Wednesday, October 30, 2002

YES, THEY'RE INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. Yes, the news media have to be careful and say "sniper suspects" and "alleged snipers" rather than "snipers." Yes, our justice system is deliberate for a reason, and it has generally served us well.

But I worry about people who, now that the danger seems to have passed, choose to fetishize those technicalities. How "unseemly" to seek vengeance! How sad that all this killing and stuff might have tainted the jury pool! Boo fucking hoo.

Friday, October 18, 2002

THESE DAYS, things are tough all over:

"Serial killers, like most people, have other things to do," said James A. Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

Take that, soccer moms!

I TURNED ON THE RADIO and Sean Hannity, whose book somehow seems to be outselling mine, was making fun of the ACLU for its opposition to the use of military technology against the D.C.-area sniper.

Fair enough. There was a time when I deeply admired the American Civil Liberties Union, but today it seems to be less about civil liberties, or even liberalism, than it is about knee-jerk contrarianism. Whatever a normal person's gut reaction might be, the ACLU position seems to be the opposite. (I suppose you could generalize that this chasm represents the essential difference between conservatives and liberals: Conservatives trust gut reactions, for better or worse, and liberals distrust them, also for better or worse.)

Hannity then made fun of the official suggestion that D.C.-area residents protect themselves by walking quickly in a zigzag pattern.

Fair enough. That advice is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard.

The way to really protect yourself, Hannity continued, is to carry a gun -- and when you see the sniper aiming at you, simply shoot him first! Piece of cake.

(I'm not sure Sean knows what "sniper" means.)

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

WE MADE ANOTHER WEEKEND TRIP to my ancestral homeland, Pennsylvania coal country, to do more genealogical research. Some good finds: my grandfather Mickey's byline (M.F. Walsh) on a "Sports Shorts" column in the Pottsville Republican in the early 1930s, and extensive coverage leading up to the execution of Mickey's grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, Martin Bergen, who was hanged in Pottsville in 1879 for the Molly Maguires-linked murder of a mine boss.

Fun linguistic note: The coal-region equivalent of the South's "y'all" or "you-all" and New York's "youze" and Appalachia's "you-uns" and the all-purpose "you guys" is a short, simple "y'z" or maybe "yuhz." (The word defies spelling; CoalRegion.com's CoalSpeak Dictionary lists "youze," "yuz," "yooz" and "yiz," but it really begs for a schwa, as in yəz.) My brother Terence is fond of using that second-person plural in tongue-in-cheek fashion, and I had to suppress laughter as the waitresses and library personnel and assorted characters we encountered in our travels through Pottsville, Mahanoy City, St. Clair and Shenandoah gave us the full "y'z" treatment.

Monday, October 07, 2002


Sorry. In an interesting piece on pronouncing the enemy, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn quotes pronunciation aficionado Charles Harrington Elster, who compares the ever-popular "Eye-RACK" pronunciation to "Viet-NAMM."

Friday, October 04, 2002

HAS THIS COUNTRY gone this bad this fast, or is it just bad casting?

I don't watch all the "reality" shows, but I've been with MTV's "Real World" from the start and Jacqueline and I have always enjoyed "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race." These programs are always populated with their share of unappealing characters, but the trick is that you pick one or two redeeming ones to root for. (Bring back Colleen!)

This season, suddenly, there isn't much to root for. The "Real World" cast is all sluts, all the time. Promiscuity always becomes part of the story, but this time the Bunim-Murray gang decided to skip the preliminaries and go all-phreak.

The "Survivor" cast is pretty much dull old people and anything-but-dull (but even less interesting) young people. Particularly offensive are Rob (excuse me -- "Robb"), the in-your-face, Ritalin-starved piercing aficionado, and Erin (had to look the name up, so memorable is she), the vacant-faced woman with the obligatory above-the-butt mural tattoo and a thin build, apart from a set of artificial knockers the size of Neptune.

Robb somehow manages to combine the younger contestants' laziness with the older contestants' foaming-at-the-mouth anger about others' laziness. He's one of those people who are always talking about kicking someone's ass but never come close to following up on that talk. (I know what you're thinking, so shut up! Want me to come kick your ass?) Erin hasn't pitched forward into the campfire yet, but it's bound to happen.

Robb's occupation: bartender. Erin's occupation: Real-estate agent. Oh, and part-time bartender.

Clue from a veteran viewer: When "bartender" is given as the occupation of more than one contestant on any given reality show, you're in trouble. As Jacqueline pointed out, "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race" have decided to choose "Big Brother" casts this time. Because we know how interesting "Big Brother" always is . . .

We've seen only one episode of "The Amazing Race" so far, but the cast intro might as well have been animated, the characters were so cartoonish. Southern Baptist dad and gay-cheerleader son! Identical-twin male models! Dumb blondes who -- wait -- might not be as dumb as they look and sound, because they're Harvard Law graduates! Fat, bald brothers with a twist: One's conservative and one's gay! The men who aren't part of such a cartoon couple tend to be from the modern school of white-boy rapper wanna-bes, the ivory skin belying the "Yo!" and the "Sup?" and the Afro hairstyle. Also, there is a man on this show named "John Vito." Do we need that?

For the record, on the off chance that you, too, watch this crap, my tentative rooting allegiances among the slim pickings are as follows:

  • "The Real World": Frank.

  • "Survivor": Shii Ann and maybe Ted. (A week ago I liked Ghandia. What a mistake that turned out to be.)

  • "The Amazing Race": Too soon to tell. Jacqueline and I liked the soccer moms (Gina and Sylvia), but they were the first team to be eliminated. The aforementioned father and son (Dennis and Andrew) and brothers (Ken and Gerard) have been kind of fun so far (not to stereotype or anything, but the flamboyant-queen demographic works pretty well on these shows), and I'm still holding out some hope for the hipster couple (the unfortunately named Aaron and Arianne).

  • Wednesday, October 02, 2002

    TRAFICANT, AND NOW TORRICELLI. They’re used-car salesmen, to use a cliche at the risk of insulting all those honest used-car salesmen out there. They’re not the only used-car salesmen on Capitol Hill; they’re just the latest to have their Official Statesman Cloak costumes yanked off to reveal the polyester leisure suits that smart people knew were there all along.

    Not all elected officials are used-car salesmen, but think about it. What’s easier: Knowing the issues and coming to a meeting of the minds with voters in that knowledge, or having the used-car-salesman skills necessary to trick people into liking you? Who’s more likely to crave power: The brilliant thinker who wants only what’s good for the people, or the megalomaniac blessed with the charisma to persuade people against their better judgment to buy Chevy Cavaliers, line his pockets, play kiss-kiss with his wee-wee? You don’t have to be an idiot to be taken in by a used-car salesmen. Plenty of smart people fall for them, vote for them, marry them.

    Brilliant thinkers can be used-car salesmen as well, of course, as illustrated by the greatest used-car salesman of all, William Jefferson Clinton.

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