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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hater Anniversary

It has been almost a year, since I first introduced the Hater Chronicles, a blog study of haters and what makes 'em tick.

I am happy to say that we have defined "hater." I think we can all agree that a hater is someone who begrudges you your success or happiness or contentment. A hater will listen to your announcement of a promotion at work and then downplay your boost as not that big a deal. A hater is the buddy who will see your interest in a woman and when you're out of earshot drop her "hints" about you that might kill her interest. A hater is the girlfriend who sees you trailing TP on the heel of your shoe but doesn't tell you as much before you approach that guy you really like. A hater listens to someone compliment you and then earnestly tells that person giving the compliment that he, the hater, deserves higher praise than you.

A co-worker of mine is a world-class hater. This person - gender intentionally omitted - spends an inordinate amount of time scoffing at other reporters' work and saying things like "I once wrote an article about that very same topic...only better." Who knows why he/she does it?

We spent nearly a week last June discussing on this blog who haters are. But what I don't think we got into enough was what motivates a hater. It's easy to say haters are jealous or insecure people. Those are givens. But I think it's deeper than that.

Anyway, what prompted this mental review were an email and phone call received recently from a friend who moved away. This friend left South Florida for the... how do you describe the weather/atmosphere of the North East?

The email was essentially several inches of "I'm sorry you're 'stuck' in Miami. Your life would be so much better if you were in New Jersey." Jersey? For real? The phone call was more of the same: "You must hate life and want to kill yourself. How can you stand living down there?"

I'm being facetious in how I paraphrase what my friend wrote/said, but seriously if you really feel bad for someone that they "can't" live in as nice a place as you, do you tell them how terrible you believe their circumstance is? Isn't that kind of mean?

Now, you have to believe me when I tell you that I wasn't offended. My feelings were not hurt. Maybe if I'd had a thin skin. But if anything I thought the message and the call were funny, 'cause I really believe this friend means well. He cares about me, the way you care about a buddy with whom you've tipped pints and shared laughs. But he's a classic hater. Sometimes subtle, but definitely classic.

This is the friend, who when I bought a new car commented that it was nice but he could never drive something like that, because, essentially, it wasn't up to his standards. A friend who described my house as OK for me, but not to his liking. A friend, who earnestly, sincerely told me that maybe one day I'll do better professionally and find myself on his level. The friend, who when I said I was getting my little "swimmers" checked out to make sure they were fit for procreation, told me with a straight face that his little swimmers were the strongest ever and that a doctor once told him his swimmers could do the back stroke to the promised land.

Why are some people haters? Seriously, I want to study them like lab rats.

Again, don't tell me simple jealousy or simple insecurity. What makes 'em that way?

Tell me your hater stories and why you believe your hater behaved so.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

I almost forgot

to post my last article. It ran in Monday's paper. And I think the link to it may only be open for a couple days more. If you're not out celebrating, and the TV & movie offerings are boring you tonight, take two or three minutes and read about this guy.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Quick Hits for the Holiday Weekend

*This is Andy, healthy Andy. I had to hold her firmly for the pic, 'cause she's normally bouncing off of walls.

This is sick, exhausted Andy, after spending two days at the animal hospital battling an inexplicable infection and costing me a grand (can you believe that? I think the Bentley I saw in the parking lot must have belonged to the veterinarian). I'm not one of those animal nuts who dresses his pets up in clothes that match his own. And the truth is, prior to Andy I didn't even like cats. I thought they were curse-carrying, spooky creatures. But since I am fond of her, even though she occasionally scratches, think a good thought for her as she recovers at home. And wish her a happy belated birthday. She turned 1 last week.

**Moving right along. Guys what do you see in this picture? A perfect manicure, that's what! No shame in it and nothing feminine about it. My grandfather, James Sr., used to get the nails hooked up and the shoes shined every week. He took a bullet and grenade shrapnel in WWII. Pretty manly. Fellas, it's imperative that we keep the nails and cuticles fit. We don't want them looking like we tried to dig a hole in the sidewalk using our fingers. I have griped about women with mangled toes, squeezed like bunion biscuits into too-tiny shoes. It's only fair that we keep our hands right. What's good for the goose...And Big Daddy, before you say anything, there's no dirt under these nails, in spite of the shadowing.

***I'm in the media, and though I may have a bias in favor of us news folk, I've never fully bought into the political (liberal/conservative) conspiracy hype. I think good journalists report the facts. That being said, media includes more than news people. It includes entertainment magazines and TV shows too, for example. With them, I have no doubts that sometimes there is an agenda. By comparison to MTV's target audience member I'm an old man. Nevertheless, Wednesday night I watched the reunion special for the recently concluded "Real World: Denver." Relatively early in the show, one of the cast members a young black man named Stephen, was taken to task for not being more open-minded about another cast member, Davis's homosexuality. Stephen was scolded for not having learned anything new during the show about gay people, or at least not enough new stuff to help keep himself from being prejudiced against them. But Davis, who in a drunken fit on an early episode of the show referred to black cast mate Tyree as "some nigger" who "wants to kill me," wasn't asked if he'd learned to suppress or overcome his prejudice. Hmmm, agenda MTV? Neither the incident nor the slur were brought up during that reunion special. Nah, MTV would never have an agenda. It's all in my imagination.

****Finally Memorial Day. I have no profound words, only profound respect for any man or woman who ever volunteered for military service. It's not about liking or disliking war, or supporting or not supporting war. Setting politics aside, you have to have a deep love for your country and what you believe it stands for in order to willingly put yourself in the line of fire. To all the families who have lost loved ones in service, may your memories this holiday weekend be fond, peaceful, and pleasant.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I'm a half a step away from going to jail

And I have told you guys that I am too pretty for that. I'll prove it later.

Seriously though, Mrs. B and I were in the grocery store (a place I hate as much as I would hate the proctologist's office IF I was ever compelled to visit), and I decided I could expedite the experience by helping her shop. So while she pushed the cart, I ran through the aisles on a food scavenger hunt. Every few minutes I'd return to the cart and drop off my take.

On one return trip, a guy - not an old guy, but I'd guess he was maybe 50 - stomped up to Mrs. B just as I rounded the corner. He had a snarl on his face and, dripping with sarcasm, he told her he was sorry if he had offended her. Then he hovered a little too close for my comfort and asked her if there was a problem. At that point I stepped between them and asked him the same question. He looked me up and down, backed up a few feet - coincidentally just out of arm's reach - and shook his head no. Same look on his face.

So I stepped forward to make sure he was within arm's reach again and repeated the question and added that since I was "back" he was more than welcome to discuss his problem with me and not my wife, who was six inches shorter and probably 50 pounds lighter than him. I, on the other hand, was about six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than him. He backed up again, muttered something about people not getting it (or getting him; I couldn't make out that last word for certain), and stomped away. I found out later that he'd burst through another aisle minutes earlier and shoved her into a cart or shoved a cart into her on the way by - I forget which. And she gave him a disapproving look. No words. Just a look.

Here's the kicker. That incident was one of three over the past week, in which I observed a guy throw menacing attitude at my wife over some perceived slight. Mrs. B isn't picking fights. And you can ask my friends. I'm not that hyper-sensitive guy who wants to fight every guy who looks at his woman. Not my style. I'm probably just the opposite - extremely laid back. It's just been a weird week. And we are in South Florida.

I wanted to drop kick the grocery guy. But again, too pretty...

Now, where I'm from - people always say that, as though where we're born entitles us to certain tribal behaviors that other people just wouldn't get - if a guy gets in a woman's face, especially a woman he doesn't know, he's asking to get knocked out, or even worse, he's asking to get pimp-slapped.

Seriously, you want to stun a grown man and put him in check? Don't punch him. Everybody punches. Open your hand wide in its full pimpish glory and smack him as hard as possible across the face. Make it sting like a bee. I swear to you he will have to fight back the tears and will be so mortified he won't know how to react. He'll be in shock and will slink away in shame. I heard all this. Haven't necessarily ever tried it myself. Or have I?

Is it old-fashioned of me, or chauvinist? Not the pimp-slapping, but wanting to rip this guy's throat out. It has just never occurred to me to step to a woman and fuss at her. It just seems wrong. I had a woman during one semester in college who didn't like me. No, I never dated her. We were hardly acquainted. But I swear she used to torture me. I mean she would stalk and tease like we were in middle school again, times 10. It was near obsession. Weird. Truth is, we were adults. So she was probably just insane. And I should have gotten a restraining order. Regardless, it never occurred to me to step to her, raise my voice and wag a finger in her face. Instinctively, I went to her brother and her boyfriend, who attended the same college, and told them something to the effect of "Fellas, we get along. And I want to keep it that way. (Jane) is trying to pluck my nerves. I'm not sure what to do about it. Can you have a word with her?" They talked to her. Things settled. She later transferred to another school, a move completely unrelated to our beef.

I never thought going to her brother and boyfriend was a chauvinist move. On the contrary, I thought I was showing her some respect and exercising a nice blend of chivalry and common sense.

Yeah, I know plenty of women can defend themselves just fine against brutish men. If it had come down to it, Mrs. B would've kicked the grocery guy in the twig-n-berries or given him purple nurples and walked away unscathed.

But I know we all understand the instinct a man has to step up and defend "his" women (wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, daughter, etc).

Some stuff is just common sense. Guys, I don't care how open your mind is and how much you support equal rights. I support 'em too. But menacing a woman, when there's a perfectly healthy man nearby who's your size or bigger, is a cowardly, low life thing to do. And if you do it with the wrong woman, a woman who is dating or married or related to a guy who isn't too pretty to go to jail, it could also be a stupid move on your part.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Religion in politics

Better late than never, right? Buckle in. It's gonna take you a few minutes to read through this one.

So watching the presidential debates recently and reading as much as I can about the candidates from both parties, I saw something that made me flashback to childhood. I'll get to that in a minute.

But what started this ball rolling in my mind was watching a news clip about two weeks ago of the Rev. Al Sharpton making a coy statement about "real" Christians pulling together to defeat Mitt Romney in the upcoming presidential elections...assuming Romney won the Republican nomination. Later Sharpton said his comment wasn't an indictment of Romney's Mormon religion, Romney decried Sharpton's words as religious bigotry, and Sharpton was roundly skewered for speaking out of turn.

I had two reactions to this incident: frustration and disappointment.

It is very difficult these days to get anyone, much less a public figure, much less a politician, in a position where they have to give you a straight answer, where they can't squirm out of it.

And it's even more difficult to get straight answers out of them when you ask your questions or raise your concerns in a stupid manner, thus giving the politician an out, an excuse of hurt feelings for not addressing the concern or answering the question.

Still with me?

In other words, Sharpton stuck his foot in his mouth. And while that must be a familiar place for it these days - no worries; he has plenty of company on both sides of the political spectrum - had Sharpton worded it appropriately, asking Romney about some of the tenets of his faith would have been just fine.

My fear is that religious faith is going to fall under the veil of political correctness and soon become off limits to questions. You think we know little about how individual politicians really feel now? Wait until it becomes as taboo to question faith as it already is to make jokes about race, weight, height, speech, etc.

I used to question PC terms in the early '90s like "handi-capable," one of the many PC terms used for a short while to describe people who were physically disabled. I always argued that "handicapped" like "physically disabled" was not something to be treated like the plague. Nor was it anything to be ashamed of. Just like being black or white or tall or short, I always figured it was luck of the draw. So what was the big deal? Seriously, none of us are really handi-capable. I'm clumsy as hell, and I have have bad knees, weak ankles, a bad back, and really flat feet. You want to know who's handi-capable? Superman. That's who's handi-capable. He can pull of wearing tights with a straight face. He can fly. He can burn things or freeze them with his eyes. And he can take a bullet, literally. When we can do all of that, then we can all be handi-capable. But I digress. My point is once something falls under the PC umbrella, we're supposed to feel uncomfortable talking about it. And I'm not comfortable with that.

When I was a kid, after my dad had retired from the military and had attended seminary and had begun pastoring a church in Southeast Virginia, he developed a reputation as a community leader. Understand, he never declared himself a leader of anything but his congregation, and that was with his church members' vote of confidence. But people in the neighborhood of his church always knew that they could go to "Pastor B." for help, whether they wanted spiritual guidance, food, work, or whatever. Small business leaders and city officials turned to him for help in keeping the gritty neighborhood where the church was located under control. Conversely, having a public reputation also drew critics, and opponents out of the woodwork. I never heard or heard of anyone challenging my dad's attitudes, or manners, or his character or anything. But every now and then, someone of a different faith would challenge him to a theological duel.

In one incident, I had gone to the church with my dad on a Saturday afternoon so he could retrieve some paperwork. When we exited the building a guy sprung out of the shadows. It's not nearly so dramatic as that sentence makes it sound. It was a guy we had seen around the neighborhood, a member of nearby Mosque. He startled us, that's all. Anyway, the guy was selling bean pies, incense, and cologne oils. We said no thanks. And he persisted. We said no thanks again, and then the conversation got personal. The guy began denouncing Christians and suggesting Christianity, in all its modern manifestations, was a con. That's OK. It was his right to believe and say as much. So he began peppering my dad with questions. How did he know this or that? Why do Christians believe this or that? That went on for several minutes. For every question he got, my dad calmly gave an answer, offered a historical context, and then as part of the playful give and take - 'cause by the end the two men were smiling mischievously at one another - he would throw a question about Islam back to the other guy. After a few minutes the guy, by now grinning ear to ear, held out a hand to my dad and said something to the effect of "Preacher B, I don't necessarily agree with what you believe, but I have to give you credit for knowing what you believe. A lot of people wouldn't have been able or willing to explain anything."

I was ticked off at the guy when we finally walked to our car. I thought he was rude and mean. My dad brushed it off as we drove away and pointed to the big sign above the church and said that if the church was going to say "come one, come all" to the neighborhood, the leader of the church should be willing to tell folks what they would get inside those doors. Everyone knew my dad as "Pastor B." They didn't separate James Burnett the military veteran from James Burnett the husband and father from James Burnett the preacher. He was all the same person. And each one of those elements played a role in how he publicly presented himself.

The same goes for anyone - leader or follower - who publicly declares that a set of religious beliefs helped define who they are. If you make that declaration, expect people to want to know what those beliefs are all about. If they can't understand those beliefs, they can't really know the whole you, now can they?

This leads me back to Mitt Romney. Ever since questions started to pop up weeks ago about his Mormon faith - few specific questions, mostly generic stuff by pundits who said they just didn't understand it - Romney's defenders have been coming out of the woodwork saying such questions revealed bigotry. My understanding is that the few specific questions were about different Mormon factions' positions on race. There was a time some Mormon factions declined to allow ethnic minorities (black/brown people) to become priests. There was also a time back in the day that some Mormon factions taught that black/brown people were lesser people than their white counterparts. To be fair to Romney, there was a time in this country that some devout Christians believed it was their God-given right to own slaves and that black people were less than human and thus equal to property. Some believed that cheating on one's spouse was worthy of a good beating or a stoning, or being gay was worthy of death. And these were "Christians" who dug up scriptures to defend those beliefs. Romney's defenders though suggested questions aimed at him were too painful, too uncomfortable, unfair to him, and irrelevant to his presidential run.

And I say they're just plain wrong. If a Baptist or a Catholic were running for the highest office in the land, I would want to know from them if they subscribed to certain recorded elements of their faith that held some men in higher/lower regard than others. And my questions would be fair. I don't want a guy in the White House who isn't going to represent me as vigorously as my white neighbor or my rich neighbor or my Protestant/Catholic/Buddhist/Muslim/etc. neighbor. People lambasted JFK for being Catholic and said it wasn't right that a Catholic occupy the White House. That was bigotry. But if people had told JFK "We've never had a Catholic president. Some folks don't fully understand your faith. Tell us a little about what it means and what you believe so we can move past it and start looking at the other parts of you," that would have been fair and understandable. Do you think if Jerry Falwell had run for president, no one would have asked him to explain why this or that is taught in many Baptist churches?

There are some people among us who have no religious beliefs. Fine. Whatever. Ask my mom. I'm pretty sure that I'm a heathen too. And there are some people among us who are the stoic, silent types about religion. They don't feel right talking about it, 'cause they don't want to be perceived as in-your-face. They'd rather let their lifestyles do the talking. And there are those people who believe it is important to announce their faith as an integral part of how they live their lives. It's my humble opinion that we often find politicians in the latter category.

Let's face it, based on the blueprint laid in the 1980s by the Moral Majority, wearing your faith on your sleeve can work wonders for a politician's odds. But if you're going to tell people that at least part - if not all - of your life is governed by a moral standard that has been shaped by a specific set of religious beliefs you have to be willing to answer questions about those beliefs. Mitt Romney seems like a nice guy. He changes his mind a lot, from what I've read. But he seems nice enough as a person. But take a good look at my photo on the upper right side of this page. Do you really think I shouldn't be curious as to how he feels about those old doctrines of his church? I've had a religious expert tell me that no mainstream Mormon denominations still believe those things. But, what if? I can't ask that? Why not?

Sure, I could be politically correct and smile and offer polite applause when you say "Vote for me. I'm the most moral of all the candidates. And my faith is strong, and it has made me the man I am today."

But if this turns into one of Aesop's Fables, and I find out after you've been elected that the fine print of your religious beliefs calls for you to eat a live chicken every full moon and to sacrifice a 6'3" black man every few weeks or so, starting with those living in South Florida, I have only myself to blame.

Religious faith is not like the knowledge of what you do in your bedroom. It shouldn't be a secret. If you believe it, then you should be willing and able to defend it thoroughly and vigorously. And someone questioning the meaning of your faith shouldn't get blasted for being insensitive, unless like Rev. Sharpton they word their thoughts in a stupid manner. Rather, they should get credited for trying to understand you better.

Gov. Romney, and any other politician who might have fallen, bumped their heads, and landed face down in front of a computer screen with this blog posting on it: If you don't want to talk about it your faith, don't. It's your right. But if you want to lead the country? Then get over the shyness and "protocol" and talk about it. And if you're unwilling or unable to do the latter, then don't blame me for being a little uncomfortable with "who" you are.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

A little reading material for ya

I'll post more tonight. Been on deadline today. But for now, here is a link to my last article, a piece on virtual worlds and their "residents." It ran in Tuesday's paper.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sold out!

OK, I know I was supposed to post next about religion. But I need to carefully frame what I say in that post - more carefully than normal - so I'm putting that one on hold for another day or so.

Anywho, I walked into a drug store earlier today at the precise moment that an employee yelled to a customer about 30 feet away that the store was out of an item. "It's a sell-out," the employee hollered with a sympathetic smile.

I cringed. Seriously. For a black man, hearing those words is like hearing that you've been walking around with your fly open, or with a length of TP stuck to the bottom of your shoe, only not funny like those things.

"Sell out" is the label that for years has been slapped by pundits, community leaders, some of the cool kids, and underachievers on black men who allegedly have turned their backs on other black folks in the name of currying favor with the rich and powerful.

Lately, one of my favorite writers, Jason Whitlock, a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, has come under fire from pundits, community leaders, and cool kids. Some have called him sell out. And all have been very, very wrong.

Now, Whitlock needs me to defend him the way Jet Li needs Kung Fu lessons. Not.

But he's getting jabbed by people who are angry with him for telling rappers to clean up their acts and for telling some folks to quit taking their cues for behavior from the entertainment industry.

Whitlock is being accused of being too much like Bill Cosby, as if that's a bad thing, for saying he wants to see black children take pride in their school work and black parents telling their kids that "Stop Snitching" is a T-shirt catch phrase being marketed by a group of punks and shouldn't be taken literally by anyone with good sense.

The anger is misplaced. Whitlock isn't the problem. He's smart enough to know that rowdy hip-hoppers (not all hip-hoppers) and their fans have fallen for the okey-doke. They have bought into the hype that says saggy trousers, shiny teeth, and a practiced snarl make you a man, a tough man to be feared. Whitlock knows that when these kids reach a certain age they won't be "cute" anymore. They'll get tsk-tsked by everyone - black, white, Asian, and Latino - around them. He knows that there isn't a fine line, there is a huuuuuuuuge gap between coming off as cool and coming off as shiftless. And he knows that American society, as a whole, while perfectly content with being entertained by pretend thugs is not yet ready to embrace pretend thugs as everyday people. Whitlock knows that carrying oneself with a little pride and dignity and straight-backed carriage is not a bad thing and has nothing to do with fakin' the funk or losing sight of "who we are."

The real sell outs here are the people - black, white, Asian, and Latino - who are giving mush-headed kids the impression that acting like a knucklehead is synonymous with keepin' it "real." The sell outs are the people who have accepted thug rappers (not all rappers) as icons and elevated them to hero status, while ignoring or scoffing at the young black man who starts a business, or earns a Ph.D, or becomes a teacher, or maybe he does rap or play pro sports, but does so without drama.

You know that line, "I am Spartacus?" Well, this ain't that dramatic. I won't pretend it is. But next time someone wants to call out the Jason Whitlocks of the world for simply saying act right and prioritize, then add me to the list of Whitlocks. It's called buying in, investing in future, not selling out.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

As promised, more pics

Here are a few more pics from Key West. My tastes in what qualifies as interesting are a little wacky. So forgive me if these aren't very exciting.

First, here's a rooster wandering around the garden of the Hemingway house. Very weird thing. You'd have thought you were in farm country. There were roosters and hens and little chicks strollin' around everywhere. And either these things are really smart or they're considered sacred in KW, 'cause I didn't see one bit of chicken road kill.

Here's another six-toed cat at Hemingway house. Those of you who need creative writing inspiration feel free to share in the mojo.

Here's a shot that isn't from KW, but rather from a park next to my house. Can't figure out why it's in here, other than maybe I hadn't deleted from my camera card and accidentally added it to my upload list. Oh well, the birds are cool.

The next two pics are from a ghost tour we took the other night. The first is an old church-turned-theater-turned-nightclub-turned abandoned building we saw on a ghost tour the other night. I have to tell you that while I believe in weird crap that can't be explained with terrestrial logic or conventional wisdom, I've never been fully sold on the ghost thing. This tour did not help my skepticism. I expected to see some shadows walking around, and spooky howling, and bloody-eyed little girls wearing dresses from the 1800s, whispering "Redrum! Redrum!" Nope. The scariest things we encountered were a trash can on the sidewalk that smelled like death itself, or like Sheryl Crow's wiping hand, and the stove pipe hat our tour guide wore. And BTW, that whole "orb" thing? Lights and reflections bouncing off of walls and what not. You want to convince me there are ghosts out there kickin' it, have one walk up to me and levitate my furniture.

Here's the lighthouse across the street from the Hemingway house. According to a tour guide, Hemingway's friends used to tease him that he bought the house, because it was across the street from the lighthouse, whose spot light was always on, so after a night of drinking he'd always be able to find his way home.

Me lounging on the balcony of our hotel. We lucked out. There were two balconies - one facing the gulf, and one facing the Atlantic. For some strange reason all our time was spent on the gulf balcony. Something about the Atlantic balcony that wasn't as appealing.

I can't explain the grimace. Maybe I was being bitten by a skeeter at the moment Mrs. B snapped this shot or something. I can't remember. But I'm trying to commune on a psychic level with yet another six-toed cat. Hey, as the kids say, I'm trying to get my write on!

Last Hemingway reference, then we'll let him rest in peace for a while. Simple shot of the front of his house. Can you tell I spent a good bit of time here, soaking up the ambiance?

Another pic not from KW that slipped past me. This is some kind of lizard on a tree in my front yard.

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No new thing under the sun

I didn't forget that I promised I'd post more pics from our getaway to Key West, but there's something pressing on my mind. And I had to write it down first. I'll post more pics this evening.

So when I was a kid and was compelled by well-intentioned parents to read my bible on a regular basis, though I'd rather have spent that time pulling my toe nails out by the roots, one of my favorite scriptures was Ecclesiastes Chapter 1, verse 9: "The thing that hath been is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."

I thought of that now 'cause I just finished reading The Hot Kid, a novel by Elmore Leonard.
In a nut shell, the book is about a brash, young U.S. Marshal, who rises to fame in Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri in the 1920s and '30s. It's also about the bad guys he pursues. The marshal is the hot kid, the up-and-comer in his federal agency. And in a way, he's competing for headlines with big name bank robbers like Clyde Barrow and Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd. And what the hot kid notices with each arrest he makes and each bad guy he shoots is that they become bigger legends in the news. Reporters trip over themselves to write about these crooks. L.A. Confidential-esque magazines offer flattering cover stories about the crooks and their "gun molls" AKA groupie girlfriends. They describe the hot outfits the girlfriends wear, the hot suits the crooks wear, and the hot cars they drive. "Fans" of the crooks and the molls dote on them and lavish them with praise and admiration.

I know this book is not off base in terms of how things really went down back in the day. I'm a news nerd. I've read old newspaper and magazine clips that were essentially press releases for the robbers. I've read quotes in those stories from "fans" of the robbers and their dames talking admiringly about them and their murderous exploits. I watched Bonnie and Clyde. I watched Little Caesar. Those movies were made in 1967 and 1931 respectively. There are more.

I loved all that stuff. It was and still is great entertainment. From the perspective of the crooks, those films explored their character flaws and inadvertently examined the attraction to the criminal lifestyle. A prude might even say that these films and others like them glorified the bank robber/gun moll lifestyle.

One question though: Does anyone reading this still want to give a pass to any public figure who suggests "rap music (a roughly 33-year-old genre) made me do it?"

That being said, I keep telling you guys that I am rap's biggest critic. I love parts of the genre but hate even more parts, because of how vile they've become. But the glorification of violence and crime in this country did not start with a handful of rappers. That sort of glorification predates these idiots by many decades. Gangsta rappers just happen to be "hosting" the latest episode, the latest manifestation of our love affair with the naughty.

And I still don't believe in censorship. Let all fools speak up, so we can identify them better and keep an eye on them. But if you really can't tolerate what you hear or see from a politician, a musician/actor, or an all-purpose media personality (like a talk show host), the fix is simple: vote them out of office, or stop watching/listening to them and stop buying the products of businesses who sponsor them. If you don't want to see yet another cycle of the glorification of bad behavior come along after rap, then break the cycle now. Or don't. Your choice.

Coming tomorrow: The fine line between challenging religious beliefs and being a bigot toward someone with a particular set of beliefs.


Saturday, May 12, 2007


Greetings folks, and many apologies for being absent for the past five-and-a-half days. I got busy trying to make deadlines, finish stories, etc. And then I had to take a break. That M.I.A. is not a shout-out for Miami. With respect to all our military veterans, that is definitely for Missing in Action.

For the past few days, Burnettiquette World Headquarters has been relocated to the southernmost point in the United States, lovely Key West, Florida. The pictures you see above are of a six-toed cat at Ernest Hemingway's house, Hemingway's writing studio above a converted carriage house, and me standing on the steps to the writing studio. I needed some creative inspiration. Between the freak cats and the very cool house Hemingway lived in during his years on the island, I think I got it.

I'm trying not to come off like a tourist, though technically I am, since we've never been to Key West, or any of the Florida Keys for that matter. But this place has been great - beautiful weather, nice breeze, no smokey skies. A few more hippies than I tend to prefer, but you can't win 'em all.

It's just as warm as Miami, maybe more. But there's less anger in the air, much less bad driving, and there's a more relaxed pace.

Seriously, I observed at least two locals voluntarily stop on the sidewalk to ask confused-looking tourists what they were looking for and if they needed help. Even though it's less than 200 miles away, I swear the odds are higher that I'd see a bright green alien on the sidewalk tap dancing in M.I.A. than a human offering such help.

Even the dolphins here look chill and relaxed. I've seen Dolphins swimming in the M.I.A. waters, but I'm pretty sure they were reckless swimmers, cutting off the other sea creatures without signaling first. And I know the M.I.A. dolphins were probably armed with handguns.

Enough yappin' though. For the rest of the weekend, this blog becomes largely a photo-driven thing. I'll post more tomorrow.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Mysteries of Life

Every now and then I encounter a few of these. And even though none of them involve trying to split the atom, they always leave me genuinely baffled.

Why, for example, do I continue to try to offer explanations with apologies when I have annoyed Mrs. B? No, seriously. I have learned from great men, much older, presumably wiser, and longer married than me that anything beyond "sorry" will be construed as arguing from your wife. And arguing is always a losing proposition for a husband, even if it's usually over how many ice cubes one of you requested or which turn to make during a road trip in which you have no paper map. If you're wrong and admit as much you are inadvertently fueling the I-knew-he-was-an-idiot fire. If you're right and you say as much, you are lording it over her in a nah-nah-nah-nah-nah sort of way. If you had no clue that you did anything wrong and you try to explain as much, you "doth protest too much." And if you had no clue and are silent about it, then you're pouting. I should listen to you old guys. I think there might really be something to the concept of always conceding guilt when the issue is minor, swallowing whatever pride acccompanies that grudging admission, and moving on.

Speaking of moving on, I was watching a TV newscast earlier and the reporter was in a predominantly black urban neighborhood, a neighborhood I happen to be familiar with in a city I happen to be familiar with. It's funny, 'cause this is something Mrs. B and I were discussing casually over the weekend in relation to another story. Anyway, at one point in her brief report the TV reporter found a local to interview. The guy she found? That dude. That dude with the Afro pick sticking out of his hair and the peanut butter and jelly stains on his t-shirt. That dude with a crucial tooth or two missing, and one hand planted firmly on his twig'n'berries. That dude who finished every sentence with "nahmean?" Standing next to that dude? Another black man in pressed trousers, pressed shirt, combed hair, most of his teeth, etc. How do TV news reporters always find that dude when they need a neighborhood resident to talk? What, the guy who looked together didn't fit the preplanned direction you needed your story to take? It's not a race thing. I've seen it in rural, predominantly white towns too- 20 houses on a block, 19 of them firmly rooted to the ground and occupied by people who don't fit appearance stereotypes, and the resident the reporter seeks out is the one whose house could be stolen by someone driving a strong enough truck with a chain and a tow bar, whose Afro pick is a Confederate bandanna, whose "nahmean" is "boy howdy," and whose t-shirt bears the very same PBJ stains. It's like there's a "bad representative magnet" on those TV cameras.

And finally there's the gossip. I have a friendly acquaintance - and that's all I'll say about this person, so as not to give away how/where I know them from, keeping in mind that I play and work in a lot of different places around a lot of different people - who has what I believe to be a genetic disorder: this person cannot help but repeat everything they're told, no matter how inconsequential or how serious. New information eats a hole in this person's jaw. If we were still fighting the Cold War, the CIA could make great inroads in the former U.S.S.R. by whispering a false state secret to this person and giving them a one-way plane ticket to Moscow. And yet, knowing all of this, on those rare occasions when I find myself alone with this person I still say things to them. I don't know why. I should say hello and keep moving. But I don't. I make conversation or at least respond to the conversation they make. It's like feeling obligated after a while to try to make small talk with the security guard you see coming into work every morning. You know that, like you, he just wants to do his job and go home. He probably doesn't give two craps about your take on last night's game. He probably doesn't care how many times your kid made it on base during the weekend's little league game. And he definitely doesn't care what your wife is making for dinner tonight. And yet you talk to him, 'cause it's the nice thing to do. And he smiles back at you and nods patiently at your stories, 'cause it's the nice thing to do. In a twisted sort of way I feel like I have to say something, anything to the gossip when I bump into that person. I really need to learn the art of small talk. I can carry on a great lengthy conversation, I think. I'm bad at small, throw-away talk though. If I was better at it I could talk about the weather or water temperature at the beach with the gossiper and they would never get any ammo from me. I'm a gossip enabler. I'm seeking help.

OK, I'm outta here like Don Cornelius. I have work-for-money to do.

Till tomorrow, my friends.

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Today's reading material

Gonna be swamped this morning - actually probably most of the day - trying to make progress on a story, so here is a link to the article I had in Sunday's paper about former heavyweight boxing champ Lennox Lewis reinventing himself since retiring from the sport.

Will post more this evening.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007


Apparently this guy is managing my neighborhood post office.

And this guy is one of my letter carriers.

So's this one.

So I just met the real life Neuman! I didn't meet him in person. I don't know if he looks like Wayne Knight, but it had to be the mail guy on whom that character was based.

I didn't get any mail today. Some of you might consider that a good thing, if all you were expecting were bills or Dear John/Jane letters. I was expecting money...from someone else to me. So, at least on this day, I was looking forward to my always on time, there every day, usually in the neighborhood United States Postal Service letter carrier.

But he didn't show. And more important than him bringing me money that may or may not have arrived today anyway, he didn't take my outgoing mail, which included a bill, along the way.

So I called the post office, and Neuman answered the phone.

Neuman: Yeeeeees?

Me: Is this the (yada yada) Street Post Office?

Neuman: Yeeeeees. (Seriously, picture or imagine that guy who used to do the annoying train conductor's and department store salesman's voice on the old Jack Benny Radio Show and you'll get the voice.)

Me: Well, I'm calling from the 1900 block of (yada yada) Street. And I don't think we got mail delivery today.

Neuman: Hold on.

Me: OK.

Neuman, five minutes later: He went home already.

Me: Why? He didn't come to our block.

Neuman: Weeeell, why would you say that?

Me: Well, because it's after 5 p.m., I know the post office is now closed for the day, and the only thing in my mailbox is the bill my wife placed in it early this morning to be picked up.

Neuman: Hmmm. So you'd like me to assume that because a letter of yours wasn't picked up that your whole block was skipped?

Me: Well, if our whole block wasn't skipped - and assuming the letter carrier didn't just innocently, accidentally overlook us - then you guys have some 'splainin' to do.

Neuman: No we don't!

Me: Don't snap at me. I've kept a civil tone with you. But since we're playing semantics, if you want me to assume the rest of my block was serviced today, then should I also assume the letter carrier purposely skipped just me?

Neuman: Noooooooo.

Me: OK, so I should assume he skipped the whole block?

Neuman: Nooooooo.

Me: Who are you, Gary Cooper? (Actually, I didn't say this. But I really wanted to.)

Me, for real: OK, so maybe he just forgot and missed us. If that's the case, then no worries. But you can't blame me for calling out of concern, 'cause this isn't the first time we "apparently" haven't gotten mail service.

Neuman: Noooooo. That's not fair of you either. This is a veteran letter carrier who had your route today. He's very familiar with your route. There's no way he forgot to deliver anything.

Me: OK, so back to my original point. I should assume he skipped me or the whole block?

Neuman: Nooooooo, neither. But he maybe he came to your neighborhood and just decided to not take your outgoing mail today.

Me: Why? Was the envelope too heavy or something? It's been picked up every other day.

Neuman: Sooooooo. Postal regulations say that a letter carrier doesn't have to take your outgoing mail if he doesn't want to, unless your mailbox is curbside.

Me: You're familiar with this neighborhood, considering this block is just four blocks from your post office?

Neuman: Yeeeeees.

Me: Then you know the layout is such that there is a grassy swale lining all the sidewalks, so we can't have curbside mailboxes. They have to be "inland" a few feet, next to our houses.

Neuman: Yeeeeees.

Me: And that doesn't matter?

Neuman: Nope!

Popcorn break: At this point, I'm no longer annoyed that my mail didn't get picked up. I won't assume it didn't get delivered, 'cause maybe I didn't have anything.

Me: Listen, I'm not blaming you for my mail not getting picked up. But regardless of this curbside regulation every time I've placed an outgoing piece of mail in my box in the nearly two years I've lived here it got picked up. And that was probably because the letter carriers on this route realize that we can't put our boxes on the curb, so it's not fair to apply that regulation to us. So if you're right, and today's letter carrier was a veteran who knows this neighborhood, then just admit it. He forgot! Or he skipped us! Maybe it was an accident. But quit trying to be coy, and deal with it.

Neuman: I told you, he's gone home for the day. But that's what you get when your route doesn't have a permanent letter carrier. If you're not happy with the service you can always rent a P.O. box. But it could be like this another couple of months.

Me: I'm not paying you guys to hold my mail. You get tax bucks to deliver it for "free." And that permanent letter carrier excuse is bogus. Our letter carrier retired about six months ago, before Christmas.

Neuman: His paperwork hasn't officially gone through the system yet, so we can't say his job is available until it does. And that means we can't fill his job.

Me: You're kidding. This is the efficiency of the postal service? He hasn't delivered anything in six months. He's retired. We've had a different substitute letter carrier almost every day of the week since then. And you guys can't hire someone yet, even though the old guy is probably laying on the beach somewhere (good for him) sipping a cold one?

Neuman: That's the way it goes.

Me: Unbelievable. If I want to write a letter to someone at your neighborhood post office, to whom should I address it?

Neuman: Manager.

Me: Is that his first or last name?

Neuman: I'm not telling you who. Just address it to manager.

Me: Thanks for your help. Mumble. Hope the letter gets delivered.

Neuman: What?

Me: Nothing. Thanks for your help.

Neuman: Surrrrrre. Thanks for calling the post office!


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Friday, May 04, 2007

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!


What did one inmate say to the other?
Who cares? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
But seriously, after the sentencing Kathy Hilton, the jailbird's mother, told the prosecutor he was pathetic.
Bad message, mom. He didn't pour the booze down your daughter's throat or force her to drive repeatedly on a suspended license. You should have hugged the prosecutor and thanked him for locking your rocket scientist up and thus maybe inadvertently helping her clean up her act.
OK, that's all the serious stuff I have to say.
Back to what I was saying earlier: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

quick hits

  • Bad suit - Did you hear about the judge in Washington D.C. who is suing his dry cleaner for $65 million, after they lost his pants? Roy Pearson, an administrative law judge in the District, sued Jin Nam & Ki Chung, South Korean immigrants, who like the rest of us are just trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents. The Chungs misplaced pants that belonged to a $1,000 suit Pearson had. They found the pants a few days later. But he no longer wanted them. He wanted damages for having to find a new dry cleaner that he could trust, for having to rent a car a couple times a month for years to come and drive to that new dry cleaner (the Chungs are apparently responsible for making sure Pearson has a dry cleaner within walking distance of his home.). He wanted damages for the Chungs not meeting their "same day" guarantee. The list goes on. Somehow this chowder head came up with $65 million worth of damages done to him over the temporary misplacement of his pants. Now the Chungs, who are out big bucks on legal fees, are so down about this, they may close up shop and head back to South Korea. Damn shame, and abuse of knowledge. I say knowledge, instead of power 'cause Pearson doesn't necessarily have authority over the Chungs, but he's sure using his knowledge of the law to stick 'em. Not only should Pearson not get a penny, he should be forced to take back his found pants and where them every single day for the next few years. Then Mrs. Chung should get to take off her heaviest, clunkiest shoe and beat Pearson with it. This kind of lawsuit is like crying wolf. It's abuse of the system, and by a judge no less. Shame on him.
  • Apples and oranges - So former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevy, who left office in a little bit of disgrace after announcing in '04 that he'd cheated on his wife and had appointed his fling to a high-ranking position in Jersey state government, has joined the Episcopal church and entered a pre-seminary state, with apparent intentions to get eventually get his divinity degree. No word on whether he will seek ordination and become a priest. A few pundits are lashing him from both sides of the political spectrum, partly because he cheated with a man. But I honestly don't care if McGreevy's gay. Don't care if he's straight. What bugs me about this whole thing is when he made the announcement way back when about his fling he emphatically stated that he was a "gay American," as though his orientation was causing the outrage. It was disingenuous. To make his issues about being gay/straight is to take away from real fights for fairness that other gay people are engaged in. McGreevy's problem on the personal side of things was that he was a cheat. And on the professional side he was untrustworthy 'cause he let a sexual fling so affect his judgment that he gave that person a security-sensitive job in his government. Even if he had cheated with a woman he would still have been a cheat with bad judgment. McGreevy wrote a book after he left office, and among other things he stated that his wife knew all along - even before they wed - that he was gay. She says he's lying, that she never knew, and that she never would have married him if she had known. He's already shown his stripes as a cheater who doesn't mind a little nepotism. So I give her the benefit of doubt, and that leads to my next question: if he does decide to become a priest, is McGreevy gonna at least express some sorrow for what his wife had to go through after he crashed and burned? Aren't clergy supposed to be compassionate folks?

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

One of those days

I wish I had some pearls of wisdom for y'all tonight, or even a good joke. But I'm beat. Even though I wasn't on the street today chasing down a story, it was that kind of day. Had to put the finishing touches on an article for Sunday's paper. I'll link to it Sunday morning. It's a feature on former heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis, who since retiring a few years ago moved his family to Miami.

In the mean time, till I have a clear enough head to post again (tomorrow morning) here is my latest contribution to the Miami Herald's series on falling & staying in love. It ran in Sunday's paper. I just forgot to link to it then.

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