September 2005 Archives

finding comedy amidst the floating corpses

Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick opened his press conference thusly:

"Tomorrow, we're going to take up a donation for the New York Jets' relief fund. Good lord, I can't turn on the TV without seeing Katrina, Rita, and oh my God, the Jets. I'm digging in my pockets for money."

I'll wait for you to undouble and dry your cheeks.

More wacky disaster humor! A manager in my group, publicly toasting his superior on the brilliance of her moving everyone from private offices to low-walled cubicles:

"You know, everyone knows that it's getting really crowded here. They're doubling people up in offices, crowding people in conference rooms, bussing people to Houston..."

insecure faith

Speaking of validation, the great Leonard Pitts writes today about one of the issues I touched on. Under his "Insecurity" subhead you'll find the Validation Theory in full bloom.

the validation manifesto

Several women have already stopped reading. Several weary women.

I've referred to my "Validation Theory" many times on this page, but I've never spelled it out. Simply put, I believe that the primary social force in the world is the human need for validation. In the bulk of human interactions, we are either seeking or granting endorsements. Simple, no? This theory scales like a motherfucker. Once you start filtering human behavior for validation, you see nothing else.

And yes, I'm fully aware of the irony here. I'm waxing about my belief system on my web site. Self-indulgent and validation-seeking behavior if ever there were one. See how well it scales?

So say I'm right. So what? It's a harmless enough social force. Sadly, it is not, for the Validation Theory has a very ugly corollary: most people view validation as zero-sum. If I'm to feel good about myself, you cannot—unless you make the same choices I do. But if you don't, any happiness you feel invalidates my own and must be denigrated.

My favorite example of zero-sum-validation thinking will forever be the Christian bumper sticker

Know Jesus, know peace

No Jesus, no peace

If you want to drive a fundy positively insane, show them how happy you are without their religion. That so invalidates everything they believe, everything in which they've invested their self-image, they cannot even consider the possibility. Nope, you're Satan's intermediary.

All the new moms in my life have experienced a zero-sum crossfire lately. If they continue to work, stay-at-home moms revile them as bad parents. If they stay at home, their professional colleagues snort disdainfully about "breeders." The invective is harsh, unrelenting, and unsolicited, and it invariably comes from women whose own choices are being—cue the organ music—invalidated.

Let's view recent posts through the validation filter.

  • Lionel, pretentiously suggesting that poetry be read at business meetings? Seeking validation.
  • Courtney, thinking people in Seattle are mean? Obviously being invalidated. Me, posting about it? Being validated.
  • Jim and Marceline, irrationally defending their product in the face of evidence? The validation they get from their work was threatened.
  • Ed's failing health? No validation link—she's a dog.
  • Jessica Alba, saying she really wants good roles? Please.
  • I'll skip Bobby Brown's playlist. That's too easy.
  • Percy? His "that kid already has everything" comment suggests my age and station make him feel much resentment.
  • My friends, pouting when I didn't go with exactly their color choices? I suppose they feel as though I criticized their taste.

And on and on. The need for validation is why people dress up and wear make-up. It's why they buy expensive things. It's why people pair up. It's why lousy relationships persist well past the establishment of lousiness. It's why people have kids. It's why they pray instead of taking kids to doctors. It's why your family goes batshit if you don't come by and stare at the TV with them often enough. It's why managers create direct reports aliases (e.g., "Jim Jones' Direct Reports") that are of no conceivable use to anyone but them but that inconvenience many. It's why we insulate ourselves with people who affirm our belief systems. It's why seemingly good people can rationalize doing horrible things. It's why we want our friends—strangers, even—to couple/parent/buy something/change cities/etc. like we did, and it's why we feel curiously rejected when they don't. It's why we feel self-conscious about dining or going to movies alone. It's why people with no education disdain its necessity, and it's why I so value it. It's why people find a way to diminish your new house/car/S.O. It's why the top-10 non-fiction list is half books about how smart you are, half books about how stupid "they" are. It's why readers send me email arguing "I don't seek validation from other people." It's why people kill those who don't share their beliefs. It's why they want to introduce matters of faith into the science classroom. It's why I go weak-kneed every time I hear "Lover Lay Down" and remember that the sexiest woman I've ever known actually thought of me when she heard that song. It's why my brother and sister-in-law would rather lose me altogether than admit that the John mythology they've concocted is untrue. It. Is. Everywhere.

• • •

What, if anything, is to be learned from this? Like any point of view, it's subjective. It's a theory that happens to fit the facts. A helluva lot of facts. What began as a desperate attempt to explain one person's behavior became a plausible explanation for most of mankind's behavior. Does this make it right? Is it the only possible explanation for a given behavior? Of course not. But I've yet to come across an alternative explanation that scales so, so well across all of human behavior.

Although I found the theory life-changing, I didn't exactly find it life-affirming. Understanding validation, both your need for it and others', is not an A-ticket to bliss. The benefits are more subtle than that. I look at it more as something to keep an eye on within myself. When someone upsets me, I question why, filter for my validation needs, and very often am able to let it go. This is a good thing. I take great pains not to feel invalidated by others' beliefs or choices, and that eliminates much of life's unnecessary misery. And of course, the rhetorician in me benefits from appealing to others' validation needs. At this point, Allie and I are pretty overt about it.

(phone rings)

Allie: Hello?

Me: I need some unconditional validation.

Allie (bored): You're so smart.

Me: Thanks.

So there you have it, my world view, honed by years of wondering why so-and-so is acting that way. And if you don't agree with my Validation Theory, well, you're just stupid.

The Lionels: awards for defensiveness over not having the remotest qualification for your job 

 lionel award

I'd intended to pass this award out to exceptionally untrained, unqualified, justifiably defensive editors. And then I switched to editing, myself. Examples have been few and far between, but finally, we have this question from a paid editor:

Edi-(cough)-tor: "Is it proxyable or proxiable?"

Me: "Um. Well. First of all, proxy isn't a verb. Second..."

The original Lionel still has the all-time dumbest such query, when around her 10th year of taking up valuable headcount she sent to scads of editors an e-mail with the subject line "What's an editing pass?" (You there—yes, you—the engineer or janitor or actress or lawyer or student. What's an editing pass? See, even you knew.) Other random Lionel anecdotes: she complains to co-workers that NPR is too right-wing, and she recently proposed the inclusion of poetry readings in writer/editor meetings.

"mean and smelly"

Courtney, Day 30:

     "I hate Seattle."

That certainly didn't take long. The Emerald City has lost none of its warmth and charm.

best use of taxpayer money, ever


Anna Nicole Smith, meet fellow punchline Clarence Thomas. Comedic heaven.

one microsoft way

I just visited some friends who work for the 'Squish. You might remember them; they long ago drowned in Kool Aid any souls they once had. Let's call them Jim and Marceline Jones. Jim and Marceline are one of those curiously smug pairs who've concluded that when they put their IQs of 90 and 80 together, they combine to form one unassailable 170 IQ. Together, they comprise the all-knowing masters of the universe.

Jim, Marceline and I were watching TV when a commercial for the new iPod nano came on. I braced. I needed to.

"WHAT A FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT!" they howled at the screen in unison, so you know they must be right. Their tone is hysterical, scornful, exactly like that of a teenage girl shrieking "SLUT!" at another girl whose only sin is popularity.

"Yeah, go ahead and throw your money away on one," snorted Jim to one of the three HDTVs he uses to watch analog programming.

The commercial shows the credit-card sized Nano in someone's fingertips. It's an impressive bit of engineering.

"The Muvo is smaller than that!" snorts Marceline.

"The what?"

"The Muvo. It's what Apple stole the design from for the Nano."

I know very little about such things, so I held my tongue, but the distinctive odor of MS Bullshit® was definitely wafting through the room. When I got home, I looked them up. I'll be damned if the iPod Nano isn't brazen design theft.


Other things Apple stole:

iPod Nano Muvo Slim
3.5 x 1.6 x 0.27 inches 3.3 x 2.2x 0.3 inches
14 hour battery 8 hour battery
4000 MB storage 256 MB storage

Note how much smaller the Muvo is.

As amazingly irrational and, well, let's face it, made up as these Kool Aid–guzzling cultists' claims are, to really understand the MS culture, you need to understand that even when confronted with facts, they are not dissuaded from their original claims. They just do another shot and 'splain to you why you're stupid.

And this, kids, is why you can't figure out how to even minimize the media player; why your word processor changes every two years even though you were happy with it in 1994; why, say, changing the speaker volume increasingly requires you to read paragraphs upon paragraphs of "inductive" ui and security warnings; why Passport couldn't remember who you are, even through that was its sole function; and why the MS web browser blocks MS web sites as security risks. Because we're so much smarter than you. Here, lemme 'splain to you why you're stupid.

okay, that post was a mistake

I could accidentally lop off my own leg and you all would tell me to quit bitching. And you would spell it "quite." But if Ed has a cold? You want hourly updates. To save myself the indignity of setting up an Ed-related mailing list, I've added her status to right.

ed alert

This site once contained a FAQ. The second question answered was "what's checkraise mean?" I don't get that question much anymore, thanks to the Travel Channel. What was the #1 most frequently asked question? It was, and remains, "How's Ed?"

I recognize it for what it is—polite small talk, something fluffy to say to engage me in conversation—but that doesn't make answering it any easier. My FAQ reply in 1999:

Ed's status has not changed in five years. She sleeps. She eats. She excretes. The seven-day forecast is for largely the same, broken up by intermittant squirrels. In the unlikely event that Ed's status ever changes, I will alert you.

Well, it's changed. My girl is nearly 11 now, and it shows. I'm having to lift her to her feet this week, so painful is a bulging disk in her spine. She screams in pain when trying to lift things off the ground. It's ugly. I'm administering steroids fours times a day in the hopes that the swelling will go down enough for her to be nominally ambulatory. This is not going to be a fun week. A visit to the vet this morning found me saying "Wait a second. You want me to take her off incontinence medication, put her on a steroid that will increase her thirst, and give her a muscle relaxant? Did I throw you down a flight of stairs in a previous life, or something?"

the wit and wisdom of jessica alba

Jessica Alba.jpgI left the film Sin City feeling decidedly scammed out of seven bucks. Oh, I liked the film for what it was, but for me there was no getting past the following act of fraud: I had just paid to see Jessica Alba act. Cash. I felt deceived, my trust abused. Never again, I vowed, would I pay money to see that dime-store mannequin strain to simulate something approximating human emotions or polysyllabic words.

And then a quote came to my attention. On a page opposite this photo, under a paragraph that contains both her measurements and her saying "I got plenty of ass," Miss Alba laments "I look forward to the day when I can do a small movie and act."

Indeed. That makes two of us.

minke, orcas, and porpoises, oh my

In what was surely my last long-distance excursion of the year, Minette and I boated the 100 mile round-trip to San Juan Island. She saw her first harbor porpoises immediately, so we got that merit badge out of the way. Between Smith and Whidbey Islands, she spotted our first Minke whale (~25'), which proved maddeningly hard to photograph—it dove for four minutes at a time in 150' deep water, and, well, I certainly didn't spot a pattern. We headed up to Lopez to look for the solitary gray whale there but didn't find it, and the resident orcas weren't where we'd hoped they'd be west of SJI, so we headed due south for Hein Bank. Voila. A pod of residents. All in all, a fabulously successful day.

No terribly exciting whale photos, but the harbor seals accommodated me nicely.



Minke dorsal fin

i'm running out of percy headlines

In painting my house, I chose a color several shades darker than the one Thelm@ kindly deemed "too dark" and "ugly." I had a vicious retort at the ready, so naturally the anticipated rude comment never came. (For the record, it was "Well, look at the bright side. You won't have to look at it too much longer, what with your dying soon.") But the project was not without its Percinality. When the painters arrived, we talked shop for maybe half an hour, and then I went to work. They said my car wasn't even out of my driveway when Percy and Theml@ descended upon them and asked to see the paint colors. They were less than thrilled, so that's something.

timpano redux

New content added below, 9/24

I've had several requests for the timpano recipe. I've been reluctant to share, as I'm still experimenting, so I'll compromise by sharing the original recipe, plus my notes to date:

  • A very prep-friendly dish. Although prep takes hours, it's easy to do it a day ahead of time, then assemble and bake right before guests arrive.
  • Recipe as written doesn't specify bowl size, which is a kinda huge oversight. Ingredient proportions are also suspect. Half the dough you need for 14.5" bowl, yet twice the ziti.
  • I bought my timpano bowls from this vendor. The enormous 14.5" bowl would feed 14 people. The 12" bowl will nicely feed 8. Get the 12. If he doesn't have it listed, just email him.
  • Recipe provides weird dimensions for provolone and salami. Make them 1/4" x 1/4" x 2" strips.
  • Eggs aren't nearly as weird as I thought they'd be.
  • You can't use too much lubricant in the bowl. Mine was like David Carr's hair, and there were no ill effects.
  • Bland as written. Meatballs and ragu are flavorless. Season ragu better; replace meatballs with browned disks of hot Italian sausage. Add zesty foods such as kalamata olives, capers and and priscutto.
  • Ideas for future: artichoke hearts, roasted cloves of garlic.
  • Respect recipe's calls for watery ragu. This dish tends toward serious dryness. Make enough sauce for a marinara on the side.
• • •

This section added 9/24

From esteemed CheckRaise troll Charmell comes this note.

Hey, John. I just woke up and turned on the TV. It just so happens that a show called "NapaStyle" is on. The host has a special guest on to teach him how to make a timpano, of all things. I watched with interest, thinking of your blog and vowing to NEVER make this recipe if I intend to avoid using insulin as a type 2 diabetic.

Anyway, I noted some alternatives to the recipe you provided. The main surprise is that they used a springform pan instead of a bowl. They did insist on lots of butter for a problem-free release after baking.

The shape was a little funny; before cutting, it looked like a giant, overdone cheesecake.

My two cents: I can't imagine timpano without the crispiness and appearance that the enamelware bowl provides. Not to mention that rounding corners with the raw dough (the interior bottom of the springform pan) seems like it would be very, very difficult, if not structurally fragile. That said, if your fear factor is prohibitively high, this seems like a good way of paring down risk.


GULFPORT, Mississippi (AP) -- Tom Leynes once was a carpenter, a popular man with an apartment just a block off the beach, "a happy guy."

Today Leynes lives in a fly-covered pup tent. He's bearded and haggard, each day wearing the same camouflage green shorts and thousand-yard stare. He's trying to fend off a deepening depression with cans of beer and Valium, and on some days the 49-year-old man is barely coherent.

I don't have the heart to give this guy a WTFF award, but Jesus H. If you're depressed, here's a thought: stop taking freakin' depressants.

bobby brown's playlist

One of the more interesting parts of iTunes, Apple's online music store, is the celebrity playlist section. If you care what Howie Mandel is listening to and why, you can find and buy it, but I'm far more interested in what musicians I respect are listening to. Would you have guessed that you'd find Hendrix, Eminem and Jerry Lee Lewis on George Clinton's playlist? Or Gordon Lightfoot, Hendrix, and Vince Guaraldi on Weezer's? This cross-pollination stuff is fascinating to me, as are the comments the artists make about their selections. Of Smokey Robinson's "Shop Around," for instance, Clinton says "My introduction to Motown and my inspiration to become a songwriter." Good stuff. I wouldn't have guessed that.

Which brings us to Bobby Brown's playlist. Half-assed idiot-savant Bobby apparently listens to a lot of Bobby Brown and New Edition. Of his own work, he says such insightful things as "I sang this song. It's on my upcoming LP."

Clap. Clap. Clap.

fake wedding

Elan and I met on Valentine's Day. Intoxicated by whimsy y mas tequila, we had some woman marry us in a bar that night. When we subsequently went to Vegas a few months later, it seemed only natural that we mock-renew our mock-vows in the nation's most mock-romantic mock-city. "I want to try a sociological experiment," I said. And thus did I email Dorkass the following two photos, my only comment being "Hey mom, look what we just did."



Bedlam ensued. My experiment worked beyond my wildest dreams. Dorkass was, by all accounts, hysterical. She went so far as to contact the chapel, which I'd instructed to say that yes, we were really married. Dorkass being the Western world's leading disseminator of information, it wasn't long before Elan and I were crushed in email and phone calls from across the country. People panicked. People congratulated us. Jilted men worldwide knocked the earth off its axis a bit by simulatenously screaming "Him?!" Someone ran an announcement in the Microsoft newsletter. My co-workers voted on baby names and filled my office with 300 pounds of rice. In retrospect, our only regret was that we didn't register for gifts.



Once again, the evolution of communications:

Tell Dorkass

When I went to look at the truck, the first thing I noticed was the owner's dog running off-leash right in front of my moving car—always a sign of a devoted animal lover. I knocked right above the enormous pro-fish Christian symbol thingie actually carved into the house's front door. The door opened, revealing that the owner was an old white fart. Ah. It all makes sense now. We talked, and he said he was selling off some belongings in order to buy one of them infernal sailboats that are constantly requiring me to change course. During my test drive, I listened to someone like Rush Limbaugh who wasn't Rush Limbaugh but clearly wanted to be. I don't know. They all sound alike to me. I hit the radio buttons, only to find talk radio and Christian stations. After I paid for the car, he followed me to my house, up Metamuville Road. Speed limit: 55. Speed at which he hopelessly fell back: 45.

It was a remarkable convergence of irritating traits. If only he'd knock up one of my friends while wearing his ponytail through a "USC: Back-to-Back National Champions" cap, we'd have perfection.

percy adds to his case file against me

Yesterday, I bought the oddest boat accessory yet: an old, gas-guzzling pickup truck for towing. The idea is that I can replace my 'tweener Jeep (tweener = lousy mileage + poor towing capability) with a beater truck I'll use twice a year and a car that gets good gas mileage. It took Percy 16 hours to inquire about the new arrival.

"Did you buy a truck?" Officer Percy snarls.

"Yes." He needn't know why.

This news causes him to look exactly like he's trying to pass a small sea urchin out his urethra. "Do you still have that boat?"


"Where is it moored?" I recognize the question as one he asked Kiki months ago, to no avail.

I tell him.

"Do you still have your place in Redmond?"

Man, Percy, why don't you just cut to the chase and ask for a copy of my W-2?

busboy and becky jr.

In retrieving my boat from its mechanic at Deception Pass, I found myself riding a sequence of impossibly slow Whidbey Island buses. Early on, I noticed a fellow passenger, a young woman with a singularly distracting quality. Jesus, she looks like Becky. I mean, she really looks like her. Sparkly and pretty and fat elbows and everything. I ducked a man who was probably homeless and clearly mentally retarded. (I duck everyone nowadays, so don't think ill of me. Yet.) Becky Jr. smiled at him, and he sat next to her. You asked for it, lady. There'll be no getting rid of him now. They conversed, she asking questions not out of forced politeness, but out of genuine interest in this weathered soul. Hmm. That's like Becky, too. Graceful. They talked, they laughed, and the man went on his way, nodding and smiling at me as he disembarked. I smiled back, nearly pulling a muscle in my face. Later we changed buses, and Becky Jr. and I were still together. Perhaps sensing another charity case, she struck up a conversation, and, as with her namesake, soon we were having a lively, lovely conversation. We spoke animatedly of our lives and origins, and of course our plans for that day. I was on my way to my boat, which I would drive the length of Whidbey to my waiting car. She was going to the Puyallup Fair to see some act I'd never heard of. It was delightful, one of the best conversations I've had since moving to Seattle, and it was all her making it work. Finally, toward the end, she proposed combining our two days; she would join me on the boat-ride back, then we'd go to the fair. (Man, I love when women step up like that.) It was intriguing. Jesus, though, she looks like Becky. Didn't Becky have relatives on Whidbey Island? I declined, feeling residual bad taste well up in the back of my throat. Huh. She's great, yet I'm not interested. Sigh. I ain't ready for this yet. Nope. Stupid A.W. Did I politely decline, perhaps even leaving the door open a crack? Did I at least decline graciously, as she deserved? Oh hell no.

"No thanks. I went to the Puyallup Fair a couple years ago."


Slam! goes the door. I think laughing in her face would have been less rude than the dismissive crap that spewed out of my mouth.

Busboy ain't right.

marge simpson's hair

Because I spend so much of my time sitting in a car on ferries, I've taken to DVDs in a big way. I've even listened to the commentary for every Simpsons cartoon through Season 6, where the DVDs stop. Yes, I acknowledge that that's the very pinnacle of geekdom. But I bet you don't know why Marge's hair is so tall: when he designed her, creator Matt Groening intended to one day reveal that she was one of his "Life in Hell" rabbits. The hair, then, was to conceal her rabbit ears.

Groening has since abandoned the idea. Good call.

sunday mornings

I discovered the pleasures of this ritual last football season, my first without romantic complications. I get up at 7am and, via the Internet, tune into Pittsburgh sports radio for three hours of Steelers talk. I bake while I listen. Yesterday, I made wheat bread, and I pulled pizza dough out of the fridge and chopped ingredients while listening to my fellow fans. At 9:40, the pizza slid on to the stone. At 10am, I tune into the televised game and ratchet the sound way down so that I can listen to the local announcers instead, and then I munch on whatever food I had just prepared. Including the post-game wrap up show, it's a glorious eight hours of me-time. And it's over by 3pm, so I still have considerable day left for them-time.

When I was back east, I had no understanding of how wonderful it is to watch sports on the west coast. Sure, I knew that 1pm football games started at 10am there, and that sounded weird and wrong, but now I know better. My games end by 1pm. There's a whole day remaining. Baseball games and Monday Night Football wrap up promptly by 11pm, so they don't cut short your night's sleep. Bliss.

barney fife lives

When the fan went splat! in New Orleans, police converted a Greyhound bus station into a makeshift jail for looters. Implausibly, this event serves as a perfect illustration of what different people Carla and I are. When Carla heard this moronic cop boast about arresting a man who drove to the bus station in a stolen car, she felt compelled to write a thoughtful treatise on presumption and race. Me, I'm stunned by the sage detective work here. A man steals a car, drives it to a bus station, and tries to buy a freaking bus ticket—naturally, the cop concludes that the man "looted" the car. Really, Enis? Really? Was the car going to be stowed luggage or carry on?

friendly advice

I'm painting the exterior of my house this week, and I ran some of my color ideas past eight friends. They polarized perfectly. One person's favorite scheme was the ugliest thing someone else ever saw, an aesthetic abomination to the point, really, of immorality. Okay, fine. I expected as much. But it doesn't end there. Some folks have invested their egos in their choices, and my making a slightly different selection than their preference has wrought much scorn and offense. This was unexpected. To those whose feelings I hurt, I offer my most contrite, humble and heartfelt "you are waaaaay out of line." A one-time solicitation of opinion does not equal ongoing, hypercritical carte blanche.

This got me thinking about unwelcome criticism. Some folks have earned a license to give unsolicited advice, and others haven't. God help me, my ex Allie bears such a license. She had Khristi and the AW pegged long before anyone else did, including and especially me, and although that fact chafes my butt, I can't ignore such a valuable source of insight. The single best piece of unsolicited advice came from Elizabeth, who pointed out that I was repeating a pattern so disturbing, I had to pull over the car and recover from her observation.

The worst advice I've ever gotten, in contrast, is a tie.

#1a Upon hearing that I wanted to be a technical writer, Dad scoffed that there was no such profession and that I was doomed to a life of destitution. Years later, when forced to confront my success in this fictitious field, he became enraged and accused me of subsidizing my surely meager income by selling drugs. Yep. Dad was a genius.

#1b A related tale. Like, apparently, my friends, my brother has tremendous ego invested in people doing what he suggests. When in the 80s I decided his advice was dead wrong and I bought—GASP!—a personal computer, he went positively batshit. He told anyone who'd listen how I was throwing money around on impractical extravagances. You'd have thought I blew a fortune on strippers, not made a minor investment upon which my entire career would later be predicated. True story: three years ago, he finally relented and bought his daughters a computer. An Apple II. As in pre-Macintosh. As in 1982. He was outraged that no software is available for it. Yep. Genius runs in the family.

this week's "things i just don't get"

Why do people ridicule W. for taking long vacations in Crawford? Me, I'd much rather he kick back than govern. In related news, I see on my counters that we're not even at the halfway point between "Attack of the Clones" and the end of W's reign of error.

Why is Alicia Keys considered an Important, Thoughtful Artist? Have you actually listened to her lyrics? They sound like they were written by an eight year old. But hey, she got rich like Oprah and Stedman, so what do I know?

Why do people see sea lions and porpoises feeding, drive their boat right on top of them, and then wonder why they left?

Why do Seattle bicyclists think they're indestructable? Just because you technically have the right of way doesn't make you any more visible or less dead.

Since every new parent I know tells essentially the same story about The Miracle, doesn't it stop becoming miraculous after a while?

Do the Democrats really think Hillary can win a general election? Stop inhaling.

When did it become an integral part of the game-going experience for sports fans to seek out opposing fans and try to ruin their good time? A little good-natured trash talk is fine, especially if it's reciprocal. I'm talking about incessant, moronic, unprovoked abuse.

Why do OWFWOSOE (Old White Farts with Overdeveloped Senses of Entitlement) think that driving ten mph below the speed limit and forcing everyone to pass them constitutes safe driving?

we have met the enemy, and he is irs

I got fan mail from the IRS yesterday. If I do not pay $75,000 in "undeclared" taxes and penalties for 2003 by October 6, I will be prosecuted. I yawned and looked at my watch. Is it okay to call Johnnie Viccilo at home? No, I won't do that. This can wait. Maybe I'll wait until October 5, just to make it sporting.

We met three years ago, when I got a similar letter from the IRS saying that I owed a mere 65k. I did not yawn then. I felt bolts of pain arcing up and down my left arm. I had just moved to Metamuville, and that complicated my problem for two reasons: 1) it took the threatening mail until two days before my incarceration to reach me, and 2) I had no idea which of a thousand boxes my financial papers were in. Worse, I was going on a trip the next day. I needed help, and I needed it fast.

"I know a guy who knows a guy," said an Italian friend. (Hint: foreshadowing)

And thus did I end up in the absurdly lush law offices of one Johnnie Viccilo, my sweaty gym shorts leaving my imprint on multi-thousand dollar chairs. I was early, but Johnnie was right on time, apparently coming from a movie set. He was spectacularly Italian: expensive silk suit but no tie; shirt unbuttoned at the collar, exposing bushels of gray and black chest hair; gold chains around his neck; gold bracelet on one wrist, gaudy Rolex on the other. And an aura of power unlike any I've ever known. This man could crush me, I knew. He was polite but lightening fast, and he didn't speak in tongues like most tax guys. He wasn't a tax guy at all. He was a Fixer.

He spoke in a soft, economical, ludicrously confident manner, in an Italian dialect, of course. As he spoke, never once less than certain that the IRS stood no chance, he skimmed my financial forms. After seeing my paystub, he went to our contract and under "retainer" crossed out "$20,000" and wrote "$200." You try not to feel neutered by that. After skimming my forms for 30 seconds, he paged someone, the accountant who would actually do my taxes. While we waited for him, Johnnie asked me about my impending trip back East. "You ever been to Primanti Brothers?"

"Yes, sir."

"You like?"

Uh-oh. I happen to prefer my roast beef sandwiches without french fries and coleslaw mashed into them by bare hands of dubious hygiene.

"No, sir." My knees shook. My god, I hope they aren't relatives.

"That's all right," he mused. Thank christ. "It's an acquired taste."

The accountant arrived. Johnnie barked some terse instructions at him, introduced us, and abruptly dispatched me. I rose and headed to the door. Johnnie grabbed my arm. We locked eyes.

"John, you go on your trip. Have a good time. Don't worry 'bout this little ting one bit." His tone turned from warm to insanely confident. "It's taken care of."

My knees continued to shake on the elevator, but I went on my trip secure in the knowledge that whoever my faceless accuser was at the IRS, they were about to get theirs. What "get" entailed, I wasn't sure, but I didn't want to ask. I heard from Johnnie's office one last time, a quick note thanking for my business and saying the matter was resolved. I never again heard from the IRS on the matter.

welcome to the show, norm chow

Missing Cal and Stanford somethin' awful, aren't you?

rampant ismism

I once dated a woman with an infuriating argumentation style. She would tell me what I thought and felt. That's galling enough, but she didn't stop there; if I said what I thought and it contradicted her expectation, she would correct me. We were young, needless to say, but still: it takes sheer intellectual chutzpah to say to someone, "No, you don't think x. You think y." It wasn't her being controlling and trying to lead me somewhere, either; she was trying to forcibly shoehorn me into her stubborn view of the world. It's amusing the first couple of times, but after day in, day out of your S.O. saying she knows you better than you do, you're pushed to the brink of insanity. It soon became my hot-button, a button I retain to this day.

I think of this often when I see people lightly throw -ism (and its sister affixes, anti- and -ic) around.

That this presidential administration was too slow in responding to the hurricane is generally accepted, even by them, but it's not enough for some people. W. can't be merely incompetent and uncaring. It must be some deep-seeded evil. Racism, classism, cronyism, someism. And those who oppose the administration? Why, they're elitist, classist, unpatriotic, anti-troop, anti-business, anti-Christian, tax-lovin', terrorist-coddlin' baby murderers.

Another favorite example: "sexist" language. This is what academics now call someone using the pronoun "he" gender-neutrally, as in "When someone votes for Kerry, he is being unpatriotic." Mind you, I do not quibble with using "he or she" here; my complaint is with Mom being told that merely writing the way she was taught to write is a "sexist" act. Can't we just say "archaic?" "Gender-biased?" Why the personal attack? Why purport to know of an sinister motivation behind, of all things, a choice of pronouns?

Because ismism is power. When we purport to divine what evils occupy others' hearts, it not only controls the terms of the debate in our favor; it puts them on the defensive, in a position of having to prove a negative. Bush can't prove he's not racist any more than Kerry can prove he's not unpatriotic or Mom can prove she's not a sexist. It's a lazy, hurtful form of argumentation. It's the cheapest of the cheap shots.*

*Except for the yes-or-no question "Are you still beating your wife?" That still reigns supreme.

new york style pizza crust

To those who care, last night I finally achieved an authentic New York style crust. It even passed the acid test; Mark raved "Two wop thumbs up!" High-gluten flour and cold-rising are the keys. As a bonus, East Coast refugees can use the flour to make bagels.

The recipe for one 15" pie:

3½ cups high-gluten flour
1 cup plus 2 TB warm water
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

  1. In a stand mixer, mix everything but oil on low speed until ingredients come together and form a scrappy dough. Add oil and mix for a few seconds longer until it's incorporated into the dough.
  2. Set mixer to medium speed and knead the dough for a full 15 minutes.
  3. Place dough in a large oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap.
  4. Place dough in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The dough will rise only slightly, perhaps 30%.
  5. Let warm to room temperature prior to tossing or rolling. The dough will be unusually soft.
  6. If you want the traditional puffy NYC crust, roll half an inch of the edge upon itself and pinch.
  7. I'm not telling you how to make a whole freakin' pizza. Stop reading.

Hines WardIn honor of this weekend, the glorious beginning of football season, I will address a serious personal shortcoming. It has come to my attention that Jen reached the quarter-century mark of her life without understanding the concept of downs. That this occurred on my watch is inexcusable, and for failing her I humbly apologize to Jen, her various boyfriends, her cats, and all the women in building 24 (the men being a miniscule subset of "her various boyfriends"). As my punishment, I'm going to create a football FAQ for novices. The first installment follows.

• • •

Although simple, downs are not at all transparent. As a child, it took me years to sift through the confusion and "get" it. I could have asked my father, but I intuitively understood that to do so would be akin to asking him why I had no penis. Not prepared to do that, either, I lumped it and tried to figure it out on my own. Let no reader of mine undertake this thankless enterprise.

Understanding downs

Before you understand downs, you have to understand the bigger picture, and since you're still reading, odds are good you don't. From goal post to goal post, a football field is 120 yards long. The 10 yards on each end are called the "end zone," and the 100 yards that separate them are what the whole game is about. Football is essentially a tug-of-war using a ball. A team tries to advance the ball to its own end zone, and if its progress stalls, it must give possession of the ball back to the other team, who will advance the ball the other direction. The progress of the advancement is measured in the dread "downs."

Downs are almost-but-not-quite synonymous with "plays." Think of a down as a chance to execute a single play. Each possession of the ball begins with four downs. If you don't advance the ball ten yards in four plays, the ball goes back to the other team. If you advance the ball ten yards (cumulatively) in those four plays, you're given a fresh set of four downs. This is when the ref says "First down!" and the crowd cheers. It's a minor milestone: progress has been made, possession of the ball has been retained, and we're that much closer to scoring. So a touchdown drive, then, will usually consist of several sets of downs, or in the vernacular, several first downs.

The jargon

To illustrate, let's say my beloved Steelers take possession of the ball on their own 20 yard line. It's first and 10, which means "first down in this series of downs, ten yards to go until we get another first down." We may have 80 yards to go before we score a touchdown, but we only need 10 yards to achieve a new set of downs. The quarterback, who you will not identify by commenting on his physical beauty, completes a 15 yard pass. The ball is on the 35 yard line. It's now 1st down and 10 yards to go again, or in the vernacular, "1st and 10 from the 35." He throws an incomplete pass. It's 2nd and 10. Duce Staley runs the ball for six yards, pulling his hamstring in the process. He'll miss six weeks, but it's now 3rd and 4 from the 41. The quarterback runs for 7 yards. First down! It's 1st and 10 from the 48. Got it?

If you're watching on TV, the first down is often represented by a bright yellow line superimposed on the field. If the team advances the ball to that line, it's a first down. Some network genius thought this made the games easier to follow, but personally, I find it distracting.

The confusing stuff

Punts. Say the quarterback was stopped for no gain on that last play. It's 4th down and 4 yards to go. If we don't make those four yards, the other team gets the ball right here on the 41, which is a disaster. For this reason, teams usually elect to punt (kick) the ball to the other team on fourth down, which moves the ball an additional 40 yards or so—in this case lengthening the distance they have to advance the ball from 41 to 81 yards.

Penalties. If a player breaks a rule, the refs assess a penalty that adversely adjusts the down and distance. For example, if an offensive player illegally grasps a defender, that's called "holding." The penalty: you replay the down, but the offense has ten more yards to go than before. So if Plaxico Burress is caught holding on 3rd down and 1 yard to go, it's now 3rd and 11 and Steeler fans are building a Plaxico effigy. The penalty adjustments vary wildly; just listen to the ref.

"...and goal."If the team advances the ball to within 10 yards of the end zone, sometimes no first down is possible. This is indicated by the announcer saying "and goal" instead of the distance to the next first down. So if the Steelers run the ball 20 yards to the 9 yard line, it's 1st and goal from the nine. After they run for one yard, it's 2nd and goal from the 8. And so on.

The orange stakes. If you look on the sideline, you'll see two failed jocks holding orange stakes, which are connected by a 10-yard chain. One stake denotes where the set of downs began, and the other stake denotes where the team has to advance the ball to achieve a new first down. So the team is always playing between them, right? Wrong. This is perfectly true...until penalties are applied and the team backs up so far that they're playing outside the two stakes. It confuses people, but now you know what's happening.

Next week: making insightful comments during a game

showing off the new lens

Metamuville, September 7

cruiseship 024.jpg


what a friend we have in private katrina

There's an direct correlation, I've decided, between how full of shit your religion is and how much you claim hurricane Katrina affirms your religious beliefs.

Fundy Christians in this country point to the hurricane as empirical evidence of God's fury over our decadence and corruption. Apparently drunk, God killed scores of believers, yet left the decadent and corrupt French Quarter completely intact. Nice shot. To be fair, other Fundy Christians point to the hurricane's last second course change away from New Orleans as empirical evidence of God's grace. Uh, yeah. Clearly, God answered your prayers when he killed thousands and flooded only 90% of New Orleans. It's the Frequent Pray-er Discount: 10% off retail.

Not to be outdone, and still basking in triumph over the Battle of the Lone Downed Helicopter, Fundy Islamics hail the hurricane as empirical evidence of God's anger at America. They've even granted "Private Katrina" an honorary commission in their grand and mighty imaginary army. The Islamic God, who apparently had nothing to do with last week's tragic Iraqi bridge collapse or the Muslim-slaughtering tsunami, is powerful enough to send a hurricane to kill Americans, yet not powerful enough to make it a Category 5. Or to hit a city more populous than New Orleans. Or for that matter, to hit New Orleans squarely. Or to take out the city's cash cow, the French Quarter.

I think it's time for a fight-to-the-death cage match: born-again fucktards vs. jihadist goons. No matter who loses, the rest of us win.

• • •

Something I've been mulling over: I know that Americans and the rest of the Western world poured millions upon millions in donations into the Muslim countries devastated by the tsunami, and that legions of us remain there to help the victims cope, but I never heard about the surely intensive charitable efforts of that great self-appointed guardian of Islam, al Qaeda. Stupid biased media.

• • •

In related news, did you see this freakshow email yet? A veritable treasure trove of logic, it is.


The image of the hurricane above with its eye already ashore at 12:32 PM Monday, August 29 looks like a fetus (unborn human baby) facing to the left (west) in the womb, in the early weeks of gestation (approx. 6 weeks). Even the orange color of the image is reminiscent of a commonly used pro-life picture of early prenatal development. In this picture, and in another picture in today's on-line edition of USA Today, this hurricane looks like an unborn human child.

Louisiana has 10 child-murder-by-abortion centers - FIVE are in New Orleans

Baby-murder state # 1 - California (125 abortion centers) - land of earthquakes, forest fires, and mudslides

Baby-murder state # 2 - New York (78 abortion centers) - 9-11 Ground Zero

Baby-murder state # 3 - Florida (73 abortion centers) - Hurricanes Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne in 2004; and now, Hurricane Katrina in 2005

God's message: REPENT AMERICA !

Clearly, hurricanes, terrorists, floods, quakes. et. al. started with Roe v. Wade.

• • •

I found this while confirming the above. The Resistible Link of the Millennium: "To View Helpless babies murdered by abortionists like Barnett Slepian click here." Oh boy, can I?

cease fire, epilogue

Congress is creating a bi-partisan, 9/11-style commission to analyze the federal hurricane response. Excellent. What a novel concept: careful fact-finding before assigning blame.

look, up in the sky!

I had an amazing 24 hours of sky-watching. It began Monday night, when the waters of Puget Sound calmed down enough to reflect light, and red Mars rose over the horizon. A brilliant band of pink stretched for five miles right to my feet. Tuesday evening, I was relaxing in the hot tub and watching clouds go by when a giant bald eagle flew 40 feet overhead, searching for prey. When he flew directly over me, he completely stopped, midair, for maybe ten seconds, trying to ascertain whether my head was a big, bald rabbit. The maneuver defied physics. It was Wile E. Coyote sort of wrong. Then last night, while I sat on the back deck and listened to Dorkass talk about The Miracle, I saw the International Space Station whip from horizon to horizon. All that was nothing, though, compared to what happened next. A meteor splashed into the Sound not two miles from my house. For scale, imagine a red hot coal, about the size of your fingernail when held at arm's length, tumbling and falling at great speed while trailing a shower of distinct orange sparks. I've never witnessed the like: you could actually see the orange-yellow outline of the enormous meteor rock.

I'll save you from doing the algebra: using my fingernail and arm's length as a basis, the meteor was 88 feet in diameter.*

*Margin of error: +/- 85 feet

cease fire

It certainly didn't take long for the knives to come out regarding the hurricane. On the left, we have those who can't wait to blame Bush and the Iraq war for the slow response to the flooding. On the right, we have those who blame the victims for not having evacuated. In between, we have those of us who suspect there might, just might, be more constructive ways to invest the vast energies being expended on crass, divisive blame-games. To the blamers: although self-gratification is of paramount importance to you, most of us have other priorities this week, and those include promoting cooperation, not exacerbating divisions. Grab your checkbook or a bucket and shut the fuck up.

broken flowers

Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers is the kind of film in which the camera lingers Very Importantly on every dropped item or closed door. Not every dropped item or closed door is dramatically interesting, mind you, nor are they made so by your extra 5-10 seconds of attention. If you're the type of viewer who enjoys staring at recently closed doors, then by all means, plunk down nine bucks and go nuts. If like me, you wish all of life had a 30-second skip button, you'll twitch with a profound sense of your time being wasted.

Bill Murray has won critical praise for his minimalist performance, and it's true that the man conveys more by staring at a television Very Importantly (you get several scenes of that) than most actors can with a full-blown soliloquy. But in the case of this film, in which he revisits old girlfriends of two decades prior, we would rather like to know what on earth any of the five women we meet ever, ever, ever, ever saw in this colorless, empty husk of a man. It's impossible to imagine him attracting another human being, or feeling anything himself, even lust. With all the talk of old times, nothing suggests that he's changed. This viewer left the theatre wondering if anyone like this, with this panoramic romantic history, had ever existed in the history of the planet. It feels false.

When I leave the theatre with a vague sense of having been lied to and a profound sense of having had my time wasted, no recommendation is forthcoming.



Shaking his head, John gets up from his desk and exits. Camera follows John to the bathroom, which he enters. John gently shuts the door behind him. Camera lingers meaningfully on door for 10 seconds. 15 tops.


funny strikes back

The "Katrina" headlines long ago stopped being amusing, of course. This morning, humor made a comeback, however brief. T-shirt being worn by relief workers in New Orleans: "WE'RE GONNA KICK KATRINA'S ASS"

I'll take two, please. Extra blimpy.

fire six! fire seven!

I'd be remiss if I didn't note that the new life Dorkass ushered into the world occured in the shadow of...even more new life. Yes, more Stank regulars—d'Andre and d'Pam, Kiki and Dirt—are in the family way. It never ends. Am I so fertile that every woman upon whom I cast a shadow gets knocked up?

Only one question remains: where did d'Andre buy sperm?

• • •

Meanwhile, Courtney sends me a card coyly saying "there's lots to fill you in on." Perhaps I should start a "seven scariest words" list.

kanye west's episode

Psssst, genius: your purpose at a fundraiser is to inspire people to donate money to the charity. Yeah, this really helps. Way to mitigate racial stereotypes in the media.

Worth watching just to see Mike Myers and Chris Tucker drown.

joss stone

I never checked out her music, 'cause, well, she's 18 and hot and I long ago learned to plug my ears when record companies push hot teenagers. This was a mistake. On Moni's endorsement, I checked Stone out, and the girl has a lovely R&B and blues voice. If you like soulful, unique R&B stylings, I encourage you to ignore that Britney-loathing voice in your head and check her out, too.

vanity, thy name is junior

I don't presume to generalize about why people have kids. There are obviously many avenues to that decision. Some of the parents I know love their kids quite obviously, and are engaged, involved parents of engaged, well-mannered children; I'm sure they had kids for all the right reasons, even if I don't quite understand. That makes sense enough; if I understood, I'd probably want kids. Fine. More often, though, I see parents who rotely blundered into the baby-making circumstance, like they blunder into most, simply because they failed to imagine another possible future. I've also met parents who failed to master the complexities of unrolling a condom, who wanted a kid that matches their couch, who wanted someone to love them, who had something to prove, and even who wanted extra hands on the farm. All are varying degrees of abhorrent, but no one so much as the vain parent. You know the type. His child is his path to immortality, his chance to raise a little version of himself. Same values, same interests and, all too often, same name. Is there any more narcissistic act than naming your child after yourself, really? Every time I meet a junior, I hear "vanity project."

old orleans

Today as yesterday, exhausted rescue workers are braving diseases and bullets and pushing dead bodies aside en route to the living. Today for the first time, W. finally responds to polls showing that we're collectively pretty pissed off about his sitting on his butt while rescue workers are braving bullets and disease and pushing dead bodies aside en route to the living. So yes, kids, he says he's doing a fly-over. No word yet on whether he'll wear a bomber jacket.


With all this ongoing, it's perhaps premature to talk about the long-term ramifications of the near-destruction of New Orleans, but my mind is going there anyway. Thoughts:

  • It won't be fully inhabitable for years, I'm guessing. Not that anyone will want to inhabit it. Now that so many have lost everything and been forcibly relocated, it's hard to imagine their going back. When you have the entire rest of the country to choose from, why would you take the path of greatest resistance and resettle in a place with no housing, no businesses, no infrastructure, no jobs, destruction and dead bodies everywhere, and oh yes, a place that almost killed you because it's built 6 feet below sea level? Only a profound sense of needing to rebuild what was lost would compel someone to return to New Orleans after this. There just aren't that many altruists.

  • Already one of the poorest states, Louisiana has lost most of its revenues and incurred unprecedented expenses all at once. How can it rebuild? Where do you start? What will be the ramifications for governing?

  • What happened to the people in hospitals, orphanages, nursing homes and prisons? It's not like there's an abundance of room elsewhere.

  • This hundred thousand or so survivors being bussed to Houston and San Antonio? They're not leaving. They have nothing to return to. Texas has generously welcomed them, but it's also taken upon itself an enormous long-term problem. How will all these new residents find jobs and places to live all at once? I'm guessing that by definition, those who remained in NO for the hurricane fall into three primary categories: the poor, the sick, and the stupid. All three categories will tax Texas for decades. The poor need expensive assistance and jobs. The sick take up hospital beds. The stupid are always a burden on society. How will these demographics' instant infusion change the host cities forever? Will their collective needs bankrupt Texas? Will rent skyrocket? Will wages plummet? Will Texan culture change? Will Mexican immigrants, legal and otherwise, suddenly find themselves without jobs?

  • I have great affection for New Orleans, so this one pains me. Since a complete rebuilding is necessary, we must ask: should a city built under sea level and, not coincidentally, destroyed by the sea even be rebuilt? If so, who pays for it? We need to weigh the emotional benefits against the practical. If we rebuild, for whom? Who wants to live there? See "path of greatest resistance," above.

  • Impending tastelessness alert: what cities are, as I type, crassly conspiring to host a Mardi Gras celebration next year? You know it's coming.

for houstonians

The Houston SPCA has been inundated with animals from Louisiana and is strapped not only for money but for household stuff like bowls, rope and old newspaper. Here's more info.


This summer has already seen twin miracles. First, Elizabeth finally delivered the afghan for which I purchased materials in 1995. To put this in perspective, when she promised the afghan, she was a bubbly, enthusiastic college senior; when she finally delivered it, she was an extra-crispy Microsoft burnout shopping for a retirement home. Second miracle: long after we'd both given up hope of her finding it, Annette returned the book she borrowed from me in 1997. If it were a loved one, it would be legally dead.

I'm on a roll, and I want the hat trick. Would whoever's had my "Best of War" cd since the last millennium kindly slip it under my mat?

moron taxonomy
stupid church signs
super bowl xl officiating
percy chronicles

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