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Quack Quack

April 6, 2001

[Special note: All good things must come to an end. Freethinkers Anonymous, on the other hand, only requires an occasional vacation. The mailings will resume on April 27th, 2001.]

A while back I read an article that made the claim that the number of words in the English language was rapidly diminishing. This threw me into a panic. Forget the shrinking ice caps, disappearing rain forests, the energy crisis, rising fuel prices, uncontrolled arsenic levels in drinking water, and new strains of bacteria that are resistant to everything.

The decline of words is a serious matter. Words are not only my stock-in-trade, but most of the people I know use them. If the language disappears, how will people use their cell phones to completely ignore people they’re actually with? Will we become an Orwellian society where people walk around quacking like ducks, and, if so, will we have to fly South in the winter? And where are these words going? Well, apparently they’re not going anywhere, they’re just getting the word "obsolete" placed next to their entry in the dictionary, so it may not be much of a crisis after all. The reason certain words seem to fall out of circulation is because nobody uses dictionaries anymore, so even if you tell people you have an "umberty" of old magazines you’re trying to get rid of, not only will they be too embarrassed to admit they don’t know what that word means, they’ll never bother to look it up so they won’t know it’s obsolete.

Of course English will survive, if for no other reason than its unfailing ability to make new words by sticking prefixes on other words. (This is a habit borrowed from Latin and Greek, which is odd because English is a Germanic language. Fortunately we haven’t adopted the German practice of making new words by sticking several really long words together. If we did this, we’d have to make a new group of words called "ridiculouslylongwords".) But the use of prefixes raises some interesting questions. For instance:

  • -Someone can be "incompetent" or "competent", "incapable" or "capable", but have you ever heard of someone being "capacitated"?

  • When a patient stops breathing doctors "resuscitate" the patient (or try very hard to). So when you’re breathing, are you "suscitating"?

  • If "reincarnation" is being reborn after death, is being born "incarnation"? Or is a newborn simply a "carnation"?

  • If the "interior" is the inside and the "exterior" is the outside, is "terior" the side? Or is it somewhere in between?

  • You can "exclude" someone or "include" someone, but what are you doing if you "clude" someone?

  • If you do something impolite, you say, "Excuse me," but why is it that if you do something polite you never say, "Incuse me"?

  • If an "obsolete" word is one that’s no longer in use, are words that are currently used "solete" words?

  • You’ve heard of people being "ruthless", but have you ever known anyone whom you would call "full of ruth"?

And finally, what about those words that are still in use but that no one can really define–words like "ziggurat", "punctilious", or "ombudsman"? Maybe Lewis Carrol said it best when he said, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean."

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

[Normally I would save something like this for the annual "Oh What A Year It Was", but this was too funny not to share immediately. Of course it’s already old news, but then so are most of my jokes.–CW]

In the Birmingham Sunday Mercury (7th Jan 2001):


Bosses of a publishing firm are trying to work out why no one noticed that one of their employees had been sitting dead at his desk for FIVE DAYS before anyone asked if he was feeling okay. George Turklebaum, 51, who had been employed as a proof-reader at a New York firm for 30 years, had a heart attack in the open- plan office he shared with 23 other workers.

He quietly passed away on Monday, but nobody noticed until Saturday morning when an office cleaner asked why he was still working during the weekend.

His boss Elliot Wachiaski said: "George was always the first guy in each morning and the last to leave at night, so no one found it unusual that he was in the same position all that time and didn’t say anything. He was always absorbed in his work and kept much to himself."

A post-mortem examination revealed that he had been dead for five days after suffering a coronary. Ironically, George was proofreading manuscripts of medical textbooks when he died.

You may want to give your co-workers a nudge occasionally.

And the moral of the story: Don’t work too hard. Nobody notices anyway.

One thing that has always bugged me, and I’m sure it does most of you, is to sit down at the dinner table only to be interrupted by a phone call from a telemarketer. I decided, on one such occasion, to try to be as irritating to them as they were to me. This particular call happened to be from AT&T and it went something like this:

Me: Hello

AT&T: Hello, this is AT&T.

Me: Is this AT&T?

AT&T: Yes, this is AT&T.

Me: This is AT&T?

AT&T: Yes. This is AT&T.

Me: Is this AT&T?

AT&T: YES! This is AT&T, may I speak to Mr. Byron please?

Me: May I ask who is calling?

AT&T: This is AT&T.

Me: OK, hold on.

At this point I put the phone down for a solid 5 minutes thinking that, surely, this person would have hung up the phone. I ate my salad. Much to my surprise, when I picked up the receiver, they were still waiting.

Me: Hello?

AT&T: Is this Mr. Byron?

Me: May I ask who is calling please?

AT&T: Yes this is AT&T.

Me: Is this AT&T?

AT&T: Yes this is AT&T.

Me: The phone company?

AT&T: Yes, sir.

Me: I thought you said this was AT&T.

AT&T: Yes sir, we are a phone company.

Me: I already have a phone.

AT&T: We aren’t selling phones today Mr. Byron. We would like to offer you 10 cents a minute, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Me: Now, that’s 10 cents a minute 24 hours a day?

AT&T (getting a little excited at this point by my interest): Yes, sir, that’s right! 24 hours a day!

Me: Now, that’s 10 cents a minute 24 hours a day?

AT&T: That’s right.

Me: 365 days a year?

AT&T: Yes sir.

Me: I am definitely interested in that! Wow!!! That’s amazing!

AT&T: We think so!

Me: That’s quite a sum of money!

AT&T: Yes sir, it’s amazing how it adds up.

Me: OK, so will you send me checks weekly, monthly or

just one big one at the end of the year for the full $52,560, and if you send an annual check, can I get a cash advance?

AT&T: Excuse me?

Me: You know, the 10 cents a minute.

AT&T: What are you talking about?

Me: You said you’d give me 10 cents a minute, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That comes to $144 per day, $1,008 per week and $52,560 per year. I’m just interested in knowing how you will be making payment.

AT&T: Oh no, sir, I didn’t mean we’d be paying you. You pay US 10 cents a minute.

Me: Wait a minute, how do you figure that by saying that you’ll give me 10 cents a minute, that I’ll give YOU 10 cents a minute? Is this some kind of subliminal telemarketing scheme? I’ve read about things like this in the Enquirer, you know.

AT&T: No, Sir, we are offering 10 cents a minute for…

Me: THERE YOU GO AGAIN! Can I speak to a supervisor please!

AT&T: Sir, I don’t think that is necessary.

Me: I insist on speaking to a supervisor!

AT&T: Yes, Mr. Byron. Please hold.

At this point I begin trying to finish my dinner.

Supervisor: Mr. Byron?

Me: Yeth?

Supervisor: I understand you are not quite understanding our 10 cents a minute program.

Me: Is thith A Teeth & Teeth?

Supervisor: Yes, Sir, it sure is.

I had to swallow before I choked on my food. It was all I could do to suppress my laughter and I had to be careful not to produce a snort.

Me: No, actually, I was just waiting for someone to get back to me so that I could sign up for the plan.

Supervisor: OK, no problem, I’ll transfer you back to

the person who was helping you.

Me: Thank you.

I was on hold once again and managed a few more mouthfuls. I needed to end this conversation. Suddenly, there was an aggravated but polite voice at the other end of the phone.

AT&T: Hello Mr. Byron, I understand that you are interested in signing up for our plan?

Me: No, but I was wondering — do you have that "friends and family" thing? Because you can never have enough friends and I’m an only child and I’d really like to have a little brother…

AT & T: Click

Where’s The ATM?

March 30, 2001

Credit card companies are now offering titanium cards. I don’t know why they decided on titanium, but having apparently run the gamut of precious metals (silver, gold, and platinum) they’re now moving on to other metals. It seems kind of goofy that credit cards would be named after various metals, considering that they’re all made from plastic (in fact, the reason for the impending fuel crisis is because plastic is made from petroleum, so with all those credit cards the average person carries about five gallons of gasoline in their wallet), but "The Titanium Card" does sound better than "The Plastic Card". Titanium is tough, useful in alloys, and has a really cool name. But eventually even titanium’s not going to be good enough, and new cards will be needed for customers with different needs. Here are a few suggestions:

The Aluminum Card: This card is ideal for people who only carry credit cards in case of an emergency. People who say "I use my card only for emergencies" fall into two categories: those who will stand in front of a hotel in pouring rain for twenty minutes debating whether not having a warm, dry place to sleep is really an emergency, and those who think a craving for french fries is an emergency. Why aluminum? Because it’s cheap and lightweight, which pretty much describes the two types of people.

The Bronze Card: Strictly speaking, bronze is an alloy. It’s a mixture of tin and copper. Bronze used to be grouped with the alloys called "brass", but some wiseacre salesman decided he could double the price of his brass candleholders if he told people they were made from "bronze", which sounds more respectable. The Bronze Card is for pre-adolescents. Since teenagers are now carrying credit cards, it won’t be long before children who have just started walking will have credit cards. (They already have cell phones.) The Bronze Card will have a credit limit of $25, and can only be used to buy candy, CDs that don’t have parental advisory stickers, and candleholders.

The Mercury Card: Remember in chemistry class when the teacher allowed you to hold some mercury in your hand, and it immediately slid onto the floor and scattered in about eight billion pieces? Well that’s what the Mercury Card will do. It won’t stay in your wallet but will go everywhere, and with its 80% interest rate, it will dissipate your finances. Prolonged exposure to this card also causes insanity, but don’t worry. You won’t have it long before you’ll be ready for…

The Plutonium Card: This card is for people who have declared bankruptcy at least three times. The Plutonium Card is carefully monitored, has to be carried in a special case, will poison everything else in your wallet, and, with a half-life of four and a half billion years, will never go away. Carriers wear this card around their neck for life.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

These comments come from test papers and essays submitted to science and health teachers by elementary, junior high, high school, and college students and compiled at the NEA Life Sciences Symposium, Kansas City, Kansas.

As the originator noted, "It is truly astonishing what weird science our young scholars can create under the pressures of time and grades."

Please note that the original spelling has been left intact.

  1. "The body consists of three parts – the branium, the borax, and the abominable cavity. The branium contains the brain, the borax contains the heart and lungs, and the abominable cavity contains the bowels, of which there are five – a, e, i, o, and u."

  2. "Nitrogen is not found in Ireland because it is not found in a free state."

  3. "H2O is hot water, and CO2 is cold water."

  4. "To collect fumes of sulphur, hold a deacon over a flame in a test tube."

  5. "When you smell an oderless gas, it is probably carbon monoxide."

  6. "Water is composed of two gins, Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is gin and water."

  7. "Three kinds of blood vessels are arteries, vanes and caterpillars."

  8. "Blood flows down one leg and up the other."

  9. "Respiration is composed of two acts, first inspiration, and then expectoration."

  10. "The moon is a planet just like the earth, only it is deader."

  11. "Artifical insemination is when the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull."

  12. "Dew is formed on leaves when the sun shines down on them and makes them perspire."

  13. "A super saturated solution is one that holds more than it can hold."

  14. "Mushrooms always grow in damp places and so they look like umbrellas."

  15. "The pistol of a flower is its only protections agenst insects."

  16. "The skeleton is what is left after the insides have been taken out and the outsides have been taken off. The purpose of the skeleton is something to hitch meat to."

  17. "A permanent set of teeth consists of eight canines, eight cuspids, two molars, and eight cuspidors."

  18. "The tides are a fight between the Earth and moon. All water tends towards the moon, because there is no water in the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins in this fight."

  19. "A fossil is an extinct animal. The older it is, the more extinct it is."

  20. "Equator: A managerie lion running around the Earth through Africa."

  21. "Germinate: To become a naturalized German."

  22. "Liter: A nest of young puppies.

  23. "Magnet: Something you find crawling all over a dead cat."

  24. "Momentum: What you give a person when they are going away."

  25. "Planet: A body of Earth surrounded by sky."

  26. "Rhubarb: A kind of celery gone bloodshot.

  27. "Vacuum: A large, empty space where the pope lives."

  28. "Before giving a blood transfusion, find out if the blood is affirmative or negative."

  29. "To remove dust from the eye, pull the eye down over the nose."

  30. "For a nosebleed: Put the nose much lower then the body until the heart stops."

  31. "For dog bite: put the dog away for several days. If he has not recovered, then kill it."

  32. "For head cold: use an agonizer to spray the nose until it drops in your throat."

  33. "To keep milk from turning sour: Keep it in the cow.

Proshchai, MIR!

March 23, 2001

After years of putting astronauts in danger, the ultimate thrill-ride MIR, the Russian (formerly Soviet, formerly Romanov–since it was apparently built in pre-revolutionary times) space station is finally coming down. Like the fast food restaurants introducted to post-collapse Russia, the descent of MIR (whose name means, "peace", as in, "Watch out for that ‘peace’ of flaming wreckage hurtling toward Japan at 40,000 miles an hour!") can only be appreciated by a select few, except of course in the United States where we can watch MIR’s descent on the Internet. Or at least we could. By the time you read this, MIR will probably have already entered the atmosphere, turned into a spectacular blazing comet, and killed the entire cast and crew of "Survivor 3".

A fast food chain has agreed to give a free taco to every person in the United States if MIR hits a 40 foot X 40 foot target in the Pacific–which is a little bit like trying to drop a car on a coffee mug from an airplane. And, as a friend of mine pointed out, Russia’s doing all the work but we’re the ones getting the tacos. All I can say to that is, we don’t make the rules. If we did, the target would cover the entire ocean between New Zealand and South America, and we still wouldn’t share with Russia. A few years ago we dropped a little science project called Skylab, and Russia didn’t even offer us a congratulatory bowl of borscht.

So it is with some sadness that I say farewell to the little space station that could. Originally designed to be in use for only three years, MIR survived for fifteen. It was mocked, ridiculed, and even called the biggest space blunder in history–but only by people who had never seen the movie "Contact". In the end, MIR’s accomplishments will probably best be summed up by one of the last cosmonauts to leave, who said, "Wait, I think I left the lights on!"

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

(The author of this is unknown, probably with good reason.–CW)

Calling in sick to work makes me uncomfortable. No matter how legitimate my illness, I always sense my boss thinks I am lying.

On one occasion, I had a valid reason, but lied anyway because the truth was too humiliating. I simply mentioned that I had sustained a head injury and I hoped I would feel up to coming in the next day.

By then, I could think up a doozy to explain the bandage on my crown.

The accident occurred mainly because I conceded to my wife’s wishes to adopt a cute little kitty. Initially the new acquisition was no problem, but one morning I was taking my shower after breakfast when I heard my wife, Deb, call out to me from the kitchen. "Ed! The garbage disposal is dead. Come reset it."

"You know where the button is," I protested through the shower. "Reset it yourself!"

"I’m scared!" she pleaded. "What if it starts going and sucks me in?"

(Pause) "C’mon, it’ll only take a second."

So out I came, dripping wet and buck naked, hoping to make a statement about how her cowardly behavior was not without consequence. I crouched down and stuck my head under the sink to find the button.

It is the last action I remember performing. It struck without warning, without respect to my circumstances. Nay, it wasn’t a hexed disposal drawing me into its gnashing metal teeth. It was our new kitty, clawing playfully at the dangling objects she spied between my legs.

She had been poised around the corner and stalked me as I took the bait under the sink. At precisely the second I was most vulnerable, she leapt at the toys I unwittingly offered and snagged them with her needle-like claws.

I lost all rational thought to control orderly bodily movements, while rising upwardly at a violent rate of speed, with the full weight of a kitten hanging from my masculine region.

Wild animals are sometimes faced with a "fight or flight" syndrome. Men, in this predicament, choose only the "flight" option. Fleeing straight up, the sink and cabinet bluntly impeded my ascent; the impact knocked me out cold.

When I awoke, my wife and the paramedics stood over me.

Having been fully briefed by my wife, the paramedics snorted as they tried to conduct their work while suppressing their hysterical laughter.

At the office, colleagues tried to coax an explanation out of me. I kept silent, claiming it was too painful to talk. "What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?"

If they had only known.

I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia

March 16, 2001

For years I thought it was a joke that you could have your head (or, if you’re wealthy enough, your entire body) frozen after death to be revived at some unknown point in the future. It turns out that there really is an institute where, for $35,000, you can be preserved until that future arrives–or until the power goes out, or the place is vaporized by aliens, or whatever else might happen. And you have to assume, of course, that they’ve not only found a way to revive people, but that they can fix cellular damage that’s the inevitable result of freezing, and presumably even reverse the effects of old age.

Of course I haven’t been able to find out whether such luminaries as Andy Warhol and Walt Disney really are among the ones taking up freezer space, but if that’s true, then it just confirms that all the interesting dead people, the ones you’d like to meet, are just dead, while the not-so-interesting ones are planning on a comeback.

Actually Uncle Walt continues to spread his particular brand of psychosis through the magic of video, and we’re confronted by the ghost of Warhol anytime we buy tomato soup–but I digress. Of course the concept is tempting. In addition to providing plot material for a really bad Star Trek episode (which featured three people so annoying they were promptly re-frozen) and a pretty good X-Files episode, having one’s body frozen after death does have its appeal. Someday you might be revived in a future world where no one needs cell phones anymore because they’ve all got flying cars, science has finally perfected fat-free cheese, and all the frozen people are being revived because the freezer-space is needed to build a mini-mall.

But one thing must give us pause: Anyone who wants to be revived in the future is saying, "What does the future have to offer me?" when they should be asking, "What do I have to offer the future?" Imagine it: three-hundred years from now, two big guys pull me out of the freezer, look at the nametag and say, "Chris…Waldrop…huh. Never heard of him." Next thing I know I’m a frozen entree for a group of giant annelids from the Pleiades. Personally I think I’d rather take my chances with just being dead.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

(Speaking of reviving things, this joke is being revived in honor of St.Patrick’s Day.–CW)

A man strolls into a pub on the West Coast of Ireland one night and orders three pints of Guinness then proceeds to drink all three sipping from each in turn until they’re gone. Then he orders three more pints.

The bartender tells him "Y’know, lad, the foam’ll stay better if you have me draw them one at a time."

"Bless you for your concern," the man replies, "but it’s a tradition. You see, m’ two brothers have moved to the New World… to Boston… and this is m’ way of remembering them. I pretend we’re all three here wearin’ down the events of the day and sharin’ our pints."

The bartender nods. He understands.

Over time the man becomes a ‘regular’ and all the other regulars grow to overlook his odd tradition. Then one fine Spring evening the man enters the pub and orders… two pints of Guinness. He sips the pints alternately until they’re gone, then orders two more.

As the bartender presents the second round he leans over and intones "Me an’ all the others here want to extend our deepest condolences on the loss of your dear brother."

Pat looks surprised and then realizes what the bartender is thinking.

"Thank you for your kindness," he tells him, "but m’ brothers are in the finest of health and prosperin’ in their new country. I, m’self, have given up drink for Lent."

All Our Representatives Are Currently Incompetent

March 9, 2001

I’ve been on hold for over a year. I don’t mean that literally. The average on-hold call, with music that ranges from classical to cloying, and the regular interruptions of a recorded voice that says, "Please continue to hold. Our customer service representatives have an office bet going to see how long you’ll wait for one of them to be of no help whatsoever" lasts about seven minutes. There are 525,600 minutes in a year. Considering the number of times I’ve been put on hold, I think it’s probably a conservative estimate to say that, totalling up all those minutes, I’ve spent at least a year with a phone pressed against my ear waiting to talk to someone who was flipping burgers yesterday and who, by the end of the week, will be stocking grocery store shelves.

You’d think that with that amount of time I could have accomplished a lot. It’s been said that a thousand monkeys in a room with a thousand typewriters will eventually produce the works of William Shakespeare. I’ve had a whole year, and access to a computer during that time, so I should at least have produced the works of John Webster. The shocking thing is I’ve accomplished nothing. No one can do anything while on hold because you’re always waiting for the music to stop and someone at the other end to pick up. And I’m not sure that a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters will really accomplish any more than I have. There’s a lab in northern England that has been testing this theory. I’ve called to find out what the results are so far, but they’ve got me on hold.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


A major research institution has discovered the heaviest element known to science. This startling discovery has been tentatively named Administratium {Ad}.

This new element has no protons or electrons, thus having an atomic number of 0. It does, however, have 1 neutron, 125 assistant neutrons, 75 vice neutrons and 111 assistant vice neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by a force called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since it has no electrons, Administratium is inert and difficult to observe directly. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. According to the scientists who discovered it, a very minute amount of Administratium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally take less than a second.

Administratium has a normal half-life of approximately three years. It does not decay as other elements in this reactive category do, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons, vice neutrons, and assistant vice neutrons exchange places.

In fact, an Administratium sample’s mass will actually increase over time, since with each reorganization, some of the morons inevitably become neutrons, forming new isotopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Administratium is spontaneously formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as the "Critical Morass." You will know it when you see it…

Marching On

March 2, 2001

March is the month generally described as coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, except in Madagascar where it comes in like a giant shrieking cockroach and goes out like a ring-tailed lemur. March is also Brain Awareness Month, which is why you might now hear some people saying, "March comes in like a dendrite and goes out like an axon." I have no idea who came up with this, or why we even need a Brain Awareness Month. Whoever came up with it is probably the same person who decided that January would be Hot Tea Month, June would be Iced Tea Month, November would be not only Peanut Butter Lovers Month but also Stamp Collecting Month, and that the third Wednesday of every September would be Hug A Molecule Day.

Why, for that matter, is Friday the 13th unlucky? It probably goes back to times when loan payments were due on the first of the month, and any month with a Friday the 13th always starts on a Sunday. People couldn’t get money to pay their loan payments because all the banks and businesses were closed on Sunday (this was before we became a 24-7 world), and since everyone rushed to get their money on Monday, a lot of people couldn’t make their payments until Tuesday. This meant they had to pay a couple of days’ extra interest.

Of course this would seem to make Sunday the 1st unlucky, but since Sunday is a day most people spend mowing their lawns, it seemed dangerous to make it unlucky. Monday is always unlucky because it’s the day people go back to work after suffering heat exhaustion while mowing their lawns on Sunday. Friday is the last day of the work week, so it was felt this would compensate for it being unlucky.

Also, some people have an unreasonable fear of the number 13 (this is true–it’s called triskaidekaphobia) so this particular date was singled out. Anyway, that doesn’t answer why we need a Brain Awareness Month, but there really isn’t an answer. If you’re aware of your brain, you’re aware of it all the time. If you’re not, not even a whole month will help you.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Nike now lets you personalize your shoes by submitting a word or phrase which they will stitch onto your shoes, under the swoosh. So Jonah Peretti filled out the form and sent them $50 to stitch "SWEATSHOP" onto his shoes…

From: "Personalize, NIKE iD" 
To: "’Jonah H. Peretti’" 
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000

Your NIKE iD order was cancelled for one or more of the following reasons:

1) Your Personal iD contains another party’s trademark or other intellectual property
2) Your Personal iD contains the name of an athlete or team we do not have the legal right to use
3) Your Personal iD was left blank. Did you not want any personalization?
4) Your Personal iD contains profanity or inappropriate slang, and besides, your mother would slap us.

If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new  personalization please visit us again at

Thank you, NIKE iD

From: "Jonah H. Peretti" 
To: "Personalize, NIKE iD" 
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000


My order was canceled but my personal NIKE iD does not violate any of the criteria outlined in your message. The Personal iD on my custom ZOOM XC USA running shoes was the word "sweatshop."

Sweatshop is not:
1) another’s party’s trademark,
2) the name of an athlete,
3) blank, or
4) profanity.

I choose the iD because I wanted to remember the toil and labor of  the children that made my shoes. Could you please ship them to me immediately.

Thanks and Happy New Year, Jonah Peretti

From: "Personalize, NIKE iD" 
To: "’Jonah H. Peretti’" 
Subject: RE:  Your NIKE iD order o16468000

Dear NIKE iD Customer,

Your NIKE iD order was cancelled because the iD you have chosen contains, as stated in the previous e-mail correspondence, "inappropriate slang". If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product  with a new personalization please visit us again at

Thank you, NIKE iD

From: "Jonah H. Peretti" 
To: "Personalize, NIKE iD" 
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000

Dear NIKE iD,

Thank you for your quick response to my inquiry about my custom ZOOM  XC USA running shoes. Although I commend you for your prompt customer service, I disagree with the claim that my personal iD was inappropriate slang. After consulting Webster’s Dictionary, I discovered that "sweatshop" is in fact part of standard English, and not slang.

The word means: "a shop or factory in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions" and its origin dates from 1892. So my personal iD does meet the criteria detailed  in your first email.

Your web site advertises that the NIKE iD program is "about freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are." I share Nike’s love of freedom and personal expression. The site also says that "If you want it done right… build it yourself." I was thrilled to be able to build my own shoes, and my personal iD was offered as a small token  of appreciation for the sweatshop workers poised to help me realize my vision. I hope that you will value my freedom of expression and reconsider your decision to reject my order.

Thank you, Jonah Peretti

From: "Personalize, NIKE iD" 
To: "’Jonah H. Peretti’" 
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000

Dear NIKE iD Customer,

Regarding the rules for personalization it also states on the NIKE iD web site that "Nike reserves the right to cancel any personal iD up to 24 hours after it has been submitted". In addition, it further explains:

"While we honor most personal iDs, we cannot honor every one. Some may be (or contain) other’s trademarks, or the names of certain professional sports teams, athletes or celebrities that Nike does not have the right to use. Others may contain material that we consider inappropriate or simply do not want to place on our products. Unfortunately, at times this obliges us to decline personal iDs that may otherwise seem unobjectionable. In any event, we will let you know if we decline your personal iD, and we will offer you the chance to submit another."

With these rules in mind, we cannot accept your order as submitted. If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization please visit us again at

Thank you, NIKE iD

From: "Jonah H. Peretti" 
To: "Personalize, NIKE iD" 
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000

Dear NIKE iD,

Thank you for the time and energy you have spent on my request. I have decided to order the shoes with a different iD, but I would like to make one small request. Could you please send me a color snapshot of the ten-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes?

Jonah Peretti

Intellectual Disgrace

February 23, 2001

This is true: An anonymous group in Australia calling itself "Young People Against Poetry" is waging a war against, among other things, having to read 300-year old books. Presumably they’re including books like Newton’s "Principia", which has mathematical models still used by the space program, but, hey, if we’re going to toss out some old stuff, why not throw it all out, right?

Among other "actions" staged by the group, one of the most interesting was an airplane flying a banner over Brisbane with the slogan, "Poetry wrecks lives!" Poetry wrecks lives? Well, in 1955 when poets Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were arrested on obscenity charges, the trial generated enough publicity to make them rich and famous. And we all know how much being rich and famous can ruin a person’s life. (On an interesting historical side note, Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti were only able to escape prosecution by invoking an obscure legal technicality called "The First Amendment", which has some sort of freedom of speech clause. Their case was also moved along speedily because Ginsberg insisted on coming to court naked.)

In fact, a lot of poets have trouble with being rich and famous. More specifically, their trouble is not being rich and famous. So why poetry? In the United States the number of crack cocaine users is probably higher than the number of people who regularly read poetry, which raises serious questions about the efficacy of both National Poetry Month and "Just say no to drugs" programs. (Drugs and poetry, by the way, do have a long history together. Very recently a police sting operation in a private home in England was extremely successful, despite the fact that the home’s resident, Samuel Coleridge, has been dead for 167 years.)

In Australia, where crocodile wrestling is a national pasttime and airplane banners serve to distract people from surfers being eaten by sharks, the number of poetry readers is probably much lower. I have a feeling it’s part of a conspiracy to get people to read poetry. Some poets talk about poetry as though it could solve world hunger, bring peace, save the rainforests, and prevent Mad Cow Disease. Despite this, very few people, especially young people, seem inclined to read it. Meanwhile, drugs, which we’re told repeatedly are bad for us, continue to be popular. When’s the last time you heard about kids being busted at a rave club for passing around copies of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"? How often does someone get admitted to the hospital having overdosed on dactyls after a heavy night of Emily Dickinson? These Young People Against Poetry probably want this to happen, figuring that if they make poetry sound bad enough, people will throw away their syringes and head for the streets to score a few quatrains or some tercets. Either they’re very clever, or they’re all on drugs.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

(Poetry is bad for you? Get a load of this–apparently water is good for you. Who would have guessed it? –CW)

We all know that water is important but I’ve never seen it written down like this before.

75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. (Likely applies to half world pop.)

In 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger.

Even MILD dehydration will slow down one’s metabolism as much as 3%.

One glass of water shut down midnight hunger pangs for almost 100% of the dieters studied in a U-Washington study.

Lack of water, the #1 trigger of daytime fatigue. (Work follows closely behind.)

Preliminary research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers.

A mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or on a printed page.

Drinking 5 glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45%, plus it can slash the risk of breast cancer by 79%, and one is 50% less likely to develop bladder cancer.

Are you drinking the amount of water you should every day?


No wonder Coke tastes soooo good:

  1. In many states (in the USA) the highway patrol carries two gallons of Coke in the truck to remove blood from the highway after a car accident.

  2. You can put a T-bone steak in a bowl of Coke and it will be gone in two days.

  3. To clean a toilet: Pour a can of Coca-Cola into the toilet bowl and …….Let the "real thing" sit for one hour, then flush clean. The citric acid in Coke removes stains from vitreous china.

  4. To remove rust spots from chrome car bumpers: Rub the bumper with a crumpled-up piece of aluminum foil dipped in Coca-Cola.

  5. To clean corrosion from car battery terminals: Pour a can of Coca-Cola over the terminals to bubble away the corrosion.

  6. To loosen a rusted bolt: Applying a cloth soaked in Coca-Cola to the rusted bolt for several minutes.

  7. To bake a moist ham: Empty a can of Coca-Cola into the baking pan, wrap the ham in aluminum foil, and bake. Thirty minutes before the ham is finished, Remove the foil, allowing the drippings to mix with the Coke for a sumptuous brown gravy. (You can then use the foil to clean the chrome on your car.)

  8. To remove grease from clothes: Empty a can of coke into a load of greasy clothes, add detergent, And run through a regular cycle. The Coca-Cola will help loosen grease stains. It will also clean road haze from your windshield.


  1. The active ingredient in Coke is phosphoric acid. Its Ph is 2.8. It will dissolve a nail in about 4 days.

  2. To carry Coca-Cola syrup (the concentrate) the commercial truck must use the Hazardous material place cards reserved for Highly corrosive materials.

  3. The distributors of Coke have been using it to clean the engines of their trucks for about 20 years!

Still Want To Drink Up?

Love Is In The Air

February 16, 2001

I recently became reacquainted with cough syrup. This was not voluntary, but I’ve caught a painful, hacking cough this winter, and since it’s been several years since I last took cough syrup, I’ve forgotten how completely ineffective it was. The last time I took cough syrup, I might as well have swallowed some recycled transmission fluid. That’s what it tasted like, and it was about as good at stopping a cough. But when you’re coughing, can’t sleep, and have had all the hot tea you can stand, you’ll take just about anything. (Technically it’s not true that last night I couldn’t sleep. I just couldn’t sleep for more than fifteen minutes before I’d wake up coughing. This was just long enough for me to start dreaming. It was that same dream about being back in high school taking a chemistry exam, only this time I knew all the answers, and I was the only one who wasn’t naked.)

The cough syrups I used to take were all made from a mix of grain alcohol, morphine, purple food coloring, and maple syrup. This didn’t stop you from coughing, but at least for two to four hours you believed it wasn’t you coughing, but rather that giant banana that had mysteriously appeared in the corner of the room. It’s been so long since my last interaction with cough syrup that I thought some advancement might have been made. Medical science has, after all, made some progress in the past few years. They’ve almost but not quite sort of mapped the human genome, cloned a sheep, and developed a new strain of corn that is absolutely lethal to butterflies. There are even several new cough syrups that taste like bubble gum, grape soda, and broiled grouper.

Now that I have a "persistent cough" which theoretically will be cured by cough syrup, I find that only childrens’ cough syrups come in nice flavors. This is one of the FDA’s cruel tricks: they withheld all the good tasting medicines until I became old enough to not take them anymore. Actually they instituted rigorous new standards which state that cough medicine can’t contain anything remotely effective for stopping coughs. This was mainly done for the benefit of the cough syrup industry, which can now charge astronomical prices for tiny bottles of grape soda and liquefied bubble gum for children with gullible parents, and tiny bottles of recycled transmission fluid to even more gullible adults.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

[I know Valentine’s Day has passed, but it’s probably just as well. I can’t think of anything less romantic than cough syrup. Anyway, here are some perennial thoughts on the subject of love.–CW]

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of four-through eight-year-olds, "What does love mean?" The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think:

Love is that first feeling you feel before all the bad stuff gets in the way.

When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.

When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.

Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.

Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your french fries without making them give you any of theirs.

Love is when someone hurts you. And you get so mad but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.

Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.

Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.

Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My mommy and daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss.

Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.

If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.

Love is hugging. Love is kissing. Love is saying no

When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared they won’t love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more

Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.

Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.

During my piano recital, I was on a stage and scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.

My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.

Love is when mommy gives daddy the best piece of chicken.

Love is when mommy sees daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.

Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.

I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.

I let my big sister pick on me because my Mom says she only picks on me because she loves me. So I pick on my baby sister because I love her.

Love cards like Valentine’s cards say stuff on them that we’d like to say ourselves, but we wouldn’t be caught dead saying.

When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.

You really shouldn’t say I love you unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.

Fish Story

February 9, 2001

Norway, which has done more than its fair share in depleting the world’s fish and whale populations, recently became the location for an extraordinary act of aquatic generosity. I’m talking about a blind cod that fishermen had caught forty times. The fishermen thought it was extraordinary that this fish could be caught so regularly, while the cod just wished the fishermen would stop dropping their nets in exactly the same spot. Each time the fishermen threw him back, but the poor cod’s dark glasses, red-tipped cane, and little tin cup finally melted their hard, Scandinavian hearts, and they decided they would eat him. No, actually, they took a break from gutting and decapitating his family, and had him transported in a special tank to an aquarium where he could live the rest of his life in comfort with a halibut named–I’m not making this up–Big Mama. I don’t want to know what they’re doing for Valentine’s Day.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Just Turned 50

A man has reached middle age when he is cautioned to slow down by his doctor instead of by the police.

Don’t worry about avoiding temptation. As you grow older, it will avoid you.

Statistics show that at the age of seventy, there are five women to every man. Isn’t that the darnedest time for a guy to get those odds?

You’re getting old when you wake up with that morning-after feeling, and you didn’t do anything the night before.

At my age, "getting a little action" means I don’t need to take a laxative.

It’s hard to be nostalgic when you can’t remember anything.

Middle age is when you have stopped growing at both ends, and have begun to grow in the middle.

The aging process could be slowed down if it had to work its way through Congress.

You’re getting old when getting lucky means you find your car in the parking lot.

You’re getting old when you’re sitting in a rocker and you can’t get it started.

By the time a man is wise enough to watch his step, he’s too old to go anywhere.

Maybe it’s true that life begins at fifty. But everything else starts to wear out, fall out, or spread out.

The cardiologist’s diet: if it tastes good, spit it out.

You know you’re into middle age when you realize that caution is the only thing you care to exercise.

You’re getting old when your wife gives up sex for Lent, and you don’t know till the 4th of July.

Doctor to patient: I have good news and bad news: the good news is that you are not a hypochondriac.

There are three signs of old age. The first is your loss of memory, the other two I forget….

Which Way To Bismarck?

February 2, 2001

Some people have asked me what I have against North Dakota.

Apparently they’re referring to certain remarks I’ve made about that state. For example, I compared North Dakota to the moon, saying they’re both cold, dark, and have nothing to do. I confess this is a little bit unfair of me, since I’ve never actually been to North Dakota, but when you think about it, how many people actually have?

I’ve known three people from North Dakota–I think that represents about 10% of the population, and they’ve all told me the same thing: People move to North Dakota to get away from other people. In North Dakota, I’ve been told, neighbors are people who live less than twenty-five miles away. If someone moves to within five miles of you, they’re squatting in your backyard. If you can see another house, those people are uncomfortably close.

Can you name one national landmark in North Dakota? Can you even name the capitol of North Dakota? (If you recognized it in this message, score yourself five bonus points.) If it weren’t for the movie "Fargo", would you even know there’s a city in North Dakota called Fargo? You probably don’t even know that North Dakota leads the nation in the production of flaxseed. I haven’t been able to find out what North Dakota’s state flower is, but I think it’s granite. But don’t take any of this as a reason to go to North Dakota, or even like the place. Part of the reason nothing’s there is that the people who live there now like it that way. North Dakota may be the greatest place in the universe, but it’s a well-kept secret for a reason. So even if you really want to get away from it all, you’d better find some place else.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Airplane Rules

  1. Every takeoff is optional. Every landing is mandatory.

  2. If you push the stick forward, the houses get bigger. If you pull the stick back, they get smaller. That is, unless you keep pulling the stick all the way back, then they get bigger again.

  3. Flying isn’t dangerous. Crashing is what’s dangerous.

  4. It’s always better to be down here wishing you were up there than up there wishing you were down here.

  5. The ONLY time you have too much fuel is when you’re on fire.

  6. The propeller is just a big fan in front of the plane used to keep the pilot cool. When it stops, you can actually watch the pilot start sweating.

  7. When in doubt, hold on to your altitude. No-one has ever collided with the sky.

  8. A ‘good’ landing is one from which you can walk away. A ‘great’ landing is one after which they can use the plane again.

  9. Learn from the mistakes of others. You won’t live long enough to make all of them yourself.

  10. You know you’ve landed with the wheels up if it takes full power to taxi to the ramp.

  11. The probability of survival is inversely proportional to the angle of arrival. Large angle of arrival, small probability of survival and vice versa.

  12. Never let an aircraft take you somewhere your brain didn’t get to five minutes earlier.

  13. Stay out of clouds. The silver lining everyone keeps talking about might be another airplane going in the opposite direction. Reliable sources also report that mountains have been known to hide out in clouds.

  14. Always try to keep the number of landings you make equal the number of take offs you’ve made.

  15. There are three simple rules for making a smooth landing. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.

  16. You start with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.

  17. Helicopters can’t fly; they’re just so ugly the earth repels them.

  18. If all you can see out of the window is ground that’s going round and round and all you can hear is commotion coming from the passenger compartment, things are not at all as they should be.

  19. In the ongoing battle between objects made of aluminum going hundreds of miles per hour and the ground going zero miles per hour, the ground has yet to lose.

  20. Good judgment comes from experience. Unfortunately, the experience usually comes from bad judgment.

  21. It’s always a good idea to keep the pointy end going forward as much as possible.

  22. Keep looking around. There’s always something you’ve missed.

  23. Remember, gravity is not just a good idea. It’s the law. And It’s not subject to repeal.

  24. The three most useless things to a pilot are the altitude above you, runway behind you and a tenth of a second ago.

  25. There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. There are, however, no old bold pilots.

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