Archive for September, 2010

Fake News: Congress comes up with the dough

September 30, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 30) — In a rare show of the ability to actually do something, Congress passed a measure to fund the federal government for another two months early this morning. Both Democrats and Republicans exhibited a bipartisan spirit as they scrambled to find enough money to keep the country in business until an annual budget can be passed.

“We may not agree on much,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “But if you’re looking for someone who will do virtually anything to scrounge up some cash, we’re your guys.”

Minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky concurred, adding “hey, I was willing to accept a contribution from the National Association of Murderers (a lobbying group that works to support the right of psychopaths to kill friends and neighbors). You know my ethical standards are off-the-charts low, so coming up with the $219 billion wasn’t as hard as you might think.”

The stop-gap effort effectively keeps the lights on at agencies and major federal programs until Dec. 3 when, if a final budget is not agreed upon, government workers will resort to candles, flashlights and night-vision goggles in order to see in the dark. The move marks Congress’ second major accomplishment since returning from summer break in September. They also passed a resolution encouraging veteran House clerk Roger Patterson to keep fighting in his battle against cancer, voting 228-194 on a motion that Patterson was a “tough old bird who wasn’t about to let a little node on his left lung get him down.”

As the midnight deadline approached, members of both houses and both parties fanned out across the Washington area to scare up every spare penny they could find.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) checked his car ashtray and found $13.87 (minus a 5% processing charge from the Coinstar machine at the all-night Kroger near the Capitol). Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin rounded up aluminum cans from trash bins in the Senate breakroom, which he was then able to redeem for $8.93. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), involved in a tough re-election battle against former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, had a box of used toner cartridges delivered to Fiorina’s campaign headquarters, for which the U.S. received $35.87 in credit.

Conservatives and liberals alike came to the aid of their country in its half-hour of need. Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint made a stop at a 24-hour plasma center to donate platelets, a good-faith effort that came to naught when screening tests revealed the South Carolinian was a reptile. Republican House whip Rep. Eric Cantor pawned a “Role-X” watch he bought during a junket last year to Hong Kong, bringing in $13.45. The Senate’s only avowed socialist, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, sold his autographed copy of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital” on E-Bay for $45,000. Retiring Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania got an unsecured $100 loan from a payday lender for only 20% interest, and Minnesota Democrat Al Franken’s cousin works second shift at Burger King and they get paid on Wednesdays so he was able to front Franken $20, as long as Franken swore on their common grandmother’s grave he’d pay it back.

North Carolina’s Mel Watt went through a suburban Panera’s dumpster, looking for bagels that could count toward the Department of Education’s $115 million budget for school lunch programs. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown hung out on a windy corner near an ATM machine, hoping to find dropped cash that had blown into the bushes. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) shoplifted a box of Lindt chocolates from a Rite-Aid drug store, then returned it for a refund. Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions waded into a fountain at a Georgetown Dean & DeLuca and brought back $11.17 in wet change.

Even former senators got into the act of trying to raise funds to keep the government running. Idaho’s Larry Craig, famously caught in a 2007 sex sting at a Minneapolis airport men’s room, said he’d blow transients at the Washington homeless shelter for a quarter a piece.

“It’s really great to see that we can come together as one when we really have to,” said President Obama, who promised to sign the appropriations bill and contributed $47.85 of his own by breaking open his daughters’ porcelain piggy banks with a Predator drone attack. “If it’s petty theft we need to make this nation great again, then it’s petty theft we’ll have.”

In search of the perfect toilet paper

September 29, 2010

Life used to be so simple. 

You’d get a call at the office from the wife, asking you to stop at the store and pick up some milk and bread on the way home. The milk was offered in two, maybe three, varieties: regular, skim and, possibly, expired. Bread was just bread, not whole wheat, not ciabatta, not hemp, not gluten-free. You’d get your two items, maybe sneak a quick peek at the babe on the cover of Good Housekeeping, and pay the cashier. With something called cash.  

You’d leave the store, climb into the driver’s seat of your giant Chevy without worrying about sissy seatbelts, light up a Pall Mall, and harbor a deep prejudice toward races other than yours. It was that simple.  

When I got a call from my wife the other day asking me to pick up some toilet paper after work, I practically had an anxiety attack. Even though she was very specific about the kind of toilet paper we wanted – Cottonelle Ultra double pack, the purple label, NOT the blue – I’ve been in the bathroom tissue aisle of the grocery store recently, and it’s a very imposing corner of the universe. The options are tremendous, as you can see from the photo below.   

TP as far as the eye can see

Choice is a great thing but it’s increasingly obvious that we in America have taken it too far. From ketchup to dog food to beer to right-wing lunatics, there are now so many options available in the modern marketplace as to be overwhelming to the uninformed consumer. Even though I had clear instructions – don’t forget: purple, not blue – I thought I could better prepare myself for the assignment with a little online self-education. 

“Toilet paper is a soft paper product used to maintain personal hygiene after human defecation or urination,” Wikipedia tells us. “However, it can also be used for other purposes such as absorbing spillages or craft projects.” (Note to Wikipedia: This article may need to be edited to meet your quality standards. Not clear that these are three separate and distinct uses, and that TP does a poor job of “absorbing … craft projects.”) 

I learn that toilet paper products can vary immensely in the technical factors that distinguish them, including size, weight, softness, chemical residue and some frightening feature called “finger-breakthrough resistance.” I learn that a light coating of aloe or lotion or wax (!) may be worked into the paper to reduce roughness. I learn that so-called luxury papers may be rippled, embossed, perfumed, colored, patterned, medicated or imprinted with cartoon animals. 

Thus prepared, I enter the local Bi-Lo and find my way to aisle 11. Any confidence I may have gleaned from my studies is soon dashed. The huge expanse of options on display reminds me of the sea of faces I saw upon exiting the Mumbai airport baggage claim, each face either searching for a passenger, offering their porter services or looking for a handout. Except the Indians were less quilted. 

I found some paper called “Aloe and E,” which I assume contains both lotion and vitamin E, or else the user says “eee!” when they use it. I found Angel Soft, Supreme Softness and Charmin Sensitive, all for the touchy bum. I found a bargain label called Clear Value, another brand aimed at the Hispanic market called Paseo (which I think means “pass” in Spanish), and a store brand named Southern Home, with equally unsavory connotations. One product promised the feature of “tuggable huggable softness.” 

As you can see from the photo above, I also saw Spic and Span cleaning wipes, Ziploc storage bags and rubber gloves. I want very much to believe these were in the neighborhood by coincidence. 

I found an Ultra Plush, which is not the same as the Ultra I was looking for. I mentally cordoned off the aisle into four sectors, to better zero in on the specific label for which I was searching. I felt like the field archeologist exploring for the one femur bone that would confirm the existence of a previously unknown subspecies of early man. Only by being methodical and patient might I eventually succeed. 

Still, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I knew my fate if I failed to succeed. Like the ancient hunter/gatherer returning to the home cave with an antelope carcass when his wife specifically told him she wanted zebra for dinner, I would be vehemently chastised. “Don’t you listen to me anymore?” I’d be asked. “And I suppose you got the wrong tree lichen too.” 

I could call my wife and ask if there were any acceptable substitutes, but I hate those people who wander about the contemporary supermarket, cell phone to their ear and listening to a recited list that should’ve been written down. They’re always running over my foot with their shopping carts. I didn’t want to be one of these people. I’d rather buy a half dozen items that might be close — including Ultra brand razors and Ultra brand saltines — and hope to luck into the right purchase. I’d prefer to return the others later rather than come home empty-handed. 

Just as I was about to give up, there it was, in all its purple-packaged glory. The label said it was “new – even more cushiony comfort” and there was a picture of a napping puppy lying under what looked like a thick blanket, right below the Cottonelle name. (I assume it was a blanket; it looked about two inches too thick to be toilet paper). No wonder I had trouble locating the right stuff. My wife should’ve mentioned the puppy. 

I threw my prize into the cart and headed for the checkout. A sense of triumph coursed through me, as did the satisfaction of knowing that I was providing for my family. 

I headed for home, my stomach gurgling with the accumulated tension of the hunt. Within moments, I’d be happy I had found the right stuff.

Fake News: Actual simpleton running for president

September 28, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 27) — At first, the Tea Party was satisfied with promoting unconventional candidates at the state level.

Perky and quirky, these included Rand Paul, the Kentucky libertarian who questioned the Civil Rights Act; Sharon Angle, the Nevada Republican who promised “Second Amendment solutions” to national problems like the continued breathing of Democrats; and Christine O’Donnell, the Delaware doll who dabbled in the Dark Arts.

These and others were dubbed “crazy,” “impulsive,” “cynical” and “dim-witted” by many in the national press. Their defenders countered “I know you are but what am I?”, and basically made the claim that learning-disabled wack-jobs had as much right to representation in Congress as did more literate and reasonable people.

Now comes the announcement that Steve Culver, a medically certified imbecile with schizophrenic paranoid delusions, is the first Tea Party candidate to announce his intention to run for president in 2012.

“Uldy-duldy, uldy-duldy,” Culver told a packed press conference in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La.

Culver proudly bills himself as a “Washington outsider” with the background to effect meaningful change on a national level, despite an IQ of 47. His campaign manager said he was originally diagnosed by psychologists as a “low-functioning moron,” but a recent bout of fever sent him plummeting to his current imbecile status.

“Morons are elitists,” Culver said. “Imbeciles, idiots and the feeble-minded — these are the real Americans, the people I’m hoping will support me.”

Despite his mental state, and the delusion that “the bats! the bats!” are flying in and out of his ears, Culver brags of an extensive background that he feels qualifies him for high office.

“I’ve held a lot of jobs,” Culver said. “I’ve been a short-order cook, a smoker, a passenger, a super-middleweight, and I’ve been probed by aliens. I’m a good listener, a self-starter, I know Excel and I once killed a man just to watch him die. Let’s see if any of the major party candidates can make these claims. Yow-za!”

Many of Culver’s proposals would’ve been regarded as bizarre only a few short months ago, but the conservative movement’s drift toward the lunatic fringe now places him squarely in the mainstream, especially since that stream recently jumped its banks and stranded moderates high and dry.

Like many in the Tea Party, Culver wants a “smaller government, perhaps run by midgets and pygmies, but not any of them African pygmies, I want all-American forest dwellers.” He wants to dismantle large parts of the federal system, eliminating all cabinet departments that begin with a vowel. And he wants to rein in spending, requiring the government to show two forms of ID before it is allowed to use its debit card.

To address the economic downturn, he said he will focus “like a laser on shiny objects and on job creation.” He has put forth a number of proposals to get people back to work: beginning a massive program to transplant dog heads onto cat bodies and vice versa; relocating the entire nation about 100 feet underground; and hiring out-of-work clerical personnel to string paper clips together that will then be used to build a fence along the Mexican border.

Among government reforms Culver is eyeing is a plan to “bring federal functions closer to the Constitution, moving staffers into the National Archives so they can sit right next to it.” He also wants to reduce “taxis and faxes, as well as taxes,” and intends to create a cabinet-level office so he can appoint that flute-playing guy from the Burger King breakfast commercials to “secretary of the Department of Awesome.”

Culver admitted that his limited experience in government could be a hindrance, so instead of fielding a vice-presidential candidate to run with him, he is asking Fox News pundit Glenn Beck to fill the post of “More President” should he be elected.

“I believe in establishing a vision for my administration, then picking qualified people who will have responsibility delegated to them to carry out this vision,” Culver said. “I plan to spend my time as a crime fighter, in a costumed crusade against super-villains. They’ll call me ‘President Man’ and I’ll be feared throughout the underworld.”

My trip to Manila and Hong Kong

September 27, 2010

Next week marks the fourth anniversary of the Best Business Trip Known to Man. In 2006, I had the opportunity to travel to Manila in the Philippines, staying for five weeks to train a new staff for my company. It was a great adventure, both in the office and out.

Recently I came across the emails I sent home during that visit, and decided to condense them into today’s blog post.

October 7 — Safely arrived in Manila. Haven’t figured out how to make long distance calls yet and there was no one to ask at 2am when we arrived at the hotel. I’m in the business center now trying to use AIM but it’s got that pop-up-block thing on. Flight was uneventful, not quite as arduous as I’d feared. The Japan transfer was uneventful, except it happened through Nagoya instead of Tokyo, like I’d thought (good thing I didn’t have to know that). I did travel with John Brzbzbzibkzi (sp?) from the NY office. He’s a nice guy, about my age and style. Hotel is very nice. Breakfast buffet was fairly Western. Outlets in my room seem to work. TV selections last night didn’t look too good, but maybe because it was the middle of the night.  

October 8 — Walked around outside the hotel a little, and found a 7-11 that had a pretty good frozen choco-coffee drink. Manila is definitely a big step up in modernity from India. It’s hot and humid and smelly but not that bad. Crowds on the street were smaller, and there are no beggars or people dying in plain view!  

October 10 — Got to tell you about my foot-in-mouth moment last night. We got a handout with the office address and phone number on it. I joked “Hah, you spelled ‘Philippines’ wrong,” and the three other proofreading trainers immediately jumped me and reminded me that one “l” and two “p’s” is correct. I was mortified.  

October 11 — Don’t want to jinx it but things seem to be going exceptionally well here. Just Western enough to feel close to home (except for the “Pepsi, now with Bamboo”). I had to handle my first training class almost single-handedly last night. The Indian guy who’s supposed to be helping me is a little hard to understand, though he’s real good keeping up with the handouts. Got back to hotel just before room service ended at 11. I had something called Oriental spaghetti. Not bad at all. Easily could’ve passed for Occidental.

October 12 — Tuesday night training went well. We had a real downpour on the drive there. The local paper this morning talks about a fresh terrorist threat that could include Manila but was mostly for Mindanao, in the south. Plus, there’s a volcano not far away that was spewing ash and another typhoon headed roughly in this direction. And, a North Korean nuke test. Bring on the locusts!  

Check-out lines at the MegaMall's grocery store

October 14 — Walked around the so-called “MegaMall” near the hotel, and truly it was mega. The malls are huge here, and they’re everywhere — not sure why. And they’re building four more. What could be more impressive than a MegaMall and the Mall of Asia? Gargantua Mall? Elephantine Mall? Mall of the Universe?  

October 16 — Not much new. Same routine starting to get a little boring. Haven’t really done anything yet except work, hang around the hotel, and try to sleep. (Isn’t it about time for this country to have an insurrection?) Room service food also getting a little tiresome. I had a satay and rice dish last night that was a little spicy for so close to bed. Uprising broke out in my stomach instead of on the streets.  

October 17 — We’re finding the training materials to be severely lacking, and have to make up a few exercises of our own. Those cartoon features “Spot the Difference” are real popular over here, so I brought one in to do as a comparison exercise (it’s sort of like proofreading). I asked secretary to make copies for everyone, and the picture on the left came back really fuzzy and obscured, so of course everyone says “that’s the difference.” Maybe I’ll try a spelling bee next.   

Crammed in a minivan, headed to Subic Bay

October 20 — Had a very interesting adventure driving to Subic Bay on Sunday. It was a three-hour drive to get there, and we were supposed to have a van that would fit 12 people, but they must’ve thought we were all Filipino-sized instead of chunky Americans. Four of our nine-person group were bigger than me and all the room we had was a standard-size back seat and middle seat. So we had four in the back, four in the middle, and the fattest woman of all in the front seat with the driver. We should never have even tried, but we were too polite, saying “No, it’s fine, we’ll squeeze in.” We went to a place called White Rock Beach Resort. They had hammocks, warm ocean water with mountains across the bay, golf, beach chairs, a bar, etc. We spent about 4-5 hours there, waiting to see the spectacular sunset so we could all take photos. I mostly did crossword puzzles and listened to my iPod. It was one of those experiences you’re very glad you did, but you’re also glad when it’s over.  

October 21 — Back in Manila, I took a ride on the “el” train. This will also include my first jeepney ride, which I’m told is like being packed in a sardine can, right down to the smelly strangers. In class, had an exercise with the trainees where I asked them to write two anonymous questions, one work-related and one personal. One of the funny questions: “Why do you wear rubber shoes?”, an apparent reference to my running shoes. I explained that I like to run, then asked them about their various exercise activities, which revolve mostly around trying to survive in a teeming Asian megalopolis.  

October 22 — Finally made it to the Mall of Asia. Really impressive — broad walkways, bright with skylights, an outdoor park, skating rink, the works. Baked goods are really big over here, so you can imagine the fun I’m having collecting these. Took a subway where they have a special car just for the women, I guess so they don’t get groped. Good idea.  

October 23 — Walked around the hotel neighborhood a little more and discovered even more malls. One called Robinson’s Galleria had a Cinnabon (with bun options unavailable in the U.S.), not to mention a “Pizza Hut Bistro” with tablecloths, fine china and silverware, and another restaurant called the “Burgaloo”, which claimed to be American. Menu looked like something from Denny’s, except with prices in pesos. Walking back, I saw a Scion minivan. An absolute abomination!  

The trail to the top of the volcano

October 24 — For some reason, on our day off for Ramadan yesterday, we thought it would be neat to climb a volcano. First a two-hour drive, then a half-hour outrigger trip across a lake, then an hour-long steep uphill trek to the peak, through dust and deep ruts and horse dung and locals trying to rent you a horse even though you’re almost there already. We were exhausted by the time we got to the top, but it was a great view. No lava though, just a lady selling coconut drinks. I may have seen some steam coming out of a rock — not sure.  

October 25 — Training on first shift now, still stuck with my humble but able (at least when I can understand him) assistant Uday. Uncertain whether we’ll be able to declare more than just nine of our 54 trainees as “passed,” not because they aren’t doing well but because the exam is ridiculous. I may just fudge the results and declare everybody trained. Went to a Chinese place for dinner last night with several fellow trainers, and we got to share stuff like garlic-sauteed asparagus, black mushrooms and bok choy, shrimp dumplings, and various fried dishes. Best of all, we went to Cinnabon again after to get Choco-buns for breakfast.  

October 26 — Had something for dinner from room service called “gratinated prawns.” I’m hoping it was cheese and shrimp, but not sure.  

October 27 — I walked past a Dunkin Donuts and they had something I’ve seen elsewhere over here: a senior citizens check-out lane. I guess that’s the place all us old folks can take the time to fumble for our change and write checks for $2.85. Halloween is real big over here, and the mall was in full decoration. However, they’re also starting to play Christmas music. Very disorienting.  

October 28 — I’m finally starting to get the hang of street-crossing in traffic around the city. When I went out earlier, I walked a fine line between bravado and foolishness. The best bet is to find a local who’s also crossing at the same spot, and use them as a shield, following closely by their side. Still, pretty death-defying.  

October 29 — We’re apparently getting hit by another typhoon, this one called “Paeng”. I can’t find out much about it; the local weather forecast on just mentions the usual scattered thunderstorms notice they put up every day. I saw a radar photo and it looked pretty well-organized, but I guess it’s no big deal for the locals. Looks like a friend and I will be taking a weekend excursion to Hong Kong. He’s been there before so I’m leaving all the details to him. Except the $600 for my cost — that I have to be involved in.  

October 30 — I guess we got that typhoon last night, though nobody seemed to care. I heard lots of rain during the night and woke up to find my window had leaked and my carpet is soaked. I put down towels and called the front desk. They may want to move me, but I hate to repack and unpack again. I’ll probably just stay here and squish around the room unless it starts to stink.  

October 31 — Turns out “Paeng” was a “super-typhoon” they tell us now that the danger has passed. Didn’t seem that super-typhoony to me.  

Party time at the cemetery on All Saints Day

November 1 — Took the train down to Makati City for our day off and saw a movie, “Marie Antoinette.” Some of the casting seemed a little weird — especially New Yorky Jason Schwartzman as the young king-in-waiting. But the costumes and settings were fun to watch. I was just disappointed they didn’t cut anybody’s head off. After that, I walked to the Manila South Cemetery, where they were having graveside festivities as part of All Souls Day. Families come to the graveyard to hang out with dead relatives, have picnics and buy balloons. Pretty macabre if you ask me, so don’t. Then went to a mall and met some of my fellow trainers for Indian food at the Bollywood Bistro, followed by dessert at a chocolate restaurant. Hardly what you’d expect from the third world.  

November 4 — Starting to pack for our weekend trip to Hong Kong. I found the hotel online we’re staying at. It’s called the Imperial but didn’t offer many other details, other than that it has a spaghetti restaurant and “wirless boardband”. Back at the office, we’re getting increasingly desperate for training ideas. We were given ten days to complete five days of material, so I’m busy making up a crossword puzzle that uses proofreading terms. Next, we’re going to have to break out the coloring books.  

November 5 — Training facilities continue to deteriorate. As new courses begin, they’re taking our proofreading space and shoving my group further and further into a corner. Where we are now, people using the bathroom have to cross right in front of our overhead projector to get to it. May turn this into a game — guess what kind of elimination they did based on how long they were in there.  

They say the neon lights are bright in Hong Kong

November 7 — Back from Hong Kong, and boy was it unbelievable! We stayed in Kowloon, which is apparently not Hong Kong proper but close enough. Wandered through a park near the hotel and saw people doing tai chi and swans. Had a great first day — up on Victoria’s Peak, harbor rides, etc. Then we went to Stanley, on the far side of HK Island. It was a bumpy but scenic ride. Ate lunch seaside and drank a beer. Later spent lots of time wandering around “Central” which is what they call downtown Hong Kong. Had a nice breakfast next door to the Imperial which, turns out, is a dump. My room does have a nice view of Nathan Street, however, which is one of the roads famous for so much lighted signage. For some reason, we went to the Hong Kong Museum of Art to see a big exhibition on French impressionism, not exactly what I came here for but my traveling companion John liked it. Had dinner at a seafood place. I got the seafood pasta which was only OK, primarily because so much of it was taken up with a whole octopus. Just before heading to the airport, we had high tea at the famous Peninsula Hotel. It’s kinda like eating lunch but the food is taller. At the airport, they almost didn’t allow us to leave because we had no proof we were eventually headed back to the U.S. instead of just the Philippines. I was surprised that Americans would have to prove they had no intention of relocating to Manila.

Revisited: Time shifting with the NFL

September 26, 2010

I want to tell everyone how happy I am that NFL football is back on television. And I’ll do that, right after this message.

Ads for erectile dysfunction drugs, beer and not-for-children films abound on pro football telecasts, upsetting parents worried about the harm to younger viewers, the Associated Press reports. Earlier this year, a national media monitoring group urged the NFL to “clean up their act” after reporting that half the commercials featured sex, drugs or alcohol. A league spokesman said “we are comfortable with our policies and those of our network partners,” while the CEO of Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, noted that referencing possible side effects such as long-lasting erections was a hard and fast FCC rule.

Despite the best efforts by advertisers to lure me into watching their commercials by featuring sex, drugs, and alcohol, I’ve reached the point where I can no longer stand to view a live televised game. The way they mess with such a basic concept as the passage of time leaves me so disoriented at the end of a Sunday afternoon that I feel like a serf living in a prehistoric cave, preparing for the next day’s manned flight to Mars.

A football game supposedly lasts for 60 minutes but is slotted in the programming schedule to run for a full three hours, which it usually exceeds by another 15 to 30 minutes, unless there’s overtime, and then it could run into next month. The action itself — the time during which people are running frantically about and crashing into each other — is far less than an hour in length, since the game clock continues to progress between many plays. The clock is frequently stopped for time-outs, during which slow-motion or stop-action replays are often shown. Referees have even been known to put time back on the clock, tooting their whistles in blatant defiance of Newtonian cosmology.

Though the commercials might be entertaining, you’ll quickly tire of their adolescent themes and wish they’d hurry back to the part with the jiggly cheerleaders. A few years back, the quest for advertising dollars reached the point where, after showing a touchdown, there’d be a series of ads, then they’d return for the kickoff, and then head back to another round of commercials. This was more than even my bladder required.

Now, with the advent of the digital video recorder, I too can be a lord and master of time control. I can record the particular game that I want to watch and play it back later while skipping past the ads, the Burger King halftime update (“whoppers are still bad for you”), the news insert, the background profiles, and the statistical breakdown of which players have been suspended for having dog-fights in their pants while drunk-driving with a shotgun. I can cut right to the chase, watch all the highlights and learn the final score in a fraction of the time it would normally take.

There are some complications in watching sports on a tape-delay basis that I’m still learning how to handle. One has to do with the tense of my rooting. Most games that I record will feature one team that I prefer to win and another that I prefer to lose. So the convention is that you verbally exhort your favored team to perform well, even though — as my wife reminds me — it’s unlikely they can hear you, or would be considerate enough to accommodate your request even if they could. Since the action I’m watching has already occurred and the game outcome is decided, it really does no good to express standard cheers such as “go!” These have to be modified to a conditional past tense — “have gone!”, for example. You can’t yell “you suck” at the quarterback who just threw his third interception of the first half (you can probably tell I’m a Carolina Panthers fan); instead it has to be “you have sucked at some point in the recent past.” Even harder is the case where you accidentally heard that your team has already won, and you’re watching a decisive play that was later overturned by the instant-replay official: “You would have stunk!” is difficult to shout with much conviction.

I try to avoid hearing the outcome in advance, as it tends to ruin the suspense. I had a friend once whose wife had already learned that his favorite team was the winner of a key game, so he attempted to explain the concept of time-shifting to her as the reason he didn’t want her to tell him the score. She apparently didn’t get it, since she responded “I won’t tell you anything, but I think you’ll be pleased with the outcome.”

If you’re a really rabid fan, you also have to beware of the subtle cues that the rest of the world may be putting out. If you run out to the grocery store in the interim between the actual game and the one being played in your own private universe, it’s best to avoid eye contact with fellow shoppers, lest their look of  despair over the price of green seedless grapes be misinterpreted. I tried tape-delayed viewing one year when my hometown team was in the Super Bowl, and practically had to wrap my head in gauze to avoid clues about the results. If I’d heard shouting crowds and thunderous explosions in the neighborhood, it would’ve been a certain indication that either Pittsburgh had won, or else laid-off steelworkers were storming the mills to regain by force their rightful place in the U.S. economy.

When you find yourself in the position of being able to master time and space like this, you can not only speed past the boring parts but also prolong the drama of the game’s turning points. One of my favorite techniques is to hit the pause button, then advance the on-screen action one frame at a time. This is most effective when you’re watching the potentially game-winning field goal sail from the foot of the kicker into the direction of the goalposts. The ball seems to be heading wide left! Then one frame later, maybe it’s curving back toward the posts! Then one frame later, it appears President Kennedy has been shot!

Often the outcome is decided way in advance of the final gun, yet you hold out thin hope that a miraculous comeback from a 45-3 deficit can still be achieved in the remaining 5 minutes. So you run the game at triple-speed, concentrating not on the hulking Keystone Kops that have taken over the field but on the score and time remaining displayed in the banner across the top of the screen. You glance back and forth between the plummeting clock and the score, and suddenly get excited when the game has somehow become a tight 2-1 affair, only to realize they’ve interspersed scores from other sports, and you wonder who the hell is Manchester United?

At least I can take some comfort in the impending arrival of the post-season baseball playoffs. The passage of hours and hours during America’s traditional pastime is so much more predictable than what football can offer. Intense action on the field is much like the diamond itself; rare and compressed and not really something that goes with your faded Florida Marlins jersey. Capturing the essence of a 12-inning scoreless pitcher’s duel in a compressed DVR format is so ridiculously impossible that you might have better luck drinking water vapor from the air. It certainly has to be more entertaining.

Revisited: A little tsar humor

September 25, 2010

Tsar Nicholas II was the last and arguably the worst of a long line of terrible Russian rulers, and that’s saying a lot considering some of his predecessors actually had “The Terrible” as part of their name. Ruling from 1894 until being terminated (by gunfire) in 1918, his official title was “Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias” and “The Passion-Bearer.” When you have “autocrat” as part of your job title, you’ve generally got some pretty good job security. But the communist Bolsheviks had to do some serious down-sizing when they prevailed in the Russian Revolution. Nicholas was given his walking papers, then proceeded to walk to the basement where he and his entire family were executed.

Despite his regal lineage — he was related to just about every royal family in the western world short of King Kong — he attempted to at least sound like an everyman dictator. Feeling unprepared when he ascended the throne at age 26, he asked “what is going to happen to me?” During the first revolt against his rule in 1905, he wrote to his mom “it makes me sick to read the news.” He greeted advice from foreign leaders on how to handle the uprising with the whining complaint that “I am getting telegrams from everywhere.” Even in his final moments of life, shortly before facing a firing squad, a stunned Nicholas is quoted as saying “What? What?”

In 1896, shortly after his coronation, he modestly staged a celebration near Moscow that included food, free beer and souvenirs. He chose the site, called Khodynka Field, because it was believed to be the sacred center of the Russian Empire. He neglected to notice the area had also been used as a military training ground, and thus was filled with trenches. When the beer appeared, a crowd estimated at half a million people rushed forward, trampling those who were admiring their souvenirs instead of paying attention. Almost 1,500 people were killed in the melee with another 20,000 injured. Par-tay!

By 1904, Nicholas had mustered enough confidence in himself and his divine powers to get into a war with Japan almost half a world away. Since the Japanese had wisely insisted on staying put in their corner of Asia, the Russians had to schlep their Baltic fleet through the Suez Canal, across the Indian Ocean and up the entire east coast of Indo-China before they could be annihilated by the Japanese at the Battle of the Tsushima. The only other way to get Russian forces to the front was on the 6,000-mile Trans-Siberian Railway, which was only one-way as well as missing a significant loop around Lake Baikal. Needless to say, the Russians were soundly trounced by the Japanese in one of the first cases of a European state being defeated by a non-Western power.

Understandably a little peeved at his Eastern misadventure, the Russian people started getting restless. A priest named George Gapon organized what seemed like a respectful demonstration of concern in which workers carried crosses, national flags and even portraits of the tsar, singing the imperial anthem “God Save the Tsar.” Nicholas took it all the wrong way and had his soldiers open fire on the demonstrators, killing 92. As bullets riddled their icons and their portraits of Nicholas, the people shrieked “The Tsar will not help us!” Duh. Father Gapon, who had been considered a moderate, turned on Nicholas, calling him “soul-murderer of the Russian empire” and “you hangman.” Not too surprisingly, Gapon’s body was found hanging in an abandoned cottage a few months later.

Pressured into at least an appearance of reform, Nicholas allowed the convocation of a state Duma, an advisory body of representatives that could be mistaken for a legislature if you squinted your eyes hard enough. He didn’t care for the make-up of the first one — they “looked sullen as though they hated us,” the sensitive Nick complained — so he dissolved them and established the Second Duma, which he also dissolved. His relations with his ministers were better, and he even liked one of them well enough to make him a “Knight of the Order of Saint Alexander Nevsky.” In his own hand, Nicholas himself added the words “with diamonds” to the decree, since the concept of “extra cheese” had yet to be invented.

Succession concerns started to weigh on Nicholas around this time. Having no “vice-tsar” at the ready, he had his choice of four daughters (in an era when girls were widely considered to be yucky) and his one hemophiliac son, Alexei. Despite the fact that even the slightest injury could mortally wound someone with a blood-clotting deficiency, his family took Alexei on a hunting trip in 1912 where, wouldn’t you know it, he started bleeding severely. This is when the tsar’s wife Alexandra brought in a specialist by the name of Rasputin, a crazed mystic who was nevertheless lucky enough to be around when the bleeding miraculously stopped. “The Little One will not die,” Rasputin proclaimed in his best spooky voice. “Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much.”

As you might imagine, Nicholas was no great shakes as a leader during World War I against Germany. He had first tried a peace overture to the increasingly aggressive Kaiser Wilhelm, which was actually called the “Willy and Nicky correspondence.” When that failed the tsar mobilized his troops, which the Germans saw as an act of war but turned out to be a great convenience to them, because it gathered the entire 4-million-man army in one place where the Germans could wipe them out. Exhausted and lacking equipment, the Russians had to battle heavy Germany artillery with bayonets, in what a sportscaster would call “not a good match-up.” Back in the capital, Russian citizens showed their hatred of the enemy by looting bakeries owned by people with German names. As general after general failed him on the battlefield, Nicholas decided his personal presence would inspire the troops so he made himself commander and headed off to a position miles from the front where he inspected field hospitals and presided over military luncheons.

No longer able to display his stellar management skills on the homefront, the citizens again started getting thoughts of revolution. Despite huge posters telling people to keep off the streets, vast crowds gathered. (And they were really nice posters too, full color with a very clean design). Some regiments tried killing the protestors but others started firing into the air before eventually deciding to kill their own commanders instead. The Russian Revolution was finally at hand and, in 1917, Nicholas was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, who said “no thanks, dad,” so his brother Mike took over.

Nicholas and the rest of the immediate Romanov family were evacuated to the Ural Mountains, allegedly for their own safety. At first, they lived in considerable comfort in the former governor’s mansion, but conditions soon deteriorated and the family occupied itself with keeping warm. The tsar was even forbidden to wear his epaulettes. The family was transferred to a smaller house, where they were awoken at 2 a.m. on July 17, 1918, and told by soldiers there was something in the basement they wanted to show them. That “something” turned out to be the firing squad that ended the rule of the Romanovs.

My life as a public speaker

September 24, 2010

Surveys have consistently shown that the two everyday activities Americans fear most are death and public speaking. So imagine the stress facing the convicted murderer anticipating his imminent execution. Not only must he compose his thoughts into an organized and compelling presentation that will make a satisfactory set of Last Words, but he has to die too.

“I want to say I’m sorry to the victim’s friends and loved ones. I’m sorry to my own family for the heartache I have caused them. This PowerPoint slide shows some of the other things I’m sorry about. But most of all, I’m sorry that I’m about to receive a lethal injection. It’s not going to hurt, is it?”

This being Friday, it looks like I’m about to make it through another week without facing my ultimate demise. However, I did not manage to avoid public speaking.

As part of a project I’m heading up at work, I had to do what the corporate world refers to as a “stand-up”. This is not at all like the stand-up routine you might see a comedian perform on TV. For one thing, it’s not funny. Continuous process improvement rarely is. The main reason it’s called a “stand-up” is that my dozen or so coworkers get to stay seated, while I have to stay on my feet and speak coherently at the same time.

I don’t find this exercise especially easy, but I’m better at it now than I once was. I still remember the terror I faced delivering a simple oral report in elementary school. Probably the worst thing about it was that, since my name begins with a “W”, I was always one of the last in my class to speak. It was like being Yugoslavia after World War II, and watching as the Soviet Union subjugated all of Eastern Europe under the iron fist of communist enslavement, if the Soviets had extended their authoritarian hegemony in alphabetical order.

In junior high school, I foolishly volunteered to take a small part in a play titled “The Plot to Steal November.” The story centered on an effort to change the calendar in a way that would deprive us of our eleventh month, eliminating such American institutions as election day, Thanksgiving and my birthday (Nov. 6, for those of you who like to do their gift-shopping early).

I played a boy selling newspapers, and my part consisted of striding onto the stage, announcing “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Read about the plot to steal November,” and then crouching next to a group of my fellow actors as they read the story. More out of blind terror than any kind of creative choice, I decided to lean on a table instead. The teacher managing the stage direction had a fit, loudly whispering “squat, Davis, squat” throughout my entire 30-second performance, further damaging my confidence in front of audiences.

When I went off to college, I considered majoring in education until I realized that would eventually involve speaking to a room full of students. I opted instead to pursue a degree in history, and spent most of my time at university in a mode of public listening rather than public speaking. This meant attending Timothy Leary lectures and Stephen Stills concerts, both of which I only vaguely remember. Any oratory I did was limited to late-night, drug-fueled bull sessions with a handful of roommates and friends, where I frequently made the extemporaneous argument that wouldn’t it be cool if you could fly.

After my schooling was complete, I began a 30-year career in financial document analysis. I got good enough at my job that eventually, I was asked to train others. This started out easily enough as a one-on-one affair, but soon blossomed to include more and more students. When my company decided to outsource some of its operations overseas, I was asked if I’d be willing to train what ultimately seemed like half the subcontinent of India, and a similar percentage of the eastern Pacific. I wanted the free travel opportunity, so I figured I better get over any lingering stage fright pretty quickly.

One of my first large-scale sessions was in Manila. I carefully reviewed all my material the night before. I browsed the internet for tips on public speaking. I imagined the audience would all be wearing underwear, though this would ultimately backfire thanks to some particularly attractive Philippine women. I reminded myself they’d probably be more afraid of the graying American than I’d be afraid of them. I took handfuls of klonopin.

I thought the training went really well. After the first few minutes in front of a room full of people, I felt surprisingly at ease. I only needed to occasionally glance at my notes, I made lots of eye contact with various faces around the room, and I successfully avoided wetting myself. I waved my arms around a lot, which they seemed to like.

Arm waving can capture the attention of your audience

The only real stumble came with a lame attempt at humor. I was trying to make the point that it was important for them to know how to spell the names of certain key players in the financial services industry, and how one of our people had once mistakenly read some illegible handwriting as “Goldman Sucks” instead of “Goldman Sachs”. I thought this was pretty funny, but they didn’t get it at all. Of course, this was in 2006, before the worldwide financial crisis made even the most primitive tribesmen of New Guinea aware that Goldman Sachs sucked.

Now, it’s 2010, and I’m quite comfortable doing this much smaller session with my coworkers. I have a one-page script I wrote, but it was rewritten by my boss and, if I follow it too closely, I’m afraid I’ll say the “(adlib)” that she’s sprinkled throughout. I hit all the introductory points, then dive into a quick overview of the “big themes of the project: communication, efficiency and workflow”. I reference the handout they received earlier that morning in their email, which one person has actually read. We’re changing the way we do certain things, and I remind them that change isn’t always easy. That cliché, and the request for any questions anyone might have, are fortunately met with blank stares – just the response I was hoping for.

I wrap up the session with the announcement that I’m supplying a pizza lunch in a blatant attempt to bribe them into compliance, and suddenly everyone is loose and smiling.

“I hope the pizza will grease your creative juices, and that you’ll continue to offer suggestions for improvements,” I say, later regretting the metaphor when I got a look at my particular slice of Domino’s pepperoni.

Once everyone is busy chowing down, I have a chance to evaluate my performance, and I think I did pretty good. A friend who witnessed the presentation, who happens to be a member of the Toastmasters speakers club, said I used a few too many “uh’s” and “ah’s”, though I avoided the “so’s” that are the real sign you don’t know what you’re talking about. And he liked the arm waving.

I’m just glad no one tried to get me to squat.

An editorial: Stop the damn dumping

September 23, 2010

I live in a quiet suburban neighborhood covered with towering hardwoods. Through the subdivision runs a small brook. On one side of the creek is a community of about 60 single-family homes, the kind of classic middle-class setting complete with well-behaved children and well-groomed lawns. On the other side is a development of townhomes called “Clover Creek,” which houses many retired faculty from the nearby college.

These condo dwellers — or “condors,” as we on the other side of the creek call them — appear to be a bunch of uncivilized animals. I’m not sure what these former professors taught during their time at university, but I’m thinking it had something to do with the barbarian sack of Rome or perhaps the situational ethics of illegal dumping.

My house is right across the street from the quaint little bridge that leads into the condos. Ever since we’ve lived here, there will be at least one incident a month where one of the “condors” discards a mound of refuse right across from my driveway. This is what’s out there right now …

I have no idea what this junk is or used to be. Behind the large wooden panel looks to be a charred step-ladder (foreground) and a rattan hamper now shredded beyond recognition.

This is plainly against city code. The first time it happened, we called the proper authorities and they came out to post a “no dumping” sign, which was stolen within days of its installation. (The pole holding the sign remained behind but it didn’t turn out to be much of a deterrent).

Ever since, we’ve watched a cavalcade of junk appear. Old sewing machines. A sled. A box fan. A VCR. Sometimes, I’ll go out there myself and drag the offending item back across their precious little bridge. Other times, it’ll sit for weeks until one day it disappears, carried off presumably by scavengers.

Which is what I thought condors were supposed to be. Aren’t they the big ugly birds that feast on the carcasses of dead animals? Why, then, are these condors instead producing rubbish instead of eating it?

Oh, I find ways to exact my measure of revenge. Since they don’t have roll-out garbage bins, they have to carry their household waste to a large dumpster near their entrance. A sign says it’s for the use of condo residents only, but I’ll sneak over there sometimes and throw in a bag of soiled cat litter, just for fun. Once, I even spilled a little in the road.

This only gives me so much satisfaction, however. Usually, I and my family just sit and steam, powerless to stop the unseen elderly who roam the night, hauling old chairs and bedding behind them.

I call on the residents of Clover Creek to stop this irresponsible behavior immediately. There’s a perfectly serviceable city dump somewhere around here where they can drag their antique asses and their beat-up furniture for proper disposal. Rise above your baser instincts and your bestial ways. Quit putting all this crap in front of my house.

A brief look at the new TV season

September 22, 2010

The new TV season is finally here! Everybody is so excited! You can tell by the exclamation points!

The critics are still out on how good, or how excruciatingly awful, the new and returning shows are. The best minds in Hollywood have been working hard for months creating what we all hope is compelling viewing.

But these aren’t the entertainment industry writing jobs I’d like to have. What I’d want to be is the guy responsible for the eight-word-or-less summaries that appear in the online listings that cable and satellite providers offer. In previous eons, we might’ve referred to this short literary form as a Japanese haiku, restricted to 17 syllables. These days, it’s probably more comparable to a tweet, only shorter.

Containing the bounty that is contemporary commercial broadcasting is no easy feat. Even the titles sometimes defy space parameters. Our local cable company posted the name of one popular sitcom as “The New Adventures of Old Christ…” for several weeks before evangelicals complained that there is no “Old Christ,” only the One, True Living Lord, Jesus Christ, and he’s not featured in a show starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, even as a walk-on.

Since I’m sure I’ll never get one of these precious jobs, I guess I’ll just have to play around on my own. What follows is my attempt to summarize possible plot lines for many of the programs debuting this week on network television.

Dancing With the Stars — Bristol Palin incinerated while touching partner Alpha Centauri

How I Met Your Mother — She was a “he” back then

Rules of Engagement — Rule One: Turn off the television

Two and a Half Men — Who cares about them? Watch for the hotties.

Mike & Molly — M&M meet an old friend; he slays them

Hawaii Five-O — Updated police classic still has hulas, fat guys

90210 — I thought this was cancelled long ago

House — House diagnoses a surprisingly common malady: shark-jumping

Chuck — Cheap meat cuts vie for cash and prizes

Gossip Girl — You won’t believe what she just said

Lone Star — They could afford only one recognizable actor

The Event — What will you believe? This show will fail.

Chase — Catch it!

No Ordinary Family — In fact, no family at all — just horses

Detroit 1-8-7 — Incredibly, the Lions play to seven ties

NCIS — No Cops In Sight, just good-looking investigators

NCIS: Los Angeles — Same as above, but really good-looking investigators

The Good Wife — Going against type, she eats a live kitten

One Tree Hill — There’s this tree, and it’s on this hill

Life Unexpected — No telling what will happen this week

Glee — Homo High qualifies for the regionals

Raising Hope — “Hope” is a person — clever, huh?

Running Wilde — Aesthete icon Oscar Wilde vows to finish marathon

Parenthood — Humans bear live young, and the fun ensues

The Middle — Investigating what makes a great sandwich

Better With You — Best of all, you go to Istanbul

Modern Family — The attractive Latina bends over several times

Cougar Town — Lions, leopards move in next door

The Whole Truth — Can you handle it? This show sucks hard

Survivor — Sweaty, hungry people are fortunately far away

Criminal Minds — Preserved brains grow feet, run amok

The Defenders — Let Binder & Binder help settle your claim

America’s Next Top Model — Sweaty, hungry people are getting closer

Hellcats — Don’t mess with these kitties; they’ll scratch ya

Lie to Me — Tell me I’m pretty, so very very pretty

Hell’s Kitchen — Just what you want: a pissed-off chef

Undercovers — Sheets, comforters, quilts do battle with evil

Law & Order: SVU — Police procedural is So Very Unwatchable

My Generation — People try to put them down

Grey’s Anatomy — Derek has a thing on his thing; ouch

Private Practice — Urologists, gynecologists solve crimes under cover

Big Bang Theory — Nerds talk pretentiously; somehow that’s considered funny

$#*! My Dad Says — This week, “motherfucker” and “shithead”

The Mentalist — Solving crimes with ESP; we’re so impressed

Vampire Diaries — Bloodthirsty undead blog about their lives, loves

Nikita — Former Soviet premier Khrushchev now a lithe Asian-ette

Bones — The ulna beats tibia senseless with fibula

Fringe — Like X-Files but everyone wears 60s vests

Community — Nobody that glib in real life

30 Rock — Jack tells Lemon to jump off a cliff

The Office — Someone left copier on “darken”; coffee is drunk

Outsourced — Indian accents are naturally hilarious

The Apprentice — Pressure, humiliation and Trump combine for smiles, tears

Secret Millionaire — Just in case Bush tax cuts expire

Body of Proof — A proofreader finds a mistake, is murdered

20/20 — Is it possible Hugh Downs is still alive?

Medium — Just try finding a sweatshirt in your size

Blue Bloods — Tom Selleck? You can’t be serious

Smallville — Superboy runs for mayor on Tea Party ticket

Supernatural — Neither super nor natural, it’s a pedestrian fraud

Human Target — Man, the most dangerous game (next to dodgeball)

Good Guys — Their name is “Good”, so are they; wacky!

Who Do You Think You Are?/School Pride — Probably some kind of Glee rip-off

Dateline NBC — This week’s predator: a 1200-pound grizzly

Outlaw — No summary necessary; no one will watch

Crimetime Saturday — Lucky viewers win a home invasion

48 Hours Mystery — The mystery: Why is this still on?

Cops — Viewers vie with viewees to see who’s skankier

America’s Most Wanted — He’s calling from inside your house!

America’s Funniest Home Videos — Finally, someone gets killed

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition — Just blow it up and start over

Desperate Housewives — Bree gets upset, drinks a white wine spritzer

60 Minutes — Fortunately only 46 if you don’t count commercials

The Amazing Race — Contestants race to Swat Valley; several actually survive

Fake News: The Queen and The Pope are on their own

September 21, 2010

LONDON (Sept. 20) — A summit of world leaders so prominent that they are referred to simply as “The This” or “The That” has concluded in London with disappointing results. Political bickering caused what was hoped to be a larger meeting to end up with only two participants — The Queen and The Pope.

“We felt it was the right time to bring together the globe’s biggest icons so they could discuss the staggering number of crises facing the planet, and just hang out with their own kind,” said organizer The Edge, lead guitarist for the politically active rock band U2. “I was sorry we couldn’t get more of these folks involved. The devil is in the details, I guess.”

“Hey,” he added. “We should’ve invited The Devil!”

Among the most well-known figures to be turned away from what had become known as “The ‘The’ Summit” were U.S. President Barack Obama, and the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, The Dalai Lama.

Obama, widely referred to as simply “The President,” was challenged for that seat by Al Hammer of Indiana, president and CEO of Terre Haute Electric (THE). Hammer insisted that it was he who was THE President and that, because his “THE” was spelled with all caps, he should be awarded the slot over Obama. In the end, organizers couldn’t decide which man had the more legitimate claim, so both were turned away.

The Dalai Lama was refused admission because two names followed his “The” instead of just one.

“If they use a modifying adjective as part of their name, they’re simply not esteemed enough,” said another organizing official, Robert Kirk. “If he were known as just ‘The Lama’, then we might’ve seated him, although we’d then have the issue of whether he was widely respected figure of peace and spirituality, or perhaps a hooved South American pack animal prized for its soft and lanolin-free coat.”

Others who had wanted to attend but were turned away included actor Duane “The Rock” Johnson, hip-hop artists The-Dream and The Game, TV reality star The Situation, and Vegas funnyman The Unknown Comic.

“Each of these men made a good case for why they should be able to attend but, in the end, each faced a simple technicality that kept them out,” Kirk said. “The Rock has moved away from his wrestling name as he attempts to make a career in the movies. The-Dream uses a hyphen, which we just can’t have. The Game and The Situation almost qualified, but their stature on the world stage wasn’t quite high enough. As for The Unknown Comic, I don’t think any explanation is required.”

Several other applicants attempted to make the case that, although their name didn’t start with “The”, their use of a similar determiner article should allow them to attend, at least in an advisory capacity. Among these were A. O. Scott, film critic for The New York Times, and A. Philip Randolph III, grandson of the mid-20th century civil rights leader.

“First of all, to Mr. Scott, I would say his name would have to be ‘An O. Scott’ to be grammatically correct,” said Kirk. “And for Mr. Randolph, with the ‘Philip’ and the ‘III’, it was just way too much.”

Legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens tried to claim that the “T.” in his first initial stood for “The”, but a quick check at Wikipedia revealed it stood for “Thomas.”

Other pretenders who attempted to persuade the selection committee to allow their admission were film director M. Night Shyamalan, architect I. M. Pei, and R&B musical artist R. Kelly.

“‘M’ is not ‘Am’, and even if it were, as the first person singular present of ‘be’, it’s more a verb than an article,” Kirk said. “‘I’ is a first person singular pronoun and ‘R’ or ‘are’ is a third person plural present. If these guys wanted to end up as major players in global geopolitics, they should’ve paid a little more attention in seventh-grade English class.”