My grandparents lived and worked on the white man's land," she says. "Most everything went to the white man. They didn't have a chance to show anything for their labors. That's why my daddy was so inspired to get something of his own. He made it reality, too, when he saved up enough to buy 98 acres of land. He farmed it on weekends when home from his steel mill job in Tuscaloosa.

"My brothers and I grew up working the land. You got up when the sun rose and you almost worked until the sun set."

The family still retains the property today.

Lorraine Jackson, 66, migrated from Brookhaven, Miss. in 1964 at age 17. Her grandparents were sharecroppers but eventually bought the cotton-rich land they toiled on and handed the 53 acres down to Jackson's parents. Picking cotton was a back-breaking, finger-cutting chore. Adding insult to injury, you got cheated at the end of the day.

"You were supposed to get $3 for picking a hundred pounds but it seemed like you could never get a hundred pounds because the scales were loaded. But if you wanted to make money you picked cotton. I saved my money," says Jackson.

The land she sweated on is still in the family's hands.

Jackson says by the time she graduated high school she couldn't stand being a second-class citizen anymore. She and her friends wanted out.

"That was the thing to do, you got out, you left."

When Mississipians who'd already made the migration wrote or called or came back with news of plentiful jobs and things to do, it acted as a recruitment pitch.

"They would tell you about all the bright lights in the big cities and all the places you could go. They told you can have a better life. It made an impression that I needed to get away. I thought it was right for me. Besides, I was kind of rambunctious. I wasn't the type to just sit there and say nothing or do nothing.

"I remember about a month before I left threatening my mom that I was going to sit at the Woolworth's counter in town and she about had a heart attack. I said, 'Mama, all they're going to do is ask me to leave.'  It was time for me and I said, 'I'm outta here.'"

Jackson came by train eager to start her new life.

Moore came by Greyhound bus and she says on the way here she was filled with mixed emotions of excitement and fear.

Each woman was among the movement''s last generation.

Another Omaha woman, Emma Hart, 87, was born in rural Ark. in 1926 but raised here, making her a child of the Great Migration.

Many other Omahans are variously fathers and mothers, sons and daughters of the migration. Few first generation migrants survive. A large extended family in Omaha made their exodus here from Evergreen, Ala. over a generation's time. A group of Christians from Brewton, Ala. migrated here in 1917 to found Pilgrim Baptist Church. Practically every black family, church, club or organization has its own migration connection and story.

The precise circumstances and motivations for leaving the South varied but the common denominator was a desire for "a better way of life," says Hart. That's what drove her parents to come in 1921. The Big Four packinghouses were booming then. The promise of steady work there was still a powerful lure decades later when Moore and Jackson's generation made the move north.

Migrants may not have thought of it in these terms, but implicit in their pursuit of a better life was the search for self-determination. Only by leaving the South, they felt, could they fully engage with and benefit from all that America offered.

Moore's parents could not exercise their right to vote in the South without courting danger. She says her father risked his anyway by driving black protestors to voting rights marches. He left her a legacy and bequest she couldn't ignore.

"My dad sacrificed his life. He could've got killed doing what he was doing, just to get the vote. My mother was concerned about Daddy getting killed because if you had a lot of people in your car during that time when the protests were happening the Klan would think you were freedom riders coming from the North.

"Daddy always preached to us, 'Hey, when y'all get the chance to vote you vote,' and I've never missed voting. The people before us gave their lives so we could vote."

Moore married in Ala. Her husband moved to Omaha ahead of her to find work and a place to live. After she joined him they started a family. She worked for a time in a packinghouse, then she got on at J.L. Brandeis & Sons Department Store downtown. Her three brothers all moved here for a time and worked packings jobs. Those jobs were vital for many black families getting a foothold here.

"That's where we really got our start, my husband and I," she says. "We ended up buying two homes. It was good paying money at the time compared to other jobs we could get."

Always looking to better herself Moore attended a local beauty college and she eventually opened her own salon – something she likely would not have been able to do then down South. Her clientele here included white customers, which would have never happened there.

Jackson, who married and raised a family in Omaha, worked in he Blackstone Hotel kitchen before going to beauty school and opening her own shop. She catered to customers of all races. An older brother preceded her to Omaha and drove a city bus for 35 years.

Both women continue doing hair today.

Emma Hart married and raised a family in Omaha, where she was almost never without work. She and many of her relatives worked in the packinghouses. Her first job came in a military laundry during World War II. Then she got on at Cudahy and when it closed she performed an undisclosed job in a sensitive area at Strategic Air Command. Two first cousins, brothers William and Monroe Coleman, enjoyed long, distinguished careers as Omaha Police Department officers. They could not have managed equivalent careers in the South then and even if they could it's doubtful Monroe could have reached the post of acting deputy director he achieved here.

Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Story of America's Great Migration, says, "The only way blacks could be recognized (as citizens) was to leave one part of their own country for another part. That's why they're like immigrants but they're not immigrants. To me, it makes the story even more poignant because they had to do what immigrants had to to do just to become (full) citizens."

"It wasn't a political movement in the formal sense of the word but it had the impact of seeking political asylum or defection, almost in comparison to the Cold War when people tried to get on the other side of the Iron Curtain and had to go to great lengths to do so. This is a similar kind of defection that occurred within the borders of our own country and yet the people who were part of it didn't see themselves as part of any demographic wave, they saw themselves as making a decision for themselves and their families. Ultimately this was about a search for freedom."

Life outside the South was hardly paradise. Blacks still encountered segregation and discrimination in employment, housing, education, recreation. The De Porres Club and the 4CL staged marches and demonstrations against inequities here. Late 1960s civil disturbances in northeast Omaha expressed rage over police misconduct. Moore and Jackson experienced first hand blacks' confinement to a small swath of North Omaha by housing covenants and red lining. Public places were not always accommodating. Many local businesses and organizations used exclusionary practices to deny or discourage black employment and patronage.

"To a certain point there were no restrictions," says Jackson, "but there were some undertones. You could go anywhere. There were no signs that said you couldn't. But because I lived it I could feel it but nobody really could do anything about it. You know subtle things when you see them."

She recalls being made to feel invisible by the way people ignored her or talked past her.

In terms of housing barriers, she says, "My goal was to move past 30th Street because I couldn't for so long, and I did. Some goals you just had to accomplish."

Still, restrictions here were nothing like what they were in places like Mississippi, where state-sanctioned apartheid was brutally enforced.

"MIssissippi didn't play, It was like a foreign country," says Jackson.

When a member of her own family got into a dispute with a white person he had to skip town in the dead of night and stay way for years before it was safe to return.

Many blacks saw no option but to pack up everything they owned and leave everything they knew to start all over in some strange new city.

"I think the fact they would go to such great lengths is an indication of the desire and desperation and hopefulness they had that this next place will be a good place for me," says Wilkerson.

This epic internal movement of a people wasn't an organized thing but an organic response to harsh social-economic conditions. Punitive Jim Crow laws severely curtailed the rights of blacks. Widespread drought and blight forced many blacks off the land they worked as sharecroppers or farmers. The prospect of better paying industrial jobs in places like Omaha and Chicago, where packinghouses and railroads hired minorities, was all the reason people needed to move.

"Ultimately a migration is about determining for one's self how one's life is going to be and merely by living they are fulfilling the destiny and imperatives of their migration," says Wilkerson. "For those who decided they could no longer live with the repression, they opted to  plot out a course of their own choosing, and that is what a migration truly is. By just leaving they are doing the very thing they're seeking to achieve. The leaving itself is the act of self-determination and courage."

Those who made the trek to forge new lives elsewhere encouraged others to follow. Thus, an uninterrupted stream of migrants flowed from the South to forever change the makeup and dynamic of cities in the East, the North and the West.

Some streams fed into receiving cities located on direct rail lines from the South. Where black enclaves from certain states got established up North, they became magnets that drew ever more blacks. While Omaha received migrants from all parts of the South it primarily drew transplants from Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Ironlcally, where Omaha once offered more opportunity than the South, the situation has reversed and countless Omaha blacks, many of them children and grandchildren of the Great Migration, have made a reverse migration.

But when Luriese Moore came in the late '50s there was no doubt the Midwest was an improvement over the South. "I found it much better," she says. For starters, there was nothing like the overt segregation she knew growing up.

"Everything was black and white just all over (there). It was just a way of life. We didn't like it but it's what was happening. They had one side of the street for colored and the other side for white. They had one water fountain for the black people and one for the white people. When you went into a store you just didn't get in on the white side because you knew where you were supposed to be. We couldn't go in some exclusive stores in my hometown that sold very fine clothes. They didn't want us to try on hats and things.

"Up here the integration and everything was all new to me. It was just totally different from where we were. I didn't see the signs we saw in Ala. for blacks only or whites only. You could just go to anywhere you wanted to here. You could go to any store you wanted to."

Blacks were not immune from harassment, intimidation, threats, outright violence in places like Omaha – witness the 1919 lynching of Will Brown and resulting race riot – but the South was a much more treacherous landscape.

Lorraine Jackson says while she never laid eyes on the Ku Klux Klan during the time she lived in Miss., their presence was felt in incidents like cross burnings.

"They were there. They were killing people. We saw a lot of cross burnings in front of people's houses. We knew those people, we went to church together. That was scary. You never get that fear out of your mind. It was a fear that you had because really you hadn't done anything, you were just black and that's all you had to be."

She says blacks perceived to be too aspirational or ambitious by the white ruling class could be targets. A cross burning was a message to stay in you place.

"I mean, you really had to walk careful," says Jackson. "You were expected to work in the fields and things like that."

Moore recalls similar menace in Alabama.

"There was one town right out from Birmingham that was known to be very dangerous and to hang black people, You could not be on the highway too much at night either because they would end up shooting you or running you off the road.
Oh, I don't even want to think about it. I had kind of pushed it out of my mind.

"My parents were wonderful parents because we were sheltered from a lot of things going on down there, Those were very crucial times. Where I came from if you didn't do what they told you to then then they would start going around your house and everything. If they wanted your property they made it awfully painful for you to keep it. They'd start doing things to your family, pestering you, messing with you, like running you off the road. People would say, so and so had an accident, well they wouldn't have an accident, they would be run off the road. It was mean. It was not a pleasant thing. We saw a lot of that down there."

Moore appreciates how far African Americans have come in her lifetime.

"We've come to a place where things are much better and I thank God for it. We have come a long ways. When we sing 'we shall overcome,' well, we have overcome. I'm glad we've moved past that. During the time it was happening it was a bitter feeling. I felt angry. i was looking at race as the human race and they were looking at color. I just couldn't see how a person could treat another person like that .Sin causes people to lose sight of life and to do terrible things to each other."

Jackson says the root of racism people's "fear of what they don't know."

Emma Hart doesn't recall her parents mentioning any specific fear they fled. The poor sharecroppers just went where the jobs were and when two relatives came and made a go of it here, Emma's parents followed.

Where Emma's relatives in the South attended all black country schools she attended integrated Omaha grade and high schools and where her relatives lived  strictly segregated lives she lived in an integrated South Omaha neighborhood.

"Everything was mixed in South Omaha," she says.

On one of only two visits she made to the South she experienced the hand of Jim Crow when the passenger train she was on left St. Louis for Ark. and blacks were forced to change cars for the segregated leg of the trip. That same racial protocol applied when Jackson took the train and Moore rode the bus in Jim Crow land.

Even when Moore made auto trips to the South she was reminded of what she'd left behind. "There were certain places they wouldn't even sell us gas," she says. "We couldn't even get any food to eat, we had to pack up our own food to take south and to come back until we hit the St. Louis line."

Hart may not have grown up in the South but she's retained many Southern traditions she was brought up in, from fish fries to soul food feasts featuring recipes handed down over generations.

Lorraine Jackson keeps her Southern heritage close to her. "I brought my traditions – like Sunday dinners with the family. I raised my kids with the same culture and the same core values. There isn't much I changed. I remained who I was – a daughter of the South. I'm very proud of it."

Every now and then, she says, she just has to prepare "some fried chicken and biscuits from scratch" for that taste of home.

She's sure the way she and her siblings were raised helps explain why they've all done well.

"All of us graduated from high school. Some of us went to college. A sister has a master's degree. It's amazing we're successful. I think it was the upbringing. In that time we lived in we had to be strong, we had to be respectful. We had a work ethic – that was another good thing. Faith was a big factor, too."

Jackson and Moore have made regular pilgrimages to the South since moving to Omaha. They marvel at its transformation.

Moore says she never dreamed her hometown of Boligee would have a black mayor, but it does. She's also pleasantly surprised by all the open interracial relationships, blended church congregations and mixed gatherings she sees.

Jackson says, "When I go back to Mississippi it almost shocks me to see the change. Sometimes it catches me by surprise and I think, Where am I? It's almost better than it is here."

Both women say that when they gather with family or friends who share their past it's the good times they recall, not the bad times. And whether their kids and grandkids know it or not, the family's Southern roots get expressed in the food they eat and in the church they attend and in various other ways. These Daughters of the South may have left but their hearts still reside down home.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga's work at

posted at 09:49 am
on Monday, July 22nd, 2013

<p>  From left to right: Sharif Liwaru, Sarah Moore, Nikole Roach of UNO's Attendance Collaborative</p>

photo by


From left to right: Sharif Liwaru, Sarah Moore, Nikole Roach of UNO's Attendance Collaborative

Showing Up

Collaborative shares attendance best practices

“Attendance is one area where 90 percent does not equal an A,” according to Sharif Liwaru, Elementary Schools Director at UNO’s Attendance Collaborative. That is because a 90 percent attendance rate equals 20 days of absence -- the number that triggers a referral to the County Attorney as mandated by LB 933. 

“A kid missing a couple days of school every couple of weeks may not seem like a lot of days gone, but academically, it has a greater impact than many parents are aware of. There is now increased communication between the school and parents about what it takes to be successful and what attendance expectations are.

"The preferred rate should be 95 percent of the time. Five percent absenteeism is less than 10 days per year. If they can keep it under 10 days, that’s good attendance,” Liwaru said.

UNO launched the Attendance Collaborative in 2009 with funding from Building Brighter Futures as a vehicle to study the problem of high absenteeism and to come up with a pilot program for improving attendance in Douglas and Sarpy county schools. In addition to Liwaru, the team includes Sarah Moore who focuses on middle schools and Nikole Roach at the high school level. The success of local school districts is important to UNO. “The impact of graduation rates is so direct on the university’s applicant pool that they wanted to be involved,” Liwaru said. “They were a neutral party, but still greatly affected by the issue.”

According to the collaborative, every year 1.2 million students drop out of school nationwide, which is 7,000 students every day. The Nebraska Department of Education reports that the statewide drop out rate is 10 percent, but the rate for Douglas County is closer to 25 percent. Absenteeism is the first indicator that a student will drop out of school.

Pilot Programs

Since its inception, the collaborative has been studying a sample of schools with an eye on developing pilot programs or best practices that can be implemented district wide. 

“We are currently serving 18 schools within OPS, three within Ralston and two within Millard,” Moore said. “What we do is provide support at the school level. We don’t work directly with the students. We help schools enhance and create sustainable strategies to improve attendance. We look at what already exists, including state law, district level policies and procedures, and additional strategies they have in place. We examine those with the school and through research of national practices we help enhance those efforts,” she said. 

“Through those efforts with those 23 schools we have created a ‘Guide to Achieving Excellent Attendance,’” Roach added. “It’s a culmination of the most effective strategies that are taking place at the elementary, middle and high schools.”

Each building has a School Engagement and Attendance Team (SEAT) that is encouraged to determine what works best for their institution. The Attendance Collaborative serves as a clearinghouse for idea sharing among the various schools.

“We missed you!”

One of the core values of the Attendance Collaborative is positive messaging. “We encourage staff to tell the students ‘We want you here. We missed you,” instead of “Why weren’t you here?” Roach said. 

Another value is personal engagement. Teachers and administrators greet students when they arrive at the school building. Home room has been transformed from a place to take attendance into an opportunity for one teacher to monitor and mentor the same group of students from freshman through senior year. 

Parents are kept informed about their children’s attendance through letters, phone calls and personal contact. One high school utilizes robo-calls to let parents know immediately if their child has missed a class they were expected to attend.

Additionally, there are four non-profit organizations sponsoring six Youth Attendance Navigators who work directly with students in the schools. Completely Kids is at Norris Middle School. The Urban League is at Monroe Middle School, Benson High and Northwest High. The Latino Center of the Midlands is at South High. The “Y” is at McMillan Middle School. “Hopefully, there will be additional funding to have more YAN’s in the future,” Moore said.

The community is also engaged in promoting attendance through engagement. Mentoring and after-school programs are critical to keeping students interested in school. 

The good news is that perfection is not expected. “We encourage schools not to concentrate on perfect attendance,” Liwaru said. “Statistically, there is no academic difference between 0 and 8 days missed. We don’t want people to come to school when they are sick or to miss going to their grandmother’s funeral.”

Graduation rates have improved in OPS by a few percentage points in the past year. “It’s not going to improve dramatically overnight,” Liwaru said. “But we are in this for the long haul.”

posted at 01:58 pm
on Monday, March 11th, 2013

<p>  Zach Wahls and Moms</p>

Zach Wahls and Moms

My Two Moms

Zach Wahls brings his message of equality to UNO human rights lecture series

With gay marriage being assailed during an Iowa House Judiciary Committee public hearing in 2011 Zach Wahls offered counter testimony that not only charged the proceedings but the national dialogue about the issue.

Raised by same sex partners, Wahls made the case that sexual preference has nothing to do with effective parenting. He used himself as a case in point. The 21-year-old University of Iowa student and Eagle Scout, who happens to be straight, owns and operates his own tutoring business, Iowa City Learns, that hires local high school students to tutor peer students.

What Wahls spoke that afternoon became a YouTube sensation and ever since he's emerged as a leading LGBT advocate.

His 2012 book, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family, distills his thoughts and experiences as the son of a lesbian couple. The book's message picks up where his testimony ended, when he said "the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero impact on the content of my character," and frames his frequent public talks. He's the featured speaker for the March 12 Shirley and Leonard Goldstein Lecture on Human Rights at the Thompson Alumni Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His 7 p.m. address is free and open to the public.

Wahls will emphasize what unites people, not divides them.

"I obviously grew up in a family that is in some ways very different from the median American family," he says, "but at the end of the day I think there's much more that makes us similar to most other American families than makes us different. So my remarks are really going to be focused on trying to find this common ground."

The 2011 plea he made before Iowa legislators did not stop the Republican-controlled Iowa House from passing the same sex ban, which the Democrat-majority Senate has thus far blocked. But the argument he made for gay marriage and parenting resonated far beyond the confines of that state debate.

"My family really isn’t so different from any other Iowa family," he told lawmakers. "When I’m home, we go to church together. We eat dinner, we go on vacations. But we have our hard times too. But we’re Iowans. We don’t expect anyone to solve our problems for us. We’ll fight our own battles. We just hope for equal and fair treatment…

"So what you’re voting for here is not to change us. It’s not to change our families, it’s to change how the law views us, how the law treats us. You are telling Iowans, 'Some among you are second-class citizens who do not have the right to marry the person you love.' I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot of testimony about how damaging having gay parents is on kids. But not once have I ever been confronted by an individual who realized independently that I was raised by a gay couple."

His remarks went viral online overnight. Life hasn't been the same since. He's given national media interviews and appeared on The Daily Show and the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

"It's an interesting place to find one's self, no doubt about it, especially at such a young age," he says of the notoriety. "The thing a lot of folks don't necessarily  understand is that when you are the son of a same sex couple, especially in a place like Iowa or Wisconsin, where I was born, you are already an ambassador  simply because there aren't a whole lot of us. And so growing up I was really the only kid that a lot of folks knew who had gay parents and that put a certain amount of pressure on me when I was younger."

Active in the Scouts for Equality campaign to end the ban on gays in the Boy Scouts, he's hopeful a policy change is near. He says the organization is listening to the Scout community and trying to formulate equality language to be voted on May 24 at the meeting of its national council.

He's embraced the activist role that's come his way and is encouraged by the support he's encountered in his many travels.

"Over the last two years now I've had this incredible opportunity to go all over the country and have a conversation with people who are similar to me, who are different from me about this question and this debate the nation is currently having about marriage and family and tried to make some sense of it.

"My message really resonates with people both on the left and the right politically. In my generation I've found there are increasingly very few people who view this as a partisan issue and it think that is a very good thing. As I've had the chance to speak with young conservatives and liberals and libertarians I've found there's interest in coming together to find solutions and a desire for collaboration and problem solving and less interest in fighting this culture war that's dominated American politics."

He says his advocacy role "has absolutely changed me," adding, "When my generation was growing up we were always told by our guidance counselors that we could change the world. I think a lot of us thought it was b.s.. We didn't necessarily think it was true and this showed me that well, actually, it is true. There is nothing more powerful than an idea thats time has come."

Several times now, he says, people have told him his words have helped change their minds about gay marriage and parenting and he calls this feedback "a very powerful reminder of the ability we all have to impact other people's lives and to expose them to different ideas and new points of view."

Follow Wahls on Facebook and via his website,

Read more of Leo Adam Biga's work at

posted at 08:22 am
on Monday, March 04th, 2013

photo by

Kietryn Zychal

If it feels hotter, that’s because it is

Global warming breaks new records, patterns of extreme weather increase

After the hottest start to a year ever recorded in the United States, local activists gathered to point out the obvious from a symbolic spot.

Career National Weather Service meteorologist John Pollack is devoting his retirement to educating the public about climate change, suggesting ways to lower carbon emissions. Standing in front of the “high and dry” Salute to Labor statue on the riverfront that was underwater last summer during the flood of 2011, Pollack warned that “the Earth is catching a fever.” 

“The average temperature during the past 12 months in the lower 48 states has been 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above normal” Pollack told reporters, “While that may not seem all that significant, think of how your body feels with a 101.5 temperature, 3-degrees above our normal 98.6.” 

Pollack was joined by Tim Rinne of Nebraskans for Peace and David Corbin of Physicians for Social Responsibility. They held up a banner from the organization, which takes its name from the fact that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is what scientists consider safe for humanity. The currently level is 392 ppm. 

In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed in its State of the Climate report that the first six months of 2012 were the hottest on record in the United States since record keeping began in 1895, producing drought conditions over much of the country. A sample of record breaking temperatures in Nebraska includes McCook’s all-time high of 115 on June 26th and Omaha’s July 6th high of 104.

Pollack cited the figure that 98 percent of climate scientists agree recent weather-related disasters -- heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and a derecho (straight-line windstorm), are part of a pattern made more frequent by global warming. The 98 percent figure came from a 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of 1,372 climate researchers who conduct research and publish in peer-reviewed journals.

Hotter weather has an effect on Nebraska’s signature industry, agriculture. Higher temperatures reduce yields per acre, especially when corn is pollinating. Livestock suffer and die in extreme heat. Violent weather patterns cause damage to crops, structures, and the economy at large. 

Extreme weather is hard on the taxpayer. The U.S. Forest Service is projected to have a record year of spending on burned-area recovery efforts largely due to wildfires in New Mexico and Colorado. The Department of Agriculture also will assume additional financial obligations in Colorado.

In addition to being a weather scientist, Pollack and his colleagues are working to advocate for change, focusing on solutions to reduce carbon emissions now. “As a nation, we need to very quickly implement energy-efficiency measures by insulating homes and businesses and shift to utilizing Nebraska’s vast renewable wind and solar energy resources rather than rely on out-of-state coal and oil for our energy supply,” he said.

David Corbin, who ran for OPPD board but lost, cited some specifics of Nebraska’s energy potential. Nebraska still has the 4th best wind resources in the U.S. and the 13th best solar resources. Iowa supplies 25 percent of its energy needs from wind power, but Nebraska generates only 4 percent. Iowa firms invested in wind because of tax subsidies, explained Corbin, but Nebraska is the one state that only has public electrical power so there is no tax incentive to invest in wind farms. According to Corbin, OPPD CEO Gary Gates said recently that private firms could build wind farms and sell the electricity to OPPD, “That’s progress,” Corbin said.

Pollack, Corbin and Rinne have a vision that western Nebraska, which has the strongest wind in the state, could supply energy to eastern Nebraska where the population needs it. “What benefits Nebraska most?” asked Rinne. “Shipping coal from Wyoming or paying farmers out west for wind power?” They also envision building transmission lines to move wind energy from west to east. 


“We can do everything we need to do to get off carbon,” Pollack said, “If we exercise the political will to do it.”

posted at 09:10 am
on Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Anatomy of an Election

Douglas County Election Commissioner Runs With Labor And Paper

It takes months of planning, last minute details and tight organization to make an election go smoothly. “Election Day is the part that everybody sees,” said Election Commissioner Dave Phipps in his office at the Douglas County Election Commission on 115th and Davenport Streets. “Nobody wants to really know what happens and how you get to that point.”

“They just want to know that they can go to their polling place, get their ballot, vote it and be done for the day.”

Phipps and his staff take hundreds of steps to get to the big event. “For us, election season starts five or six months before and goes for five or six weeks afterward to make sure everything is cleaned up and accounted for. We have a relatively small staff to take care of all that.”

Elections in Douglas County are run with labor and a mountain of paper. Voting is done by paper ballot and registration requires filling out a form in advance of Election Day, signing it and mailing it back. Registration forms can also be completed at a library, Department of Motor Vehicles office or by a volunteer Deputy Registrar, all to later be entered into the computer at the Election Commission (EC). As a presidential election approaches, voter registration and re-registration requests increase exponentially. “There are so many people who vote only in that one election,” Phipps said. “We get tens of thousands of requests.” People move, get married or divorced, change their political party. There are usually 60 or 70 temps hired in the months leading up to a presidential election.

There are only 13 permanent employees at the Election Commission. The organizational chart is thin, with two rows under Phipps. The Deputy Democratic Commissioner, Lisa Wise, The Elections Manager Justine Kessler and the Public Relations Coordinator, Maria Anderson report directly to him. There are six departments to handle technology (GIS mapping), polling places, poll workers, voter registration, office administration and accounting. Most of the salaries are in the $30,000 - $40,000 range with one 20-year employee making $9,000 less than the Election Commissioner himself at $78,000.

In addition to voter registration, they handle requests for early voting ballots, interact with candidates who want to run for office, determine the locations of polling places, update the website, generate precinct maps based on voting statistics with GIS software, handle hundreds of vote-by-mail elections, print ballots, prepare boxes of supplies for all the polling places and make sure the disability equipment for blind voters is programmed to work properly. The budget for personnel, including the temporaries and poll workers hired on Election Day was $1 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012. The rest of the budget -- $250,000 -- includes printing, mailing, and all other contract services from computer software to the moving trucks that delivered supplies to the precincts.

On Election Day itself, Phipps gets up at 4 a.m. and is in the office by 5:30. At 6 a.m. the telephone operators start to arrive. Poll workers are either long-time volunteers who enjoy the public service or they are drafted to work, similar to being selected for jury duty. A drafted poll worker is required to serve for four elections. Poll workers make minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, typically working a 13.5 hour day with no overtime. They receive about an hour and a half of training a few weeks before the election, so there are often call-in questions about set-up and procedure. Five poll workers, no more than two from any one political party, are assigned to each polling place, including an Inspector who has worked an election in the past,

At 7 a.m. the first set of replacement poll workers arrives at the Election Commission to be sent out in the field if necessary. At 8 a.m. the polls open, and operators take calls from voters with questions such as “Where is my polling place? How do I get there?” Or, “What’s my party?” When voters are not listed in the registration book at the polling place in their precinct, a worker will call the Election Commission to find out where to send that person. If they are in the right spot but not listed, they are allowed to vote a provisional ballot, placed in a envelope so the EC can verify the registration before counting the ballot.

At 2 p.m., everything stops at the polling places for the mid-day ballot transfer. The ballot box is opened and the number of ballots counted in front of everybody. The metal ballot box is then sealed for the rest of the day. Ballots are put in a cardboard transfer case and sealed with a paper seal, signed by two poll workers from opposite parties who both drive to one of 16 collection centers where two poll workers from opposite parties are collecting boxes from a dozen or more polling places, before delivering them to the Election Commission.

“It cuts down how much we have to count in the evening,” explains Phipps. In 2006, the Secretary of State encouraged the counties not to do a midday transfer, resulting in a 24-hour work day with staff counting ballots until 5:30 a.m.

Eight counting machines costing $65,000 each -- the model 650 from Omaha’s own Election Systems & Software -- were purchased by the Nebraska Secretary of State through federal funds provided by the Help America Vote Act.

At 8 p.m., the polls close and the slot in each ballot box is locked and sealed to be driven to the Election Commission in a single car by two poll workers of opposite parties. The five drop boxes for early voting ballots -- three in libraries, the Charles B. Washington in North Omaha, the South Omaha branch and the Bess Johnson in Elkhorn, and drop boxes at the Millard Public Schools Foundation and outside the Election Commission, are also closed.

As cars pull up, ballot boxes are loaded into carts and delivered by a local Boy Scout troop to the counting room. The supply box and the large auto-mark disability voting machine must also be returned to the Commission.

Also at 8 p.m. the Commission announced the results from the midday transfer. At 8:45, a second announcement is made which includes the results of the early voting ballots. The vote tally is updated every 45 minutes thereafter until all the ballots are counted.

Traditionally, most of the ballots are back to the EC by 9:30 p.m. During a primary election, the counting usually stops before midnight. For a presidential election, it typically goes until 2 a.m. Any provisional ballots from voters whose address or information changed will be verified in the seven day period following the election.

posted at 12:00 pm
on Tuesday, June 05th, 2012

2012 Douglas County Poll Closing Analysis: Process, Methodology And Analysis

Read the full story here.

2012 Voter File:

The initial voter data for 2012 obtained by The Reader was not useable for this initial analysis because it did not have polling location for each voter listed. It did have a large amount of voting data that would prove useful later.

The Reader obtained a new file with voters and polling places linked below. This file contained 314,969 voters and the date suggests it is from a polling place mailing list as of 2012-03-05. This data has all voters and their polling place.  Shape files are also available upon request.

2008 Voter File:

In order to do a comparison of the voter’s distance from their polling places, The Reader obtained a 2008 voter file from just prior to the 2008 general election with linked polling places. This file contained 315,257 voters and is linked below.


Both files are large and the Election Commissioner requests that voter files not be used for commercial purposes. If it’s your intention to contribute to this analysis in the public interest, please email us the details of your interest to share access to these files.


GIS Data:

Note: All GIS processes were conducted in ArcMap 10.

All GIS data from the Election Commissioner included 2012 polling places and precincts along with 2010 polling places and precincts. Deciding to use the 2008 voter file for comparison to 2012, a new 2008 polling place file was created based on the 2008 voter file. A point file was created by using the 2008 voter data and running a pivot table on polling places and address. With a list of all polling locations in 2008, we were able to geocode (place on the map based on address). A new polling places file was created because the polling places file for 2010 didn’t match the voter file for 2008. Some polling places changed between 2008 and 2010.


Data Creation Process:


The first step was to geocode all of the voters in the two file (2008 and 2012) to generate a distance to polling place value and determine what Census Tract each voter was in to give them demographic data from the census. We used an address locator created from a 2011 street file and parcel file for Douglas County. Douglas County GIS has wonderful data available here.


After running the geocoding process in ArcMap 10 we were able to match the voters to the rates below:



Total in Voter File             315,257

Total Matched                    312,169                                 

Percent In This Analysis                 99.02%                                      



Total in Voter File             314,969               

Total Matched                    312,497 (312,499 were actually matched and two were later remove)

Percent In This Analysis                 99.22%                  


Some voters we not matched because their address could not be found. While there are likely some remaining voters who have been incorrectly matched in both years, the majority of the address were matched with a 100% match rate. The mismatched voters will not have a dramatic impact on the results.


Straight Line Distance

The next step in the process was to give each voter a distance to their polling place. With no quick and easy way to give each voter a distance based on their travel by road, a straight line distance method was used. In this method, each polling place and the voters connected to that polling place were placed on the map by themselves. This consisted of one point for the polling place and a point for each voter connected to it. These two data sets were then spatially joined so that “Each point will be given all of the attributes of the point in the layer being joined that is closest to it, and a distance field showing how close that point is (in the units of the target layer).” In order to speed this process up, multiple polling places were done at once as long as they were far enough apart as to not allow a voter to be joined to the wrong polling place. These exported files contained only a few polling places and their voters with a distance. Once each polling place was done for the given year, they were joined back together to form a new voter file with all matched voters and a distance to their polling place.


This process was done using the matched voters in 2012 and the 2012 polling place shapefile provided for the 2012 data. The 2008 data was done using the matched voters in 2008 and the 2008 polling place shapefile that we created. The resulting data, if viewed for all voters at one polling place in ArcMap 10 would look like the screen shot below if shown with the shortest distance in green and the longest distance in red.





Census Data

The final step in the setup of these data sets was a process of joining census data to each voter. Because we did not have individual demographic data for each voter, we used Census data from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey (ACS). We downloaded a number of tables from the American FactFinder website that pertained to the demographics that we wanted to use to analyze change in distance. These tables include data on poverty, race/ethnicity, employment, education and median household income. These data tables were condensed and combined into one file that was then joined to the census tract GIS layer in ArcMap 10. Once joined to the census tract GIS layer, voters could be joined to census tracts and, in turn, joined to the data pulled from the ACS. This process, similar to joining the voter points to polling points, uses voter points and census tract boundaries to join voters to the census tract that “it falls inside”. In other words, the voter was given all attributes of the ACS based on what census tract that they fell inside of. Below are the fields of census data added:



Population for whom poverty status is determined


Population Below Poverty


Percent Below Poverty for the Population for whom poverty status is determined


Population 18 and Over for whom poverty status is determined


Population 18 and Over Below Poverty


Percent Below Poverty for the Population 18 and Over for whom poverty status is determined


Total Population


Minority Population (All people who are Not Hispanic or Latino and White Alone)


Percent Minority


Percent Black Alone Population (Not Hispanic or Latino)


Percent Hispanic or Latino or any race or combination of races


Percent of the population 25 and over that is a high school graduate or higher


Percent of the population 25 and over that has a bachelor's degree or higher


Population 16 and over


Population 16 years and over who is Employed


Population 16 years and over who is Unemployed


Total Households


Median Household Income



Below is an example of what that might look like for one polling place.  All of the voters from the Beadle Middle School are in census tract 74.60 and thus were give the poverty percentage, minority percentage and median household income of that census tract according to the 2006-2010 ACS.



This process was done for the 2008 and 2012 voter files using the 2006-2010 ACS data. Because we wanted to maintain the same areas in the distance comparison between years, it was important that we used the same ACS data for both voter files. It was initially suggested that we should be comparing the voter data by precinct between 2008 and 2012, however, because these boundaries changed between the years, a comparison would between them would not work. Using the census method, voters counted in >50% minority census tracts in 2008 and 2012 should be people in the same geographic area.




Once these modified voter files were finished, the data was exported into excel for analysis. These two files are available under the same guidelines as above in regards to voter files.


Pivot Table Comparison

The primary method of analysis is the pivot table feature in excel. The pivot table tool allows you to summarize data by defined columns and rows. In all cases my column was the average distance of voters to polling place as defined by my row, or, the defined area based on census tracts of specific median income, minority percentage, poverty percentage, education percentage, employment percentage or county quadrant. Using the table below as an example, the pivot table allowed us to calculate the average distance of every voter from their polling place (as defined by the straight line distance calculation defined above) in all census tracts where less than <10% of people age 25 and over (according to the 2006-2010 ACS) had a bachelors degree. We also did this for the remaining data breaks  as they were initially defined by for minority percentages ( < 10%, >= 10% and < 20%, >= 20% and < 50% & >= 50%).





Percent of the population 25 and over that has a bachelor's degree or higher: 2006-2010

Average Distance

Total Voters

< 10%



>= 10% and < 20%



>= 20% and < 50%



>= 50%



Grand Total





These analyses were conducted for both the 2008 and 2012 voter files and then compared between years. Because the same ACS data was joined to voters in each year, the same areas are being compared between years just with slightly different voters and changes in polling place distance. This analysis can be seen in the file named Comp_2008vs2012. Any additional census data (or commute time data) could be joined to the voter files by census tracts and then analyzed. Additionally, the data could be broken down in any number of ways that has not been previously done by us.

The Analysis can be summed in this document: VoterComp_2008vs2012

And is narrated below:

Voters in the northeast and southeast quadrant of the county as divided roughly by 72nd and Dodge streets experienced a 43% and 45% increase respectively in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters in the northwest and southwest quadrants experienced a 19% and 21% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place respectively from 2008 to 2012. The northeast and southeast quadrants made up about 35% of the total voters in 2012.

Voters in Census tracts with median household income between $0 and $24,999 experienced a 30% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters in Census tracts with median household income between $25,000 and $49,999 experienced a 53% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters in Census tracts with median household income between $50.000 and $74,999 and those over $75,000 experienced a 14% and 17% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively. Voters in census tracts with incomes below $50,000 made up about 43% of the total voters in 2012.

Voters in Census tracts with less than 10% of the population over the age of 24 with a bachelors degree or greater experienced a 68% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters living in Census tracts where the population over the age of 25 with a bachelors degree or greater was between 10% and 20%, 20% and 50% and over 50% experienced a 35%, 32% and 12% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively.

Voters in Census tracts with 20% to 50% and over 50% minority populations experienced a 47% and 53% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively. Voters in Census tracts with less than 10% and between 10% and 20% minority populations only experienced a 27% and 9% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively. Voters in census tracts with over 20% minority populations made up about 40% of the total voters in 2012.

Voters who were Republican experienced a 24% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 while Voters who were Democrat and Libertarian experienced a 32% and 41% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively.

Voters in Census tracts with less than 10% of the population over the age of 17 in poverty experienced a 17% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters in Census tracts with 10% to 20% and greater than 20% of the population over the age of 18 in poverty experienced a 45% and 62% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively.

Voters in Census tracts with less than 10% of the population over the age of 15 unemployed experienced a 23% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012. Voters in Census tracts with 10% to 20% and greater than 20% of the population over the age of 15 unemployed experienced a 61% and 39% increase in the straight line distance to their polling place from 2008 to 2012 respectively.

posted at 12:00 pm
on Tuesday, June 05th, 2012

Regenerative Medicine Helps the Body to Heal Itself

Medical Futurist Alan Russell Speaks April 11 as part of Holland Lecture Series

Regenerative medicine is a new way of treating injuries and diseases, using specially-grown tissues and cells, along with artificial organs. The goal is helping the body to regenerate itself.

It’s an emerging field with great potential, according to the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

“These approaches can amplify our natural healing process in the places it's needed most, or take over the function of a permanently damaged organ,” according to the Institute’s web site.

Alan Russell is the founder of the McGowan Institute, and a leader in regenerative medicine.
He will speak in Omaha at 7:30 p.m. on April 11 as part of the free Holland Lecture Series at the Holland Center.

Research is also being done locally in regenerative medicine, including work at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University.

Alan Russell
Russell’s biography calls him a medical futurist and a pioneer in regenerative medicine. Crossing the fields of chemistry, biology, and materials science, Russell’s research lab studies how to help damaged tissues and organs to rebuild themselves.

For example, he is currently developing an artificial ovary so that women with cancer may undergo radiation treatment and still be able to have children.
Russell has also attracted attention beyond the scientific community. Rolling Stone magazine named him one of the “100 People Who are Changing America,” and he spoke at the TED Conference in 2006 on regenerating our bodies.

In that TED talk, Russell said, “Regenerative medicine is an extraordinarily simple concept. It’s simply accelerating the pace at which the body heals itself in a clinically-relevant time scale.”

This work makes Russell a logical choice as speaker for the Holland Lecture Series, according to Steve Hutchinson, chairperson of the Holland Lecture Committee.

“Part of what we want to accomplish is to inform people about where the science is going, and to raise questions about the implications of that science,” he said. “We think he’ll be interesting, and it will increasingly impact people’s lives. It’s time to start getting informed and think about the implications.”

The Holland Lecture Series is free to the public. It is sponsored by the First Unitarian Church of Omaha, and is funded by local philanthropist Dick Holland.

The series has its roots in the Frank R. Hoagland Lectures, which were held at the Unitarian Church between 1954 and 1964.

“When Dick Holland was a young guy, he attended the Hoagland Lectures. They were trying to bring provocative ideas into the community, and he wants to bring that back,” Hutchinson said. “That’s why he decided to sponsor this series.”

The Holland Lecture Series began in 2005, and has since brought to Omaha two well-known speakers annually. According to Hutchinson, these lectures provide open discussion of provocative ideas that are not usually heard in Nebraska.

Tickets are free, but must be reserved through the Holland Center box office.  Reservations will become available on March 26. You may reserve up to six tickets, and can make reservations by calling (402)345-0606 or online at

Stem Cells
Hutchinson believes the combination of scientific, economic, and ethical issues presented by regenerative medicine make it worthy of public discussion.

“We had someone speak on stem cells in 2005, but we wanted to go back and touch upon that, because a great deal has happened,” Hutchinson said. “Regenerative medicine does include stem cells, but is much broader than that. The whole field has really come into existence over the last couple of years.”

The McGowan Institute divides regenerative medicine into three areas: medical devices and artificial organs, tissue engineering, and cellular therapies.

Stem cells are the best known aspect of regenerative medicine. According to the National Institutes of Health, stem cells are unspecialized cells capable of developing into many different cell types in the body, such as muscle, red blood, or brain cells.

“In addition, in many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive,” according to the NIH’s stem cell information web site.

The use of stem cells in research has attracted controversy in the past, because some are taken from human embryos. Other stem cells are taken from adults.

In 2006, researchers identified a way to genetically reprogram some cells to assume a stem cell-like state. These new types are called pluripotent stem cells, and may be used in future research.

University of Nebraska Medical Center
The phrase “wouldn’t it be great if…” comes up frequently in conversation with David Crouse.

Crouse is a professor of genetics, cell biology and anatomy at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).

“Many health problems are related to the loss of function of tissues and organs. These problems persist because something is wrong or missing,” Crouse said. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could solve these problems by replacing those tissues or repairing them?”

About 20 researchers at UNMC dedicate at least part of their work to regenerative medicine, particularly to stem cells.

This work is interdisciplinary.  In addition to medicine, researchers come from backgrounds including biomaterials, engineering, and cellular biology.

“This is a regenerative medicine initiative, not a program,” said Crouse. “There are quite a few graduate students working on these projects, including PhD students and postdoctorates.”

Related research has been conducted for years at UNMC, but its formal initiative began in 2008 when Nora Sarvetnick was hired to lead its efforts.

“She has a group of researchers with one floor in Durham Research Tower II,” Crouse said. “Even though they are in different academic departments, they are located together. This kind of science is more driven by concepts than departments.”

The basic ideas of regenerative medicine go back decades. One of its first common applications was the repair of severe burns. Crouse said physicians originally took unburned skin from a healthy part of the body to replace burned skin.

Over time, organ transplantation developed from this basic idea of trading good tissue for bad tissue.

UNMC is now a major force in organ transplantation, but Crouse and his colleagues focus on newer and less developed aspects of RM research.

For example, Crouse said that cell transplantation may one day replace organ transplantation.

“We can transplant livers. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could transplant just liver cells?” Crouse said. “You could just inject them into the blood and they would find their way to the liver and fix the problem. It’s been done in animals, but not yet in humans.”

The liver is a large organ, and obtaining enough liver cells would be a challenge, but Crouse believes the benefits of avoiding surgical trauma will eventually make cell transplantation therapy successful.

In the same way, cells from other major organs and tissues could be transplanted and allowed to heal the unhealthy part of the body.

One group at UNMC is currently researching the regeneration of retina tissue related to sight damage, and another is studying the possibilities of using cells on Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases.

The U.S. military is now funding RM research, and UNMC is in early stages of getting involved.

“There is horrible damage caused in military actions,” Crouse said. “The military can now get people to survive this damage, but they have missing or nonfunctional limbs or organs. The military is investing money and effort into recruiting scientists who can find solutions to these kinds of problems.”

The hope is that regenerative medicine might be able to help those suffering from crushing or other trauma, including military actions, auto accidents, and sports injuries.

“Wouldn't it be great to treat that? We are just beginning in this area,” Crouse said.

Creighton University
A number of researchers at Creighton University are also studying regenerative medicine, across several departments.

One of these is researchers is David He, a professor of biomedical science, who is studying the possibilities of regenerating hearing.

According to the National Institutes of Health, our ability to hear depends on bundles of hair cells in the inner ear. These hair bundles convert sound vibrations into electrical signals, which travel to the brain by way of the auditory nerve. When hair cells are damaged by disease or injury, people experience hearing loss.

Although fish and birds are able to grow new hair cells, mammals typically cannot.

“Our hair cells are vulnerable to noise. Teenagers use iPods. Military people are exposed to noise. Chemotherapy kills these cells,” He said. “Before this happens, we can prevent the cells from becoming damaged.”

He’s work focuses on regenerating hair cells, helping the body to repair them and possibly restore hearing loss.

While stem cells are instrumental in many types of RM research, He does not believe they are the best choice for the auditory system.

“The inner ear is a unique structure. Stem cells are unable to regenerate themselves. You have to introduce new cells,” He said. “I am focusing on repairing your existing cells through gene therapy.”

Damaged auditory cells will eventually lose their function and die, but it might be possible to spur a regenerative process and reverse the damage. He said that cells need a genetic signal to regenerate themselves, and his goal is to introduce that signal where needed.

“We can put the gene into a virus,” He said. “When the virus is introduced into living tissue, it will integrate its genetic materials with host genetic materials. These code genes will eventually trigger cell repair or stabilize cells when they are injured. You are putting a new gene into tissue, and those new genes help the injured cells.”

One obvious side effect of this method is that it requires the use of a virus. People normally think of a virus in negative terms, because of the direct and indirect effects it introduces into the body.

“A virus is scary,” He said. “We would have to modify the virus to reduce any toxic effect. The major problem is that the virus will continue to reproduce itself, and that would cause damage. If you can prevent that problem, this can work. We still have to modify the virus to make it safe.”

It might eventually be possible to use nanotechnology devices to carry the genetic signal into the damaged cells, without using a virus.

This kind of RM research on auditory cells has been done in animals, but not yet in humans.

When the auditory cells of guinea pigs were damaged, they lost their hearing, according to He. When gene therapy was introduced, partial hearing was regained by most of the guinea pigs within about one month.

“Maybe in five years this can be used in humans,” He said. 

A Hot Topic

David Crouse at UNMC calls regenerative medicine a hot topic in health care. New journals and books are being published regularly, and new research departments are starting up nationwide because of available funding.

“If you do a web search with the words ‘regenerative medicine,’ you will get a lot of hits,” Crouse said.  “People are living longer and therefore having more degenerative issues consistent with older age. People are getting into accidents more than in the past.

“As long as you have young people doing things that hurt them and old people aging, regenerative medicine will be needed.”

posted at 11:51 am
on Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Environmental Alchemy

Green solutions may lie buried in the sludge of a century-old sewer system

When it rains in Omaha, it pours raw sewage, industrial waste and toxic chemicals into nearby waterways. The city’s century-old sewer system is designed to either put it there or into your basement. Neither is an inviting option. But that design is changing thanks to a federal mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency. The oldest part of the city — nearly everything east of 72nd St. — currently works on a combined sewer system (CSS) where one pipe handles both storm water and sewage. During dry conditions it works great. Sewage is carried away from homes and businesses to one of two treatment plants where it is treated and then safely released into the Missouri River and Papillion Creek. If it rains heavily enough, however, the storm water rushing down drains in the street mixes with the raw sewage in the same pipe and frequently overwhelms the system in what the EPA calls a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO)event. The combined runoff – typically 85 percent storm water, 15 percent sewage, according to the city – then flows directly to the Missouri River and its tributaries throughout the area. Omaha isn’t alone. Nearly 800 other communities are undergoing similarly massive sewer separation projects as part of the EPA's CSO Control Policy. Since 2002, Omaha has averaged 86 overflows a year, pumping 3.5 billion gallons of sewage and storm water annually into receiving streams. The goal is to reduce that number to about four a year by 2024. No matter where you look, it’s a big and expensive project. Atlanta is spending $3 billion to control its CSOs. Cleveland is protecting the Cuyahoga River with a $1.6 billion project. Omaha officials estimate the city will spend nearly $1.7 billion over the next 15 years to address 51 square miles of aging sewer lines in East Omaha. The Sewer Maintenance Division of the Public Works Department, with a staff of 64 employees and a $2.9 million budget in 2011, is in charge of making the change happen. “I believe it’s probably the biggest public works project we’ve ever undertaken,” says Marty Grate, the city’s environmental services manager. “This is like building the West Dodge Expressway, a $100 million project, every year for 15 years.” Just like that expressway, the sewer project will disrupt daily life. Streets will be torn up. Traffic will be diverted. But Grate says the project will ultimately improve more than just the city’s water quality. Omaha’s CSO Control Project is an opportunity for the city to get a little bit greener as well. Old Omaha There was a time in Omaha's history when raw sewage flowed through the streets — not by accident, but by design. Or, rather, lack thereof. For the first few decades of the city’s existence, Omahans simply emptied their outhouses and privies through trenches that poured directly into the street. Human waste pooled in wagon ruts during rainy weather and baked in alleyway cesspools during the hot summer months. Faced with a calamity of unsanitary conditions and citizen complaints, the City Council proposed Omaha’s first sewer system in 1878, according to city records. The city tried to do it right. The original plan called for separate sewer systems for storm water and sewage at a cost of nearly $1 million dollars, a $20 million project today. But with Omaha’s explosive growth in the early 20th Century, the plan was abandoned in favor of a much quicker and more common solution – the combined sewer system. Until the mid-1960s, all of Omaha’s wastewater emptied directly into the Missouri River without treatment. The city began to build separate sewer systems in developing West Omaha and constructed two treatment plants that sterilized all of the city’s wastewater prior to release into the waterways to service East Omaha under normal conditions. Combined sewers were the exception, and the City of Omaha, along with the other cities, operated under special permits from the EPA and state regulators due to the limitations of their antiquated system. But as concrete replaces grass and cities continue to grow, so does the amount of storm water runoff. By 1994, the EPA had developed its first control plan to address the growing dangers of combined-sewer overflow and had set a series of minimum controls for cities to meet by 1997. Omaha met that deadline, but a new one emerged in 2005. Because of increased federal requirements in the Clean Water Act, the EPA gave Omaha two years to have a draft of its longterm plan to address overflow issues in place. In 2009, the city submitted its completed plan to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the state organization charged with monitoring the project. The Health Factor Pat Nelson doesn’t look at a rainstorm the way most people do. She’s been working with storm water for more than 20 years, and as the compliance team lead with Clean Solutions Omaha, it’s her job to ensure the city meets all of its state and federal water-quality requirements. “The perfect place for storm water to go is into the surrounding natural bodies of water,” she says. “That’s just part of the natural hydrological cycle.” But when storm water and sewage mix you introduce a potentially potent cocktail of pollutants into the water system. Rain water can pick up pollutants from a variety of sources as it washes over yards and streets, gathering industrial waste particles from the air, car fluids, fertilizers, pesticides, and pet and animal waste. Raw sewage is a breeding ground for the E. coli virus, the most common pollutant found in overflow material. Combined is a filthy mix of heavy metals, chemicals and bacteria in our lakes and rivers. The National Resources Defense Council reports that combined-sewer overflows contain more than 100 times the concentration of fecal coliform colonies than treated waste water. At its worst, high fecal coliform concentrations can lead to a variety of human health risks from ear infections to food poisoning, and can endanger fish and other aquatic life. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality maintains a biennial list of impaired waterways that do not meet state water quality standards when tested for pollutants. In 2006 and 2008, Omaha’s segment of the Missouri River and Papillion Creek — the two major waterways receiving CSO runoff — were listed as Category 5 waterways, the EPA’s most severe pollution ranking, due to elevated levels of E. Coli. In 2010, both waterways were upgraded to Category 4 for E. Coli levels, but remained on the Impaired Waterways list because they contained other chemical pollutants. Based on those risks, the backbone of Omaha’s CSO control plan is to keep storm water and sewage separate through a variety of control mechanisms. In addition to sewer separation — approximately $700 million of the total $1.7 billion cost according to Grate — the city will also install a 5-mile long underground concrete tunnel along the Missouri River to accept CSO runoff. That’s the gray part of the equation, but Nelson says a large part of cleaning up Omaha’s waterways happens before storm water even reaches the sewer system. And that’s where Omaha becomes more environmentally sustainable. More Grass, More Green A number of institutional and individual solutions can help reduce a city’s storm water runoff, but they all primarily focus on soaking up as much water as possible before it reaches the storm drains. Few things do this better than vegetation. But that presents a challenge for city engineers facing firm regulatory requirements and deadlines. Everyone wants green solutions where possible, Grates says, but those efforts must be supported by structural controls that can deliver precise results. Like most cities, Grate says Omaha is working to the balance the gray solutions already in place with constantly evolving, and perhaps cost-cutting green solutions. Emily Holtzclaw is one of the engineers making that happen. As a water resources engineer and project manager with environmental engineering firm CH2M HILL, Holtzclaw does everything from work with computer models of the Omaha sewer system to conduct field visits as workers are lowered 50-feet underground to check the condition of century-old pipes. The solutions she comes up with might be multi-million-dollar projects or they may be as simple as making sure the city doesn’t have any manhole covers with holes in them. But the connecting thread, she says, is a devotion to become more environmentally sustainable. “We’re working to find other ways to deal with storm water. And one of our first tasks is always to identify and, if possible, use the green solution,” Holtzclaw says. “We’re always looking to save space and save cost and do something that’s more environmentally supportive.” In the first phase of the longterm control plan, the city is undertaking three major projects based on environmental sustainability. Last summer, Omaha received a $200,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to restore ponds that were drained in 1931 at Spring Lake Park in South Omaha and to add a planned wetlands area to the site. Native plants with deep root systems are better equipped to soak up water, and Grate says the plan “lets nature reduce the runoff we have to deal with.” The city estimates the four-year, $1.5 million project could eventually save $2 million in overall CSO project costs. Nature is doing part of the work in sewer separations near Aksarben Village and Saddle Creek Road, as well. Rather than build an entirely new, separate sewer system, engineers are using the natural landscape to direct storm water to the waterways. Three dry detention areas in Elmwood Park will collect storm water, reducing peak-time runoff and safely depositing solids in the water before it reaches the Elmwood Park Creek. The city estimates the project will save $1 million. An above-ground, open channel will work similarly west of Saddle Creek Road, allowing soil and vegetation to clean the storm water naturally prior to its entry into Little Papillion Creek. The Saddle Creek extension is estimated to save $2 million in infrastructure costs. But the bill for Omaha’s CSO project is still potentially enormous and how the city will pay for it is debatable. The federal mandate to fix the system was unfunded, leaving the city and its citizens to pick up all of the cost. For now, the plan is to gradually increase the city’s sewage fees for residents. The average residential rate in Omaha in 2010 was approximately $15 per month. By 2017, the city estimates sewer fees could reach $50 per month — more than a 200 percent increase over the next seven years. Some local politicians are fighting to reduce that cost. In late March, Mayor Jim Suttle traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby for federal funding for the project. On March 22, the City Council approved a resolution asking Nebraska’s Congressional delegation to lobby for a 50-50 federal cost share for the project. Omaha State Sen. Heath Mello has a proposal before the Nebraska Legislature that would return state sales taxes associated with the increase — a windfall of about $48 million over the next 15 years — to the city of Omaha to help defray costs. But for now, the only certain cost-cutting measure is to go green whenever and wherever the city can. The key to cleaner, safer, more modern Omaha may lie in the mud and sludge of a century-old sewer system. “We’re not putting in green solutions because they’re cool but because they improve the project, they benefit the city and they’re cost effective,” Nelson says. “We’re going to see more and more of these solutions as time goes on.”

posted at 03:53 pm
on Tuesday, April 05th, 2011

Cutting Room for April 18

  • Ten years ago, our world was changed forever, and Aksarben Cinema hasn’t forgotten. A decade ago, everything we knew about social interaction, relationships and linguistics was rendered irrelevant by a singular cultural moment. Yes, folks, Mean Girls turns 10 this year, and on Wednesday, April 30, Aksarben Cinema is gonna party like Regina George just got hit by that bus. From 5:30 pm until the movie starts at 7 pm, local businesses will have pop-up shops to check out, including Luv Bird, Statement, Simply Pure Salon & Spa, Body Masters, Denim Saloon, White Glove Perfection and Lark a Blow Dry Studio. Tickets are a mere 5 bucks. To those of you who haven’t given up on making “fetch” happen: Enjoy!
  • If you’re like me, not a day goes by that you don’t find yourself discussing the modern implications of the visionary French New Wave director Jacques Demy. Okay, so maybe we run in different circles, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t head to Film Streams to check out the seven-film series of his work beginning Friday, May 16. I mean, you can’t tell me that you don’t want to see movies with titles like A Slightly Pregnant Man and Donkey Skin! And to think, those were ideas Demy had decades before the internet made them into gross reality!
  • I present to you the single sentence that proves we, as a species, have run out of ideas. We have reached our apex as a people and should begin systematically deciding which animals should inherit the planet next. My vote is for the Slow Lorises. What statement should earn our collective extinction? “They’re making Mrs. Doubtfire 2.” Shut it down, humans, we had a good run. 

Cutting Room provides breaking local and national movie news … complete with added sarcasm. Send any relevant information to Check out Ryan on Movieha!, a weekly half-hour movie podcast (, catch him on the radio on CD 105.9 ( on Fridays at around 7:30 a.m. and on KVNO 90.7 ( at 8:30 a.m. on Fridays and follow him on Twitter (

posted at 01:51 pm
on Friday, April 18th, 2014

Artificially Intelligent

Transcendence is clever, not brilliant

Dear cast and crew of Transcendence,

It sucks, but this happens sometimes. You’ve made a perfectly fine (albeit unremarkable) movie, and the critics, both professionals and those deputized by social media, have decided to work you over like you owe them money. It should take human rights violations for a film to score below Need for Speed on this year’s Rotten Tomatoes’ “freshness” scale.

Oh, was that rubbing it in? Sorry.

Here’s what happened: You know how you have that friend who is pretty good at trivia but thinks that means he’s Albert Einstein’s equal? No! I’m not saying your film is pseudo-intellectual! It’s, you know, kinda clever in parts… It’s just that director Wally Pfister clearly thought he was blowing our minds with nuanced existential evolutionary questions when this was just The Borg from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” meets Tron.

You don’t see the comparison? Artificial-intelligence scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp) gets fatally wounded, and his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and best friend, Max (Paul Bettany) insert his mind into a computer. Then, weird nanotechnology that feels like magical mumbo jumbo allows Will to “network” other living human beings into one “collective.” Thus, a group of terrorists led by Bree (Kate Mara) and a scientist working with the government, Joseph (Morgan Freeman), try to stop robo-Will. You have to see the similarity to The Borg, even if Freeman is no Jean-Luc Picard.

Note to self: Start fan-fiction in which Freeman is Jean-Luc Picard.

Part of the collective rage-stroke about your passable movie is people thought their nostalgic version of Depp had returned. Honestly, he was never that great, only capable of being whimsically odd or totally boring. Sans his typical caked-on makeup and Tim Burton influence, Depp completely shut down all charisma. It was hard to tell when Will looked lifeless because he was CGI and when he looked lifeless because Depp may actually have died inside.

Hey, what was with the decision to have Hall weepy for two hours? Seriously, there’s a drought in California! If she can produce that much eye liquid, you should really collect it. Bettany was fine, but boy did you really waste Mara and Freeman. The latter may sleepwalk through performances for paychecks these days, but Mara is hungry, even in her wasted role here.

I was rooting for you right up until the final act. There was something cool about having the audience side with terrorists and fear our own intellectual progress until you decided to, quite literally, water that down. At its best, Transcendence could have been the cyberpunk of William Gibson or the speculative fiction of Philip K Dick. Instead, it was like listening to someone who read Gibson and Dick try to seem smart by retelling their books to you. Still, y’all don’t deserve the piñata treatment you’re receiving, not when we live in a world that will soon have three Expendables movies.

In short, feel better guys! At least one critic thinks you’re wonderfully average!

Grade = C

posted at 01:25 pm
on Friday, April 18th, 2014

Movieha! Omaha’s Favorite Movie Podcast

Episode 140 - Back in the saddle…

On Your Radar: Obvious Child

Netflix Roulette: Short Term 12


Please sign up for our RSS feed HERE, download our podcasts and rave about us in the comments section of iTunes HERE, follow us on Twitter HERE, and become a fan of us on Facebook HERE! You can also listen to our bit we do for KVNO radio HERE. And as always, email any comments and concerns to

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Big Scary’s Big Ideas

Duo create beautiful musical landscape

Tom Iansek and Jo Syme emerged on Australia’s music scene as Big Scary in 2006 with a recognizable chemistry, genre-defying spirit, and a less-is-more approach to songwriting. Their chemistry is undeniable and a force to be reckoned with. They have a unique approach of less is more but it will leave not only your ears but your heart satisifed. With both talents combined Tom’s angelic vocals and Jo’s intricate drumming lays out a beautiful landscape in your mind.

After a series of self-released singles Tom found the time to take courses in production and with the newfound knowledge was able to take Big Scary to another level. October 2011 Vacation was born through the bands label Pieater. The album was recorded with the help of close friend and producer Sean Cook (former bass player of Yves Klein Blue), Big Scary enlisted Welshman Gareth Parton (The Go! Team, Foals, The Breeders) to mix and engineer the sessions.

Vacation’s lead singles included “Mix Tape,” “Gladiator” and “Leaving Home.” The album expressed a diverse sound and statement of its own, not conforming to one specific genre which earned respect of fans and critics alike. The duo set out to expand their listeners with a tour to America including showcases at SXSW, CMW and CMJ, and stunning audiences in New York and Los Angeles.

With inspirations from travel, work and touring nine months later Big Scary forged their second powerful album, Not Art. It was recorded and produced by Tom Iansek and mixed by Grammy Award-winning Tom Elmhirst at Electric Lady Studios in New York. The lead single with a title of no tribute “Phil Collins” comes out swinging showcasing the maturity of a second album and lyrics of organic nature.

Not Art is full of soothing tracks pulled together from inspirations of many different sounds that in the end really defy genre. Big Scary’s love for drawing from music they personally like and the art to mimic the moods of those artists formed a mood all their own and is sure to leave its mark on yours.

Big Scary brings their big sound to Omaha’s Slowdown April 18, opening for the band Say Hi. Drummer Jo Syme recently shared some insight into the band with The Reader:

THE READER: Can you give us a little back story on how the two of you met and then came together to form Big Scary? And how did you come up with the name?

We met in about 2006. Tom was planning on putting a full, four-piece band together, and asked a mutual musician friend for any drummers, and got my details. He got in contact and then turned up on my doorstep, guitar in hand. At first we were playing quiet acoustic sets. I was using glockenspiels and shakers, and we were playing in little restaurants or jazz clubs. It wasn’t until we made a demo in late 2008 and “plugged in” that we named ourselves Big Scary. The name is the least interesting story ever: we just texted each other back and forth potential names until we found one that neither of us hated. Rejected names included “Air Commodore” and “Sparkle Tone.”

For people to get to know you both better, what do you like to do in your spare time when you are not making music?

I read a lot, although I’m slowing down lately. Took me nearly half a year to read Infinite Jest just now. Whoa. I used to cook a lot too but I currently live in a bit of a shack situation, where if more than one appliance is on at any one time, then the whole kitchen shorts… But I love to listen to records, and to see bands, and I also still work casually when I’m in town at a restaurant rolling burritos.

Do you write songs together for each track or does one of you write a whole song and vice versa?

Tom is definitely the principal song writer. When I contribute more than just the drums, its usually making a melody over some music he’s already written. Some songs are fully formed before we come together, and some are developments of riffs, and some are layered slowly by recording some drums, then a few weeks later adding piano, then a while later the vocal line.

Once you got into the studio and crafted producing skills, do you think it helped you more in making music, understanding that part of the process?

Tom did a course in production and it has helped us immeasurably. He already had a good ear, and then to have the technical skill to complement that has meant we have much more control, a clearer vision, and more confidence and in the sounds we’re attempting to paint. The production behind the songs has become just as important as the song itself. We really focus on the textures.

You gained quite a following in Australia. When you set out for your first tour in America, what kind of thoughts went through your minds? Was that a scary step, that you might not be perceived in the same way?

It’s always a mystery when you’re visiting a new region. We are a very eclectic band, and that’s been our biggest criticism from business types who want something easy to market. But a lot of our influences are American, so I didn’t imagine that people just wouldn’t “get” it. And when someone has only heard one or two songs of ours, they might perceive us completely differently from someone who’s heard a different slice of our catalogue, so even in Australia we’re not perceived the same way from person to person.

You performed at showcases in the States such as SXSW, CMW and CMJ. Is there a different vibe performing in America compared to Australia?

We found Americans to be extremely receptive and respectful of the music, it was refreshing! Like, they actually listen during the quiet songs. It’s less “get drunk and listen to bands,”,more “watch a band whilst enjoying a drink.”

Your new album Not Art dropped last month. What’s different about this album then your last and was it a different process for you as artists this time around?

It came out last year in Australia, but has just been released world-wide, which is why we’re doing our first big North American tour only now. The whole process of Not Art was very different to Vacation. With Vacation (our debut), we had all the songs written, but didn’t know how to tie them together, didn’t know what mix vibe we wanted, etc. We had an external producer and put our faith in him and the mix engineer, who did a great job at tying together a very eclectic bunch of songs. I can definitely hear a younger band in that album, a few more pop songs, that were maybe included for the wrong reasons. For Not Art, Tom took the producer and engineer reigns. He had what he calls a “lightning bolt” moment, when he developed a clear idea of how he wanted the tracks to sound, and the general mood of the album. We recorded the drums to begin, then over the course of nine months we built on that tracking and pieced together songs. It’s a combination of live drumming and guitar/piano takes, mixed with more precise programmed parts and loops – an idea inspired from hip-hop production values.

What standout tracks do you recommend for new listeners on the album?

Difficult question. My favourite song changes weekly! But I’d say “Luck Now,” “Phil Collins” and “Twin Rivers” are good places to start.

I found myself moved by many of your songs. I read this statement on your website about the new album Not Art. “Naming their second studio record for the contradictory nature of creation; attempting to undermine the expectations of the artist’s responsibility; the pretension that everything must have meaning.” It’s a pretty straight forward statement but we always hear music based on failed relationships, religion, money, etc. So what inspirations do you draw from to write and produce songs?

I just went and asked Tom, here’s what he said: It’s a lot of things and inspiration is something that’s constantly shifting for us. In terms of writing, a lot comes from other artists, I’m constantly looking for something that will spark an idea of our own. I also often try and mimic moods that other artists create. DJ Shadow’s Entroducing is the case in point here for Not Art. I love how that has a real distinct feel and mood throughout and was definitely something liked and wanted to mimic in our own style, and also affected how our songs were shaped and tied together. Inspiration for production is somewhat tied up in this too, but also takes a bit of a different ear, perhaps more tuned to specific sounds, like the sound of a drum kit or vocal. I actually got into hip hop by first loving the production approach: the use of a samples and loops, hard/abrupt sounding edits, the combination of old and new sounds I really loved.

posted at 08:17 am
on Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Think Local Food

What will the next 20 years of Omaha’s local food scene look like?

I grew up a few miles west of the Union Stockyards in South Omaha. On windy days when the sun burned hot and bright in a blinding blue sky the acrid sent of manure would fill my nostrils while I worked alongside my parents and siblings picking pole beans and tomatoes in our garden. When I look back to my youth, before my parents were divorced, before south Omaha transformed from one kind of ethnic community into another, I think of our garden and the bright and blinding summer sun.

My parents weren’t exactly hippies, but they did name me Summer, and my older brother narrowly escaped the name Wolfgang. My dad always packed a lunch for work, the idea of eating out was unthinkable, and my mom made homemade yogurt, with a little warming device that now sits in the bottom of my kitchen cupboard. We grew most of our vegetables, and we often visited a now defunct health food store in Ralston called The Granery. The building still stands, as does its name, but carved out cubbies for small business have replaced the rows of sushi balls, and cardboard flavored grain-snacks my mother made us eat. The taste of health food has evolved considerably since the hippie revolution, where people like my parents included food in their back-to-the-earth philosophies.

Some of today’s most recognizable national food brands such as Eden Organic and Bob’s Red Mill started or came of age during that time. The 60s and 70s organic, small farm and health food movements were the first wave of the food revolution. They are the foundation for the locavore and organic obsession of the past 20 years, which marks the second wave. 

Now that many restaurants promote their favorite farms on chalkboards or menus, and you can walk down the aisle of a mainstream grocer like, Hy-Vee, to find local, honey, jams and produce, what will the next 20 years of Omaha’s local food scene look like? Each person I interviewed had different thoughts on how the movement will continue and what it needs, but one thing is certain, they all believe it’s here to stay.

Local food is reaching beyond fine dining establishments like the Old Market’s The Boiler Room and Midtown Crossing’s The Grey Plume and into casual breakfast and lunch places like the Kitchen Table, on 14th and Farnam, west Omaha’s Over Easy at 168th and Q, a hip delicatessen like Dundee’s French Bulldog, and the charming and cheerful Two Birds Bakery in Elkhorn.

Last year, Trilety Wade and Megan Thomas, opened Two Birds Bakery on Main Street in an old Elkhorn post office. The two friends actually started their bakery years earlier by selling baked goods through the Nebraska Food Cooperative, an online year-round farmers’ market and local food distribution service. Eventually, they took the cakes offline and out of their home kitchens to invest in a brick and mortar structure.

“We chose the location we did, because this building was in my family,” explained Trilety. “My great grandfather built the building. He was a farmer and during the winter he would do construction.”

While she is thrilled with the amount of repeat business they have from people who seek out their classic or vegan muffins, cookies and rolls, Trilety said they may have inflated the role local food would play in bringing people to the bakery. 

“For us, personally, we knew we were going to do as much as we could with local food. People here find [the local farm information] interesting, so we do our best to promote and educate customers on the value of locally sourced ingredients, but I don’t think that’s why people come through our door,” explained Trilety.

Two Birds Bakery sources butter, eggs, honey and milk from local producers noting that sometimes weather forces all parties involved to be creative.

“We source our butter from Clear Creek Organic Farm. One night … he couldn’t deliver our order, but someone who attended a lecture he was giving lived in Elkhorn, so Clear Creek gave it to him and that guy delivered it to us,” Trilety said with a bit of a chuckle.

Late last year, Over Easy, the homemade pop tart-serving local food restaurant with a drive through window, took over a strip mall space where a Blimpie’s sandwich shop had been. The owner, Nick Bartholomew, transformed it into a contemporary breakfast and lunch diner, where local suppliers are touted on a chalkboard embedded into a mosaic wall made from wood. Nick explained over coffee and juice one day that as a small business owner who wants to support local, you have to get creative about how you are going to allocate your money. For Nick, that meant adjusting his marketing dollars by trading a neighbor gift cards for advertising space on the back of her fence and distributing drink coasters to bars across the city printed with an abbreviated menu and the mantra, “Friends don’t let friends cook breakfast hungover.”

Whether the quirks of buying directly from the farmer are seen as opportunities or challenges, many people are seeking streamlined distribution models. The Nebraska Food Coop is one model where consumers pay a membership fee, not unlike Costco, and order from their website, Farmers list what they have available and the shopper picks it up at a delivery site. Lori Tatreau, manager for Lone Tree Foods, a network of local producers in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska is working towards a variation on that model. Many of these efforts, including Lone Tree, are funded through grant money and volunteer hours, which can lead to concerns over continuity and longevity. 

“Lone Tree is trying to be a food hub. Farmers working together to aggregate and distribute their product,” explained Lori. “Ideally you would have a warehouse where farmers would truck in their product, drop it off, then it would go off to restaurants, grocery stores and schools the next day. Most importantly it would stay source identified so you are still tracing the food from the farm to the plate as much as possible.”

The grant funding Lori’s position will expire in September, which means this organization is in a state of administrative transition.

“The local food hub model tries to keep more money in the farmer’s pocket. They are going to pay Lone Tree Foods or any food hub something to administer the buying, selling and distribution process, but our system is going to be owned by the farmers,” explained Lori. “The goal is to get it out of grant funding, so being an LLC makes the most sense, which is what will likely happen. It’s got to fly this year or its not.”

Local food has also recharged a desire to not just eat, but eat well at home. Grocery stores like Whole Foods and Hy-Vee offer cooking classes but specialty retailers like Provisions, a soon to open retail store at Midtown Crossing, and private in-home classes are also gaining momentum.

Beth Richards and Sharon Olson teach canning classes out of a home they purchased together in their Minne Lusa neighborhood. Their goal focused more on building community, than starting a business. For a small fee and a smile they will teach anyone to can almost anything. They just picked up a bulk order of 3,000 canning jars this spring.

Most recently we have seen Chad Lebo, founder of Cure Cooking, grace the city with his passion for teaching curing, cooking and baking traditions. Chad moved to Omaha in June 2013 and six months later he opened Cure. Those interested in taking classes on cheese making, smoking, dry curing, sourdough breads or fermentation can register for classes online at He will teach them in-his home or yours.  Prior to moving to Omaha, Chad lived in Madagascar, where using what was available and a do-it-yourself approach to cooking was a way of life. Formally trained as a teacher, he combined his passion for the classroom with his love of craft food.

“We’ve had great interest here in Omaha with people who want to learn how to make traditional foods rather than just going out and buying what is available to them,” explained Chad. “By teaching these foodmaking methods you are keeping some of these traditions alive.”

Passing on food traditions is critical for Lebo who says much of what he sharing isn’t difficult just forgotten. This summer he will offer a class for children through the community gardening organization City Sprouts. In the future, he hopes to teach Cure Cooking classes as part of classroom learning in the schools.

“We can teach history, science and math through educating children about and preparing traditional foods with them. They get to be the scientist. Only instead of having something meaningless to them at the end of the experiment, they get to eat it,” Chad said.

Once we’ve sourced our food locally, learned how to prepare it at home and found a little respite in a restaurant or two, the real work begins. Perhaps what is most likely to propel the local food movement to the next level is when local food advocates become the policy makers. Organizations like the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, the Metro Omaha Food Policy Council and No More Empty Pots among others are working on various levels to impact local food policy. The Center for Nutrition was instrumental in facilitating farm to school relationships, while No More Empty Pots address food security issues and the recently formed Metro Omaha Food Policy Council is working to create an equitable, nutritious and sustainable local food supply, primarily through community awareness and engagement efforts. William Powers, farmer and executive director of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society would like to see local food people in policy-making positions.

“As long as the consumer continues to seek local foods, and foods associated with place, the culture will continue to grow and evolve,” explained Willia. “The local foods revolution has been around long enough already to not be a fad. As more people of all demographics gain accessibility and knowledge of that local food system, the more it will be in demand. The challenge with local foods is we need more farmers utilizing local markets and sustainable agricultural principles, which is predicated on community and place.”

By now consumers have grown accustomed to the quality of local produce – fresh sunflower sprouts to mix up our salads, tomatoes arriving every August to remind us why we suffer through July’s heat, and squash, potatoes and winter greens that sustain us through the cold, grey months of winter. We’ve even come to realize asparagus, if grown locally, can be tender when it’s as thick as our thumbs and discovered the nutty wonder of prairie plants like Jerusalem artichokes. Now that we’ve tried them, we want them not only at the farmers market, but also at the grocery store, not just for special nights out, but also casual lunches, breakfasts and quick bites on the run. As much as we love dining out, dining in has taking on new meaning as well. We have a renewed interest in what we offer for dinner, even if its just fresh pole beans served to your brother nearly known as Wolfgang.


Find out more about Local Food at the Paradigm Gardens Local Foodshed Area at Earth Day Omaha this Saturday, April 19, in Elmwood Park from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


The Boiler Room:
The Grey Plume:
Two Birds Bakery:  HYPERLINK ""
French Bulldog:
Over Easy:  HYPERLINK ""
The Kitchen Table:

No More Empty Pots:
Metro Omaha Food Policy Council:
Lone Tree:  HYPERLINK ""
Minne Lusa House:
Cure Cooking:  HYPERLINK ""
Nebraska Sustainable Agricultural Society:
Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition:  HYPERLINK ""

posted at 07:41 am
on Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Darren Keen, Teetah, Ruby Block and Rogue Moon

posted at 09:33 am
on Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

The Bunnybrains w/Rake Kash, Video Ranger and The Lupines

posted at 09:31 am
on Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Jim Suhler, Walter Trout

Texas blues-rock guitarist Jim Suhler returns to the metro this week with his band Monkey Beat. Suhler is out touring in support of his mid-February release, Panther Burn (Underworld Records). It’s a fine recording that showcases Suhler’s thoughtful approach to the music.  He’s a great blues guitarist, but he doesn’t overplay it. The CD is full of deep grooves, with plenty of Suhler’s stomping, wickedly fine signature blues-rock sound, slide work and great arrangements. It’s the sound fans of the band’s live show have come to expect with added depth and special guests including Kim Wilson and Jason Elmore. Carolyn Wonderland and Ray Benson are featured with Suhler on a gospel rave-up, “All God’s Children Get the Blues Sometimes.” Suhler wrote most of the material himself and produced the disc. See
Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat plays Lincoln’s Zoo Bar next Wednesday, April 23, and hits The 21st Saloon Thursday, April 24. Both shows are 6-9 p.m.

Zoo Bar Music
A new band with familiar faces from Lincoln’s music scene, The Wondermonds plays the Zoo Bar Friday, April 18, 5-7 p.m. The band’s focus is on instrumental funk with influences like The Meters and Booker T. & The MG’s. The band includes Ben Kushner (The Mezcal Brothers, Josh Hoyer & The Shadowboxers), Tom Harvill (Tijuana Gigolos, Nebraska Jazz Orchestra), Mike Keeling (Ideal Cleaners, Self-Righteous Brothers) and Ted Alesio (Ideal Cleaners, The Return). See

Louisiana’s Josh Garrett returns to the Zoo for the 9 p.m. show on Friday, April 18. An excellent guitarist and vocalist, Garrett mixes up Louisiana’s distinctive musical styles with some Chicago blues.  See

Walter Trout in Omaha
Veteran blues guitarist Walter Trout is now at The University of Nebraska Omaha’s Lied Transplant Center. Trout’s health has been failing and he is in urgent need of a liver transplant. Trout’s wife Marie posted to his web page that they had arrived in Omaha last week, where Trout was evaluated. His wife subsequently posted to Trout’s YouCaring page that Trout has been placed on the Lied’s waiting list for a liver transplant. Trout previously had been an inpatient at UCLA’s hospital for weeks, where progress toward a liver transplant had been very slow, according to Marie Trout’s updates. Fellow musicians, friends and fans have been rallying to raise financial support for the transplant and for Trout’s family. For updates visit UNMC’s Lied Transplant Center is where Oregon soul-blues musician Curtis Salgado received a life-saving liver transplant in September 2006.

posted at 07:51 am
on Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

(Altar)native Art

Art and spirituality coexist in Artist’s Shrines and Reliquaries at Benson’s Sweatshop Gallery

Somewhere between Picasso and Pop something new developed in the art world. Something spiritual and somewhat taboo, a fringe movement that makes you stop and think whether or not you should worship or wonder in amazement if this is even art. Sweatshop Gallery’s latest show, Artist’s Shrines and Reliquaries, suggests that spirituality and art can coexist initiating a provocative dialog between the two.

The exhibit’s curator, Bonnie O’Connell, is known to many as a professor of book arts, which consists of letterpress printing, typography, book design, bookbinding, and papermaking, along with alternative media and color theory. O’Connell is also the director of The Fine Arts Press at UNO.  Although not new to curating art shows, this is the first assemblage show she has curated.

Not only does the exhibit vary in tone, O’Connell says, “these artist’s shrines can be open for interpretation.”  Some are quite humorous like Deb McColley’s “Shoe Slut”.  This comical take on women’s shoes shows the obsession that only a shoeaholic can have. It consists of a green wooden box encircled by 10 multi-colored high heels with shoehorns arranged in a sunburst pattern at the top.  Gazing out at you is a shoe form sculpture of a women surrounded by mini ceramic shoes which is a shoe lover’s dream.

Then there is “Our First Recognition of Beauty” by Renee Ledesma.  This piece is stunning with La Calavera Catrina (Dapper Skeleton) dressed in a skirt beautifully painted with flowers and leaves.  The skeleton is standing in front of what looks like a painted church window.  It begs the question as to what beauty is and where it is found.

O’Connell not only curated the show, but also has some artwork in it.  “Madonna De Lavanderia:  Our Lady of Perpetual Laundry” features a washboard topped with the Virgin Mary surrounded by water.  The Virgin is framed nicely with vintage colored clothespins.  The washboard tin has been punched out creating a scene of a woman hanging clothes.  For inspiration O’Connell goes back to those vintage book illustrations from her childhood.  This image was from one of her favorite children’s book series “Flicka, Ricka & Dicka.”

“The emotion of being a shrine is that this type of art is about therapy, but it is also my religion,” she said. ”That kind of aspect of art and art practice in some ways is very much a spiritual or religious practice.  It is a way to stay connected to other people, stay connected to the world and try to go and find a place in the world.”

“Neo-HooDoo” is the phrase that comes to mind with this show.  Coined by the poet Ishmael Reed in the 1970’s, it celebrates how America views organized religion, most notability Christianity.  Reed observes the rituals, folklore and spirituality to see how contemporary artists interpret and are influenced by religious traditions. 

Many of the objects used in exhibit were collected from flea markets and junk stores.  For O’Connell some of the objects have been with her for over twenty years.  There is a connection that she feels with some of the items she has accumulated.    

“When you find a place for them, and they make their way into a work of art, it to me is always a gratifying thing – it is a real connection to the history of the piece,” she said. “They are the spirit and the imprint of whoever had them before, not just who made them.  There is eloquence in them that spoke to us, which is why we collected them and took them home.  And then giving them further voice and putting them into other work and sharing them with the rest of the world is one of the reasons we make this kind of art.”

Faith in our culture seems to be a thing of the past, but is it?  By interpreting reverence in contemporary art it allows our views to be challenged which can, in turn, permit a more tolerant take on society.  Perhaps this can help us relate to these ceremonial objects and link it to our own understandings and make it a more personal experience.

These shrines enhance and embrace, as well as examine spirituality.  And the questions that are raised help us by wanting a little more, while challenging us to ask questions about ourselves.  Who are we, what do we want, and how will we achieve this while still embracing who we are?

Artist’s Shrines and Reliquaries continues through April 30, 2014, Sweatshop Gallery, 2727 North 62nd Street, (402) 707-3724



posted at 01:58 pm
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The Saga of the MINI Cooper: Pt. 1, The Porsche Years

I’ve waited for years to write this column — a column I threatened the executives in the highest offices of MINI BMW that I’d write, but never did because, well, I was afraid to. Now that it’s gone, the story of my MINI Cooper can be told.

But before I get into the gory details, I have to admit I’ve never had much luck with cars. Before my MINI it was my Porsche.

The year was 2002. I had been driving a mid-‘90s VW Cabrio, which had been a good car. No complaints. I had bought it new and it ran fine for years, but it was time for a change. I wanted something… nicer. My dad connected me with a guy who attends auto auctions around the country. I told him I was looking for a used silver Audi TT, just like the one Donald Fagen presumably used to drive. 

Off he went to Milwaukee. A day later I got a call. “There’s a silver TT here, and I can get it for a good price,” my auction-going friend said. “But I thought I’d let you know that there’s also a gorgeous silver ’99 Porsche Boxster I can get at an even better price. Low miles. Look, if you don’t like it, you can turn around and sell it for a profit.”

Porsche. There is no substitute. I told him to do it, and within a few weeks, I was driving a sweet silver Boxster with ruby-colored leather seats — a gorgeous car by any standard. And it was fast. Very fast, at least compared to my VW.

But it didn’t take long to realize two things about driving a Porsche Boxster. First, they’re designed for… little people. At least people littler than me. To get into the Boxster meant folding my 6-foot 2-inch 235-pound mostly-shoulders frame into the car’s low, cramped cockpit. While I did have plenty of head room, my shoulders felt they were being squished together by the narrow “sport seats.” Every time I twisted to grab the seat belt or check if the driveway was clear,  I felt like a baby turning inside its mother’s womb.

Then there’s the asshole factor.

It’s here I should point out that I grew up in a “car family.” My dad always admired the finest automobiles and had a collection that was the envy of everyone in our neighborhood. He had everything from a 1944 Jaguar convertible to a Maserati to an Austin Healy to a Jensen Intercepter to a Citron to an Avenger GT 12, along with a small fleet of VW Beatles and microbuses and typical family station wagons. And, of course, a Porsche.

Dad’s collection included a number of “classics,” and more than just drive the cars on weekends, dad often entered prize examples into local auto shows. That meant us kids spending our Saturday afternoons washing, then polishing every inch of the vehicle prior to display. I cannot tell you the numbers of hours I spent tediously hand-polishing chrome on wire-spoked wheels.

As reward for our hard work, we got to spend endless hours walking around the lower level of the Civic Auditorium staring at parked cars with their hoods up, while dad talked to guys about carburetors and in-take manifolds.

The point is, back then everyone admired a great car, and whenever I got a chance to sit in the passenger seat of one of dad’s classics as we rolled through the neighborhood, I felt proud and lucky, knowing every kid on the block wanted to go for a ride.

It wasn't like that when I finally got a "classic" of my own. I blame the media and the movies, which depict Porsche drivers as leather-glove-wearing, sunglasses-at-night, smug-faced rich-guy creeps.

The first time I heard it was on an unseasonably warm late-spring afternoon. It was so warm, in fact, I decided what-the-hell I’m going to put the top down. As I slowly drove down Underwood Avenue through the heart of Dundee someone yelled from the sidewalk near the Underwood Bar, “Sweet Porsche!”

I smiled and turned, but didn’t see who it was. Then as I continued driving west past what was Trovato’s, out of nowhere came “Asshole!” I never saw who yelled it; I just kept driving.

Shortly after that I began noticing the stale looks when I drove up next to Omaha’s fleet of beige Hondas, Cavaliers and mini-vans, cars people drive not because they want to, because they have to. To them, a car was merely transportation. A Porsche, on the other hand, was an ego-mobile. I called it “The Asshole Look” — when someone glanced over, noticed the car in all its shiny glory, and then with squinty eyes assessed the guy driving it. There is no hiding when you drive a Porsche with the top down.

There’s also no avoiding the psycho greasers driving late-model muscle cars and the suburban kids behind the wheels of Japanese pocket rockets with ridiculous “scoops” bolted to the back. Up they would idle at red lights, revving their engines and gripping their fur-covered steering wheels, as if reenacting a scene from American Graffiti or The Fast and the Furious.

Half the time I was fumbling for something in the car and didn’t notice them until the light turned green and SQUEEEEEEE! off would tear the Lexus or Mustang or Hyundai that had been idling next to me.

For two years I managed to convince myself I liked driving the Porsche. It took a major mechanical problem that cost $2,600 to repair before I finally had enough and sold it on eBay to some guy in Park City, Utah. Now it was his turn to be called “asshole.”

After all that, I figured it was time for something more practical, something… humble, like a MINI Cooper...


Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

posted at 07:42 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Johnny Reef and The Shipwrecks w/Pat Nichols Band

posted at 01:05 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Jim Suhler

posted at 01:05 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Nebraska Stoner, Sludge and Doom Metal present: 420

posted at 01:04 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Jerry Pranksters

posted at 01:02 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Fabtones BIG Band

posted at 01:01 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Josh Garrett

posted at 01:00 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


posted at 12:59 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

John Walker and Friends

posted at 12:56 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

A Benefit for Ralph Remmert

posted at 12:54 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The Paper Planes Concert 4/20 Showcase

posted at 12:52 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Ben Kweller with See Through Dresses

posted at 12:51 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Satchel Grande CD Release w/Buck Bowen and Jazz Trio

posted at 12:49 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

20th Anniversary of Illmatic: a Nas Tribute Artillery Funk w/Conchance & BOTH

posted at 12:48 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The 25th Anniversary of The Great Adventures of Slick Rick Album w/Travis Howe

posted at 12:47 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Lost In The Trees w/All Tiny Creatures

posted at 12:42 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

1% Productions presents Sleigh Bells

posted at 12:40 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

1% Productions presents Tokyo Police Club w/Geographer and Said The Whale

posted at 12:39 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Marcus Lewis Big Band

posted at 12:37 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Ultraviolet Hippo w/Lucas Kellison & the Undisco Kids

posted at 12:28 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The Hague

posted at 12:24 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Satchel Grande CD release party w/Tatanka

posted at 12:22 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Earthstock featuring AZP, Thirst Things First & A Ferocious Jungle Cat

posted at 12:21 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Country Road 5 Emmet Bower Band

posted at 12:20 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

$2 Tuesdays featuring Sputnik Kaputnik & Dude Won’t Die

posted at 12:18 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


posted at 12:17 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Sherry Drive w/Shiver and Jordan Sky

posted at 12:11 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Hidden Agenda

posted at 12:08 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Hidden Agenda

posted at 12:08 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Hi-Fi Hangover

posted at 12:06 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Beatles and More!

posted at 12:05 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Josh Hoyer & The Shadowboxers

posted at 12:03 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Cactus Hill

posted at 12:02 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Charm School Dropouts

posted at 12:00 am
on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


posted at 11:59 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Desert Noises w/ The Winter Sounds and John Klemmensen and the Party

posted at 11:59 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Pimps of Joytime

posted at 11:58 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Ray Michael

posted at 11:56 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Red Delicious

posted at 11:55 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Tarim and Alternate Revolution

posted at 11:54 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Great Plains Massacre and Dave Leverett

posted at 11:53 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Drowning In The Platte, Gorgatron and Garoted

posted at 11:52 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

All Age: Academy Of Rock

posted at 11:51 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Scuffy and the Janitors, Homemade Crazy, Dirty Talker and Bogusman

posted at 11:48 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Joey Zimmerman, Will Doughtry, Ryan Doud, James Lindsey, Joshua Vossler and Perry Pirsch

posted at 11:46 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Zach Myers of SHINEDOWN & Justin Moore of Ingram Hill w/Like A Storm, Morse Code, Matt DiBaise

posted at 11:38 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Porkbelly CD Release w/Ten Dead, Naked Sunday, Vulsafire and Burning Wish

posted at 11:33 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Quicksand Devil w/Sandskin and Surveying the Dead

posted at 11:32 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Superior w/Eastwood, Gar, Blessed Are The Merciless, Live And Obey and Trials We Face

posted at 11:26 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Audibly Nutritious Returns

posted at 11:25 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Third Thursday w/Thornbug, Luebbe and O’Keefe

posted at 11:23 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Take the Stage Karaoke

posted at 11:12 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

The BOTH Album Release & National Record Store Day Party

posted at 11:04 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

The Green Fairy - Live Burlesque and Cabaret

posted at 11:02 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Jesse Lafser w/Clay, Evan Bartels Band

posted at 11:00 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Christopher The Conquered w/Gloom Balloon

posted at 10:59 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Third Friday Funk w/Lucas Kellison & The Undisco Kids

posted at 10:57 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Blazin’ Pianos w/Greg Asadoorian and Davina Yanetty

posted at 10:54 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014


posted at 10:53 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

4/20 Variety Show w/Bogusman, Mc Teach, Wet Radio, Jay Say, FEAR SIGHT

posted at 10:50 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

All Time Low w/Man Overboard Handguns

posted at 10:44 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Til The Smoke Clears ft. Stylust Beats

posted at 10:43 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

The Travel Guide w/Low Long Signal and Nicholas Holden

posted at 10:41 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

“In-The-Round” - Dan McCarthy, Brad Hoshaw and Michael Todd

posted at 10:39 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

The Rumbles

posted at 10:37 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014


posted at 10:27 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Rough Cut

posted at 10:25 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Luke Polipnick “Modern Jazz”

posted at 10:23 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Marcus Lewis Jazz Ensemble

posted at 10:22 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Paul Serrato w/Mark Haar

posted at 10:16 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Goon Saloon w/Leeches of Lore

posted at 10:13 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

The Max Chill Show w/host Bob Gurnett Feat Adam Hrabik, Patrick James, Preston Tompkins

posted at 10:11 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

The Brigadiers w/the Sons Of and New Lungs

posted at 10:10 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

2014 MAHA Lineup Announcement

posted at 10:09 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014

Banjo Loco! Debut CD Release w/Morning at Sea and The Tinder Box

posted at 10:04 pm
on Monday, April 14th, 2014


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