Saturday, September 22, 2001

RENOWNED SCHOLAR WILL SMITH, enunciating for us stupid people, said in the telethon for America that "it was hate, not religion, that motivated the horrible acts of September 11th."

Point No. 1: Do you hate anyone or anything enough that you'd get behind the controls of a jumbo jet and plow it into a building, killing yourself, to annoy that person or thing? Oh, there was plenty of hate behind the attacks, but not religion? Pretty hard to believe.

Point No. 2: The people associated with the big religious franchises are pretty cavalier when it comes to telling other people that their religions aren't religions at all. The word "cult" is offensive for this reason ("We, quite sensibly, eat the body of Christ every Sunday, whereas those cult people are crazy!"). It's as if the Chi-Chi's people could barge in on your local Salvadoran joint and tell the owners that they aren't really making tortilla chips.

This will sound strange, but in a way religion is like journalism. It's a huge freedom-of-the-press issue that, because the government has no business issuing licenses to denote who is and isn't a journalist, anyone acting as a reporter is accorded the constitutional rights granted the writers of The Washington Post and The New York Times. Similarly -- and this should be even more common-sensical -- who is anyone to decide whether another person's worship practices actually constitute religion? With all the splintering that has occurred with the major faiths, how can any of them assert that the buzzer has sounded on new ideas? If the despicable suicide bombers thought they were acting in the name of God (and clearly they did), that's what they thought. Who on earth could prove that's any less valid than the silliness that comes out of Christianity, Judaism, "true" Islam and the rest of the theological franchises?

STILL, IT WAS GREAT to see Muhammad Ali and Paul Simon, two of my heroes, on that same program. And Neil Young did a nice version of John Lennon's beautiful "Imagine," which articulates my heretical ideas much better than I could before it veers into hippie-commune territory (No possessions?). Will Smith didn't sting him like a bee or anything. Aren't free speech and diversity of thought wonderful?

Friday, September 21, 2001

OPERATION 'SHUT THE FUCK UP,' ANYONE? The FBI calls its investigation of the terrorist attacks PENTTBOM. (Pentagon, Twin Towers and, uh, bomb. There was no bomb this time, but the idiotic UNABOM was such a success there had to be an encore.) The U.S. military calls its campaign Operation Infinite Justice, for now. (It's apparently being changed because we don't want to offend Muslims, we just want to kill some of 'em.)

My newspaper, The Washington Post, has a delightfully cynical section called Style, so I was thrilled to hear that Style was doing a story on this naming stuff. It was a good piece of journalism, highlighting just how much time and effort go into naming military actions, but the cynicism was conspicuously absent.

So I'll chime in and ask: Do we really need to come up with cute names for quests to kill people who piss us off? I forget -- what was World War II really called? Operation Kick Some Axis?

If we really think this Madison Avenue crap is appropriate, why not corporate sponsorship of war? "Doritos Operation Infinite Crunch" has a nice ring to it.

Thursday, September 20, 2001

I JUST WANT TO SIT DOWN AND COLOR. Give me a good coloring book and the 48 box of Crayola Crayons (not the 64 -- that sharpener would be far too tempting) and I'll gladly take a stress-related week off work.

I'm numb and paralyzed and jittery, if that combination makes any sense at all. Delayed stress reaction from Sept. 11? Maybe, but the current level of stress is quite formidable in itself. The fight I face at deadline every night makes me think of David Carradine fighting armies of rednecks in "Kung Fu." Not that we're coming close to making deadline. Even without the sense of dread that any sensible resident of the earth must be feeling now, this is much too much.

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

AFTER THE ATTACKS, the e-mail thinned out. There were some expressions of concern from friends (though probably not as many as actual people with actual social lives might get), but somehow the public's need for advice on punctuation and capitalization waned.

The spam, however, continued unabated. Make money fast, cum-lapping teens, the SirCam virus. At first I was angry, but why expend the energy? Spam has no heart.

Then I got my first telemarketer call since the attacks. I fended this one off pretty quickly (no, there is no Mr. Dupree here), but this really made me mad. I really wanted to say "Shouldn't you be ashamed of yourself?"

In the spirit of leaving us with our thoughts and our loved ones and our 24-hour cable news during this time of crisis, I hereby propose a Moratorium on Motherfuckers. These intrusions into our lives are bad enough when we're feeling good, but they're downright obscene at a time like this.

Saturday, September 15, 2001

I KNOW that gathering in cathedrals and singing hymns are the kinds of things Americans do to grieve and cope with adversity. I don't begrudge people their sources of comfort, but I continue to be upset by the churchification of the current crisis.

Is the largely Christian population of this country so shallow, so on autopilot, that they don't see the irony of their prayers-are-the-answer approach? Religion is what caused these acts of terrorism. The answer to one set of irrational beliefs isn't a competing set of irrational beliefs. If faith is the answer, we should be worshiping the hijackers. They had more faith than Billy Graham ever will.

Oh, but America-hating Muslim extremists are worshiping the wrong God, you say? Don't go there. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter writes: "We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Right, Ann. There are no extremist crackpots in Christianity.

Jerry Falwell says God orchestrated the attacks to get even with the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way and abortion doctors. Ever heard of Jerry Falwell, Ms. Coulter? Taliban West, that man.

Thursday, September 13, 2001

PRESIDENT BUSH has declared Friday a national day of prayer and remembrance. If you're among those who use their brains rather than walking around like a zombie murmuring about people named Ezekiel, you might wonder what the point is of making requests to an all-powerful being who apparently gave the go-ahead to Tuesday's bloodbath. I think the following e-mail explains the apparent contradiction:

From: "God" (bigguy@heaven.com)
To: Bill Walsh (bwalsh@theslot.com)
Subject: Out of Office AutoReply
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2001 01:14:52

On Tue, 11 Sep 2001 at 01:12:13, you wrote:

>>Dear Lord, tonight as every night, all I ask of you
>>is to keep my loved ones and me, and indeed all the
>>good people of the world and especially my beloved
>>America, safe and secure, and to stop evil wherever
>>it may occur. Amen.
>>-- Bill

I am on vacation until Friday. Prayers received before that will be answered in the order in which they are received. Thank you for your worship.

-- God

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

WHAT, YOU'RE EXPECTING something brilliant from me?

Nothing brilliant, I'm afraid, but, but here's what comes to mind:

1. People suck.
2. I don't want to hear another word about peanut allergies on airplanes.
3. "Enormity" is finally being used correctly.
4. Think for a moment about what your biggest concerns were Monday night.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

REALITY-TV NOTE: "The Amazing Race" lives up to its name, if the first episode is any indication. I don't think I've ever gotten such a cardiac workout from a TV show. Imagine being in a race on national TV, plus the emotions that bad travel experiences and high-pressure relationship tests might produce, and you have some idea of how powerful this show is.

A TENNIS NOTE: From now on, you'll find my tennis musings at another blog, The Spin. Now I just need to start separate blogs on Dr. Laura, bad radio ads and traffic complaints.

Saturday, September 08, 2001

MORE TENNIS, I'm afraid, for starters. Then some tennis rage, then just rage. Typo-ridden rage, no doubt.

The night after the Sampras-Agassi epic, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick came about as close as anyone could have expected to equaling it. The ending was tainted a bit, though, as Roddick lost his composure after chair umpire Jorge Diaz piped up and overruled a call for the first time in the match -- and on the sideline farthest away from him. It was a close call (Diaz might even have been right), but the linesman who called Roddick's ball good in the first place was in the best position to call it. Overrules by the umpire are for clear, egregious errors.

What followed was the most justifiable, well-reasoned tantrum I've ever seen on a tennis court. Roddick banged his racket, swore and called Diaz a moron, but the best line was the simply eloquent "What is wrong with you?" Good question, Andy. Roddick pulled himself together enough to shake the moron's hand and leave the incident out of his on-court interview, but in the press room he made it clear he stood behind everything he said. As he should have.

As for Diaz, he should be suspended at the very least, just as fellow Rudi Berger should have been suspended after an overrule of his that replays showed to be clearly wrong helped to decide the outcome of a Sampras-Agassi match at the year-end ATP championships a few years ago. Overrules should be "I bet my life" kinds of things, and Diaz and Berger should face the consequences of at least betting their careers.

BUT ENOUGH ANDY RAGE. Friday saw some Bill rage, on a familiar front. Once again I went to Mangialardo's, the excellent sub shop on the outskirts of my neighborhood, and once again I had to risk fender and limb to get to a metered parking space as I maneuvered around cars whose drivers decided to use the traffic lanes of Pennsylvania Avenue as a parking lot. Also once again, a cop came to get his lunch and left without shooting, arresting or even ticketing the fuckheads who flouted the law right in front of him.

The D.C. police department recently started using cameras to catch those scofflaws who, say, drive 26 mph in a 25 zone. I'll deal with just how ridiculous that is in another post sometime, but can anybody argue that it's less dangerous to go zero in a 25 zone? As I've said before, double parking is an unfortunate euphemism for what is really blocking the street. The D.C. police are legendary for descending on expired meters, but for some reason they don't bother to police a truly dangerous crime such as blocking the street. Think of all the money that could be made with the $100 or $200 tickets such an offense deserves!

Occasionally I'll try to get one of our hypocrites in blue to write such a ticket, but I'm usually ignored. If I had said something in this case I might have been arrested, I was so consumed with rage. The cops ignore my pleas anyway, and, hell, they're often the worst offenders when it comes to this law. Until I see the D.C. cops doing something about crimes they see with their eyes, I refuse to believe there is any public-safety motive behind this scheme of using cameras to find people to harass.

Thursday, September 06, 2001

TENNIS AND GOLF sure have produced more than their share of instant classics in the past few years, and I just watched another -- Pete Sampras's all-tiebreaker, no-service-breaks defeat of Andre Agassi in the U.S. Open tennis quarterfinals. Some thoughts:

1. On the nature of fandom. There is no harsher critic than the fanatic. My wife and I, whose Agassi loyalties were among the things that brought us together, must have shouted "Andre, you idiot!" at the TV several dozen times between us. "Oh, now he'll double-fault" was another popular refrain. I've been missing some of the U.S. Open action because my deadline is approaching on a review of a book I love. I'm not at liberty to disclose the identity of that book before the review is published, but I will say that I'm no easier on this beloved volume than I was tonight on Agassi. In my honesty, in fact, I'm likely to alienate a fellow writer whom I've long admired and wanted to meet. We humans expect a lot from our objects of admiration.

2. On Sampras the man vs. Agassi the man. The book on these guys is that Sampras is the quiet, humble, soft-spoken, classy dude to Agassi's brash, flashy, Las Vegas persona. Sampras, supposedly, is in the tradition of Laver and Rosewall; Agassi, supposedly, is in the tradition of Connors and McEnroe.

There was a time when Sampras could claim the high ground. The young "Image Is Everything" Agassi pulled some stunts that made him a hard guy to defend. But now that both are thirtysomething and married, ahem, at least once, I see a complex if polarizing Agassi vs. a Sampras who is widely misunderstood -- in the Chauncey Gardiner sense.

Sampras, it seems to me, is quiet not because he's such a classy, let-my-racket-do-the-talking athlete, but because he's a dumb jock with basically nothing to say. OK, "dumb jock" is a little rough. Pete is articulate enough to place him in the top quarter of so among athletes. But the nice-nice talk that he's been able to produce lately is obviously rehearsed. "Yes, I have to serve well against the best returner in the game," he says by way of praising Agassi. Both Sampras and Agassi deserve a certain amount of arrogance, but Pete is anything but "classy" when he entertains this impulse. After a 1998 loss to Patrick Rafter, Sampras was asked the difference between him and his conqueror. "Ten Grand Slams," he retorted. Sampras is known in the popular mythology as someone who never questions calls, but close observers will remember him asking an umpire "What are you smoking?"

There's an unbecoming crudeness to Pete Sampras. He got a lot of press earlier this year for inviting a Wimbledon ballboy to reach into his shorts to retrieve a ball, but I'm just as appalled at his routine ballkids-do-not-exist attitude. In tonight's match he forced ballkids to risk limb if not life as he displayed a studied fake obliviousness to any balls that might be in the way. The ballkids had to dodge his legs and racket to retrieve balls that Pete let sit just inches from his moving feet, unwilling to contribute the slightest help to, or even acknowledgment of, the retrieval chore.

It must be said that Agassi has his own issues with the ballkids. He's quite picky about where they stand and what they do with the balls, but at least he acknowledges their existence, and he's quite gentle with them as he makes his druthers known.

Agassi's "rock 'n' roll" image belies his old-lady musical tastes. He once appeared in a commercial with the Red Hot Chili Peppers while having no idea who they were; his favorites are Kenny G, Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow. I'm not sure whether Sampras has any musical favorites at all.

Even in their tennis strokes it's hard to reconcile the real Agassi and Sampras with the popular impression. Agassi once was known for hitting winners from improbable places, but now his style is physical and workmanlike. He hits hard, yes, but prefers to work his opponent into exhaustion. Is that more "flashy" than Sampras's style of ace after ace and "slam-dunk" overheads?

I'm not going to go too far out on a limb to defend Andre Agassi, and I'm not sure whether bizarre (Brooke Shields/Steffi Graf) or predictable (Generic Comely Hollywood Starlet) is a more honorable taste in wives, but I would invite you to listen closely to interviews of the two men and decide who sounds more genuine.

Sunday, September 02, 2001

YOU MIGHT THINK the the Ivy League grads and other urbane types who use the newsroom men's room at The Washington Post would have an edge in the hygiene department over the general populace, or at least over lavatory users in, say, a bus station.

Think again.

Is it difficult for a lot of people to use a sink without causing a flood? Is there some sexual thrill that I don't know about to leaving your excreta to be viewed (or sat on) by others? It's U.S. Open (tennis) time, so the TVs are seeing more Flushing than the toilets. So much for the idea of subliminal suggestion.

And then there's the germ-phobic guy who manifests his "neatness" by littering for others, leaving a wadded-up piece of paper towel threaded through the interior door handle.

Saturday, September 01, 2001

I THINK my wife and I have become addicted to Powerball. After the last two big-money drawings, we were genuinely irked to find out we had lost. We're not usually big on the power of positive thinking, but we had that money spent.

Yes, the odds are ridiculous. But here we are, financially comfortable but sharing one big dream: not to have to work for a living. Oh, we would work in some capacity even if we were filthy rich, but we don't like the idea of having to show up at a job five days a week. And it's not likely that anything we normally do would give us that freedom. Hollywood producers don't throw bagfuls of money at copy editors in exchange for the rights to a particularly good headline, so I'm out of luck. (I even wrote a fairly successful book -- I got a Corolla-size advance, but I'm not even in royalty territory, let alone million-dollar-movie-rights territory.) And as for Jacqueline's prospects, who ever heard of a Web developer becoming a millionaire? Uh . . . OK, who's heard of such a thing since 1999?

We're not about to spend hundreds of dollars a week on lottery tickets, and we'd probably set our sights a little lower if buying a Powerball ticket meant driving from Manhattan to Connecticut. But we live a few blocks from a D.C. liquor store selling Powerball tickets and we've reached a point where five bucks a week, let alone a dollar, isn't a whole lot of money to us. Call it a waste, but we don't consider $5 a week too high a price for harboring a chance, however small, of achieving that big dream.

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