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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Rap on Congress

I was hoping to go to bed this evening having tasted a good laugh for dessert.

My wish has come true. I'll be turning in, in a few minutes. But first, I was thrilled to find updated news reports about a U.S. Congressional committee holding hearings on scary, scary rap music lyrics.

That's right. These numbnuts whom we elected to administer the law, measure the effectiveness of law, when necessary write new law, defend the citizenry, preserve our good legal traditions, adjust or eliminate our bad ones, and preserve our basic freedoms, are holding hearings on sexism, racism, and violence in rap music lyrics.

Here's the thing: go back and read the past year-and-a-half's worth of archives. You'll find at least a half dozen posts in which I blasted gangsta rappers, and bling rappers for making violent or plain old stupid tunes with no substance and helping to pollute mushy minds. But the way to fix the "problem" of violent, vile, or just plain stupid lyrics is to raise your kids in a way that they understand most professional "pop" musicians are lucky morons who periodically stumble across catchy melodies, not people to take behavior lessons from. Congress can pass don't ask, don't tell. They need to consider don't like, don't buy.

So unless Congress is planning on doing away with the 1st Amendment, they have no business doing anything with rap except bobbing their heads to it or rolling their car windows up when they hear it.

We have citizens compelled to take out second mortgages on their homes in order to supplement half-assed medical insurance, while non-citizens who can't afford insurance can get treatment in many cases without fear of receiving a collections notice in the mail. We have local municipalities laying off police officers, because they can't afford to continue regular garbage pickup and pay for cops too without raising tax levies so high as to force homeowners to flee. We have a war going on in another country that is costing more than $1 billion a month to run. We have troops fighting that war without adequate equipment or supplies. We have such a level of poverty in this country that maintaining the status quo instead of helping people learn to support themselves has become a government industry. We have a municipal and circuit court system in such disarray that three people of identical age, with identical backgrounds, and identical records, can get arrested and charged with identical offenses at the same time under identical circumstances in separate locations and all face drastically different punishments if convicted. We have public schools in some areas that are asking students to share textbooks, because there aren't enough to go around. We have sanctions in place against countries whose governments made our (poop) list, because they treat their citizens badly, but we trade with China, a country that brought us the greatest weight loss plan ever: getting run over by a tank in Tienanmen Square, and whose next built-for-America toy line will likely include shrink-wrapped rusty nails, bags of broken glass, and the hottest new board game -Bobbing for Used Hypodermic Needles. We can send people into space, and we have billion dollar satellites that can zoom in on a license plate from beyond the stars. And yet, we can't find Osama bin Laden.

And - drum roll, please - we have Congressmen admittedly calling prostitution services and allegedly trawling the ho' stroll for companionship. We have wide-stanced Congressmen accidentally, possibly, maybe trying to solicit sex in public bathrooms. We have Congressmen accepting freezers full of cash from undercover federal agents offering fake bribes. We have Congressmen driving drunk, doing drugs, and engaging in sex talk with minors.

Yes, these Titans of honesty, good sense, and morality are here for you, people. On your behalf they intend to find out where exactly you can find "California love," what exactly "ain't nothin' but a G-thang," how exactly "endo" is smoked, whether there are really "hos in different area codes," exactly what cut Congress gets of the "money on (our) minds," and whether or not "fallin' back on that ass with a hellified gangsta lean" is truly similar to "getting funky on the mīc like an old batch of collard greens."

Your tax dollars at work.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bill O'Reilly in Harlem

I'm thinking the most uncomfortable topic for folks in this country to discuss candidly - besides sexual preferences - is race relations. So let's keep talking. We started with Jena yesterday. Let's keep it going. In fact, if we can all stomach it, let's discuss this topic for the rest of the week.

So, issue of the day, for me, anyway: Bill O'Reilly's comments on his radio show the other day about his experience dining with Al Sharpton at Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem, NY. If you don't wanna click the link, the abbreviated version is that Sylvia's is an old, black-owned soul food restaurant in Harlem. Most of Sylvia's patrons are black. It is a restaurant. People go in, the sit, they order, they eat, they drink, they converse, they pay, and they leave. That's about as dramatic as it gets. After dining at Sylvia's, O'Reilly commented - and I'm paraphrasing here - on his radio show that he was pleasantly surprised and impressed with the tame atmosphere in Sylvia's. He was impressed that all the black folks there were well-behaved and not acting out like boisterous, rowdy rappers. He was struck that the atmosphere in Sylvia's was no different than that of any other nice eatery in New York, and he noted that Sylvia's had as nice an atmosphere as any Italian restaurant in any predominantly white suburb.

Now, here's the thing. A lot of the bluster and outrage over what O'Reilly had to say alleged racism on his part. I don't think so. Whether or not you think he is a racist isn't important to me. But in this particular incident, if you take ALL of his comments in full context, the Sylvia's bit was just a part of his monologue decrying stereotypes and racism.

However, I think to try to make this about O'Reilly allegedly being racist is disingenuous and misses the point. I don't believe the man is racist. On the other hand, I don't care if he is, 'cause nothing he says or does directly impacts me.

Only two things bothered me about O'Reilly's comments: that in 2007, an educated, worldly-wise guy like him would be genuinely shocked that the mostly black patronage at Sylvia's was on its best behavior when he dined there, and that many white people form their notions of black folks based on prevalent media images of black rappers.

So here's my question and concern? Is O'Reilly right? Seriously, do a majority of white people in this country think a majority of black folks are like bumbling rappers? 'Cause if he's right - and remember, he's an educated guy who's been around the block - then I can't imagine what "less fortunate" white people must think of us.

Don't get it twisted. I'm not walking around chewing my nails and worrying that white people will think I fling my poop against the wall, wear bearskin loincloths to work, and eat my steak raw. But considering the unnecessary racial tension that still permeates the air all across this country, if we can do away with just one more stereotype it could help.

I really don't have any more to say about this one, other than to reiterate that I hope O'Reilly's wrong about the rapper assertion. And if you're ever in New York try Sylvia's. I love the place and would order the entire menu on each visit, if I could.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Catchin' Up w/the Jena 6

I'd love to just break the tension by quoting Rodney King: "Can't we all just get along," but this situation bothers me on a million levels.

I have two reactions to it - practical/logical, and emotional.

The practical/logical side of me says this case was bungled from the very beginning. If you're not sure how, consider this:
  • If you're familiar with the story, then you know that simmering racial tensions in that town intensified between young people, after three white students at Jena High School were found to have hung nooses from a campus shade tree, the day after a group of black students violated an unwritten campus "rule" that designated the tree a white hangout spot. So the district attorney in that neck of the woods was tasked with deciding whether or not the draping of the nooses constituted a crime. He decided the action was an ill-planned prank and declined to prosecute. The principal issued a stiff suspension to the guilty parties, but the school board overrode the suspension and issued a lesser one. the DA is legal advisor to the school board. He should have recused himself from the start to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.

  • Second, the DA reportedly declined to investigate reports of numerous fistfights between groups of white and black students and the alleged brandishing of a rifle or shotgun by a white student at black students. If those reports are true, then shame on the DA, because this whole mess could have been handled and done with six months ago.

  • Third, if the young black men charged with beating that young white man unconscious are guilty of the charges, they should be punished. They should do time. That beating, as its been described in news reports, meets the legal standard for assault. Or, depending on the motives and circumstances, it's battery. The attempted murder charges they originally faced though? Not so sure about that. Intent to kill is extremely difficult to prove.

OK, so that's the practical/logical side.

My emotional side wishes we could sweep this thing under a rug, 'cause disputes rooted in different skin colors never end well.

My emotional side cringes a little, 'cause I hate to see young men who remind me of myself 15 or 20 years ago get in big trouble. But I know that being flustered and feeling intimidated can't be a real defense for violent behavior, unless you can say you feel your life is in danger, you have no escape, and your only recourse is to get the person who's threatening you first. 'Cause if we could just beat every person who looked at us cock-eyed and muttered threats, I swear I'd have stomped new orifices into half the drunks and wannabe bad asses in my neighborhood.

My emotional side is angry, 'cause I feel like the DA - if the news reports are true - made no effort prior to the beating that caused the uproar to investigate alleged intimidation tactics like the noose drapings and the alleged gun-brandishing. He could have prevented this uproar.

My emotional side is angry, because I believe that protesters and marchers in Jena who wore t-shirts with the slogan "Free the Jena 6!" sent the wrong message. If those young men are guilty as charged, they shouldn't be freed! They should be locked up. They just shouldn't be locked up for decades, unless the DA has absolute proof that they intended to kill the young man they jumped.

My emotional side is angry that these young men gave into emotion and ignored common sense. If news reports are accurate then the young man they beat was in no way connected to the nooses in the tree or the other racial intimidation. They dove head first into trouble that could ruin the rest of their lives because they were angry over racial slights - some real no doubt, and some perceived no doubt. But none worth losing your cool and going to jail over.

But my emotional side is also angry, because I feel that reasonable people who are calling for stiff but fair punishments for the accused assailants are being drowned out by extremists on both sides who want to use this case to create greater divisions between races.

And then I realize that all jokes aside, I really do wish I could just quote Rodney King and make all of this go away.

UPDATE: Least there is any confusion, when I say this whole thing could have been avoided, I mean if the noose hangers had been appropriately dealt with in the beginning - charged with a crime under federal hate crime statutes. Look at it this way, if those little weasles had hung nooses in a black family's front yard or say lit a cross on fire in their front yard, they would have been arrested and charged with hate crimes promptly. But because they hung nooses from a tree in a school yard, all that warranted was a short suspension? Wrong. But still, unless the guy who was beaten here had something to do with the nooses or the other reported acts of racial intimidation toward black youth in this town, then the accused should not have even thought about jumping on this kid, much less gone through with it.


Monday, September 24, 2007

I'm alive!!!

Sorry for my absense, friends. I've been swamped w/two projects - one on the thousands of tragic child custody cases we never hear about in the news, because they don't involve famous parents or kids, or international disputes, and one that I can't quite tell you about yet. I hope to finish the first project this week, and I hope to at least have something happy and/or exciting to tell about the second project by the end of this week or the beginning of next week.

In the mean time, hold the fort. I have a breather this evening, and I will do a regular blog post then.

Peace and hair grease - James.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Write off

That's what I'm doing to this day, in terms of blogging: writing it off.

I'm on deadline, trying to finish an article for tomorrow's paper, so I don't have any wit or wisdom to offer.

I can give you my most recent, Q&A column. Some of you know that Unbuttoned with James Burnett runs Mondays in the Miami Herald. I find personalities - some famous, some not, all quirky - around South Florida, and I grill 'em. Anyway, here is the one from this Monday.

Enjoy. I'll try to do a regular post this evening.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nasty, nasty, nasty!

I have always assumed, based on the state of public restrooms, that men have better bathroom hygiene than women.

No, I have not spent much time in public women's rooms...except for the women's room at Blu, a magnificent cocktail lounge atop the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. Seriously, the view of the city and Lake Michigan from the 23rd-floor women's room in Blu is amazing. It is worth risking getting caught and scolded by the hostess to see that view. My disclaimer is that I'm not a weirdo who sneaks into women's rooms for fun. But an old girlfriend way back in the day heard about the view, and the first time we visited the lounge she came out of the bathroom raving about the view. So with her standing guard I decided to go see for myself. She was right. Everyone was right. It was great.

Anyway, as a miserable fry cook and all-purpose sucker at CrackRonalds in high school, I often had to clean the bathrooms. And hands down, the women's room was always 3X as dirty as the men's room. I won't disgust you with the details. Also, every woman I've ever dated and my wife has described Third World conditions in public women's rooms. Just this weekend, as Mrs. B and I were out shopping, she had to make a pit stop, and when she came out of the women's room I knew by the grimace on her face that something was wrong. She then described things she had seen and dodged and sidestepped in the bathroom that made me want to put her in one of those Outbreak suits or make her go into one of those chemical decontamination showers before I let her back into our car.

So imagine my surprise when I saw this story last night, that says a recent study found that significantly more women (88%) than men (67%) wash their hands when leaving the can. The story says that two years ago 90% of women and 75% of men washed their hands before exiting the can.

Funniest quote in the article: "Guys need to step up to the sink," said Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the Soap and Detergent Association, which co-sponsors the survey and related education campaigns.

But here's what gets me: This latest study was conducted last month by "observation" of 6,000-plus people in four major cities. I want to know who got paid enough to sit in a public bathroom, count the foot traffic, and watch the sinks? And given the hubbub over Sen. Craig why didn't these bathroom "watchers" get arrested on the job?

Ladies, I owe you an apology. I was wrong about y'all. Your cans - public bathrooms, not your behinds - may be dirtier, but your hands are apparently cleaner. And guys, that whole pee-is-sterile thing only applies to jellyfish stings and snake bites. So if you're on an isolated beach or in the wilderness you're excused from hand-washing. Otherwise, no excuses. Lather up.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Geese, ganders, and hypotheticals

You guys know I love hypotheticals. Call 'em instigators to friendly debate. But before we go on, take a good look at the two pics below.

In case you don't get it, let me explain. On the left is a young man, or at least a young man's checkered boxers and jeans. On the right are two young women, or at least their undies and jeans.

So when you see a person - typically a young man - wearing such loose trousers, like the guy on the left, that his skivvies are showing what is your snap judgment, your immediate reaction? And what about when you see a person - typically a young woman - wearing such snug, low-riding jeans, like the women on the right, that their undies and sometimes even their half bare behinds are showing?

I'll be honest. My instant reaction is usually the same, whether the offender is male or female. I usually feel scorn at such a display of poor taste.

However, my second reaction varies, depending on who I'm looking at. We're being honest, right? So I'm a hypocrite. With the guys my scorn is usually followed quickly by intense annoyance. The sight just bugs the hell out of me, maybe because I know that it is a fashion statement that was born in prisons across the country where male inmates' pants sag, because often the inmate aren't allowed belts. That look is nothing to aspire to. With the women, my scorn usually softens juuuuuuust a little and is followed by an old fogyish comment to the effect of "Boy, they sure didn't make 'em like that when I was her age!"

So we find ourselves with this article, posted on last evening. If you don't want to click the link, the abbreviated version is that a growing number of cities across the U.S. have instituted or are trying to pass laws that ban the wearing of super saggy trousers that show off underwear. The logic in every case is that too many young "men" are showing too much underwear, because of big baggy trousers.

Critics say politicians in these towns are unfairly targeting guys who are hip-hop heads, guys who embrace rap culture. Supporters say these guys are being indecent by showing their underwear.

My question is what do the critics and politicians have the bigger problem with, baggy trousers or visible underwear and/or butt cheeks? If it's the former, then their beef is with the baggy look. If it's the latter, then their beef is with the lack of modesty and decorum. And if this is about modesty and decorum, then it doesn't matter how loose or tight one's pants are. The issue is what shows. And if politicians insist on focusing on the bagginess of man pants, then I agree with the critics. I see more thongs peeking out of tight, low-riders on women than I do boxers or briefs peeking out from guy's baggy pants...not that I'm looking for either.

We don't need new laws regulating the waist-band on people's trousers. That's why we have indecent exposure ordinances on the books. If people's underwear show, give 'em tickets and as my grandma would say, smack 'em up side their heads. But if they're actually showing butt skin or loin skin? Arrest 'em for indecent exposure.

Save the passing of new criminal laws for the introduction of new crime.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Weekend Roundup

Thanks all for the birthday wishes. I had a great time. Low key - just the way I like it in my old age.
  • Scenes from the mall - Make fun if you want, but I spent the bulk of my actual birthday, Saturday, in a mall. I wanted to treat Mrs. B, whose steadily increasing mom-to-be-induced roundness makes a lot of new clothes necessary. And the truth is I needed a few things too. My game's not complete if my gear isn't complete. Trousers, here, shoes there, a new pocket square here or there. Voila. My wardrobe is whole again. Anyway, I noticed something curious - to me, anyway. There were a lot of dudes walking around the mall wearing tiny shirts. I mean cut off-your-circulation, show-your-navel shirts, the kind the guys in A Night at the Roxbury wore, the kind, in fact, that you used to only see on slicked-back guys in a nightclub. Everywhere Mrs. B and I looked there were grown men walking around in t-shirts and Polos that they must've gotten at Baby Gap or Oshkosh B'Gosh. Did I miss the memo? I guess if I'm gonna keep up with the times I'll have to wash all my tees in scalding hot water and dry 'em on high heat. Following the next laundry cycle (tomorrow), I should be stylish again.
  • Stellar examples - I don't have any yet, 'cause I'm not a parent yet. But another thing I noticed in the mall was a huge number of parents cussing at or around their kids. I wanted to choke one woman who was snapping at her boy, who appeared to be about 4- or 5-years-old, telling him to "bring your ass over here," and "don't make me smack the (expletive beginning with SH) out of you!" I've seen this before, but as my day fast approaches I find myself focusing my people-watching on parents w/small kids. I'm no prude, but that can't be good for the kids. I can think of a million bad or embarrassing scenarios that will one day blow up in a parent's face if they walk around swearing cavalierly at/around their kids. What are you gonna say when the neighbor lady says hello and asks your kid how school was and Junior answers "It was effen great!" Is it really necessary? I remember my folks used to get pretty ticked off at me when I was a kid, 'cause like a lot of young kids I was hyper and didn't listen. But they never swore at me. In fact, I don't believe I ever heard them swear, even when they were angry, stressed out, etc. I'm not saying that if they had dropped an F-bomb around me it would have altered my life path and turned me into a criminal. But I can't imagine it would have helped in the civility and character-building areas. I'm just sayin'.
  • Pleasantville exists - Seriously, we found the real a grocery store, of all places. If you've read this blog before you know I have a love/hate relationship with South Florida. In the two years I've been here, I've grown to love the beaches and the palm trees, the sunshine, and the diverse ethnic and cultural food offerings. Love my job. And I'm not just saying that for management. When I was interviewing for this gig, one editor kept telling me that finding a good story to report down here is like picking ripe fruit, 'cause there's always something going on involving over-the-top personalities. He was right. I could be blind and deaf, and I would still stumble onto a regular flow of good stories. If you've ever read a Carl Hiaasen novel, believe it. People down here are that glue. And I mean that in a good way too. I even like that I could wear sandals year-round if I wanted to. But I hate the overcrowding. This entire region is like a cage of horny rabbits. The warm bodies multiply seemingly overnight. Or as Kingfish used to say to Andy (if you're not a nerd like me, or over the age of 45, you might not know the relevance of those two names together) South Florida is like "10 pounds of lard in a five-pound bucket." You can't drive down the street without elderly women wanting to play bumper cars with you. There are so many children, you could lay them down like floor mats and walk on their backs from one end of a block to the other without your feet touching the ground. "Reach out and touch someone" is not an advertising slogan here. It's as easy as lifting your arm and extending a finger. And the crowding is worst in places that everyone needs to be, like the grocery store. Mrs. B and I usually dread going to the grocery. The two closest to us - one regular store and one hippie store - are always packed, from early morning to late evening. Angry people jostling for position, snatching things off shelves like the next hurricane is gonna strike any minute, people ramming you with their carts and then giving you that "What? You were in my way" look. So on a whim we decided to try another grocery that's just as close to our house as our regular spot, but in an inconvenient direction. We drove the extra few minutes to the "new" store, and the clouds parted, and the heavens opened, and sexy angels danced and sang and rolled out a red carpet for us, and pastel-colored unicorns farted pixie dust in the form of flowery perfume. It was perfect! Well, it seemed like that anyway. What made this place great was that it was not crowded. The employees were helpful. And the patrons were considerate. I'm not kidding when I say that every two or three minutes, an employee smiling ear-to-ear would approach, ask how we were doing and ask if we needed help. Someone would accidentally bump our cart and then say "pardon me," or "excuse me," or "I'm sorry." And they'd utter these words while smiling. We'd move to squeeze through a narrow space at the same time as another patron, and that person would say "No, no, you first. I insist!" And then they'd smile and nod and walk on. I swear, people were whistling. All that pleasantness should have felt normal. But we're so used to the opposite, that we thought at first that either the grocery store was a front for a brain-washing cult, or everyone in there was on crack. Turns out folks in there were just really, really nice, and pleasant. I wanted to board up our house and come back with sleeping bags and camping gear and live at the store. The manager probably would have let us. We will be going back to the "Pleasantville" store regularly from now on. And no, I'm not giving you the address.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

bits and pieces, and no honor among thieves...or killers

Well, folks, I'm not gonna lie. I have nothing profound to offer you today. My mind already has me about six hours ahead of now, when I will begin celebrating living another year and finally being "officially" in my mid 30s.

I'll post tomorrow afternoon some time. Until then, if you believe in anything more powerful than yourself (other than the federal government) say a prayer for the families of Jose Somohano, Jody Wright, Tomas Tunidor, and Christopher Carlin, Miami-Dade Police officers who were shot yesterday by a long-time violent con, who was wearing body armour and toting an AK-47 assault rifle. And if you think you're the highest power you know, then you can still think good thoughts for these folks.

Ofcr. Somohano died from his injuries. The suspect, Shawn LaBeet, was killed late Thursday night in a second shootout with local officers. Early reports suggest that after LaBeet was pulled over for behaving suspiciously and driving erratically in a zone where the officers happened to be conducting a robbery/burglary sting operation, he got out of his car and eagerly, aggressively, began gunning for the cops.

I was talking with an old buddy, a retired homicide detective in another city, about this case earlier today, and he said he's noticed a change in the attitudes of "violent" criminals in recent years.

He said - and he's the second cop to tell me this in the past two months - that back in the day there was a code of "honor among thieves," so to speak, in which most bad guys drew a line at when they would commit violent acts and against whom.

This detective cited maybe a half dozen cases in his 30-plus years on the job in which a cop, or women, or children were targeted by a killer. Most homicide victims he saw were "planned" victims, or they were the victims of random violence (like the occasional carjacking by a drugged or drunk offender), or they were the victims of a passion/heat of the moment killing (like a drunk stabbing another drunk over alleged cheating in a card game, or something). Otherwise, it was very rare for bad guys - even those with reputations for violence - to kill just because.

Not sure what else to say about this. So, for now, I'll stop here.

So good day. And I'll chat you up tomorrow.

Peace and hair grease.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

I have come down with a case of the Costanza

If you were ever a hardcore fan of Seinfeld, you may remember the episode in which George Costanza suspects that people close to him are being brainwashed by a religious cult disguised as a carpet cleaning company.

So George "offers" himself up as bait to the cult. He hires them to clean his carpets at work. But the cult ignores George and instead converts his boss Mr. Wilhelm, who changes his name to Tanya. The harder George tries, the more the cult ignores him.

Not to suggest that any mainstream religion is a cult, but you'll get this analogy: The platform near my house where I catch the train to work a couple of days a week has lately been blanketed with Jehovah's Witnesses in the mornings. Not knocking them. They believe something. I believe something different. You believe something. They believe their something enough to get up early and try to share it with grumpy commuters. More power to 'em.

So when I arrive at the platform in the mornings, I notice the JWs approaching virtually every passenger on the platform and offering a Watchtower, a religious pamphlet, and asking if they can share a few words about their faith.

They never approach me.

I swear, they've set up shop at my platform for weeks now. And they won't even look at me.

At first it didn't bother me. I was grateful for being able to read my paper in peace, while waiting for my train. But then a couple of times they approached and chatted up the person sitting on the bench right next to me. And still, not even a glance in my direction!

I know I don't stink. I'm pretty damned fresh-smelling in the morning. And I know I'm pretty. I admit I do frown a lot, but more often than not I wear a neutral facial expression, a gentler version of the poker face, if I do say so myself.

This morning the elevator doors open and I'm about to step on so I can cross the tracks to a different platform. Two JWs step off the elevator. They're chatting and laughing. They look up and see me, and I swear they stop laughing for a split second. They give a brief, obliging smile, and then continue walking to the other side. Their chatting and chuckling resume. By the time I get to my side and sit down to wait for my train, they're walking up to a guy directly across from me, offering him reading material, laughing with him, and chatting him up.

What gives? Am I not worth reeling into Heaven to these people?

Here's the funny thing - I'm not looking to be proselytised or converted to anything. But the vain side of me hates not being wanted. Why won't they try to convert me, already? Yes, I would say I'm not interested, or I appreciate it, but I'm happy with my belief set. But at least try me. They don't know I'm unavailable! I know. I'm a sick man.

In case you never saw that episode of Seinfeld, in the end a frustrated George finally confronts the carpet-cleaning cultists and demands to know why they haven't tried to woo him.

Their answer? We're just not interested.

I'm afraid to ask.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hey! Look me in the eye...and only the eye.

When you look at a full body photograph of another person, what about them draws your eye first, or most?

While you think about your answer, try this on: According to world-renowned "usability" expert Jakob Nielson, if you're a woman you tend to focus on the subject's face. If you're a man, however, you're likely to hone in on the face and the crotch...regardless of whether the picture subject is a woman or another man.

Hey, don't kill the messenger. I'm just sharing here.

In a demonstration for online news editors studying the best news page layout designs, reported on by the Online Journalism Review earlier this year, Nielson conducted an eye-tracking test on 255 New Yorkers - 58% of them female, 42% male. No scientific explanation was given as to why men seem drawn to nether regions in pics, and women seem content to keep their eyes above the shoulders.

Among the different photographs studied during the one- to two-hour-long test, was one of Major League Baseball legend George Brett, bat in hand, mid swing.

This picture, from the OJR Web site, shows where "on" Brett male test subjects looked, and where female test subjects looked.

Hmmm. Fellas, I can't speak for you, but I'm pretty sure I don't spend any time ogling goodie bags. I can't give you scientific proof. You'll just have to take my word for it.

When I think about all the people I encounter every day, I admit I tend to give most of them the once over at first sight - you know, the quick head to toe glance. But focusing on the nether regions? Nah. I'd like to know a little more about the guys who took this eye-tracking test.

At any rate, if the test results weren't unsettling already, according to OJR men don't just eyeball crotches in photographs of other humans. "We" do it with pictures of animals too. Again, I'm just the messenger here. But OJR says "Men tend to fixate more on areas of private anatomy on animals as well, as evidenced when users were directed to browse the American Kennel Club site."


Just what I needed: something else to feel self conscious about. Already I'll be spending a little less time studying photographs of male athletes on news Web sites - note to self, from now on skip pictures of cyclists, football players, swimmers, and track & field types, and any other men who wear tights or grape smugglers. Now, next time I see my dog licking himself, I think I'll leave the room and give him some privacy. Wouldn't want him to think I was staring. Nor would I want to think, if he could talk, that he'd stop and tell me "Why don't you take a picture already? It lasts longer."

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering 9/11

Telling this story may be lazy of me, but the events that stand out most in my mind about the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened weeks after the fact. The newspaper I worked for then, asked me to find a firefighter who had worked in that town but later moved his family to NYC so he could fulfill his dreams of becoming a New York firefighter. I found the guy. I also found that he was the only survivor in his battalion. But he handled the emotional toll so well, that his bosses in the FDNY called on him to do an unenviable job following the attacks. So a photographer and I went to New York to spend some time with him and get his first person account and learn about what he went through in the days and weeks afterward. It is a long story, gut wrenching to me, but worth the read if you have 10 minutes to spare. Whenever folks read this story, I'm always asked afterward if my subject's meeting at Ground Zero with old bosses and co-workers from his old town was staged. I'll tell you in advance, it was not. Pure luck of the draw - the kind of incident that can turn an interesting story into a good story, in spite of the author. Email me if the link doesn't open.

Anyway, here it is. Enjoy: Easing the Pain

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Breaking up is hard to do

Mrs. B and me are fine.

But I am breaking up with a friend. Seriously. I meant to write this last week, upon making this decision. But I forgot, and a good friend - not the one in question - wrote something about it on her blog, reminding me to do the same.

So for the better part of nine years I have had two close guy friends, who have been about as close to best friends as possible for me. I say "as close," 'cause I'm just not 100% sold on that whole best friends thing, not since elementary school anyway. I'm like comedian Rick Reynolds, the guy who used to do the "Only the Truth is Funny" monologue: My friends have to earn their "rank" on a sliding scale. And I'm only half kidding. I don't need friends to do things for me. I need them to be there for me. More on that another time.

Anyway, the three of us have been like the Musketeers, or the Stooges, since the day we met at a journalism conference. The three of us, along w/four others, I think, had been invited as "emerging" writers, whatever that means. We have always been typical in the sense that we laughed over drinks and cigars. We debated women. We occasionally pursued women together. We could talk politics and sociology. We could talk the basest, crudest talk about romance, and snicker like school boys. We could talk religion. If one was physically threatened, we all rolled up our sleeves and prepared to give or take a thrashing, one for all, all for one. And if one of us was down and out, we could count on one another - right along with our girlfriends (at the time), or relatives - for emotional support. Our friendship reflected that biblical principle that says a true, close friend, is "closer than a brother."

I even had one old girlfriend joke that she had never seen guys comfortable enough in their own skin to open up to each other like family, the way we three had. Some guys would get squeamish at her comment. I took it as a compliment. I know who I am.

But our friendship has always had one problem: one of the guys has no filter. He doesn't know when to speak, when to bite his tongue, or how to think analytically the split second before speaking. And his internal issues - those he hasn't really shared - are such that to rein himself in would be "selling out" in his mind.

When he's on, he's a cool guy, a stereotypical good buddy. When he's off, he can be downright mean.

On the one hand he has joked with gradually increasing seriousness that me and the third guy are corporate shills, driven each day by "the man." On the other hand he regales us from time to time with his efforts to climb the ladder at his own company. It's different, he argues, for him, because he's climbing grudgingly and we appear to enjoy "the game."

For years we've made excuses for his untimely comments in mixed company, his insults to us, flung under the guise of him keepin' it real by always, always, speaking his mind. We've always said to each other "Oh, that's just (him) being (him)!" That line even became a mantra of sorts. And when he'd cross a line, one of us would check him. And, inevitably, after a short argument, he'd sheepishly apologize, say something like "I get it now," and then say how good it was that three guys with such different backgrounds could be friends 'cause it kept us grounded. We'd forgive. We'd all have a drink. We'd laugh it off. We'd move on...till the next incident.

But recently, he crossed the line one time too many with me. At a celebratory event, he blurted out some nonsense about questioning the need for us to be friends. It would have been harmless in any other setting. It took the wind out of the sails at this event. It soured the mood in the room.

We had our usual conversation afterwards, in which he insisted he meant no harm but he had to be "real."

Then the following day, at another event, he did it again. And something snapped in me. I've had enough. I'm done. Friendships shouldn't take this much work. I'm married now. And my wife and I don't have this much grief between us.

I spent the next couple of weeks out of touch with this buddy. And I finally reached the conclusion a few days ago. We can't be friends. I share some of the blame for this happening. If I had checked him harder back in the day and told him to grow up already, he either would have, or we would have decided long ago that we couldn't be friends. But I gave him pass after pass, because he always said sorry later. In a strange way I was a little bit of an enabler.

It's weird. I've never broken up with a friend before. I've had friendships that sort of faded into oblivion. But I've never made it a point to end a friendship.

I have to though. I'm too grown and too tired to keep sparring with this guy over his inability to filter himself sometimes and his lack of confidence that compels him to put down other people for trying. If he truly is just being himself, then he's gotta be him around some other friend.

Weird situation. Really, the old breakups with girlfriends? Those were tough. But I always got over them quickly and easily, because, frankly, I knew there was another young woman around the corner.

It's different with a plain old friend though. I don't like many people enough to consider them friends. And not many people other than my wife or my relatives can tolerate me enough to be my friend, my true friend.

I think, for the time being, my friend level will remain the same. I'm not taking applications for new ones. I'll continue to develop friendly acquaintanceships as they come my way. But for now no new friends. Too much work.

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One more thing on the VMAs

Washed up rocker Tommy Lee and rocker/country singer/rapper Kid Rock girl slapped each other at the MTV Video Music Awards last night in Las Vegas in an apparent spat over who was less of a loser when marrying/dating/marrying/dating actress Pam Anderson.

Observers called it a fight. I don't even know if it deserves that designation. I've seen corpses hit harder. Still, chairs were tossed. Momentary mayhem ensued. And security had to restrain Lee and escort both men out of the venue.

If Lee and Rock had been rappers, it is a pretty safe bet that some talking head on some alphabet soup cable news outlet would rip into the genre and issue an "indictment" in prime time this evening, using a broad generalization about rap music's "vile" and "dangerous" nature. Again, chairs were tossed. Burly security guards were required to get the situation in check. I recall that happening at another music awards show a couple of years ago - this one rap-themed - and critics called for the show to be canceled after that.

So my rhetorical question of the day: Will the talking heads blast these two slap-fighting rockers, condemn rock music, and cite these two "representatives" as evidence of its imminent downfall in prime time this evening?

Let us hold our breath and see.

BTW, if this is your first time reading this blog, welcome. But don't try to call me out for allegedly trying to make this about race, for giving an undeserved defense to rap music, or for comparing apples to oranges. Check the archives. There is no bigger reasonable, logical critic of rap out there than me. And this post is just about bluster and double standards. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Guilty pleasure

Even though I am an old man with eight - yes, I counted - gray hairs, from time to time I still like my MTV.

Usually it's for that 10 minutes or so in a day that the channel plays music videos. But tonight I got my fix through the annual Video Music Awards show, broadcast live from the Palms Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas.

What can I tell you? A good vid reminds me of the good old days - the late '80s and early '90s when I wore a flat-top box hair cut and thought my Nissan Hardbody pick-up truck w/the deep dish chrome rims and bass tube behind the seats was the coolest vehicle on the road. That was when videos celebrated success a little more than excess. Those were the days when Red Hot Chili Peppers was the name of a band and not a tabloid headline the day after some singer got caught with his pants down. Those were the days when rockers had big hair and tried to look androgynous because it was cool, not to make a political statement. You knew in those days that rockers partied hard but performed just as hard to earn their keep. And rappers either rhymed about parties and cute girls or scary stuff. And you knew if a rapper rhymed about scary stuff he had either lived it or was offering a cautionary tale. Rockers weren't afraid to sing ballads. An you could play a rock record backwards and you might actually hear something wonky. You could tell country tunes from rock tunes. And if you played a country record backwards, all you got was your wife and your job back, your car started running again, and your favorite hunting dog came back to life. And even if you liked a cup of substance in your pop tunes, when no one was looking you could even bob your head and snap your fingers to a bubble gum beat or a silly lyric and justify doing so by telling yourself "Hey, it's catchy!"

But the funny thing about pop music is it grows up fast. It's like children. One day your kid is wearing Underoos (Do they still make those?). The next he's going commando or she's trying to sneak a thong by you.

And this leads me to Britney Spears. I can't lie. Like a lot of other folks, I'm sure, the main reason I tuned in tonight was to see how she performed.

When it was over, I wanted to laugh, especially after comedienne Sarah Silverman's snarky monologue. But I couldn't.

The performance was slow, the dance moves unsure, the lip-syncing a half second off pace. I'm no music critic. But I can tell you about popular culture. And from what I saw, the biggest problem with Britney's performance wasn't that she lip-synced or danced badly. It was that bubble gum pop, while no more substantive than its ever been, has grown up a little more since the last time Britney released new music. Didn't think it was possible, but in the four years since Britney smooched Madonna on stage at the 2003 VMAs, her genre of music really has passed her by. She's stuck on naughty schoolgirl. The music is somewhere around naughty college girl now.

I feel for Britney a little. Sure she's reportedly still worth more than $75 million, even after divorce settlements. And sure she's mother to two boys who haven't been dropped on their heads in public.

But to paraphrase and "enhance" Sarah Silverman, Britney's only 25 year's old. And, unless she goes to college, starts some religious or charitable ministry, becomes president of the P.T.A., or becomes a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, she has already done every notable thing that she will ever do. Still, I suppose counting/spending tens of millions the rest of your life isn't the worst way to fade from the public eye.

In the meantime, tonight, I'm gonna log into my Web tunes account, watch some old videos, and reminisce about why in the world I ever thought "fresh" was a good way to describe anything "cool."

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Who are you?

I am sure we have all wanted to be someone else, or something else. I think it's natural. The whole other-side-of-the-fence thing, you know?

This story is a little weird though. It's both messed up and sad. If you're not inclined to click the link, the story is about an 83-year-old Florida man who died recently. His obituary listed the guy as having been a Major League Baseball player in his younger days. For more than two decades he told that story to his third wife, his friends and neighbors, his in-laws. And everyone believed him, 'cause when he was younger there had been a pro baseballer that shared this guy's first and last name. Their ages were different. But whenever anyone brought that up he always explained it away by saying he'd lied about his age when he was younger. So this guy died last .. and the real ball player, who is alive and well in Texas, was contacted about his supposed death. And the lie was exposed.

So my question is how do you get so caught up in your fantasy that you actually start telling people you really did live it? I feel for this guy's family. They believed the hype. In a twisted way I feel for him, but....

I don't know. When I was seven or eight, I wanted to be a teenager. But it never occurred to me to go around telling people I was already a teen. When I was a teen I wanted to be 20-something. I also wanted to be a Lothario. OK, I did lie about that sometimes back in the day. At one point in high school I wanted to be a pilot, a federal agent, and an attorney, in that order. Later in college the federal agent thing came up again. But as a general rule it never occurred to me to just start telling folks that I was any one of those things. I say as a general rule, because between the ages of 16 and 20 I'm pretty sure I regularly lied to girls and young women about who/what I was. Seriously, I considered each lie an investment that might possibly "earn" me a laundry list of good things, ranging from a peek, to a squeeze, to a kiss, to something more. So, at various points in that five year window I was an underwear model, a Kung Fu master, a trust fund baby (whose nicer car was in the shop), a dark-skinned Native American (don't ask why; it was a "trendy" thing to lie/brag about in the early '90s), a graduate assistant instructor, and a foreign exchange student (from the West Indies).

Anyway, I got sidetracked. My point is I really seriously want to know if there has ever been anything you wanted to be badly enough that you were willing to incorporate it into your biography?

Again, if I'm the only person who lied to get romance as a younger person, so be it. But that stuff ended when my common sense finally started to gel in my early 20s.

Would you BS your family, friends, co-workers neighbors about your background? Hopefully you wouldn't. But if your answer is yes, I gotta know why.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Quick Hits: Law & Order Edition

  • Thanks a lot, Sen. Larry Craig (R - Idaho) - Because of him I have altered my stance. Seriously, my new public restroom stance is still in the top secret development stages. But I can tell you the finished product will be narrow. A narrow mind is sure to follow. I'm also wearing skinny shoes so as not to risk accidentally bumping feet (or in Craig's case, accidentally knocking boots) with anyone else in the public restroom. And anything I drop on the floor of the can is staying there from now on. Scratch that. Anything I've ever dropped on the floor of a public can has stayed there. I am a borderline germophobe, when it comes to public restrooms. No business card I've ever had has been worth picking up from the floor of a public can, considering the germ potential. One time I picked something up that I'd dropped on a public restroom floor - a $20 bill. And, crazy as it sounds, I immediately took it to the sink and washed it w/hot water and that slimy pink bathroom soap. Then I used one of those hand driers on it. I'm nuts, I know. But my money was clean after that. Anyway, even if I drop money again, I won't be picking it up. I don't even want to know what a twenty on the floor means on the underground senatorial bathroom hookup circuit.
  • Being stupid can be as much of a "habit" as eating and sleeping - Once again, I say it's a good thing that 17-year-old Nick "Hogan" Bollea, son of pro wrestler Hulk Hogan is OK, following his horrific car wreck from a week or so ago. Can't say the same yet, for his passenger, an Iraq War vet who remains hospitalized over the wreck. But this wire story confirms what I posted to my blog early last week: The kid has a speeding problem and has been stopped repeatedly driving like someone was chasing him. Take away his car keys, please!
  • iPhones - This isn't about crime in the traditional sense. But if you bought an iPhone prior to this week, if you were one of those people who camped out on the sidewalk for several days in advance of the phones' June release, if you were one of those people who looked to the iPhone to be the new be all and end all, I have one thing to say to you: You got robbed! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Sorry. That was mean. But I had to get it out of my system.
  • The crime of blowing smoke - Let me say first that Miami has plenty of nice, clean, scenic places to spend time. OK, it has several. But for the time being Downtown Miami isn't one of those places. So the folks who are tasked with making Downtown Miami appear to be a desirable place have come to the conclusion that what ails the neighborhood is vowels. Not just any vowels, but "Os," specifically the Os in d"o"wnt"o"wn. So now the new Downtown Miami logo will likely read in part, "Dwntwn Miami." Well, that did it for me. Before, I didn't want to hang out in Downtown Miami, because my rickety knees - and lately, rickety ankles - made me not want to hurdle the homeless laying across the steam grates in the sidewalk. I also didn't want to do it, because of the lack of reasonably-priced parking, the poop-smell that sometimes permeates the street outside the one "upscale" department store that graces downtown, the gauntlet of real, professional, needle-tracked hos (not as some chat hosts believe, college basketball players) you have to pass through on some downtown sidewalks. Oh, and let's not forget the crack heads who I have seen with my own two relatively good eyes cleaning their pipes on the Metro Mover trolley that circles downtown. Phew. I am relieved, because I am certain that Dwtwn Miami will be nothing like Downtown Miami. The riffraff, including the hos, will leave the neighborhood along with the Os, I'm sure. I see Dwntwn Miami in a whole new light...and smell.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Mincing words

Thanks for all your patience and kind words, folks. I anticipate being off my crutches and gimp-free in another two or three days. And Og, thanks for the tips on refurbishing my sword cane. I plan on giving that a go some time next weekend.

At any rate, this post is not about anything earth shattering, nothing too deep, just a pet peeve. I have always had a major bone to pick with people and groups that won't say what they mean. It goes along the same lines as my distaste for passive-aggressiveness.

There are always exceptions. But in my mind, only two exceptions are good ones: romance, and respect. If you're head over heels for someone you're just getting to know or deeply in love with someone you're already in a relationship with, sometimes you just can't help but dance around a subject. Maybe it's because you're fumbling for just the right words, or maybe it's because you're trying to be careful not to hurt their feelings. As for respect, I don't think I'd ever refer to my obese friend as "obese" to another person. Instead, seriously, I might refer to that friend as "hefty," or "portly," or "stout," even. One of those words would make it clear that my friend was big. And I would never refer to an elderly person as "elderly" or "old" in the presence of another older person who was sensitive about his/her age. Instead, I might refer to them as "mature." person.

But that's it. No more exceptions. When I hear a car dealer at a used lot refer to a vehicle as "pre-owned," or "gently pre-owned," it pisses me off.

So you might understand why the sign below irritated me at the grocery store over the weekend. I was already annoyed, because my ankle was hurting. But as I hobbled along dutifully with Mrs. B, she stopped to get some protein. I guess pregnant women aren't supposed to eat deli meats, 'cause of a possible bacteria that can negatively affect them. So she was looking at the meat free stuff, and this sign was mounted above that section:

And these products were on the shelf:


Did I miss something? When did tofu become an "alternative meat?" An alternative to meat, I get. Meat grows on bones. Meat grows on things that run and walk and swim and fly - the distinctions between red meat, poultry, and fish, notwithstanding.

I have no beef - ha ha, no pun intended - with tofu and other alternatives. Different strokes. But I just can't stand the dancing around. Just call it what it is: a meat alternative.

I like this particular grocery store chain. They sell good, healthy stuff. But they plucked a nerve with that stupid sign. I swear it goes back to folks these days being hyper-sensitive about everyone else's feelings. There has to be a balance between good sense and overkill.

And anything that ends in "urkey" but is proceeded by "tof" does not belong on a shelf under a sign advertising meats.