September 2006 Archives

You have to be one of us to understand.


This time tomorrow, I'll be sick. This is typical of my species. I'm a midwesterner returning to the midwest, and like a salmon returning to the place of its birth, tonight around midnight I will invariably issue the edict that will be my gastrointestinal undoing: "A dozen sliders, please."

Chicago. White Castles. Their cheeseburgers are all I'm thinking about this morning. Wait. I just thought about a stuffed pizza. Okay, it's White Castles again. Their siren song has led me to many sleepless nights in cheap motels.

cheeseburger_lg.jpgIf you're not from one of the twelve regions White Castle serves, you won't understand. The lucky twelve hasn't changed since I was a kid. They printed them on the side of the slider box, and in my youth, I memorized them: Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Detroit, Minneapolis, Louisville, Nashville, New Jersey, New York, St. Louis.

What's seven times six? Let me get back to you. What was the name of the court house in Appomattox? I dunno. Do they have White Castles in Philadelphia? No, you have to drive to Jersey.

On Football Weekend last year, Carolina native Bubba had his first White Castle, at a gas station outside Ann Arbor. He was not impressed. His reaction was rather like mine to boiled peanuts, in his part of the world, years earlier. "People with other options eat this slimy crap?"

Yes we do. Sure, the ingredients are sub-school-cafeteria-grade, but the meat and bun and onions are steamed the way God intended. A dozen sliders, please. Hold the remarks.

Here's a photo of my rental car during Super Bowl week. The blue and white bags? Sliders.

etymological digression

A writer called the guy down the hall a "cocksucker."

I took the opportunity to derail the staff meeting before it could even begin. "You know I'm told that's a gay slur?" I said.



"No! Why?!?"

"Do I really have to explain?" said the incredulous gay guy.

The writer shook her head in denial. "No, no, no. That never even crossed my mind. A gay slur? Really? My whole life, that never crossed my mind."

Mine neither. The c-word is, in fact, a staple of my daily lexicon, and homosexuality is never remotely on my mind when I use it. Well, no, that's not entirely true. Every time I use the word, in my head I hear Stan the Flake responding, as he often did, with a mock-flirty "Oh, John. It juthst thounds tho THEXY when you thay it!" But I digress.

"Yeah, my buddy disabused me of that word a long time ago," I continued. "He said it was ragingly homophobic."

The writer would not be thrown under the bus. "But I only use that word because I hear you saying it all the time, John!"

The other staffers nodded their assent and proceeded to discuss the meaning behind my use of the term. The debate soon expanded to include my overall worth as a human being. And then I tried to change the subject.

"Okay, so what's wrong with 'buttfucking?'" Everyone groaned.

"Maybe I'm the wrong person to ask," the gay guy replied.

Complete pandemonium ensued. I work on the coolest staff around.

welcome, aaron!

Do be sure to say hi to your sister for me.

go away. go far away.

With as much as I bust the chops of the droves of instant Seahawk fans—who, with television blackouts due to poor attendance still a fresh memory, now celebrate themselves as the best fans in football—I can't let this one go. The Steelers now top the "Americans' favorite team" polls. Ick.

If there's an upside to starting 1-2, it'll be shaking these dregs from our ranks. If you didn't suffer the Stoudt/Woodley/Malone/Brister/Tomczak/Stewart years, you're not wanted. Beat it. Scram.

Everybody wants to get into heaven, but no one wants to die.

go away. go far away.
part ii

Terrell Owens hospitalized after suicide attempt

Do five pills even give you a buzz?

the spotted sea

I live on a stretch of Puget Sound that's seldom violent but even less often still. The narrowest expanse is five miles wide, and what with all the wind and currents and boats, I've never seen that expanse perfectly still. There's always a ripple in that five miles, somehow, somewhere. Until last night.

The sky was perfectly clear, the water stiller than ever before. And for the first time, the water was freckled with white lights. At first glance, I thought there were hundreds of boat lights. But no, at that moment, the water had actually formed a perfect mirror. Instead of smearing starlight into streaks, it reflected them perfectly. All of them. Centered in my bedroom window were two perfect Big Dippers, back to back. And a few thousand of their friends.

There was a time of my life where beholding this marvel alone would have been bittersweet, when I would have wished for someone to share it with. But not now. Now, if I think of anyone else at all, it's one thought only: "Thank God the AW isn't here to say something pretentious and ruin this."

This is growth, I guess.

I've had exactly two interactions with the AW since our relationship officially gasped its last. The first was several months after the breakup, when I was acquiring from her my ancient laptop. This gave me the chance to fire an unused bullet. "Be sure to comb it carefully for my old emails and save them to roses.txt," I said.

The next and last contact was no longer than that, but it has far more backstory.

In the years I was trying to return to teaching, I made contacts at an area university that happened to be the AW's alma mater. Every year, they invited me to be a guest speaker at their Spring careers lecture, where I conducted a writing workshop. Every year, I invited my girlfriend to come with me to her alma mater and see me in my natural element. And every year, she yawned and declined.

One November, the university offered me a job in the spring. I accepted. In December, the AW and I broke up. In March, I stepped behind the lectern again. In April I saw, on the walls outside my office, flyers advertising the guest lecturers who would be speaking to my students.

"Approval Whore, a manager from the Microsoft Corporation..."
Letting go of the fact that she wasn't a manager, I was incensed. Now, now she has an interest in the lecture series? I had an exceptionally cool class, and I told them about the ex weirdness. What I found disrespectful and hypocritical, they thought downright psychotic. "I'll give you guys killer questions for her—about her infidelities, her arrest in Oregon, etc." We all had a good laugh and then agreed that the easiest course was for none of them to attend the lecture.

Soon I got mail that announced the guest lecturers, and I took that opportunity to make my displeasure known. I forwarded it to the AW.

"Thanks for the respectful distance. I'll be sure my students are exceedingly well prepared for your Q&A."
That would be our last contact.

I showed the flyer to friends on her team at work. "You don't have, like, skilled people you could send to talk to my students?" Word trickled back that she hadn't mentioned the lecture to anyone there, not so much as to ask for the day off. And then I didn't think about it for several months.

The day of the lecture, the AW marched into her boss's office and excitedly announced that a special, "spur of the moment opportunity" to lecture at her alma mater had just dropped into her lap. Yes, the AW would need to miss deadlines and screw over people at work, but this opportunity was just too special to pass up. The boss grudgingly let her go. And while she was gone, the flyer made its way from my friends to the boss.

When the AW returned and boasted about how fantabulous a lecturer she was, the boss confronted her about the flyer. Caught in a needless and gargantuan lie, the AW then did what she does best. She burst into tears.

"I don't know how much you know about my personal life, but I'm coming out of a really abusive relationship situation," she sobbed about her cheating on me and my not caring.

"He's been trying to bully and intimidate me," she wept about her following me to my new employer and volunteering to meet my students. "I used to cave in, to let him control me. But here, this one time, I finally stood up to him! And I'm proud of myself for having the courage to face down his intimidation! I'm proud of myself for going!"

Welcome once again to Planet AW, where lying, cheating, and gross disrespect are unassailable virtues. And oh yeah. She's a manager now.

staving off stupidification

The votes are in. 10 out of 10 people my age report that we're way stupider than we were a decade ago. I find myself apologetically telling people things like "I used to be so much smarter. Trust me."

I most notice the intellectual degradation at my job. Work is the control variable. Work hasn't much changed, but my capacity for dealing with it sure has. I'm slower. I miss things. It takes me longer to figure new things out. And remembering things? Please. Without taking copious notes, I wouldn't remember where my office is. Which is doubly sad, because it's in my house.

I'll allow that some of this is due to my not caring anymore, but not all of it is. I can no longer "turn it on" and do great work when I want to. My leading theory is that brain cells are flat-out dying. The rest of me is deteriorating apace; why would the brain be any different?

I'm not sure how much of this is atrophy. It's worth considering, though, since atrophy is the only theory I can actually address. Certainly the farther I get from school, the longer I have to explain to amateur editors that "because" is no different than any other subordinating conjunction, the more that ex-girlfriends and new parents comprise my social circle...the more gooified my mind is becoming. Meanwhile, in my four years of living in Metamuville, I have met exactly one college graduate, and he was on a Big Ten football scholarship. Enough said.

I'm betting, then, that part of the problem is indeed environmental. Praying, even. Hoping to stave off the ravages of stupidity, I've turned off the TV and upped my heavy reading quotient. I'm forcing myself to interact with bright people whom I do not like. "Let me know how it works," bid 9 out of 9 friends my age.

Falling asleep while reading dry material, wanting to punch the throat of the pontificating windbag to my left—it's college all over again.

newsweek: women in leadership

The latest Newsweek cover features their annual salute to women in leadership roles. In her regular editorial, that well-meaning airhead Anna Quindlen hails the very existence of this salute as a breakthrough for womankind.

Were it executed well, I might well agree. But Nancy Pelosi, the imminent first female Speaker of the House and highest ranking woman in our government ever, is not mentioned. That noted marginalizer of Cheney and Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice, is not mentioned. Sherry Lansing, the first woman to head a movie studio and the woman who green-lit Titanic? Nope. Indra Nooyi, the first female CEO of Pepsico? Shamila Kohestani, an Afghan woman who defies very real death threats from Islamic fundamentalists in order to play soccer? Oprah, even? Anyone? Anyone?

No, with a world of accomplished females to choose from, Newsweek led the story with noted leaders Danica Patrick and Queen Latifah. A breakthrough for women, indeed.


mailbag part deux

All right, now we're talking. It turns out there's nothing as motivating as my comparing y'all unfavorably to myself. Here, at last, are a few examples of unselfish kindness.

I observed a manager taking responsibility for her report's screw-ups, for no reason other than to deflect blame from the report at promotion time. Yes, for this and all instances, some will assume the worst and say "She's just trying to get into heaven," or whatever cynical motive they reflexively ascribe to people. (Perhaps in order to excuse their own selfishness?) Given this manager's sheepish humility, I believe in the purity of motive. She simply chose to be inconvenienced so that someone else wouldn't be clobbered.

A woman's car was hit, and the fellow left a note. Perhaps he was afraid of being caught, perhaps not. But the woman is moving mountains not to involve his insurance company, to protect this stranger, and there's nothing whatsoever in that grief for her.

A man chose to buy the more expensive of two like items, so that a less well-off person could buy the cheaper item.

A reader writes at length of the way her freshly widowed mother put her own needs aside in order to attend to everyone else's. "My mom had things she needed to do, preparations to be made, not to mention her own grief to deal with. But she spent the whole day of her husband's death taking care of everyone else who loved him."

A disabled woman took in her adult niece, babysitting the niece's two small children and supporting them, because the niece's own parents are too selfish to help.

A man replanted his elderly neighbor's gardens after teenage punks tore them to shreds for kicks.

A different breed of teenager used his grass-cutting monies to travel from Indiana to New Orleans and help dig it out.

Dorkass watched what Frank Frank wanted to watch on TV.*

See? This isn't so hard.

*I might have made this up.

cumming first since 1832

It's not quite a stupid church sign, but check out this Georgia church's url:


Several readers wrote to ask if the Marge story was true. Alas, only her name was fake. In fact, she called be a day later to ask if I needed a ride back to the mechanic. So lovely to hear her melodious voice again.

Here are the results of my challenge to name an instance of human kindness untainted by self-interest: bupkus. Oh, I heard from readers, but the overwhelming response to my plea was a scolding—the problem lies with my fantastical expectations, not with human beings being unduly selfish. Thanks for the beatdown. It really mitigated my disgust with people. Other readers thought I had posed some sort of paradoxical Zen koan thing and waxed about how kindness is an inherently selfish act.

I call bullshit. I make decisions every day, without fanfare, with remorse, to address someone else's needs at the expense of my own. I'd assumed we all did that. Usually the cost to me is trivial; sometimes it's not. I'm now not sure why I bother. Reading your responses depressed the hell out of me, frankly. I had assumed—desperately hoped, even—that I was not among the finest specimens the human race has to offer. I certainly shouldn't be. But the majority who wrote took a synchronized backward step and left me standing alone, the unwitting volunteer.

God help us all. Satan, even. Whatever works.

when sociopath met psychopath

I ventured into the outside world yesterday, always a mistake. Leaving my Jeep at the mechanic, I accepted a ride home aboard their courtesy van. A forty-something woman named Marge appeared, keys in hand. "Ready freddie?"

It would be the last vaguely sane thing I heard her say.

Things I learned during my ride with Marge:

  • Rachel Ray is cute and all, but watching her push her hair out of her eyes makes Marge want to take her hunting knife to Rachel's bangs. "Can you just imagine how much hair is in her food? It's like hospitals. No wonder there are so many staph injections, with the way people's hair is so out of control. I hate hair." Marge pulled a monstrous, gleaming 10-inch hunting knife out of nowhere and pantomimed cutting off bangs. "Chop, chop!"
  • Speaking of hospitals, Marge's second husband beat her severely. But not the first or third. She beat the crap out of them. Cheatin' sons-a-bitches. Don't they realize that the wife owns their penises? They have no business sticking their penis someplace else. They completely deserved the beatings. Her now-fourth husband, from whom she's currently separated, knows better than to cheat. She terrifies him. She didn't mention why they're separated.
  • Marge used to have money. That's how she's had four husbands. But now the money is somehow gone, and she's declared bankruptcy, and she has to work as a courtesy shuttle driver, which is fine 'cause she loves meeting new people.
  • Marge says rehab is for pussies. She's used every drug known to man, and she's never needed rehab. Her son, neither.
  • No matter how fervently you stare at a speedometer and will it to go higher, it won't go higher.
  • Marge's whole life turned around last year when she found the Lord Jesus Christ. Anger isn't as much an issue for her. Oh sure, when her husband makes her mad she sometimes still kicks him square in the nuts—ha ha!—but it's not as bad as it used to be.
  • Everyone who lives on the water in Metamuville is a pedophile. "You know what they should do with pedophiles?" she asked as we turned into my driveway.
I assured her that I hate kids. "Seriously. Ask anyone."

kettles and pots

Esteemed Stank troll Dug points to this Slate article, which neatly crystallizes the papal hypocrisy (papocricy?) I was talking about earlier.

fundamentalist week in review

So to summarize Papalgate, here is the 14th Century writing that the Pope quoted:

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and then you shall find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
al Qaeda was quick with a rebuttal:
"You infidels and despots, we will continue our jihad and never stop until God avails us to chop your necks and raise the fluttering banner of monotheism, when God's rule is established governing all people and nations."

• • •

In all the apology hullabaloo, I haven't heard one person point out that it was a Pope who sanctioned the Crusades.

Pot, meet kettle.

Kettle, pot.

welcome, guang!

There are three things I've historically loved about working at Microsoft.

  1. They provide you with all the pop you can drink.
  2. They routinely get the criminally incompetent out of the files by promoting it to management. (Bad for customers. Great for the right kind of worker.)
  3. When somebody leaves for vacation, it's common to sabotage their office as a prank.
In my time, I've hit and been hit. The worst I've gotten was when my old test team came by and wrapped every last item in my office in newspaper—desks, chairs, books, pens, knick-knacks. I was woozy from the ink fumes. Of particular genius was wrapping my phone, handset, and the cord that connects the two all independently, which I discovered when my phone rang. The worst prank I ever perpetrated myself was on my friend and boss, who foolishly gave me the key to her house. She returned from Costa Rica to find her living room redecorated with her office furniture, right down to loose CDs and halogen lamps. Guess where her living room furniture was.

My favorite prank, however, was on Dorkass. When she was away, I made her office into a double. I put a second nameplate on her door. "Guang" wasn't even a member of her own team; he was something imposed upon her by moronic management. (Instant credibility. See #2.) I put a picture of his wife and kids on his desk, along with a pack of smokes. Guang was a complete pig. He'd left crumbs all over the place. He'd also moved Dorkass' phone and a few of her music CDs to his own desk. I turned on his lights and left his glasses on the desk. A development manager and Dorkass' own boss sent Dorkass mail explaining how she would be working closely with Guang, so they thought they should work closely.


It didn't take long for Dorkass to blow. Every sentence had a quivering rage and the f-word in some form or another.

"They can't f-f-f-fucking do this to me. Unbefuckinglievable. There are more junior people than me on the team. And look! He's a fucking smoker! Just look at these fucking muffin crumbs all over the floor! This is so fucking unfair! And stupid! There's no good reason for this! I'm senior! They can't just do this and expect me to accept it! I'm not letting them get away with this! GODDAMIT, IS THAT MY MOTHERFUCKING EARTH WIND AND FIRE CD ON HIS DESK?"

I let her storm for hours. She was fuming, spewing profanity and rage at anyone who would listen. "Anyone" did not, as it turned out, include anyone above her. She replied-all to the managers' email.

"Welcome, Guang!" she chirped. "Great! I look forward to working with you!"

There could not possibly have been any more disconnect between this obedient lapdog and the morally outraged malcontent shrieking profanely about seniority and cigarette butts. Not unless she bought Guang a welcome muffin. It was desk-poundingly funny. I printed up this monument to sycophancy and posted it on her office door. She figured out the joke eventually, I think.

Dorkass has since been promoted to management.

one two three four, cbs declares a race war

"This thing is going to be historic. Name me another show that's had this much ethnic diversity on it." - Survivor host Jeff Probst

"A thought-provoking social experiment" - Survivor producer Mark Burnett

"They debunk stereotypes" - Probst again, of the casting that included a black jazz musician and a gay fashion designer

• • •

We all owe Burnett and company a debt of gratitude for segregating Survivor contestants by race and so selflessly moving the evolution of the species along. Really. I mean that. I'm learning a lot about other races. Here are my notes from the first episode:

  • Hispanic contestants told us that as a race, they're better equipped to handle tropical climates.
  • Asians said that Asians are hard working, little, and have slanty eyes.
  • Black contestants informed us that African Americans don't like being told what to do.
  • The white folk chimed in: race doesn't matter a gosh darn bit, and this is an interesting "social experiment."
Stretched any more, my horizons might well snap.

darwin award

Wow. Did you see the name of the company putting out the deadly bags of spinach?

"Natural Selection Foods."

Apparently "Terminal Rectal Bleeding Viddles" was taken?

amazon prime

Ten years ago, Amazon was the coolest thing on the planet. They were small. They were local. I'd go to their site on a Monday morning and order a book, and often it was on my doorstep Tuesday.

And then they grew. And then they sucked. Unless I was willing to pay a premium, it soon took more than a week for that book to get to me.

When I moved to Metamuville, I became vastly more dependent on online orders. No shipping charge would exceed what it'd pay for me to drive to and around town every time I needed, say, a pot rack.

So. My UPS guy's name is Matt. He's recently divorced and is trying to get custody of his kid. What's your UPS guy's name?

Which brings us to Amazon Prime, an offering that makes Amazon cool again. You pay $79 a year. For that, you get unlimited two-day shipping on almost everything you order. I'm saving a fortune in shipping, I'm getting my stuff a week sooner, and I'm no longer consolidating orders like I was. You can even use the two-day shipping to send someone else an order or pay $3.99 to upgrade to overnight shipping.

Where did this coolness come from? What's next, Microsoft shipping an operating system that doesn't pester me to death with messages?

photo negative life

During our conversation, Pam and I wallowed gleefully in scorn for three demographics that happen to irritate us both to no end: 1) young suburban whites who try to glom on to black culture, 2) young suburban blacks to whom every perceived slight is "racist," and 3) Pam's husband. Number three has nothing to do with the other two. I just wanted him in there. "Talk about your bait and switches," Pam groaned. "The man put on fifty pounds on our honeymoon."

That comment would bring me a whole lot more pleasure if I hadn't gotten even fatter.

• • •

I held forth for a time about how I hold accusations of racism to the same burden of proof that I hold accusations of lying or stealing, and about how, at times, younger blacks have become angry with me for not taking their word for what white folks are thinking.

Pam chuckled her agreement. "But let me ask you something. Just as an exercise. Do you think you'd be living the same life if you'd been born black?"

Of course not, I thought.

"Of course not," I said. "No way." This exercise was easy.


Why? Why. I stammered about racism and white privilege for a while. She let me. I tried to conjure evidence to back up my claim. I soon retreated into quiet reflection. It's not often that someone smarter than me comes along and traps me, but here I was, dangling by my ankles, my shirt over my head. I do not like the feeling. This must be what life is like for Dorkass every damned day. I reacted with typical grace.

"Fuuuuuuuuuuck you."

"The whys ain't so easy, are they?"

Indeed. The whys are a bitch. They're hard to quantify, or even to list speculatively. All the little advantages I've enjoyed and all the additional burdens placed upon my black peers—I know of these things, but I cannot readily prove their existence. Much like with a black hole, we understand the existence of institutional racism without being able to directly observe it.

I do not know, for example, that the linchpin people who've profoundly shaped my life would not have done the same if my skin were a different color. But it seems naive to assume that everyone would have treated me identically, does it not? With a couple exceptions, these twenty or so folks all looked very much like I do. I'd like to think that's not a variable. I just can't make myself believe it.

Pam was cleverly putting me in the shoes of having to prove racism. Point taken. My burden of proof was impossible to satisfy. Klansmen don't come along often; the everyday realities are far subtler than that. All the more reason to use the r-word judiciously, in my estimation. It's fine and healthy to scan for it, to debate it. But casually diagnosing it? I think the whys should be a bitch for all concerned.

9/11 excess

I avoided most of the 9/11 anniversary hoo-ha. Why the media sees fit to shovel melodrama when the event itself fairly dabbled in drama, I do not understand. The most tasteless offense I saw: having the parent of a WTC victim re-enact when she watched coverage of her son's death on TV, right down to the screaming and bawling.

When she screams "WHY GOD WHY?," push in for a tight close-up!


For whatever reason, I never heard "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning"—a schmaltzy, stupid country power ballad that capitalized on the tragedy—in the fall of 2001. I heard it for the first time Monday, on local radio. The definitive (and foreshadowing) lyric:

I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God

the quotable annette

Sayeth Annette: "If it weren't for parents, kids would be pretty cool."


At first I held my breath, taken aback. Why was my friend's wife calling me long-distance? Was d'Andre okay? Yes, he was. Then why...? It was with a creeping shame that I remembered back to a time and place where it wasn't fear-inspiring for a friend's S.O. to call me. d'Pam was simply calling to chat with her friend.

Ah. Yes. Midwestern mental health. You'll have to pardon me for not recognizing it. All the insulation I use to combat the Seattle chill makes me equally impervious to warmth nowadays, I'm afraid.

A sales widow last weekend, Pam called to chat about the Ohio State/Texas game that had just concluded. I winced and held the phone in my lap, temporarily unable to listen. How, in the name of all that's holy, had that idiot d'Andre managed to snag a beautiful Ph.D who can speak enthusiastically about attacking defensive backs who are cheating up in the box? Him! How? How? I'm still fuming. And I'm still plotting to smother him in his sleep, not that such notions didn't predate Pam by a decade.

The conversation whirled and turned, touching on football and relationships and race and Christmas and that old standby of every conversation I have with someone in the 614 area code: do you ever think of moving back home? Moving, yes. Frequently. I look at real estate online every time Percy lets himself into my house. But moving back to Columbus never even flits through my mind. There's nothing to recommend Ohio, really, save the opportunity to not visit my parents' graves more regularly.

But this time, refusal was harder. Unlike with family members, the person suggesting I come home is from a place for which I actually have home-like yearnings. It felt good to hear. It hurt to decline. I'm not sure what that twinge is about, but I suspect it comes from some obscure, little-used, well-adjusted corner of my psyche.

Back to mental Siberia with ya, twinge. There's no place for you here.

five years


The debris has been gone for four years. The Pentagon's been rebuilt for four and change. Let's quit haggling and get the Freedom Tower built, already, and wipe evil's scab off the face of civilization.

• • •

In September 2001, I saved my favorite web tribute. Try to focus on people's instinctive generosity, not on subsequent squanderings of it.

"parent of the year" nominee

I spent some time reading discussion boards about my new DVR, and the conversation always turns to what features folks would like to see implemented in the next version. One guy said a mouthful:

I would love the ability to queue up shows for playback. It gets really annoying when the kids bother me every 30 minutes to put something else on.

hd or not hd

I made the switch to HDTV this week, and it's been a real mixed bag. On the one hand, I finally got rid of goofy Tivo and replaced it with a DVR that has, like, a Stop button. And that responds instantly to changes. And that allows multiple-select. My long Tivo nightmare is over.

Of course, the picture is spectacular...on select programs. My thoughts have turned to when CDs first came out, and I used to walk into record stores and flip through every single CD for sale. It took less than five minutes. So is it with HD programming. At any given moment, looking at your HD programming options takes 30 seconds.

It's infuriating to watch Ohio State beat Texas in low def and then see the highlights on ESPN in high def, but such is commonplace if you go HD. There are few channels that carry it, and then on those, little HD programming. Sure, there's the odd delight like the space shuttle launch, but I pretty much just watch sports, the Discovery Channel, and Letterman in HD. That's scant payoff for my steep cost. Worse, I'm forever futzing with the aspect ratio, trying to make human faces vaguely round again. Didn't watching TV used to be, you know, effortless? Wasn't that a tremendous part of its appeal?

Two other notes: 1) Mark Cuban's HDNet channel is hilarious. Watch hot young babes in bikinis learn about penguin migration! Next! 2) Some things were better off low def. Like Lee Corso. I most definitely did not need to see what's in his pores.

kids solved

I'm slow on the uptake sometimes. Ask anyone. It was with quite the jolt, then, that this morning I finally realized the point of having kids: you're creating people who are guaranteed not to drop you as soon as they have kids.

My god, it's so elegant in its simplicity.

the sport of kings, better than diamond rings

In honor of football's illustrious return, I give you my favorite Football Weekend trivia questions. Click and drag over the text to see the answers. (And in honor of Charlie Batch's start, I've reset my football counter at right.)

What two-sport athlete is accredited with inventing bump-and-run coverage?

NBA hall of Famer KC Jones

Who caught Brett Favre's first NFL pass?

Brett Favre. A defensive player batted it back to him, and the play went for a huge loss.

As players, what do Peyton Manning and I have in common?

We've both won championships at every level except Pop Warner, little league, high school, college and the pros.

In what championship game did a former NFC team play a former AFC team?

Super Bowl XL, Seahawks vs. Steelers

And finally, the question no Steeler fan has ever been able to answer correctly: who caught Terry Bradshaw's last touchdown pass?

Calvin Sweeney

time to man up and face this tar baby

I've previously written about the hijacked words "queer" and "uppity" and how I refuse to stop using them. More so with "calling a spade a spade," a phrase that the Greek writer Lucian used some 1800 years before "spade" became an American racial epithet. True, Lucian also used "calling a fig a fig," but I suspect people would stare at me even more than they do for "spade." The fact remains that there's no racial origin or intent, no reason for offense, and most importantly, no comparable expression that can be easily substituted. Sorry about the demons of your imagination and all, but I'm usin' it.

Which brings us to two cherished phrases in my lexicon: the verb "man up" and the noun "tar baby." Let's do the less controversial one first. Man up means to step up, to do the mature thing and accept responsibility. There's an implication that the person in question has been morally weak.

Bob, I need you to man up and apologize to her.
A great verb. An irreplaceable verb. And I still use it in the context of men. But what's the gender-neutral equivalent? What would I use were the subject "Everyone" or "Tammy?"

Now for the irreplaceable phrase "tar baby." I know this is fighting a losing battle. A tar baby of a usage problem, it is. Most of my life, I'd used this as a metaphor for traps from which I could not extricate myself—usually unwanted projects at work.

The Windows release notes are a complete tar baby. The more I struggle to get rid of them, the more stuck to them I become.
A milder version of the same metaphor: "She's like a booger on my finger. There's just no shaking her."

The tar baby story has its roots in ancient African folklore, and it became known in this country primarily though the now-banned Uncle Remus cartoons. (A racism rule of thumb: if something uses "Uncle" or "Aunt"...warning! Sorry, Ben and Jemima.) Somewhere in the translation, "tar baby" became a racial epithet. Me, I wasn't even aware of this connotation until maybe five years ago. I'm not real conversant in racial slurs, I'm afraid. I'm not alone; the Massachusetts governor was recently crucified for using "tar baby" to describe the never-ending "big dig" construction project in Boston.

So okay, fine. Out of sensitivity, I won't use "man up" or "tar baby." What should I use instead? "grow up and do what it is you do not want to do" and "like a quagmire, only more of a deliberate trap" don't exactly flow.

"What the Fucking Fuck?" awards 

  bill cowher

Says coach Cowher on his quarterback's appendectomy:

"It's a unique thing. It could happen to anybody."

overlooked film festival

In recent weeks, I've rented some DVDs of films that were largely overlooked but that earned warm recommendations from someone, somewhere. I can't really endorse one in the lot.

"The Confederate State of America" is a mock BBC documentary about the history of the United States as it would be today if the South had won the war 141 years ago. It tries hard to be a dark comedy, but I didn't laugh once. I stared at the screen a lot. If you find amusing the notion of Lincoln adorning blackface to flee the country or fake TV commercials for Sambo brand toothpaste—"use the power of darkies to keep your pearly whites white!" or some such drivel—then this is for you. It was not for me. It was like that dreadful Chappelle sketch "Blackzilla," only two hours long. "How did they even get any black actors to be in this thing?" I wondered. And then I saw the end credits. Produced by Spike Lee. Ah. And a black writer/director. Ah. I reassessed my poor impression. Nope. Unfunny is unfunny. Unfunny is colorblind.

Speaking of Lee, I saw "Inside Man." It was a pleasant enough confection, if best not thought about too much, and Denzel and Clive are always welcome at my house. But why was Jodie Foster in that movie? I thought she was dreadfully miscast. She simply cannot evoke the sort of Chanel/Ivy League aura that her role as the fixer demanded, which is ironic considering this Yale alum adorned Chanel for the role. I've loved Foster in the past, but here I never once forgot she was acting. She was a little girl awkwardly playing grown up. The film's script was the worst of the four, with positively excruciating small talk and exposition. A typically elegant example:

Robber to police negotiator: "Do you have any more proposals?"

Negotiator: "Ugh, don't say 'proposal.' My girlfriend is really pestering me about getting married."

"The Matador" has earned some raves. I thought it a little on the dull side, but it was visually stunning and had its moments. Mostly, it's the best performance of Pierce Brosnan's career, which is admittedly faint praise, but he's exceptional by any measure. He plays a professional assassin undergoing a complete personal and professional meltdown, giving him a delicious opportunity to play against type. It works. I laughed. I fidgeted. I went back and watched a couple scenes over again. I returned the disc knowing full well I'll never see the movie again.

"An Unfinished Life" is the best of this lot, a Robert Redford cowboy weeper about forgiveness. Jennifer Lopez plays his former daughter-in-law, who fell asleep behind the wheel and accidentally killed Redford's son, and in a real stretch, Morgan Freeman plays the Wise Old Black Best Friend. That Redford and Freeman are effortlessly excellent is no surprise, but Lopez just quietly acts and reminds us that before she was a punchline/Jenny on the Block, she was a promising young actress. I hear. The movie is small and modest, and it doesn't strain to deliver a message. I cared about the characters, and that's more than I can say for the other three films.

election fright

I'm presently examining my Washington State primary ballot. Here are the Democratic choices for U.S. Senator, verbatim:

Michael Goodspaceguy Nelson
Mike the Mover
Mohammad Said
Hong Tran
Maria Cantwell
Do I really need to break down why this will be a Cantwell landslide? Kudos, though, to Said for actually making me google "Mohammad said" and to Nelson for having the flakiest web site of this election season.

I do rather enjoy pronouncing the Republican candidates' names. Try a posh English accent with

William Chovil
Gordon Pross
Warren Hanson
Thurston Howell III
Okay, I might have made the last one up.

• • •

I hate this state's policy limiting you to voting for only one party. But I want to vote against them all!


Esteemed Stank troll John was the first to respond to my challenge to find an example of human kindness untainted by self-interest.

"How about I just build a huge fucking suspension bridge, instead?"

I couldn't be more disgusted with people, lately. I'm sick of the entire species. The lying, the cruelty, the moral cowardice, the dishonorable self-interest. I'm tired of those who blame others for their own foul-ups. I'm tired of those who piddle themselves for others' approval. I'm tired of those who lecture others on matters they know nothing about. And I'm tired of people who would sooner throw you to the wolves than inconvenience themselves trivially.

There. That covers just about all of you.

I challenge my readers to submit examples of human kindness not tainted by self-interest. And good hunting.

moron taxonomy
stupid church signs
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percy chronicles

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