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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, June 29, 2007

Tech gone wild

Here's my take on what the iPhone might do - not technically, but culturally.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Larry King should retire

If you are in the TV news biz and reading this post right now, be ashamed.

I won't front. I watched Larry King's hour-long interview with a recently released convict tonight. And I watched it the way you watch the coroner's office workers gathering body parts scattered along the side of the road following a horrific accident. I wanted to see what would happen!

And while I did not expect the person being interviewed to offer anything of substance, I did expect Larry "King of the Broadcast Interview" King to at least ask the substantive questions.

Instead he spent an hour asking about how tough serving 23 days (in Los Angeles math; 20 - 21 in normal human math) was, asking several different ways if she had changed, asking generic questions about who the real convict is vs. what of her has been captured on amateur film, etc.

I'm still a relative pup, all things considered, but I remember the old days when Larry King was on the radio and would have also asked the following questions:
  • If you're so claustrophobic - the ailment you cited this evening to justify why you deserved to serve the balance of your sentence on house arrest - how can you tolerate driving around in small cars? Doesn't being closed inside a vehicle make you want to jump out at traffic signals and run down the street screaming and ripping your hair out?
  • Is it just me, or are you suggesting the greater wrong here was how much time you served, rather than your driving while (legally) intoxicated - the infraction that started this ball rolling in the first place?
  • You say you empathize now with people less fortunate than you. You have been captured on tape a number of times ridiculing the poor and calling friends, enemies, and your sister poor or something like that, as if it was an insult. How is that behavior empathetic?
  • You've vehemently denied that you are a racist, and yet you've been captured on tape a number of times referring scornfully to specific black people as niggers and even calling your friends that word while laughing hysterically. Based on those tapes, why should we believe you are not a racist?
  • Other than pay taxes and occasionally handing out dough to a panhandler, name one socially redeeming act you have committed in the eight years since you became a legal adult.
  • I asked you to offer something about you don't like, and you answered that your voice gets high and squeaky when you're nervous. That's it? There's nothing about your public behavior or your character that could stand a little improvement?
  • You made a sex tape with a boyfriend a few years ago, which, after the two of you reportedly broke up, he sold on the Internet. Is it true that you split the profits with him? Regardless, was it tough after that to look into the faces of young girls at your book signings and public appearances and hand them autographed pictures of yourself? That's the act of a role model - a person exhibiting model behavior. Do you think you were responsible enough then to present yourself as a role model?

I miss the old Larry.

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No worries

I'm alive, my friends. Just swamped the past few days working on an article for Thursday's (or Friday's) paper. It's about whether or not the iPhone will open the floodgates to a new era of creative tech development the way the personal computer did back in the day and later the (original) cell phone, and two-way pagers, and so on and so forth.

I'll do a regular post this evening.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Quick Hits

Morning, my friends. Hope your weekend was pleasant. Mind unfolded swimmingly. Mrs. B and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary. And while it was low key and simple, it was also very, very fun. I'm looking forward to number three.

Anyway, back to reality.
  • I saw that the D.C. pants judge lost his $54 million case against his dry cleaners. Hopefully that will bring about some judicial reform. Hopefully people who sit hot cups of coffee between their legs and then drive fast over speed bumps will no longer be able to sue for burnt crotches. Hopefully people whose cholesterol goes through the roof after they eat CrackRonald's three times a day seven days a week won't be able to sue CrackRonald's for their bad fat addiction. Buuuuuuuuut, hopefully small businesses like dry cleaners won't take advantage of "nobody's perfect" and begin using it as a cop out for shoddy service. That's no good either. It doesn't warrant frivolous lawsuits. But it doesn't help.
  • I just backed out of an offer to help a friend of a friend get his Web site launched. The friend of my friend wanted me to proof read his content and give him tips on presentation. I didn't mind. But the friend of my friend started getting snarky with me. Condescending. Talking down to me. Berating me. Lecturing me on how the media operates. So I told him he could go and love himself with a rusty pipe...and then get no tetanus shot afterwards. He didn't understand. So for him and anyone else out there asking to "borrow" another person's "expertise (yes, I use that word loosely)" for free, don't be mean to people who agree to help you. You will burn all sorts of bridges that way. Now, my friend feels burned, because he knows his buddy pissed me off. And if his buddy - the friend of my friend - ever asks for my help again I won't even consider it. He blew it.
  • I'm just wondering, who are the 5,000-plus people who sent fan mail to the jailbird heiress in the L.A. County lockup? How old were they? And if they were minors, how hard should their parents be slapped for allowing those letters to be sent to her? Sending that mail is like giving your puppy a Scooby Snack every time he craps on the living room carpet.
  • As per some of your requests, we hope to have Mrs. B do a guest post on Friday, maybe Saturday.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Sometimes attitude means more than skills

Thanks to all of you who wished Mrs. B and me well on the eve of our second anniversary.

So on to business: Every now and then I'll hear from a pseudo-friend or a reader complaining that I gripe too much about rude behavior. It's what you do that counts more than what you say, they argue.

The complainants usually tell me that rudeness is a side effect of dealing with the stresses of everyday life - the suggestion being that rudeness can't be helped. Something makes you feel out of sorts? Take it out on your co-workers or friends or neighbors. They deserve to feel miserable just like you, right? Feeling superior to a colleague, or an underling, or a supervisor? Talk smack about them to your peers. Why not? It'll make you feel better about yourself, right?

And besides, the critics usually ask me, when has a bad attitude or a good one really cost or helped someone respectively in an everyday life scenario.

I get the question. It goes to my Karma post from earlier this week. After you see people get away with behaving badly for so long, you start to believe that there are no consequences for being a jerk. Look at all the pro atheletes who are jerks but are excused because they're so good at their jobs.

But there are consequences. I know this. You know this. We may not always like to admit it, because we see bad behavior going unpunished.

This guy though? He knows it now, and I'll bet he believes it. Click the link if you have time. If you don't, here's the abbreviated version: an airport administrator from California was being considered for the top job at the Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale International Airport in the Greater Miami area. He had it in the bag, insiders say. And then some nasty emails he wrote about his possible future employer surfaced. He bashed the Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale outfit. He bashed the county administrator. He was downright scornful. Now it looks like his rude tone in those messages might have cost him the job. He may have been right in his criticisms, but there's a way to address legitimate gripes. Take them to the source. Don't brag to friends and colleagues about how terrible you believe another person to be. Go to that person and tell them they have serious issues that need to be repaired. And if you can't do that without risking your behind, then suck it up. Jaw-jacking to anyone who'll listen about how much wiser and sharper you are is just going to cost you.

I won't get corny or sappy about justice prevailing. This isn't that deep. But there really are consequences... sometimes.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

730 and Counting

Today, Thursday, is not significant other than the fact it's another day, and if you're reading this you're alive. So you have something to be happy about.

Friday will not be significant, other than the fact that it will mark the end of the work week for most of us.

Saturday is a toss-up.

Now Sunday is special. And while I could wait till then to write what I'm about to, I have no intention of being on my computer on Sunday. So you get my soliloquy a few days early.

Sunday will mark two years since Mrs. B and I said "I do" - or was it "I will?" - to one another on the alter at St. Mark's Church on Brewer's Hill, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

And my thoughts on marriage haven't changed much from a year ago. A year ago I was stoked but shocked that we had made it 12 months - not because I doubted that either of us loved the other very much, but because we just hadn't realized how greatly our lives would change once we became responsible for another human being. We had a lot to learn - still do. Lots of laughs, a few frowns, a few tears, more laughs, and some all-around wisening. It didn't kill us and we're stronger.

I'm still in awe of the fact that someone agreed to marry me. Seriously, that still unnerves me. Ask my friends - especially my female friends, and they'll tell you I am the absent-minded professor. Forgetful isn't cute, I'm told.

I'm still learning to share my space. I love Mrs. B. And I love our dog. And I'm friendly with our cat. But there are times I still want to wake up on Saturday morning and roll over in bed and watch cartoons and not get going till noon or so. Really, I'd like to do that everyday. Well, even without kids yet, there's still just too much to do. No time for so much lounging. Same goes for me just jumping in the car and taking a random drive to think and soak up the quiet and ambiance. Or spending five hours on the basketball court on Sunday afternoon. Can't do these things quite as much. And that's OK. We have stuff we do together now that's more enjoyable than pretty much anything I'd do alone. Get your minds out of the gutter. Again, my friends will tell you that I was the ultimate single guy in terms of my space. When I lived in Milwaukee, before I started dating Mrs. B, if a major holiday rolled around and I was unable to get home to Virginia for it, I was perfectly content ordering a pizza, buying a six-pack, renting a couple of good movies, and spending the holiday weekend, stretched over my couch...alone. I was House, MD, but not quite as sharp-tongued or sharp-witted. I'd let the friends drag me out for holiday celebrations, but most of the time it was grudging. So when I found someone I realized I would like to share my space with it was an awkward transition. I have those flashes of single-envy, where time is concerned. But I wouldn't trade w/any of my single friends.

I'm still thrilled that Mrs. B - the Bonnie to my Clyde - and I silenced the haters (salty friends, jealous former friends, ex-girlfriends, and all-purpose bitter people who predicted I wasn't cut out for marriage and we wouldn't last). Where are you cats now? Mmmmm, taste the silence!

If I've learned anything new since the conclusion of year-one, it's that she knows me better than I ever thought possible in such a short period of time, that I love her now more than I did "back then," and that we work best when we "riff" off of one another and compliment through action each other's strengths and weaknesses - sort of a symbiotic thing.

Now, from what the veterans tell me, two years means we've just been broken in like a new car.

Here's to 40 or 50 or 60 more.

I'll post tomorrow some time. But this one? This couldn't wait till Sunday.

Peace and hair grease, my friends.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Something to read

Feeling bored or lazy? Here is the last article I wrote. It's a profile of a jockey.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Karma needs to put up or shut up

Somebody hit my car...while it was parked...minding its own business. It likely happened yesterday afternoon or last evening. Front right fender. That's probably why I didn't see it right away.

Seven years I lived in the Upper Midwest, where six months out of the year people are sliding over the road 'cause it's covered in ice and slush and rock salt, where simply parking your car was like a surgical procedure 'cause you could easily hit a slick spot and bump the car next to you. And not once did I get a ding, dent, or scratch caused by another vehicle on my truck. Not once. What are the road and parking lot conditions down here? It rains sometimes.

I am pissed off. Do people not put notes under windshield wipers anymore? Wait. I'm in South Florida. It's stupid to ask questions you already know the answers to.

Seriously, this puts me in an arse-whipping mood. I think I might have to go to the gym later and strap on the gloves and the foot pads and beat a sparring partner like he stole something.

If that guy working the afternoon shift on the highway entrance ramp by the Herald is there when I leave today I might roll my window down and take change out of his cup.

My inconsiderate neighbor's yappy mutt that poops on other people's lawns and nips at other people's heels? I just might practice my field goal kicking this evening. I'll bet I could boot the neighbor a few feet off the ground. And that barking rat would at least make it over the roof line.

How could a place with so much sun and such easy access to the beach contain so many dregs?

Karma is not doing her job. She is asleep at the switch and needs to be either suspended or fired and replaced with some new cosmic force like, maybe, The Great Arse-whipper.

Some of these mouth breathers need to start making obvious payments for their callous treatment of other humans in this part of the country. I don't see payments being made. I see bad people getting away with bad behavior and carrying on, because Karma is not putting them in check.

If Karma doesn't start making these people pay and letting the rest of us see it, so we maintain some hope that there are such things as consequences then there will be a lot of William "D-fens" Fosters and a lot of Bruce Waynes (not the Saturday morning cartoon Bruce Wayne, but the original guy who became Batman because he was an angry, bitter, vengeful, near maniac) popping up.

No worries. I didn't like "Falling Down." And I don't think capes and rubber tights are my bag. Plus I'd be the crusading "hero" who got caught. And least you forget, I'm too pretty to go to jail.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Lightning and the Lightning Bug

I was talking with a buddy a couple of days ago about the difference in having shame and being ashamed. I love this analogy. That's why I probably overuse it. But it's like what Mark Twain said about the right word and the almost right word. It's like the difference between lightning and lightning bugs.

The subject came up, 'cause we were joking about me being old-fashioned. I don't think I am. "Stodgy" is how I think my buddy put it. He was teasing, of course, but what prompted him to say it in the first place was our reminiscing about the good old days and one time in particular when we were at a black tie event trying to look important and pick up women. There I was in a tux, holding court with a handful of women, and my fly was down. Apparently I stood there like that for at least half an hour. When someone finally pointed it out to me I was mortified. It wasn't that I was ashamed of my naughty bits, covered behind a trusty pair of boxers as they were. I'm quite proud of them. It was that I had shame. Some stuff just wasn't meant for public display.

I'm not gonna be like the crotchety old guy who starts every other sentence with something like "In my day..." On the contrary, today, these days, when I'm in public I'm constantly getting jabbed and pinched by Mrs. B for saying stupid things. I do it on purpose, 'cause I thik I'm funny. I may be the only person who thinks so. And I'm also careful to make sure what I'm saying to her can't be overheard. If someone did overhear me, no doubt I'd be ashamed some times. But I don't think shame exists anymore. And shame can be a good thing, I think. Shame, to varying degrees, is like the manifestation of a properly working conscience.

I'm not seeing that manifestation so much these days among my peers, whether it's brain dead celebutards prancing around w/out drawers on and, coincidentally, bending over to pick up loose change from the sidewalk right when the cameras and flash bulbs come out, Joe Average swearing like a sailor within earshot of elderly women and small children, or 13-year-old girls strutting the mall in tiny skirts and T-shirts with slogans like "Your boyfriend is a good kisser" and "Two boys for every girl" (actual slogans on shirts once sold a popular national retailer for teens).

Mrs. B and I were in the grocery Sunday afternoon - the Whole Foods on Federal Hwy in Fort Lauderdale, if you live in South Florida, and while she was waiting for stuff at the deli I decided to grab a coffee. There was a guy in line in front of me at the coffee counter. And as I walked up, this is the conversation I stumbled on between that guy and the barista:

Barista: So what's going on?
Guy: Nothing, just looking for somone.
Barista: Is he hot?
Guy: You know that guy who works in like frozen vegetables or something, that one with the dark hair?
Barista: He's hot. I think he has something for you.
Guy: Oh yeah, sexy.
Barista: He totally wants to tap that.... (imagine the rest)
Guy: Oh yeah, you know he wants to tap my....
Me (in thought only): You guys are insane. Do you care at all that a total stranger is standing here, listening to you talk about this kind of stuff?

BTW, in case Rosie O'D is reading, if the guy had been straight and talking explicitly about hooking up w/a girl, or it had been a girl in line, talking explicitly about hooking up up w/a guy, I'd have felt the same way.

Shame's good. Shame is the thing that prevents most of us from "actin' a fool," in public, as my Grandma Rosa used to say.

And to the co-worker who paused mid-stride in the aisle about eight feet from my desk and let a butt belch rip earlier - that's right; you know who you are; I saw/heard you - not cool. You, my friend, could use a little shame. You could use a little less protein your diet, but you could use a little shame too.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

One more time

I'm not too sentimental a person. I actually get salty when I find myself getting sappy, 'cause I feel like I let a fissure develop in my armour and that it is a sign of weakness.

Anywho, Dad's Day has come and almost gone. But like all the "good" holidays, I sort of think "honor thy father and mother" should resonate year round. The kind of karma I believe in predicts a middle age of misery for any adult who didn't demonstrate respect for the folks when he was younger.

All that being said, I don't have a lot of profound things to offer for Dad's Day this year. The things I loved my dad for this year are the same things I loved him for last year, and the year before, and the year before.

So since the message hasn't changed, I'm taking the lazy way out. Following this paragraph is a column I wrote a few years ago - pre-Miami Herald - on my dad and my upbringing. Enjoy, I hope!

Dad's lessons were in what he did, not what he said

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, June 20, 2004

As I've gotten older and crossed into the once-dreaded (for me, anyway) land of 30-somethings, I've put more thought into what it takes to be a good father, mostly because I'm progressively less freaked out when I see sticky-pawed rug rats making their way toward me in the grocery store queues, at the birthday parties of friends' children and at family reunions.

Each kid I see makes me think about my own childhood and what positive experiences I had courtesy of my father, a Baptist minister and retired U.S. Navy veteran. A few days ago, I decided to give the matter serious thought. I knew I'd learned a lot from my dad. We all say that, right? And we all mean it, even if we can't think of more than generic examples.

I racked my brain for "Cosby Show"-like examples, where my father may have imparted some wisdom over a cup of Jell-O brand pudding. I couldn't find any.

I definitely didn't find any spectacular examples of my father, like MacGyver, creating a weapon with a rubber band, a paper clip and a stapler and freeing the downtrodden.
What I did find, though, were memories of my dad not so much talking, but doing.

He told me, for example, that men don't quit when things are tough. Then I closed my eyes and visualized the time I sat crying by a baseball diamond, because I'd just walked a couple of batters in my Little League championship game. My dad, also the coach, approached me and didn't say a word. Instead he patted me on the back, gave my shoulder a squeeze, handed me my glove, and nodded toward the pitcher's mound. I retook the field. We won the game.

I remember my dad telling me that men meet obligations, even when they're lacking strength. Then I closed my eyes and visualized one of a virtually thousand times I saw him nearly stagger through our front door after pulling his 10th consecutive 20-hour day of rebuilding CH- 53 helicopters on the Norfolk (Va.) and Sigonella (Sicily) naval air stations. I'd watch him shrug his way out of a flight suit, eat briefly and grab a few hours of sleep. Then he'd get up, don a fresh crisp uniform and start all over again.

I remember my dad, after his naval retirement and at the start of his church ministry, after a stint in the seminary, telling me men don't wait for other people to come along and get a job done. Then I closed my eyes and visualized the times after high school baseball practice I'd walk through the door of the old church building he'd leased to start his ministry. I'd see him there, alone, in Dickies work pants, T-shirt and utility belt, caulking cracks in the walls; on his hands and knees laying floor tiles; nailing planks together to build a podium, and -- until he realized I'd entered the room -- cheerily whistling a gospel tune. The church is full now, and the congregation owns the building.

I remember my dad explaining to me that real men have compassion. And then I closed my eyes and visualized the times he'd leave our middle-class enclave for his church's rough neighborhood. He'd often take a bag, packed with chips, cans of soda and fruit juice, and sandwiches. Once at the church, he'd immediately be set upon by tough- looking men, some of them no doubt homeless, asking for money -- to get food, of course. And he'd break out the bag. Sometimes, he'd offer them money to help clean debris from the church parking lot. And when many of those men walked away angry, refusing the free food or the paid work, my dad would turn to me and explain that compassion means offering a hand, not being a sucker.

Most of all, when I went through my curious stage, the stage that led me to read old philosophers and quote big words from smart dead guys in college textbooks, I remember my dad encouraging me to learn everything I could about -- well, everything I could. But instead of indulging my sometimes cocky attitude and telling me to believe everything I heard, he gave me horse sense. He told me to keep an open mind, but not so open that my brain fell out.

I remember my dad reminding me on a regular basis that no matter what I said, other people, honest people, would ultimately judge me by my character and my actions.

And I remember now that sometimes the best instruction and best demonstration of a job well done -- in this case, fatherhood -- is not always the most obvious.


Friday, June 15, 2007

What do you call yourself?

I'm not talking your nickname or your last name. I mean your look.

I ask because of this fascinating article. In fact, I suggest you click the link and read the article (should take just a few minutes) before continuing.

In case you don't have time, it's a story done by one of my Herald colleagues as part of a series about the emergence of blacks in Latin America. The series basically suggests that in terms of progress blacks in Latin America they are where black Americans were decades ago. The article linked above though is about how black folks down there loathe the idea of being called black. Some, who had some distant white cousin many generations back, insist on calling themselves white as a matter of prestige. They so strongly believe that there is a negative connotation to "black," that they will call themselves anything else to avoid that label. People with my complexion may call themselves "coffee" or "mocha" colored. Seriously. Many spend big bucks straightening their hair because they believe it makes them look white, and thus prettier.

I have a Haitian friend here in Miami - he's not in the above article - who insists he's not black. His complexion is 3X darker than mine. His hair texture is the same as mine, maybe a little more coarse. But to him, "black" is an American thing. We once were riding along and he started talking to me about "you black people" being this way or that way. I had to make that cartoon screeching sound, interrupt, and ask him to look in a mirror. When I asked, "If you're not black what are you," he answered, "I'm Haitian!" My sarcastic retort was that next time he encountered a blatant racist he should quickly explain to them that in spite of his appearance he isn't black. And that bit of info should lower the walls and make them friends.

And then there's this quote from actress Jessica Alba made to Para Todos magazine, about her ambiguous light brown complexion and how she felt about it as a child: "[Before] I always felt like such an outcast and now I feel like people are more diverse ethnically. I was always self conscience of my puffy lips and darker skin when I was a kid, because I felt like I didn't fit in. And now its mainstream, and color isn't as big of a deal and if anything its better."

Anyway, my colleague's article, my Haitian friend, and Alba's comments made me think of my best friend growing up. I don't want to embarrass the guy, so I won't mention his name. But we attended elementary school together. Then my family moved to Italy. Later, after my family moved back to the States and I was wrapping up high school, we rekindled our friendship. This guy - let's give him the alias of "Joe," for the sake of discussion - was white, with blond hair and blue eyes.

I recall that when we would meet girls at the mall or at the beach, sometimes to mess with them I'd speak in an accent. Naturally, they would ask "what are you?" It wasn't an offensive thing. They were curious. I would drop the accent, to let them know I had been teasing, and I'd immediately answer "I'm black," or "I'm American." I happen to know - and I knew then - that my family's long-distance roots are in the Ivory Coast, in Africa. But it never once occurred to me to blurt out "I'm African!" It just didn't.

My buddy, on the other hand, had family roots in the UK and Australia. But one cousin somewhere down the line was from Northern Italy. So when the girls would ask, "Joe" would answer without hesitation "I'm Italian." He did it, because he thought "Italian" was exotic and the girls would be more impressed with "Italian" than whatever else he could come up with.

Over the years, other white friends of mine unhesitatingly ID'd themselves as "Irish" or "Swedish" or "German," because that's where their family roots lay, even if my friends had never even visited those countries themselves. It never occured to them to just say "I'm white" or I'm "German American" or "Irish American," etc.

I'm no head shrinker. But to this day, I can't explain why I instinctively answered the "what" question with my skin color first, while it never occurred to "Joe" to mention his skin color. He and I talked about this once, when we were grown. In his mind, his skin color was obvious. You could see it. So any questions about what/who he was were bettered answered by his ethnicity.

Makes sense to me.

I know I don't dislike myself, like some of the people in that article linked above. Just the opposite. I've got my faults, but I'm pretty damned comfortable with me. So what's the deal?

If you clicked the link above and read that story (you really should, if you haven't) then you know that there is a particular fixation on straight hair among some blacks in the Caribbean. I can recall growing up in Southeast Virginia my maternal grandmother complimenting the grandkids at weekend barbecues for having "good" hair. Know what that means in Southern vernacular? Straight hair, hair that resembles Caucasian hair. We all took it as a compliment. We were all like "Wow! Grandma says I have the good hair!" I remember laughing till I was crying and rolling on the floor in stitches, as my late grandfather, James Sr., would tell the story of how he and his friends in middle school got their hair "fried, died, and laid to the side," AKA heavily permed so that it would flow and wave like Elvis's mane - sorta like Sammy Davis Jr. did to match the 'dos of his Rat Pack buddies. My grandfather talked about how painful those lye perm jobs were and how he and his young/dumb buddies would practically burn their scalps to achieve this look.

Bananas. A set of clippers, a stiff bristle brush, the occasional dab of moisturizing gel, and my hair is as fancy as it'll ever get...though I admit, when I was in high school I used a couple of the permy concoctions too, to achieve a certain flowing look. I have since developed sense.

OK, at this point I'm just rambling.

But seriously, when someone asks you - if they ever ask you - "what" you are or "where" you're from, if you gather that they mean more than what neighborhood you live in, how do you answer them?

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Single people bite!

Or maybe I'm off my rocker right now, 'cause I just strolled back to the Herald from the dentist's office across the street, and I'm a little groggy.

I am not an anti-dentite. I am a big fan of this dentist. He gives good drugs and has hands like cotton. And that's a good thing, 'cause while I have a high pain threshold (something I learned through multiple knee-rebuilding surgeries and the subsequent therapy), all bets are off with my mouth. I can't stand even a smidgen of pain in that region. I'd rather have my fellas locked in a vice clamp than deal with mouth pain.

This dentist's assistant, however, does not have hands like cotton. She's very nice. And I have no doubt she did a great job on my teeth today, but I think maybe she was a boxer or slammed her hand into brick walls in a past life. No gentle touch here.

But I digress. I think I really might be a little loopy right now.

What prompted the title to this post was a call I got from an old friend as I strolled across the street to the dentist's office about two hours ago. One of the first things out of her mouth was "Where have you been!!!" I know good punctuation. I used exclamation points instead of a question mark on purpose, because her question was more of a statement. She was suggesting that I have been off the charts and out of the loop lately.

Now here' s the funny thing about this. In the weeks leading up to my wedding nearly two years ago this friend was one of many - male and female - who cautioned Mrs. B and me to not turn into one of those married couples after we tied the knot.

They begged us to not suddenly fall off the social radar after the wedding. They warned us that marriage would make us inaccessible and would zap our desire to stay connected with friends. They shared with us tales of married friends, who within weeks of their weddings stopped returning calls or emails.

To be fair, I believe prior to my own wedding that I said some of the same stuff to single friends who were about to be married.

But this friend was nuts. In my case, with one exception, I've found this doom and gloom prediction to be just the opposite. My single friends have been inaccessible. They haven't returned phone calls. They never send emails asking how things are, unless they're responding to an email I sent them. And so on and so forth.

In fact, when I think back to when I was giving the same kinds of warnings to soon-to-be-married friends, I realize that they didn't abandon me after they got married. I subconsciously abandoned them.

My friend this morning wasn't really scolding me when she called. She was teasing. Still, it prompted me to share all the thoughts I've just written.

I expected her to tell me "whatever!" But she agreed with me. After a friend gets married, you see them with a full-time partner and instinctively you back off a little and give them more space than you might have before. After a friend gets married you start to feel a little like a third wheel, and you get a little uncomfortable inserting yourself into social situations with them. Even if your friend and his/her new spouse tells you to continue coming around you just sort of assume that they have magical married people things to do. Really, all I do more of since marriage is yard work, maintenance stuff around our house, and run errands.

If anything, after I got married I was sort of eager to hang onto my buddies, so I didn't feel completely isolated from my old life. Did I hang out with them as often after work? Not even close. I certainly didn't stay out as late on those days we did do Happy Hour. But I kept an iron in the fire so they wouldn't forget that "Independent George" still exists. Mrs. B was the same. She still did things regularly with her girlfriends. We had become a team, not a single organism. We still had separate friends and interests.

So I'm left to conclude that in this case single people are full of it. You guys abandon us just as often as we abandon you, maybe more. I think secretly you guys just might not want to deal with your old single buddy or single gal pal suddenly becoming a Siamese twin.

OK, I'm gonna go pop a Motrin and get back to work.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Two Things

Busy, busy, busy morning folks. But if you'd like a little reading material, here is the column I wrote for today's Style section on how to "properly" buy clothes for your dad for Father's Day.

Also, I think we can agree the D.C. pants judge has issues. If you hadn't heard, he broke down crying in the courtroom yesterday when discussing the pants for which he has sued his old dry cleaners for $54 million. Now, don't get me wrong. This guy is a tool. This dry cleaning couple run a mom 'n pop operation. They sound like nice old people. They mean well, etc. Occasionally the misplace or outright lose items, but what dry cleaners doesn't from time to time. Easy for me to say, of course, because they haven't lost my stuff.

So to rehash, Judge Pearson originally sued the cleaners for around $65 million, because they lost the pants to his new suit when he needed them most - he planned to wear that suit to a new job. He distrusted them so after that incident even though they found the pants a week later - that he determined, based on an obscure D.C. law, that he was entitled to millions for the inconvenience, because he would have to find a new dry cleaners, and so on and so forth.

He has since amended his suit for the "lower" amount and changed its focus to alleged fraud on the part of the dry cleaners for posting signs in their windows that said "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Same Day Service." Clearly Judge Pearson was not satisfied. Nor did he get his pants back the same day.

However, while I won't defend Judge Pearson for his outrageous lawsuit, one thing bothers me about the dry cleaner's defense. At a news conference yesterday, one of their attorneys, Chris Manning, said this: "This case is very simple. It's about one sign and the plaintiff's outlandish interpretation."

There was a time in this country where "satisfaction guaranteed" was a badge of honor for the small business person who knew his product or service was great. It was a bragging point. Now, according to this attorney, taking that sign and the "same day service" sign literally is an "outlandish interpretation?"

Have our expectations for good service - or at least promised service - gotten so low?

This strikes me as one of those I-didn't-say-that moments. Remember when Charles Barkley wrote an autobiography a few years ago and had some controversial statement in there? When asked about it, he answered "I was misquoted." They were his words! How do you misquote yourself?

Again, Judge Pearson is a jerk for abusing the system and suing these poor folks over pants that they found (plus they offered to give him a few grand for the hassle). But the cleaners can't be let off the hook either for making shallow promises. Ironically, they've since removed the signs.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I thought I had seen everything, until I saw this story from CBS 5, KPIX TV, in the San Francisco area about a secret government plan to create a gay bomb.

That is not a typo. Apparently in 1994 a U.S. Air Force lab in Ohio requested government funds to develop a bomb that when dropped over enemy combatants would release a chemical that, in theory, caused same-sex enemy troops to become intensely attracted to one another so that they would lose their will to fight and spend all their time hooking up with one another.

This is the best weapon we can come up with in this day and age when cars can talk and run on hydrogen and parallel park themselves?

Seriously, if they ever revive this bomb project I want that lab to develop an aversion-to-crack bomb to be dropped over drug-addled, depressed, urban neighborhoods and a distaste-for-meth bomb to be dropped over rural areas. I want an anti-prostitution bomb dropped along the Ho Stroll that is better known as Federal Highway from downtown Miami, all the way up to Hollywood, Fla. The idea would be for the crack- and meth-heads to stop putting poison in their bodies, and for the 'tutes to put some clothes on and just stop.

While they're at it, I would like the Air Force to develop a quiet bomb and shove it right up the tail pipes of the numbnut drivers who roll at 5-miles-per-hour past my house bumping brain-rattling booty music. I want them to start speeding by my house while playing instrumental jazz at the next-to-lowest volume level. Maybe there's room for a murder bomb that would compel stupid people who kill for fun or fits of anger to hug it out or at worst call their enemies bad names and then walk away. Definitely gotta have a lazy bomb for that dude on my block who sat at home and played video games all day - and was proud of it - while his wife was out working. And can't forget the Hooked-on-Phonics bomb for the underachieving children whose parents allow them to think that books are for classrooms only and video games and eight hour TV marathons are for home.

Specifically in South Florida, a bad driver bomb would be good, along with an incivility/rudeness bomb, a bad neighbor bomb, and a posers-pretending-to-be-rich-while-partying-on-South-Beach-when-in-reality-back-in-their-apartments-they-don't-have-a-crumb-to-eat-or-a-pot-to-piss-in bomb.

For the whole country - and surely this is possible if we could develop the Fat Man and Little Boy bombs that leveled big chunks of Japan to conclude World War II - can we just drop a common sense bomb already?

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Celebrating blindness

I know that "you've come a long way, baby" was once a corny cigarette marketing slogan. But in some ways it is applicable to the social development of the United States.

No need to rehash in this post all the things that were wrong 40 or 50 years ago and further.

But I was reading my hometown paper the other day and came across an article observing the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made it legal for couples of different ethnicities and colors to get married.

I'm not gonna call 'em "mixed-race" marriages or "interracial marriages," 'cause while I'm not PC and hippies bug me, I do agree with the granola set that there's only one "race" of least on this planet.

Anyway, I believe today marks the exact day 40 years ago the high court struck down the Virginia law that made it a crime to marry someone who had a lighter or darker "tan" than your own.

Scary, especially considering that in this country more than half of us are mutts, whose ancestry is as mixed as a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream.

So while I'm not the nostalgic type, kudos to the Supreme Court, to the attorneys who argued that old Virginia state law banning such marriages was wrong, and to the couples who stuck to their guns because they really loved one another in spite of what they were told to think.

They paved the way for couples like me and Mrs. B... to be!

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Saturday Roundup

OK, I can admit that I contributed to the stupid media frenzy about that skank-arsed jailbird out in Cali we've all been obsessing over.

But all jokes aside, the Miami Herald crime reporter's blog offers a jaw-dropping - or what should be jaw dropping - example of broadcast media - 'cause like it or not cable news networks do tend to be more in-your-face over "prominent" people news - having seriously messed up priorities. Click on the link. But in case you don't feel like it, here's the abbreviated version: A young, recent college grad, aiming to start a career in law enforcement or as an attorney, by all accounts a nice person with socially-redeeming qualities, has been missing in Miami since Memorial Day weekend. Authorities fear foul play. One cable news network invited two Herald reporters on to talk about the case and spread the word in case anyone was a witness to whatever happened to her. In both cases, the network canceled the interview at the last second 'cause they wanted to dedicate virtually every second of their air time to news about that celebutant jailbird. Anyway, click the link. It's a more thorough explanation.

And speaking of abuse of the law, that numbnut attorney/admin judge in Washington D.C. has decided to no longer sue his former dry cleaner for $65 million for losing his pants and apparently scarring him for life...He has reduced the amount of his suit to $54 million, saying now his suit is focused on fraud by the dry cleaner for posting signs guaranteeing satisfaction to customers.

In less serious news, here is my article from today's paper.

Pop quiz: are we hypocrites or not? That's too vague. How's this - are you a fan of The Sopranos? I am. I'm a huge fan. OK, now this - do you find gangsta rap, which thrives on rhyming about street grime and street crime as folklore, to be distasteful? I do. It disgusts me that anyone would sing/rap about robberies, cons, drug deals gone bad, strippers, murders, prostitution, and so on, and call it just entertainment and defend it as musical poetry chronicling what really happens in depressed communities. And yet, in this final season of the show I have really been into from its first year, I have witnessed at least five murders and not been fazed by them. I have watched strippers (on the show) do their thing and not been fazed by it. I have watched violent assaults and thefts take place and have not been fazed by them. I have watched drug use and not blinked an eye. Why? Because I found each episode of the show entertaining. So if the same negative elements are "described" through lyrics/dialogue and verbal/visual imagery in each forum - premium cable television and commercial music production - why is one more acceptable as entertainment and the other slammed as an irresponsible use of the air waves? In theory aren't they both "outrageous?" I admit it. I am a hypocrite.

Finally, if you're bored or need a laugh you can watch me on TV. I was a panelist Friday night on Issues, a current events round table show WPBT Channel 2, the PBS affiliate station, here in the Miami area. It re-runs Sunday at 12:30 in the afternoon, but why wait? Click the link above and then click the link on the upper righthand side of the page that says "Watch last week's program." It's a 30 minute show. The round table is the second segment - starts about 14 minutes and 50 seconds in. Enjoy. Or if you don't, don't tell me. I'm very sensitive about my shiny nose and funny voice.

OK, that's all for me, at least for this afternoon. I have a pond to clean and a lawn to maintain.

Peace and hair grease.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Lie to your children, please!

Please tell your kids that if they grow up and break the law and get caught they actually will be punished for it and won't be given preferential treatment in the administration of that punishment.

Tell them that jails will not be too overcrowded to hold them.

Tell them that if they get a rash in jail they will not be released early. They'll just be sent to the jail clinic, given ointment and returned to their cell.

Tell them that crying jags and fits of hysteria will not get them released early from jail either. Tell them that those things will get them molested by their fellow inmates...but not released early.

Tell them that being rich and famous will not matter if you're caught breaking the law.

Tell them that if they do break the law and get caught that you will not disrespect the system by loudly ridiculing the prosecutor who takes them to task or the judge who metes out their punishment.

Tell them you can not repeatedly drink and drive and get caught and get away with it.

Tell them that even if they move to Los Angeles they will not be able to murder their ex-wife and get away with it (had to slip this one in).

Tell them that being born into money will not get them status - that if they want status they'll have to work hard and perform socially benevolent acts.

Tell them that making fun of poor people and ethnic minorities on tape will not make them popular. Tell them such acts will demonstrate that they're mean-spirited bad people.

Tell them that using racial slurs will not get supposedly hardcore rappers to be their friends. Tell them those rappers will stand on principle and reject their friendly overtures.

Tell them that making a sex tape with an ex-flame and pretending to have no knowledge of the tape prior to its release will not make them popular. Tell them it will get them scorned and pitied.

Tell them that if they do all of the above and later launch their own perfume line and write a couple of books that otherwise good moms will not take their impressionable little girls to public appearances to buy the perfume and books and get autographs.

Tell them that there are even karmic and cosmic consequences to being a self-centered, racist, condescending person who contributes little to greater society in the way of responsible behavior.

Tell them that it pays to do the right thing.

And hope and pray that they're old and have kids of their own before they realize sadly that some of what you told them may not have been true.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Odds and Ends

Morning folks. I didn't blog last night 'cause my wireless router fried. And I was too lazy to set aside my notebook and walk the 40 feet to my desktop to go online from there.

Anywho, I'm doing a little homework this morning and have no grand ideas.

But I do have some reading material for you and a few morsels for thought.

  • My article in today's paper. Enjoy.
  • Is this for real? If so, I can't begrudge anyone happiness, but it's just weird. I know neither of these two is a killer on the record, but it still makes me envision OJ hooking up with Lizzie Borden.
  • When I was a kid my dad used to say all the time "I hate quitters." Later he toned it down and said he didn't hate them, 'cause hate wasn't right. Eventually he backed off that notion altogether, because some people quit some things for honorable reasons. Jerry Roberts, former editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press newspaper, quit not so long ago, because he didn't like what management above him was doing to the paper's news content and its staff. He could've bitten his tongue, collected his pay and stayed put. But, right or wrong, he quit on principle. So it was gracious of my dad to eventually clarify, but from when I was a kid I understood that he meant he had disdain for people who quit simply because the going gets tough, which leads me to two of the biggest fighters in media these days: Donald Trump and Rosie. I have respect for both to the extent that Trump has built his business and reinvented it repeatedly over the years to much success, and both of them have ingeniously turned themselves, their personalities, into marketable commodities. I even respect that they don't often seem to back down from what they say they believe, even though I don't like most of the opinions I've heard her express or how he's expressed his opinion. Either way, I've always respected that they took the heat for their words. And now they've both quit. She quit The View after her tussle with co-host Elizabeth Hasslebeck over whether or not Hasselbeck should have defended Rosie's statement about "who" the terrorists are in the war in Iraq. For the record, the terrorists, as far as my tiny brain can comprehend, are the people intentionally killing civilians and blowing up markets and schools, etc. He quit The Apprentice, after NBC announced it wouldn't be on the fall schedule. Lower ratings over the past couple of seasons contributed to NBC's decision. Still, I recall Trump lambasting a cast member/contestant on The Apprentice who decided to quit last season when her team was in a slump. She left because she said the conditions weren't right for her. So, back where we started: Trump and Rosie quit. You don't have to like either of them, but quitting 'cause the kitchen got too hot? Not cool. BTW, in case someone who knows Trump stumbles and falls face first into a computer monitor that has this blog on screen and tells him about it, I am not the dumbest person in newspaper. I have met that person. He doesn't work at the Miami Herald.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Crime and cliches

Greetings, folks. Hope the weekend has been good for you so far.

I spent Friday running/driving through heavy rains and hanging out with the Pac-Man world record holder (first person to ever get a perfect score in the game - story coming in Tuesday's paper). I spent Saturday morning vegetating with Mrs. B and doing a little book shopping. Saturday evening I caught up on my news reading - Miami Herald naturally, the Virginian-Pilot, my home town paper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, my last employer, the Wall Street Journal, a couple of gossip Web sites (my guilty pleasures), and a news industry news site.

Catchin' up on my reading is what brings us to this post.

I've flip-flopped for years on whether or not "Crime does not pay" is really a true statement. I could give you dozens, maybe hundreds of examples I saw as a crime reporter of criminals making big money. Granted, in many cases the profiteering criminals eventually got locked up or killed. But for a time, their behavior did pay.

Part of it is perception. If the casual observer believes crime pays, then that notion takes on sort of a legendary quality. I once wrote an article about drug dealer profit in which former, failed dealers acknowledged that when they calculated the amount of money they made, the hours spent, and the physical effort made to sell drugs, their hourly wage came to about what they'd make flipping burgers in Mickey D's. Same article: A kid - 5-years-old, if I remember right -was hit by a car in front of his house in Milwaukee. When emergency workers went to remove his clothes to check for injuries they found a baggie of white powder in the boy's sock and got police involved. The powder turned out to be baking soda. When all the adults involved asked the boy later why he'd put a bag of white powder, baking soda, in his sock he answered that he'd seen the older boys doing it in a park near his home. So he thought it was the thing to do.

Take this guy. Crime probably paid for him here and there over the years. Unfortunately for him, the well dried up late last week.

And this guy. A city councilman in my old stomping grounds, accused of shaking down business owners in his district and conspiring with two other men to assault another guy. I understand "innocent until proven guilty," but if the charges against the alderman turn out to be true then crime once paid for him. Not anymore.

So I read about these two and I think of another cliche about crime being difficult. You know, like "pimpin' ain't easy?" Seriously, I am the biggest goof when it comes to making jokes about pimps, even though I know they're bad. But even I'm smart enough to know that the reason criminals keep going back for seconds, and thirds, and so on is 'cause crime is easy. Taking a chance on dealing drugs, robbery, burglary, or worse, is no different philosophically than gambling money. And if you place a low value on your life, maybe gambling money means more to you than risking your life and freedom committing a crime. So many criminals become repeat offenders, because even after they're caught and sometimes punished they see their prosecution/incarceration as simply a bad roll of the dice or a bad draw from the top of the deck. And they figure the odds are in their favor for the next roll.

You know what's not easy? Brain surgery. That isn't easy. Rocket science isn't easy. Tying bow ties evenly isn't easy. Keeping poison toads out of your koi pond isn't easy. Getting out of bed to go to a legit job every day isn't easy. Restraining yourself from sticking a size 12.5 boot in the behind of the idiot kid who bumps his eardrum-shattering stereo as he drives past your house isn't easy. Not choking the crime-enabling rich guy cruising a poor neighborhood looking for a weed dealer, because he doesn't want sidewalk pharmacists doing business in his nice neighborhood isn't easy. Being a good spouse or a good parent isn't easy. Being a good friend isn't easy. Breaking a sweat to help a stranger isn't easy. Just doing the right thing isn't easy.

But each of these things - except the boot-in-the-behind and the choking of the drug buyer, 'cause you could land in jail too for assault - pays way more than criminal behavior and with much greater currency than just money.

Till Sunday evening, peace and hair grease.

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