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Trick Or Treat

October 27, 2000

It’s nearly Halloween, which is my favorite holiday of the year. Technically, though, Halloween’s not really a holiday, is it? You don’t get a day off for Halloween, and no kids get let out of school for it. I remember my third grade teacher, on October 30th (which was a Thursday), angrily telling all of us, "There WILL be school tomorrow!" I understand now that she was angry because she wasn’t getting a long weekend.

Lately, though, there’s been an increasingly negative response to Halloween from people who feel it’s anti-Christian. On some web sites nearly 90% of votes state that Halloween should be banned because it’s a Satanic holiday. (The irony of web site voting is that some guy with a lot of time on his hands can cast a lot of votes for even the most insane ideas.) Interestingly, Halloween is actually a Christian invention. It’s a counter-reaction to the old pagan Autumnal harvest celebrations. Scary costumes and cackling pumpkins serve basically the same purpose as gargoyles on cathedrals: they’re meant to scare away evil spirits. (Actually pagan spirits aren’t evil. But more about that later.)

Over time, it was perhaps inevitable that pagans would come to be seen as decent people with a great respect for nature. Wheat stalks, ears of corn, and other harvest symbols were added to Halloween decorations. Maybe this is a way of the old Christian counter-reaction extending a hand to the older pagan tradition and saying, "Hey, we’re sorry about the burnings and torture and general persecution. Whaddya say we ‘harvest’ some candy and bob for apples?"

On another note, the "trick or treaters", the children who dress up and go around the neighborhood collecting candy, are fewer in number every year. This is partly due to widespread fear of razor blades, needles, and even poison being placed in Halloween candy. There are no documented cases of such things turning up, but parents do have reasons for watching out for their children. Some of this fear is simple parental panic, the worst-case-scenarios that parents always imagine when sending their children out into the world. Some of it, though, may simply be the generally spooky ambience that’s imposed on the holiday. Deep down, there’s still fear and mistrust of the pagans and their benevolent traditions, a common reaction to anything that is different. We have seen the evil spirits, and they are us.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Ratio of an igloo’s circumference to its diameter: Eskimo Pi

2000 pounds of Chinese soup: Won ton

1 millionth of a mouthwash: 1 microscope

Time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement: 1 bananosecond

Weight an evangelist carries with God: 1 billigram

Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour: Knot-furlong

365.25 days of drinking low-calorie beer because it’s less filling: 1 lite year

16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone: 1 Rod Serling

Half of a large intestine: 1 semicolon

1000 aches: 1 kilohurtz

Basic unit of laryngitis: 1 hoarsepower

Shortest distance between two jokes: A straight line. (think about it for a moment)

453.6 graham crackers: 1 pound cake

1 million microphones: 1 megaphone

1 million bicycles: 2 megacycles

2000 mockingbirds: two kilomockingbirds (work on it….)

10 cards: 1 decacards

1 kilogram of falling figs: 1 Fig Newton

1000 cubic centimeters of wet socks: 1 literhosen

1 millionth of a fish: 1 microfiche

1 trillion pins: 1 terrapin

10 rations: 1 decoration

100 rations: 1 C-ration

2 monograms: 1 diagram

8 nickels: 2 paradigms

3 statute miles of intravenous surgical tubing at Yale University Hospital: 1 I.V. League

A blonde walks into a New York City Bank and asks for the loan officer. She says she is going to Europe on business for 2 weeks and needs to borrow $5,000.

The bank officer says he will need some kind of security for the loan, so the blonde hands over the keys to a brand new Porsche parked out the front of the bank.

With the title and paper work all checked out, the bank agrees to accept the car as security for the loan.

The loan officer drives the new Porsche into the bank’s underground garage and parks it there.

Two week’s later the blonde returns, repays the $5,000 she borrowed, and $15.40 interest that accumulated. The loan officer approaches the blonde and says, "We here at the bank are very happy that this transaction has worked out, but while you were away, I checked you out, and I’m a little puzzled. I found out that you are a multi-millionaire. What puzzles me is why you would bother to borrow $5,000."

The blonde replies, "Where else in New York City can I park my car for two weeks for 15 bucks?"

Spaced Out

October 20, 2000

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, reality-based programming is a relatively new idea in television that takes people who would be attractive enough to be sitcom stars if they were younger and/or could afford extensive surgery and puts them in situations that are about as realistic as the average sitcom. For example, a group was stranded on a desert island with an annoying host who pushed them into doing things like eating rats. This is unrealistic because, if these people were really stranded on a desert island, they would have left the rats alone and eaten the host. In another show, a group of strangers was locked in a house and followed by hidden cameras while their will to live was slowly and systematically drained away. In each case the "contestants" (which is short for "subjects in a Nazi medical experiment") were gradually eliminated. The last remaining "contestant" was given enough money to pay for badly needed therapy.

Now reality based programming, which has already boldly taken us where no sane person has gone before, is preparing for the ultimate trip: a group of people selected based on their attractiveness, diversity, and willingness to slap other people will be put through the rigors of spaceflight training. The "losers" will once again be eliminated. The "winner" will get–I’m not kidding–a month on the ailing space station Mir. The benefit to Mir, and the Russian space program, is that it will once again be the subject of late night talk show jokes which have supplied the space station with life-sustaining hot air. The benefit to the winner is that he or she will learn that in space no one can hear you scream…because they’re too busy laughing at you for being such an idiot.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

How to Please Your I.T. Department

  1. When you call us to have your computer moved, be sure to leave it buried under half a ton of postcards, baby pictures, stuffed animals, dried flowers, bowling trophies and children’s art. We don’t have a life, and we find it deeply moving to catch a fleeting glimpse of yours.

  2. Don’t write anything down. Ever. We can play back the error messages from here.

  3. When an I.T. person says he’s coming right over, go for coffee. That way you won’t be there when we need your password. It’s nothing for us to remember 700 screen saver passwords.

  4. When you call the help desk, state what you want, not what’s keeping you from getting it. We don’t need to know that you can’t get into your mail because your computer won’t power on at all.

  5. When I.T. support sends you an E-Mail with high importance, delete it at once. We’re just testing.

  6. When an I.T. person is eating lunch at his desk, walk right in and spill your guts right out. We exist only to serve.

  7. Send urgent email all in uppercase. The mail server picks it up and flags it as a rush delivery.

  8. When the photocopier doesn’t work, call computer support. There’s electronics in it.

  9. When something’s wrong with your home PC, dump it on an I.T. person’s chair with no name, no phone number and no description of the problem. We love a puzzle.

  10. When an I.T. person tells you that computer screens don’t have cartridges in them, argue. We love a good argument.

  11. When an I.T. person tells you that he’ll be there shortly, reply in a scathing tone of voice: "And just how many weeks do you mean by shortly?" That motivates us.

  12. When the printer won’t print, re-send the job at least 20 times. Print jobs frequently get sucked into black holes.

  13. When the printer still won’t print after 20 tries, send the job to all 68 printers in the company. One of them is bound to work.

  14. Don’t learn the proper term for anything technical. We know exactly what you mean by "My thingy blew up".

  15. Don’t use on-line help. On-line help is for wimps.


Whoever said ‘LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE" didn’t sleep with dogs. The first thing you discover when you bring a dog onto your bed is the striking difference in weight between an alert, awake dog and a dog at rest.

Rule Number One: The deeper the sleep the heavier the dog. Most people who sleep with dogs develop spinal deformities rather than rent the heavy equipment necessary to move their snoring canines to a more appropriate part of the bed. Cunning canines steal precious space in tiny increments until they have achieved the center position on the bed – with all covers carefully tucked under them for safekeeping. The stretch and roll method is very effective in gaining territory. Less subtle tactics are sometimes preferred. A jealous dog can worm his way between a sleeping couple and, with the proper spring action from all four legs, shove a sleeping human to the floor.

Rule Number Two: Dogs possess superhuman strength while on a bed. As you cling to the edge of the bed, wishing you had covers, your sweet pup begins to snore at a volume you would not have thought possible. Once that quiets down, the dog dreams begin. Yipping, growling, running, kicking. Your bed becomes a battlefield and playground of canine fantasy. It starts out with a bit of "sleep running", lots of eye movement and then, suddenly, a shrieking howl blasted through the night like a banshee wail. The horror of this wake-up call haunts you for years. It’s particularly devastating when your pup insists on sleeping curled around your head like a demented Daniel Boon cap.

Rule Number Three: The deeper the sleep, the louder the dog. The night creeps on and you fall asleep in the 3 inches of bed not claimed by a dog. The dog dreams quiet slightly and the heap of dogflesh sleeps – breathing heavily and passing wind. Then, too soon, it’s dawn and the heap stirs. Each dog has a distinctive and unpleasant method of waking the pack. One may position itself centimeters from a face and stare until you wake. The clever dog obtains excellent results by simply sneezing on your face, or they could romp all over your sleeping bodies – or the ever-loving insertion of a tongue in an unsuspecting ear.

Rule Number Four: When the dog wakes – you wake. Unless you want to step in a puddle when you get out of bed.

So, why do we put up with this? There’s no sane reason. Perhaps it’s just that we’re a pack and a pack heaps together at night – safe, contented, heavy and loud.

I Want Candy!

October 13, 2000

Several people have speculated about the reason for the recent craze of "extreme sports". You know the type–climbing a 700-foot cliff barehanded in order to parachute back down, mountain-biking down really steep tree-covered hills, deliberately starting avalanches and then snowboarding down just ahead of disaster, or riding the New York subway after midnight.

The other day in the grocery store, looking at the Halloween candy which is already fighting for shelf space with Christmas decorations, I finally figured it out. The whole idea of extreme sports started when I was a kid. We couldn’t scuba dive under icebergs or do anything really exciting because our mothers were always warning us we’d put an eye out or break our necks, so we got the extreme thrill out of certain types of candy. Some may think this explains why Generation X is one of the most sedentary generations yet. Despite the insistence of soft drink commercials, extreme sport enthusiasts are quite rare, due in part to the extraordinary physical prowess such sports require, but also owing a great deal to natural selection.

But I digress. The real reason, though, for the sedentary nature of Generation X is because we all spent the first twelve months of our lives in cushioned car seats and baby carriers. It’s a little known fact that baby carriers are ergonomically based on the same design as overstuffed reclining chairs. So when you see a Gen Xer kicking back in a recliner and watching other Gen Xers on television setting themselves on fire and bungee jumping off the Sears Tower, remember that they’re not being lazy. They’re reliving their childhood. But I continue to digress. Back to the candy. When I was a kid a friend handed me a small, yellow piece of candy and said, "Here, try this." I popped it into my mouth and was rewarded with what felt like a mouth full of burning alcohol–with a slight lemony flavor. (My mother told me that taking candy from strangers is dangerous, but never mentioned that taking candy from friends could be downright suicidal.) It was, my friend said when he stopped laughing, a Lemon Deathball. I never tried another one again. I also stayed away from Exploda-Hots, Mega-Sours, Grape Grapplers, and Makesyoupukes. I know from reading old comic books that candies like these were once sold as joke items–which explains the origin of the term "gag gift". My generation, for some reason, made "extreme candy" a rite of passage. Those who couldn’t hang from the monkey bars from one foot could still earn playground fame if they could tolerate the super-concentrated flavors of extreme candy.

Although most Gen X inventions, including extreme sports, are becoming passe, the candy stays around because parents continue to frighten their children with horror stories of creepy characters who put poison and sharp things in Halloween candy. So to children, and even to some adults, eating a Fireball Whizbang Squincher (which tastes like it’s full of cyanide and razor blades) gives them the thrill of living on the edge. It’s living dangerously–with most of the danger removed.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

A guy goes into a costume shop. He says, "I’m going to a costume party, and I want to go as Adam."

The girl brings out a fig leaf.

The guy says, "Not big enough!"

So she brings out a bigger one.

"Still not big enough!"

So she brings out a HUGE fig leaf.

"Still not big enough!" he proudly tells her.

So she says, "Listen, Ace, why don’t you just throw it over your shoulder and go as a gasoline pump?"

This is to help you interpret medical research more accurately:

An Aid To Greater Understanding…

The following list of phrases and their definitions might help you understand the mysterious language of science and medicine. These special phrases are also applicable to anyone reading a PhD dissertation or academic paper.

"IT HAS LONG BEEN KNOWN"… I didn’t look up the original reference.

"A DEFINITE TREND IS EVIDENT"… These data are practically meaningless.

"WHILE IT HAS NOT BEEN POSSIBLE TO PROVIDE DEFINITE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS"… An unsuccessful experiment, but I still hope to get it published.

"THREE OF THE SAMPLES WERE CHOSEN FOR DETAILED STUDY"… The other results didn’t make any sense.

"TYPICAL RESULTS ARE SHOWN"… This is the prettiest graph.

"THESE RESULTS WILL BE IN A SUBSEQUENT REPORT"… I might get around to this sometime, if pushed/funded.





"IT IS GENERALLY BELIEVED THAT"… A couple of others think so, too.




"A CAREFUL ANALYSIS OF OBTAINABLE DATA"… Three pages of notes were obliterated when I knocked over a glass of beer.


"AFTER ADDITIONAL STUDY BY MY COLLEAGUES"… They don’t understand it either.


"A HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT AREA FOR EXPLORATORY STUDY"… A totally useless topic selected by my committee.


Snakes alive!

October 6, 2000

"Show me something illegal, and I’ll show you something stupid."
–Penn Gillette

This is true: according to a news article in the London Times some criminals are using snakes and Barbary apes to hold up people in the Metros (known here as "subways") of Paris. Since snakes and apes don’t require reloading or sharpening like those new-fangled knives and guns, they’re the obvious choice of weapon among Parisian criminals. Of course, even the least exotic species of snakes require good-sized cages, food, warmth, and water. Poisonous species (which make up about one-third of the snakes confiscated by Paris police) generally require live food, and, depending on the species, large cages and very carefully controlled temperature, light, and humidity.

Then there are the apes which grow to a size of 55 pounds. It goes without saying that they need pretty large cages. However, they have the added advantage of automatically attacking a victim’s genitals first. Then there’s the problem of actually getting the money from your victim. Presumably criminals walk up to someone holding a snake in their hand and say, "Hey, give me all your money or this snake will bite you." Of course the first instinct of most people would be to run away. (You can’t fire a snake, after all.) Even if the person was cornered, snakes are, well, snakey. If you’ve ever held an angry snake (note: to make a snake angry, hold it tightly with your hand and wave it at someone) you know that, when released, their first target is going to be the person who was holding them. This has led many criminals to walk up to people and say, "Excuse me, could you hold this snake and make it angry, and also hand over your wallet?" The apes, of course, are a little easier because all you have to do is release them, but again the victim’s first instinct will be to run away.

There’s an old joke about two guys photographing a lion in Africa. The lion notices them and starts roaring threateningly. One of the guys reaches down and puts on a pair of running shoes. The other one says, "Do you think you can outrun a lion?" The first one says, "Forget the lion. I just need to outrun you!" The moral of this story? If someone lets a Barbary ape loose near you, you’re going to run away. The ape will think, "Why should I waste time chasing that guy when I can attack the genitals of this idiot standing here holding an ape cage?"

The sad part is some people have handed over their money to these criminals. The good part is that all the victims were only carrying Euros.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Job Hunting

These are taken from real Resumes and Cover Letters, and were printed in the July 21st, 1999 issue of "Fortune" Magazine:

  1. "I have lurnt Word Perfect 6.0 computor and spreadsheet progroms."

  2. "Am a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget details."

  3. "Received a plague for Salesperson of the Year."

  4. "Wholly responsible for two (2) failed financial institutions."

  5. "Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave."

  6. "Failed bar exam with relatively high grades."

  7. "It’s best for employers that I not work with people."

  8. "Let’s meet, so you can ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over my experience."

  9. "I was working for my mom until she decided to move."

  10. "Marital status: single. Unmarried. Unengaged. Uninvolved. No commitments."

  11. "I have an excellent track record, although I am not a horse."

  12. "I am loyal to my employer at all costs… Please feel free to respond to my resume on my office voice mail."

  13. "My goal is to be a meteorologist. But since I possess no training in Meteorology, I suppose I should try stock brokerage."

  14. "I procrastinate, especially when the task is unpleasant."

  15. "Personal interests: donating blood. Fourteen gallons so far."

  16. "Instrumental in ruining entire operation for a Midwest chain store."

  17. "Note: Please don’t misconstrue my 14 jobs as ‘job-hopping’. I have never quit a job."

  18. "Marital status: often. Children: various."

  19. "The company made me a scapegoat, just like my three previous employers."

  20. "Finished eighth in my class of ten."

  21. "References: none. I’ve left a path of destruction behind me."

These quotes were taken from actual Performance Evaluations:

  1. "Since my last report, this employee has reached rock bottom and has started to dig."

  2. "I would not allow this employee to breed."

  3. "This associate is really not so much of a has-been, but more of a definitely won’t be."

  4. "This young lady has delusions of adequacy."

  5. "Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap."

  6. "When she opens her mouth, it seems that this is only to change whichever foot was previously in there."

  7. "He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them."

  8. "This employee is depriving a village of an idiot."

  9. "This employee should go far and the sooner he starts, the better."

These lines are actual lines from Military Performance Appraisals:

  1. Got into the gene pool while the lifeguard wasn’t watching.

  2. A room temperature IQ.

  3. Got a full 6-pack, but lacks the plastic thingy to hold it all together.

  4. A gross ignoramus — 144 times worse than an ordinary ignoramus.

  5. A photographic memory but with the lens cover glued on.

  6. Bright as Alaska in December.

  7. Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming.

  8. He’s so dense, light bends around him.

  9. If he were any more stupid, he’d have to be watered twice a week.

  10. It’s hard to believe that he beat out 1,000,000 other sperm.

Next Question, Please

September 29, 2000

Vladimir Nabokov would not do interviews unless he got a written list of the exact questions to be asked well enough in advance that he could prepare answers. Stanley Kubrick was the same way. Kurt Vonnegut admitted that, after he’d done one interview, he took the written transcript and moved things around so he’d sound funnier and more intelligent. I’ve never been interviewed, and at the rate I’m going I never will be. But I’d still like to be, so I’ve written up some questions I’d like to be asked–along with the answers I’d like to give.

Question: Where do you get your ideas?
Answer: I have a friend in Miami who roots around in Dave Barry’s garbage.

Question: How long have you been doing "Freethinkers Anonymous"?
Answer: All my life. I have some hilarious stuff about boogers that I did in kindergarten.

Question: What would you do if stranded on a desert island?
Answer: First I would make sure there were no hostile natives or TV shows. My next priority would be food and shelter. After that I would make some friends out of sand, bamboo, and volcanic rock. I would write funny thoughts on clamshells and, once a week, distribute the shells to my "friends".

Question: I have a funny story about spiders taking over a small town in North Dakota. How do I get you to write something about it?
Answer: Send it to Dave Barry. He’ll throw it away, and it will eventually get to me. Either that or he’ll write something about how "Spiders Taking Over A Small Town In North Dakota" would be a really good name for a rock band.

Question: Why do you write?
Answer: I once had a college professor who said, "There is no such thing as a stupid question." He said this because a few years earlier he had berated a student for asking a stupid question. The student filed a complaint, and the professor was fired. The fact that the professor had been dressing as a woman and acting as the girls’ swim team coach didn’t help his case. Then someone mentioned that he’d led them to three championships and he was reinstated. What was your question?

Question: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Answer: Write a bunch of questions to myself and then answer them.

Question: Do you think you should get out more?
Answer: Please refer to the answer above.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

A Brit, a Frenchman and a Russian are viewing a painting of Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden.

"Look at their reserve, their calm," muses the Brit. "They must be British."

"Nonsense," the Frenchman disagrees. "They’re naked, and so beautiful. Clearly, they are French."

"No clothes, no shelter," the Russian points out, "they have only an apple to eat, and they’re being told this is paradise. Clearly, they are Russian."


  • If you choke a Smurf, what color does it turn?

  • Is it OK to use the AM radio after noon?

  • What do chickens think we taste like?

  • What do people in China call their good plates?

  • What do you call a male ladybug?

  • What hair color do they put on the driver’s license of a bald man?

  • When dog food is new and improved tasting, who tests it?

  • Why didn’t Noah swat those two mosquitoes?

  • Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?

  • Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle?

  • Why is it called tourist season if we can’t shoot at them?

  • Why do you need a driver’s license to buy liquor when you can’t drink and drive?

  • Why isn’t phonetic spelled the way it sounds?

  • Why are there Interstates in Hawaii?

  • Why are there flotation devices in the seats of planes instead of parachutes?

  • Why are cigarettes sold at gas stations where smoking is prohibited?

  • Have you ever imagined a world without hypothetical situations?

  • How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to work?

  • If the 7-11 is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, why does it have locks on the door?

  • Why is a bra singular and panties plural?

  • You know that indestructible black box that is used on airplanes? Why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff?

  • If a firefighter fights fire and a crime fighter fights crime, what does a freedom fighter fight?

  • If they squeeze olives to get olive oil, how do they get baby oil?

  • If a cow laughs, does milk come out of her nose?

  • If you are driving at the speed of light and you turn your headlights on, what happens?

  • Why do they put Braille dots on the keypad of a drive-up ATM?

  • Why is it that when you transport something by car it is called a shipment, but when you transport something by ship it’s called cargo?

  • Why don’t sheep shrink when it rains?

  • What would Geronimo say if he jumped out of an airplane?

  • Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

  • If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?

  • If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?

When’s the next bus?

September 22, 2000

Some time ago I talked about how educational riding the bus can be, but I forgot to mention that waiting for the bus can be just as educational as riding one, especially early in the morning. And you can observe a lot more while waiting for the bus because, no matter how frequently they come by according to the printed schedule, the fact is you will always wait at least twenty minutes for the next bus. Buses, because their size and density distorts normal space-time, operate on a schedule that can only be understood by Stephen Hawking. Unfortunately Hawking concerns himself with less important matters like the nature of the universe, what happens to matter in black holes, and whether he’ll get to appear in another "Star Trek" episode.

Here are some things I learned while sitting at the bus stop:

  • The flashing "WALK" sign at crosswalks will last just long enough for pedestrians to get far enough that they can’t turn back, but not far enough to get them out of the way of a massive truck barreling through a red light.

  • People going to work look miserable. Really miserable. A lot of the world’s unhappiness could be cured if people didn’t have to go to work.

  • People going to work are so miserable they don’t know they’re being watched. It’s amazing how ubiquitous nose-picking is on the morning commute. Nose-picking is closely followed by teeth picking.

  • Loud music, especially music with heavy bass, distorts a car frame. Every car that went by me with its speakers thumping was bent in a bizarre, downward curve. Apparently such heavy bass also breaks glass–which explains why none of these cars have windows, and all have cracked windshields.

The best part, though, about sitting and waiting for the bus is I got to see a character known only as "Dancin’ Man". Dancin’ Man is a local phenomenon. He’s a guy who walks up and down the street serenading the traffic, smiling, and even blowing kisses to the cars going by. No one has any idea who he is or what he does, but early in the morning, he’s the happiest person on Earth, so obviously he’s not going to work.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Writing Tips

  1. Avoid alliteration. Always.

  2. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

  3. The adverb always follows the verb.

  4. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

  5. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

  6. Remember to never split an infinitive. 

  7. Contractions aren’t necessary.

  8. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

  9. One should never generalize. 

  10. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know." 

  11. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

  12. Be more or less specific.

  13. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

  14. The passive voice is to be avoided.

  15. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

  16. Who needs rhetorical questions?

  17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

  18. Don’t never use a double negation.

  19. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.

  20. A writer must not shift your point of view.

  21. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)

  22. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!!!!!

  23. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

  24. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

  25. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; they’re old hat; seek viable alternatives.

Free For All ©

September 15, 2000

The other day I picked up a bag of bagels. The words, "Mmm, they’re tasty!" were printed on the bag, followed by the (TM) symbol–which stands for trademark. The entire label–including, presumably, "Mmm, they’re tasty!" was copyrighted. I don’t understand intellectual property law, but based on some of the litigatory threats I’ve received because of my "offerings"(tm) I now owe the bagel company for use of its trademarked phrase "Mmm, they’re tasty." It’s bad enough that I’ve now made the mistake of typing the phrase and distributing it to a group of people three times now, but should the company decide to make me pay, they may want me to account for all the times in my life I’ve said, "Mmm, they’re tasty."

Am I overreacting? Maybe. But in 1997, summer campers were warned that they might have to pay for singing copyrighted songs around the campfire–or their camp would be sued. The legal pit bulls and their organization quickly backed down, but not before camp counselors had to slap their hands over the mouths of campers innocently singing "Puff the Magic Dragon". (Okay, admittedly, we didn’t sing "Puff the Magic Dragon" even when I was a summer camper, but there are an estimated four million copyrighted songs. There’s a good chance that someone owns the rights to "99 Bottles of Beer".)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for artists, writers, composers, and others making a living. Most of them work very hard and deserve compensation (and I’m not just saying that to avoid shooting myself in the financial foot). But there’s a difference between being compensated and getting greedy. Besides, advertising puts monetary value to everyday phrases, which devalues language and forces people like me to use high-falutin’ expressions such as "devalues language."

But I don’t think my small complaint will make any difference, so I’ll take the "If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em(c)" attitude. So I’ll be copyrighting and trademarking "Freethinkers Anonymous", and all variants thereof, including "free", "anon", "an", and sometimes "y". You can still use these words without fear of retribution, because copyrights and trademarks only apply to advertising firms and other large businesses. That’s why I’m not copyrighting the word "think". It’s too rarely used to be profitable.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

(Note: Normally I don’t forward true stories or news articles as offerings. This case seemed exceptional.-CW)

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) – Eighty years after he shinnied up a 15-foot flagpole to grab a souvenir, a former Olympic diving medalist handed back his ripped-off trinket – the original Olympic flag.

Hal Haig "Harry" Prieste, now 103 and confined to a wheelchair most of the time, said Monday (Sunday night EDT) that he took the flag as a dare at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium, and kept it in a suitcase. The flag is now regarded as the first to feature the five rings on a white background that have become the Olympic symbol.

Prieste only discovered its importance during an interview at a U.S. Olympic Committee awards dinner in 1997, when a reporter told him the original flag had gone missing and never been located.

"I thought I ain’t going to be around much longer – it’s no good in a suitcase," Prieste said after handing the folded linen flag to International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch at the start of the IOC’s annual meeting.

"It was no good to me – I won’t be able to hang it up in my room," said Prieste, who is considered the oldest living Olympic medalist. "People will think more of me for giving it away than keeping it."

IOC vice president Anita DeFrantz introduced Prieste to the session as a "living legend," adding that he had run in the Olympic torch relay at Atlanta in 1996 at the age of 100. At that age he was still doing push ups and had just quit ice skating.

He also was greeted by IOC member Jacques Rogge, a representative of Belgium, where the flag was snatched.

The flag is slightly discolored and is tattered along the edge where Prieste ripped it off the flagpole, but otherwise in good condition, the USOC said.

After the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Prieste returned to California and embarked on an entertainment career, becoming one of the original Keystone Kops and appearing in 25 movies. He said Charlie Chaplin was a pal and that he was in the studio when the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy was formed.

He later moved to Broadway, working vaudeville before joining a circus as a comedian and skating in the Ice Follies.

Always the entertainer, Prieste, who is hard of hearing and going blind, ensured he upstaged the IOC meetings going on inside the Regent Hotel in downtown Sydney. Gaining some momentum after a slow start, the veteran showman managed to stand up from his wheelchair on occasions and hold court for a throng of reporters and TV cameras. And he didn’t want the curtain to come down when officials tried to usher the impromptu press conference outside.

"Where’s the TV camera gone," Prieste said as he was being relocated. He flew into Sydney late Sunday, two days after leaving his nursing home in Camden, N.J., and said he hopes to attend the opening ceremony Friday before departing Australia next week.

"I’m proud to be part of the ceremony," he said. "When I give (the flag) away, it makes me feel good, I made good use of the flag. You can’t be selfish about these things."

Carolyn La Maina, a long-time friend who accompanied Prieste Down Under, said the springboard bronze medalist from eight decades ago still enjoyed pizza and root beer and the occasional chocolate-coated cherry. "He’s in great shape really, but he’s losing his sight and he can’t hear very well, so his sense of taste gives him something to live for," she said.

Volunteers Wanted

September 8, 2000

Every year when kids go back to school, I think back on my own childhood, and how I got most of my education during the summer when I was out of school. That’s the most profound thing I have to tell younger generations, and it’s probably the last thing teachers want me to tell them. Unfortunately it’s true. I have nothing profound to say about growing up because I have a hard time remembering most of it, and when I do, it seems like I was on a speeding train in a tunnel, facing backwards. My childhood is the fast-receding tunnel entrance. But there are a few small, less than profound lessons I do remember, lessons I learned from my friend Phil. My friend Phil taught me about:

Hair. I learned that a human being (namely, Phil) could be lifted by his hair off of my tricycle. This was especially useful on that one occasion when Phil refused to get off my tricycle when asked.

Behavioral conditioning. Once you have lifted someone off of your tricycle by the hair, he won’t get on your tricycle any more.

Gravity. When pushed off a three-foot retaining wall, Phil would fall. (There was no reason for this, as in the case of the hair experiment. Pushing Phil was, as they say, done purely in the interests of science.)

Cushioning. The thick layer of flab around Phil’s middle protected him from any lasting damage when he happened to be pushed off a three-foot retaining wall.

Arachnology. Perhaps the most important lesson Phil ever taught me was that black widow spiders are deadly. Actually my parents told me that, but they never would have had to if it hadn’t been for Phil. I had my trusy bug-collecting jar, and was turning over rocks. Under one I found this amazing looking spider. It was shiny and black, with a really cool red hourglass design on its belly. But it looked potentially dangerous, so I said, "Hey Phil, come here and grab this spider and put it in my bug-collecting jar."

Looking back, I realize that, as a child, I was destined to be a movie producer, or a tenured university professor, or to hold some other job in which lackeys do all the work and I get all the credit. So how did I avoid such a career? Beats me. I don’t remember much after I entered the tunnel.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


  1. You believe in Santa Claus.

  2. You don’t believe in Santa Claus.

  3. You are Santa Claus.

  4. You look like Santa Claus.


  • Raising teenagers is like nailing JELL-O to a tree.

  • There is always a lot to be thankful for, if you take the time to look. For example, I’m sitting here thinking how nice it is that wrinkles don’t hurt.

  • The best way to keep kids at home is to make a pleasant atmosphere and let the air out of their tires.

  • Families are like fudge . . . mostly sweet, with a few nuts.

  • Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground.

  • Laughing helps. It’s like jogging on the inside.

  • Middle age is when you choose your cereal for the fiber, not for the toy.

  • My mind not only wanders; sometimes it leaves completely.

  • If you can remain calm, you just don’t have all the facts.

  • You know you’re getting old when you stoop to tie your shoes and wonder what else you can do while you’re down there.


  • Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional

  • Insanity is my only means of relaxation.

  • Forget the health food. I need all the preservatives I can get.

  • You’re getting old when you get the same sensation from a rocking chair that you once got from a roller coaster.

  • Perhaps you know why women over fifty don’t have babies: They would put them down somewhere and forget where they left them.

  • One of life’s mysteries is how a two pound box of candy can make a person gain five pounds.

  • Every time I think about exercise, I lie down till the thought goes away.

  • It’s frustrating when you know all the answers, but nobody bothers to ask you the questions.

  • I finally got my head together, and my body fell apart.

  • There cannot be a crisis this week; my schedule is already full.

  • Time may be a great healer, but it’s also a lousy beautician.

  • The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight, because by then your body and your fat are really good friends.

  • Age doesn’t always bring wisdom. Sometimes age comes alone.

  • Just when I was getting used to yesterday, along came today.

  • Sometimes I think I understand everything, then I regain consciousness.

  • Amazing! You just hang something in your closet for a while, and it shrinks two sizes.

  • It is bad to suppress laughter; it goes back down and spreads to your hips.

  • Freedom of the press means no-iron clothes.

  • Inside some of us is a thin person struggling to get out, but he or she can usually be sedated with a few pieces of chocolate cake.

  • Seen it all, done it all, can’t remember.

Fork You!

September 1, 2000

A few years ago the Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson speculated about what it would be like if, through some twist of linguistics, the word "table" were replaced with the word "scrotum". Then, apparently, old ladies would talk about buying antique scrotums while the rest of us giggled.

I hate to contradict Craig Ferguson, who is so intelligent and funny he’s almost unknown in the United States, but the fact is it’s all a matter of context. If the words "scrotum" and "table" were reversed, those who enjoy such juvenile humor, and those who are mature enough to smile appreciatively at such juvenile humor, then there would be nothing funny about what old ladies were saying. Meanwhile late night cartoon characters would be giggling and saying, "Heh heh, you said ‘table’", and news reporters would deliberately mispronounce the name of the planet "Chippendale".

Maybe it was Mark Twain who put it best. Like many of us, he couldn’t prevent himself from spewing a stream of invective after missing an easy billiard shot. His wife stormed up to him, and calmly and coolly repeated back to him every word he’d just said. Twain replied, "Well, you know the words, now you need to learn how to say them."

Or maybe I was the one who said it best. In high school, one day at lunch, I waved an eating utensil at a friend of mine and said, "Hey, fork you!" A teacher promptly grabbed me by the neck, I yelled, "What the fork?" and was suspended from school for two days. You’d think a history teacher would have appreciated a joke about the Donner party, but I guess it’s all a matter of context

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Prison Vs. Work

IN PRISON…….You spend the majority of your time in an 8×10 cell.

AT WORK……..You spend most of your time in a 6×8 cubicle.

IN PRISON…….You get three meals a day.

AT WORK……..You get a break for 1 meal and you have to pay for it.

IN PRISON…….You get time off for good behavior.

AT WORK……..You get rewarded for good behavior with more work.

IN PRISON…….A guard locks and unlocks all the doors for you.

AT WORK……..You must carry around a security card and unlock and open all the doors yourself.

IN PRISON……..You can watch TV and play games.

AT WORK………You get fired for watching TV and playing games.

IN PRISON…….You get your own toilet.

AT WORK……..You have to share.

IN PRISON…….They allow your family and friends to visit.

AT WORK……..You cannot even speak to your family and friends.

IN PRISON…….All expenses are paid by taxpayers with no work required.

AT WORK……..You get to pay all the expenses to go to work and then they deduct taxes from you salary to pay for prisoners.

IN PRISON…….You spend most of your life looking through bars from inside wanting to get out.

AT WORK……..You spend most of your time wanting to get out and go inside bars.

IN PRISON……There are wardens who are often sadistic.

AT WORK…….They are called supervisors.

IN PRISON…….You have unlimited time to read e-mail jokes.

AT WORK……..You get fired if you get caught.


Don’t Ask Me

August 25, 2000

Web gurus and other technophiles like to brag that the Internet will one day eliminate books, magazines, libraries, paper, and any form of writing utensil. In fact there are some who have even written books on the subject, which were then printed on paper. Go figure. Web gurus also claim that the Internet will eliminate, has eliminated, or is beginning to eliminate television. This explains the large number of web sites that are advertised on television, and the even larger number of web sites that are devoted to lonely people talking endlessly about their favorite television shows. In fact, the Internet is a little like television, but instead of having five-hundred channels and nothing to watch, you have an extraordinary number of web sites and nothing to read, watch, listen to, download, or use to crash your computer.

I’m not opposed to the Internet. It is an extraordinary source of information, but by the time you’ve filtered out the garbage to find what you were looking for, you might as well have gone to the library. I was pretty excited a few weeks ago, though, when I saw a web site advertised that proved to be the ultimate informational locus, a place where you could type in any question and an answer would be delivered to you immediately. (Depending on your Internet connection, "immediately" could mean immediately, or it could mean a couple of hours.) So I went there and typed in an innocuous query: "What is the greatest depth at which starfish have been found?" Several answers came back: "Click here to buy books about STARFISH HAVE BE! Click here for encyclopedia entries about STAR! Click here for encyclopedia entries about FISH! Click here for teaching resources about EN FOUND!" I tried to narrow my query: "I want information about starfish." The answers I got were even worse: "Click here for encyclopedia entries about INFORMATION AB!" When I typed in just "starfish" I was given links to starfish games, puzzles, children’s clothing, and about six dozen rock groups. So much for getting an answer. If you need me, I’ll be at the library.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Beer Philosophies

Buy a man a beer and he wastes an hour. Teach a man to brew and he wastes a lifetime."

"You can’t be a real country unless you have beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer." Frank Zappa

"Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut." Ernest Hemmingway

"Always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." Winston Churchill

"He was a wise man who invented beer." Plato

"Time is never wasted when you’re wasted all the time." Catherine Zandonella

"A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her." W.C. Fields

Lady Astor to Winston Churchill: "Sir, if you were my husband, I would poison your drink." Winston Churchill’s reply: "Madam, if you were my wife, I would drink it."

"Work is the curse of the drinking class." Oscar Wilde

"When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading." Henny Youngman

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Benjamin Franklin

"If you ever reach total enlightenment while drinking beer, I bet it makes beer shoot out of your nose." Jack Handy

"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza." Dave Barry

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind." Humphrey Bogart

"People who drink "light beer" don’t like the taste of beer; they just like to pee a lot." Capital Brewery, Middleton, WI

"Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer." Dave Barry

I drink to make other people interesting." George Jean Nathan

"They who drink beer will think beer." Washington Irving

"An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

"You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on." Dean Martin

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