(Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)
When news broke that Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died, it triggered an outpouring of heartfelt reactions online. It was news big enough to eclipse the Super Bowl and heartbreaking enough to elicit genuine sadness.
But not all reactions were sympathetic. That day, actor Jared Padalecki called Hoffman’s death “stupid” and “senseless,” and he’s not the only one who voiced this opinion.
According to the New York Times, police confirmed Hoffman died of a drug overdose, most likely due to heroin.
All over social media, peppered amid the deluge of mourning, were comments similar to Padlecki’s — people claiming Hoffman’s death was not tragic, that they had a hard time feeling sad because, after all, these were his bad choices. No one forced a needle into his arm.
And while that’s true, it also ignores so many important parts of his story and of addiction in general. Writing it off in such a way is unfairly callous.
Hoffman was reportedly sober for 23 years and only recently relapsed. Addiction is a disease an afflicted person will battle his entire life — one that requires treatment and compassion.
Steve Wildsmith is the weekend editor at the Daily Times in Maryville, and he’s also a recovering addict.
“It’s a fundamental disease that most people cannot comprehend,” Wildsmith said. “It doesn’t matter how long you’re clean, your disease is out there doing pushups, waiting for you to slip up.”
When you’re an addict, “you exist, but you don’t live,” he explained. “It’s a place of darkness, like you’re one of the extras in ‘The Walking Dead.’ ”
Hoffman’s death, while tragic, has had at least one positive effect: It’s sparked important conversations about addiction that many, especially those quick to judge, need to hear.
As celebrities and journalists open up about their own struggles with addiction (I found David Carr's and Jeff Deeney's accounts particularly insightful) and new drug legislation is discussed (Have you heard of naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal medicine that can help save people from overdoses?), these issues come into better focus.
“The takeaway is that it can happen to anybody,” Wildsmith said. “So we need to do what we can to help all these other Philip Seymour Hoffmans who don’t have his fame or money or recognition.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 38,000 drug overdose deaths per year in the United States — more than 100 per day. And help isn’t always readily available, even locally.
“It’s a terrible thing here in Knoxville. There are more (people) than there are places to go,” said Johnny Lewis, executive director of the E.M. Jellinek Center, where the waiting list is approximately four to five months. “The majority just stay in jail until they can get in over here.”
And at Knoxville’s Helen Ross McNabb Center’s drug rehab facility, it’s even longer. According to PR coordinator Emily Scheuneman, if someone were to come in wanting immediate inpatient care, the waiting list is one year. For someone seeking outpatient care, it would still be 10 weeks.
Whether it’s 10 weeks, five months or one year, that can feel like more than a lifetime to an addict needing help.
The answer to this epidemic is neither to judge nor to punish — it’s to provide treatment and empathy.
As Meghan Ralston of the Drug Policy Alliance said, “We need doctors, not jail cells.”
For Sunday’s News Sentinel, I’ve written a column on Google Glass. It’s not a fanboy piece, because I’m anything but. I tend to find the device kind of ridiculous and creepy.
They remind me of the Opti-Grab from ‘The Jerk.’
I think years down the road we’re going to see lawsuits popping up that claim Google Glass has permanently damaged people’s eyesight or given them a wandering eye.
Regardless of my personal feelings about the device, it’s made the news recently - not all of it great press, but even bad press is good advertising, right?
Bring back home economics.
The argument is nothing new, but a Boston Globe essay published a few months ago by Ruth Graham offered a fresh take on an old idea.
Graham’s essay, “Bring back home ec! The case for a revival of the most retro class in school,” made a compelling case for a new kind of home ec that would help address the specific needs of a new generation. She argues there are three areas in which young people today struggle most: health and nutrition; financial literacy; and general self sufficiency.
Home economics has a storied history dating back to the late 1800s. There have been many iterations of this course, and its curriculum has helped teach a vast range of skills to students from elementary school to college. In the Depression era, Eleanor Roosevelt urged girls to enroll in home ec “to learn how to run an efficient household.” It was a staple in junior high and high school classrooms through the 1960s for many young girls and even some boys.
“In 1959, about half of all American high school girls were enrolled in home ec,” Graham writes, “where they learned how to cook, sew, make a budget, and, crucially, how to shop.”
However, as historian Helen Zoe Veit notes, “Today we remember only the stereotypes about home economics, while forgetting the movement’s crucial lessons on healthy eating and cooking.”
The most common argument for a home ec resurgence concerns the declining health and rising obesity numbers for young people who rely on cheap processed foods.
Almost one-third of Americans under the age of 19 are overweight or obese, Graham reports, and the number is closer to 50 percent in minority populations. Frozen meals or fast food are the go-to for many families, a habit that’s often hard to break in young adults who live on their own.
Instead of simply training girls to be housewives, a modern home ec could teach students to cook healthy, easy meals and make smart choices when shopping at the grocery store.
The course could also teach invaluable lessons on how to make a budget, balance a checkbook and handle the many tasks that come with student loans, credit card payments and other financial responsibilities. Even general self sufficiency has become a struggle for young adults, a record number of whom still live at home. And more specialized skills like sewing, car care and even basic home maintenance could be covered.
I cringe when I think of how unprepared many young people are — especially if we were to remove YouTube tutorials and Pinterest from the equation.
In the words of Ruth Graham, it’s time to bring back “a forward-thinking new kind of class that would give a generation of young people — not just women, but everyone — the skills to shop intelligently, cook healthily, manage money and live well.”
The holiday season is officially underway, and along with festive family dinners and joyous gift giving comes the annual debate: Merry Christmas or happy holidays?
Every year, the debate grows and grows, with viewpoints from both sides becoming increasingly emphatic. This year, there is at least one organization that has intensified its argument.
The American Family Association has amped up its tradition of naming companies “Naughty or Nice” based on how “Christmas-friendly” they are with their advertising. Using a four-tier ranking system in addition to the two categories, the AFA is calling out companies that use inclusive language — such as references to the holiday season or winter season in lieu of Christmas.
“If a company has items associated with Christmas, but did not use the word ‘Christmas,’ then the company is considered as censoring ‘Christmas,’ ” the AFA website explains.
AFA’s “Christmas-friendly” rankings range in color from blue to red: A blue-rated company is applauded for promoting Christmas on “an exceptional basis,” whereas a red-rated company is admonished for using “ ‘Christmas’ sparingly in a single or unique product description.”
In defending the list, AFA President Tim Wildmon said, “We’ve become a society that is overly concerned that something we say, even when true or right, might offend someone.” But it seems Wildmon has it backwards.
As a non-Christian and someone who has never celebrated what many claim is “the meaning of Christmas,” I’m never offended when someone tells me “Merry Christmas.” So why, exactly, are others offended by a more general, inclusive and still accurate “Happy holidays” or “Season’s greetings”?
While it’s often dubbed the “War on Christmas” by these Christian groups and organizations, I feel it’s more precise to call it the “War Against Inclusion.”
One of the many facets of this debate concerns the phrase “Reason for the season.” Those on the Keep-the-Christ-in-Christmas side argue that it’s because of Jesus that we celebrate in December. Dissenters rebut that the winter solstice, the mark of winter that’s been celebrated since ancient times, is what came first and is more factual.
I can’t help but think how silly it is to claim that Christmas is what it’s all about. To me, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the new year all comprise the holiday season. So why not be inclusive and celebrate all there is to celebrate?
Of course, consumers have every right to shop where they want, and they are free to make whatever qualifications they’d like about their choice of retailer. But to suggest that companies that are more inclusive are somehow “against” Christmas is absurd and unfair. As one blogger put it, it’s “confusing neutrality for persecution.”
November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. I wrote my column this week about the staggering difference in funding between epilepsy and breast cancer. A similar number of people suffer from both each year (though more die from epilepsy), yet on average $215.25 is spent on research per breast cancer patient (both current and survivor) while $76.50 is spent per person with epilepsy.
One in 26 people - that’s one person per average K-12 classroom - will develop epilepsy in their lifetime. More than 2 million people in the US and 65 million people worldwide have epilepsy and that number will continue to grow as traumatic brain injuries from sports and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan become more common.
What follows is my personal story of how I was diagnosed and have lived with epilepsy.
My story with epilepsy began when I had a seizure in front of Mrs. McGuffey’s talented and gifted class at Flenniken Elementary School in South Knoxville. I was eight years old and, it will shock no one who knows me, I was in the middle of being sassy to my friend Jerome when my first tonic-clonic hit me like a freight train.
It took about 20 years to remember that much.
I awoke in the nurse’s room - a bleak white room with a creaky metal institutional-type twin size bed - with Mrs. McGuffey by my side.
She was always put together, that lady. Not one hair was out of place in her dark brown June Cleaver hairstyle and her hands were calmly clasped in the navy blue lap of her dress.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You fell,” she answered. “We’re just going to wait here until your mother arrives.”
My column this Sunday is about all the older folks in my family and their latest obsession: tablets. My father and stepmother both have Kindle Fires. My Uncle Terry is getting an iPad for his 70th birthday this weekend (Happy birthday, Terry!) and ever since my in-laws arrived for their visit from New Mexico last Friday, my mother-in-law has been grilling me about the devices.
After some research and talking with her about her needs (email, browsing, maybe some reading and entertainment), I suggested she buy a Kindle Fire HDX 7” tablet. The big selling point for this is the “Mayday” button that will let her speak with a live person whenever she has a question about how to work her device. Living on top of a mountain with only a Wal-Mart nearby makes tech support extremely important.
With all these seniors in my life leaping into the 21st century with their new-fangled technogadgets, I started looking at apps that might make their lives a little easier or more enjoyable.
Discovery.com put together a decent top 10 list. My only gripe is that they didn’t link out to any of the apps, so if you want to find more information or go ahead and download it, you have to do all the searching yourself. (Yes, I know how lazy that sounds.)
The in-laws usually argue over who gets to play solitaire on the desktop computer, so I looked up my favorite game: Free Flow. This is a puzzle-type game that requires you to connect the same colored dots without crossing another colored line.
Lumosity is great for keeping the mind sharp, but is only offered on iTunes (for iPads and iPhones).
I’m not putting this out there for my MiL — she’s taken, gentlemen. This is for all you single seniors out there. If you’re looking for a companion, there are plenty of dating apps geared toward 65+ folks in your area.
For the most part, anything you might be interested in probably has an app. I’ve found hiking apps, pedometer apps, GPS and restaurant apps. There are apps to diagnose your latest health issues (but please don’t be that person) and apps that will help you cook dinner.
I received a call this afternoon from Andy Wallace, a veteran, small business owner and resident of Seymour.
From time to time, people call me with story ideas that I forward on to members of the newsroom who may be better equipped to tell them. However, this story had an immediacy that only a Web person could handle.
Wallace is one of 10 finalists in the IceBorn Franchise Giveaway for Veterans. The winner will receive an IceBorn vending franchise worth $118,000 as well as a year of free marketing and royalty fees. His main competition is Chad Shields from Washburn, TN who has consistently stayed a few votes ahead.
Should he win, Wallace has said he would donate a percentage of his earnings to the Wounded Warrior Project.
All anyone needs to do to cast a vote is visit the IceBorn contest page on Facebook, like it and choose which veteran you wish to vote for.
Andy Wallace talks about his past and what he would like to do should he win the IceBorn contest:
(Photo by Adam Brimer/News Sentinel)
The countdown has begun — and it’s now less than a week until Bonnaroo 2013 commences.
Bonnaroo, of course, is a music festival that takes place in Manchester, Tenn., on a 700-acre farm. About 80,000 campers congregate to listen to more than 150 musical performances on more than 10 stages. There’s music, art, comedy — and lots more.
Social media is an essential part of the Bonnaroo experience, whether you’re on the farm or watching from afar.
One of the quintessential go-to places for keeping tabs on ’Roo is the Bonnaroo team. Aside from their official website, they have a strong presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram and Tumblr. They do it all, and they do it well.
Spotify is one of the newer tools the Bonnaroo staff has embraced, and it’s the perfect medium. It’s a digital music service that gives users on-demand access to millions of tracks. For those wanting to get in the Bonnaroo spirit, the team has compiled a playlist featuring the 2013 lineup.
The team will also be continuing its recent tradition of livestreaming some of the performances for those who can’t attend this year. The ‘Roo webcast will broadcast live on Ustream starting Friday, June 14.
(Photo by Adam Brimer/News Sentinel)
But when it comes down to Bonnaroo and social media, there is a clear winner — and it’s Twitter. According to data released by the social network after last year’s festival wrapped up, there were a total of 32,000 mentions of Bonnaroo. And across all social sites, Twitter accounted for 91 percent of all mentions of ‘Roo.
This year, the official hashtag for the event is simple — #bonnaroo. There are bound to be other versions and sub-hashtags, but for a steady stream of ‘Roo-related posts, that’s the safest bet.
The reality is Bonnaroo serves as an annual check-up on the state of social media. New and old tools alike are put to the test, and we learn a lot in the process.
One of those new tools that will likely change the game this year is Vine, which some call a mix between YouTube and Instagram. It’s a new app that allows users to capture and share short, looping videos — almost like animated GIFs with audio.
(LiL iFFy. Photo by Rachel Wise)
Vine also happens to be a favorite among the members of rap act LiL iFFy, the only Knoxville artist invited to this year’s Bonnaroo.
“I like how easy it is to use and the ability to crudely edit together tiny, six-second films,” said Thomas Thibus, producer for LiL iFFy. “It’s super simple and super effective.”
Hip-hop acts and Bonnaroo might not seem like a natural pair, but you’d be surprised.
A couple of years ago, VH1 analyzed data culled from social media and found that hip-hop and rap artists crushed the competition on social media.
It may seem surprising that hip-hop would dominate anything at Bonnaroo, the giant music festival (and party) that began in Tennessee a decade ago with hippie-ish jam bands and roots rock. But this is what we discovered when using Next Big Sound to gather social media stats on all 150 or so acts on the lineup.
At knoxville.com, we’ve found similar results. I compiled a list of the top 10 most-watched Bonnaroo performance videos that we’ve posted over the years, and the top 2? Eminem and Lil Wayne. In fact, hip-hop artists comprise 4 of the total top 10.
It’s fitting, then, that this year, we have chosen to team up with LiL iFFy. Members of the Harry Potter rap group will be sharing content and allowing our readers to see the festival from a unique point of view.
(Photo by AP/Keystone, Martial Trezzini)
“We’ll share (posts) of various acts and behind-the-scenes stuff,” said Thibus, who performs under the name DJ Tom Ato. “It would be awesome to get some Vines of us with other artists.”