Sunday, March 27, 2011


It seemed like a reasonable thing, to communicate a thought to the wider world that could be easily distributed to folks interested in what

Okay, let’s try that again . . .

If there was something important that I wanted to impart to the general public, I would have to choose the most effective medium, and given

Hmm, perhaps I should have given this a little more thought. It’s hard to get a cogent idea across to discerning readers in 140 characters o

Damn it.

Those of you who use Twitter must have learned how to get a point across more succinctly than I. Those 140 go by fast.

I suppose the most successful tweets (those are the Twitter messages) get rid of clutter. Like “I suppose” and parentheses. Totally useless.

Whew, barely made it on that one. Clearly punctuation must be the first thing to go.

In 2006 the madness started, and Twitter has continued to gain popularity worldwide. Witness 190 million users, generating 65 million tweets

a day (sorry about that, a little carryover from that 140 character limit). Fortunately tweets can start with a lower case letter.

As opposed to a properly crafted sentence. One with subject/verb agreement. And with a point. Tweets often lack a reason to exist.

That’s because “followers” (the folks who sign up to receive your tweets on their fancy cell phones and other mobile devices) want to hear

Hmm. Probably should have lost the quote marks on that last one. And the long parenthetical statement. It didn’t really add much to what I w

Followers want to hear everything you have to say. Breakfast cereal bowl contents, your stupid job, nothing is off limits.

Where you are. What you are doing. It was assumed that anyone who might follow you would want to know this stuff.

There was the famous Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN Twitter war in 2009, when we had the race to one million followers.

Ashton won.

Now Charlie Sheen (the first and last time you’ll see that fellow’s name in this column, and no, “tiger blood” comments don’t count) tweets.

As his life recently imploded he racked up a million followers in twenty-four hours. I assume because he had many interesting things to say

Which seems unlikely. A better use of Twitter would be the peaceful civil unrest in Egypt, for which Twitter has received some credit.

I don’t know if it is true or not, but it gives me some hope that we aren’t on a steep slope into a totally servile relationship with our te

Hiccup. Our technologies. Man, at 140 characters there just isn’t any time to establish anything of consequence.

You can’t write anything of great importance. “Run, the building is on fire!” doesn’t count. By the time you’ve tweeted you’re in flames.

In a glib, pretentious, and simulated world, Twitter stands out as a great advancement.

And most folks, including me, are at some point glib, pretentious, and simulated. The thing is: we get past it for the majority of our lives

Twitter doesn’t fit with the real world. It is an aberration. It is what you do on a crazy Vegas weekend.

You eventually come home and return to whatever counts as your normal life. What happens on Twitter, stays on Twitter.

or something like that

Most of us haven’t tweeted, and probably never will. I figure those who have eventually tire of it. I mean, come on . . .

Writing this column and keeping it to 140 characters or less for each thought-provoking point I’d like to make has been a huge pain in my as

Ran out of space there just before I got vulgar, eh?

If I am wrong, and Twitter continues to grow in membership and usage and popularity, I will sign up to send one and only one tweet:

long form of written communication dead - along with it, me - i cannot sit idly by and watch u all kill off worthy composition - long live b

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Downtown San Jose is not too far from where I live, but I don’t venture there often. Once or twice a year for a footrace, and perhaps occasionally to meet friends or go out with the wife. Mostly I am safely ensconced in my nearly suburban home, wondering what it would be like to be a city dweller.

Those downtown places are plagued with things I don’t like: traffic, crowds, one-way streets, hobos, etc. In the past I would have included Superior Court of California—County of Santa Clara on that list, seeing it as nothing more than a bastion of criminals and criminal behavior and, of course, jury service.

Like any good American, I have been programmed to avoid jury duty at all costs. Exaggerate my prejudices, invent financial or personal hardships, whatever it would take. Twice I used my young children to get out of jury duty, but now they are grown. So, summoned for the fifth time in my life, I showed up and tried to make myself appear unfit to serve.

Dear prosecutor: I find your questions insulting. Of course I know what the burden of proof is! I read the book “The Burden of Proof” by Scott Turow a long time ago. And I know all about “innocent until proven guilty” by watching a lot of documentaries on television. Or perhaps they were just TV shows.

Dear public defender: I think you would say anything to get your client exonerated, including claiming his innocence. He wasn’t there, he didn’t do it, or he was and he did but it was self-defense. Make up your mind!

Dear accused person: I have already rushed to judgment and decided on your guilt or innocence based on your demeanor and the way you have dressed. And since most people arrested are guilty, I have found you to be just that. Guilty! Bring in the next case!

On the other hand, jury duty did give me the opportunity to sit around the house for two days waiting to be called. Finally I was asked to attend the Wednesday morning inquisition. In the hunt for twelve fair-minded men and women, about eighty of us were called into the courtroom. The laborious task of separating the wheat from the chaff (so to speak) would begin.

“Anyone here requesting dismissal for hardship?” the judge asked. A dozen or so hands went up, so the judge asked that they stay behind while the rest of us were sent away to return again on Thursday. One hour of jury service.

On Thursday morning I couldn’t tell how many of the hardship cases had been relieved of their civic responsibility, but the gallery was still packed. Standing room only, in fact. Everyone wasn’t seated until the first eighteen prospective jurors were called forward for the grilling.

It took two hours to figure out the older folks thought people in this country should speak English (the two accused had a translator speaking to them) and the younger folk had not watched enough episodes of Law and Order: Trial by Jury to understand the process . . . but to be fair it was cancelled after only one season. These youngsters asked questions like “what’s the difference between civil and criminal?”

Sheesh. Out of the mouths of babes.

Those of middling age were obviously trying to be excused by any means necessary. Oh, this is a case regarding assault? “Hey, I was beat up thirty years ago in seventh grade!” Ah, if found guilty the defendant will receive some sort of punishment? “Hey, I can’t sit in judgment of another human being.”

Every ninety minutes we had to schlep from the fifth floor courtroom to the second floor jury waiting room and fight for a seat. Then we’d be called back. A few jurors would be booted and replaced by some of us in the gallery. More questions, more booting, more replacing.

And still I sat.

After eight hours there were eighteen prospective jurors still being weeded through and forty or so of us waiting for our chance to make a crazy comment and be dismissed. The judge called a halt to the proceedings, announced that court would not be in session on Friday and that we were all to return on Monday morning at nine a.m. The groans were palpable.

“I know this is an inconvenience,” the judge said, “but it is the cornerstone of our judicial system. I am sure the jury selection process will be completed on Monday.” She wished us a good weekend and sent us on our way. As we descended the stairs yet again, the potential jurors were making wagers on whether the Friday cancellation was due to a golf game or other court business.

Hey, it’s Daylight Saving Time. Her Honor probably has time for both!

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Now that we are safely exiting cookie season, I can bring the following horrible truths to a discerning public without fear of retribution from the pint-sized, green-clad scouts who torment us all. They knock on my door, they have confronted me on the job and in front of many stores, and recently I even found them in a hotel lobby.

They may sound sweet and innocent when they ask, “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” but behind their eyes you can see the venomous hatred that will flow your way should you say no.

February and March is “cookie season,” the longtime fundraising activity for the group. Folks love the cookies, and are willing to pay the not inexpensive prices because it helps a friend’s kid, or a neighbor’s kid, or a coworker’s kid, or just because those Thin Mints are so darned good.

It started out as a good thing, but seems to be devolving into nothing but controversy. Thus, it has become time to end the abomination. Say no to Girl Scout cookies (well, say no next year). They are no longer just sublime sweets and have clearly outlived their usefulness. I say this to warn you, though it puts me at great personal risk of scout-style retribution.

Earlier this year, in Savannah, Georgia, the Girl Scouts had to fight for their right to sell their famous cookies on the sidewalk in front of their founder's birthplace, because a city ordinance prohibits commercial sales in the public right of way. Civics lesson for the day: take a hike, kids! Eventually they received a “special exemption” and were allowed to peddle their treats, but we won’t know how badly the children were scarred by this event until one of them injects a lethal amount of ketamine into a box of Lemon Chalet Crèmes.

Then there were the Girl Scouts who got the idea to sell their cookies online. They’ve used YouTube, Facebook, and even their own web pages to do so, until the parents of less-creative Girl Scouts complained. Then the organization told all of the Internet entrepreneurs to cease and desist before coming up with their own brilliant plan:

Most recently, two female roommates in Florida brawled because one supposedly ate the other’s Thin Mints. Weapons included a board, a sign, and scissors. Aggravated assault was the result, and $10,000 bail. If only they had worked it out reasonably, they could have saved the bail money and bought more Girl Scout cookies!

Of course not a lot, because when we are not fighting over Girl Scout cookies we are complaining that they cost too much. The price creeps ever upward while the weight of each box slowly decreases. We’re sure that each year we get fewer cookies, but maybe we are just inhaling them more quickly.

No, the group fully acknowledges the economics of the situation. Manufacturing costs have climbed steadily upward, and they have tried to save money by reducing the packaging (they claim this is a move to help the environment, but won’t it just make it easier to inject the ketamine?) and selling fewer types of cookies.

It was another economic lesson for little girls, we are told. When seventy-seven percent of sales are just from five varieties, it was easy to blame it on the recession and make it easier on the bakers. Going into retirement this year: Dulce de Leche, Thank U Berry Munch, All Abouts, and Sugar-Free Chocolate Chip.

They don't want to have to deal with a surplus of less popular cookies, but who are they to decide? This is nothing but the food police telling us what we can and cannot eat! Some reports say it is an economic reality, others claim it is just marketing, which is another good lesson for little girls who’s career goals include teen mom or salon receptionist.

Cookie sales always take place in late winter, although I think I’ve made a good case for this being the last year that ever happens. Last fall was the first time I found Girl Scouts trying to raise money by selling nuts. Strategically placed on the calendar so as not to compete with cookie sales, the happy little girls in front of the grocery store seemed to attract more puzzled looks than serious buyers.

Girl Scout nuts: let the jokes commence.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


If I didn’t remember those good old days of business travel, when the price of lodging and eating was covered by a reasonable expense account, my current situation would not be so disappointing. I used to be able to take the forty bucks allotted for the evening meal and consume nothing more than tiny liquor bottles from the hotel room fridge and cans of macadamia nuts in the pantry.

Sure, I’d wake up feeling sick to my stomach with hunger, but sometimes that’s the price to be paid for debauchery and stupidity. Plus I’d have a few bucks left over, and after scarfing down more than my share at the continental breakfast I could buy a carton of smokes. What a life!

Now when I travel I don’t get to stay at the posh suite places. Or I choose not to, because otherwise I blow my entire budget on the roof over my head. I don't have to eat a lot of expensive Hawaiian nuts, but I do need at least a few bucks to buy myself a burger. And the four teenaged girls in the next room want to eat as well.

What’s that, you say? What unpleasantness are you talking about, you freaky old man? Who are these girls and do their parents know you have squirreled them away in a dingy hotel room?

First of all, don’t insult my friends at Travelodge. It is a lovely place to stay! Second, the foursome was my high school senior daughter and three of her friends. Kelsey wanted to visit a couple of colleges, so we planned a trip to San Diego and Long Beach. It would be a one-nighter since sixteen hours driving in one day would be more moronic than surviving on liquor and snack foods.

One friend wanted to join us because she hadn’t gone on many college tours. That seemed fine. She’s a nice girl, and hasn’t caused me a lot of problems. Then another friend was interested in going, even though she hadn’t even applied at one of the two schools and didn’t think she’d choose the other even if she were accepted.

Kyle wanted to take the last seat in the car, which makes perfect sense. I remember being a junior in high school, and even though there was no chance I would ever be able to date any of my older sister’s friends, they smelled nice and while sitting near them I could pretend they liked me.

Kyle lost his chance to go, and not just because Kelsey forbade it. A third friend, one who had recently visited the same two universities, was in the mood for another road trip. In a moment of weakness I agreed to the entire gaggle, and off we set.

For a while I listened to a little talk radio. Nothing like some rabid conservative puffery in the morning for a good laugh. The girls hated it, and spent the time texting each other from their magical telephonic devices. They’d giggle and shush each other and refused to look me in the eye because they were so obviously guilty of something.

The phones went away when they gained control of the radio. Kelsey connected a variety of iPods, none of which apparently contained a single song I wanted to listen to, even though they hold, like, a gazillion. There was hip hop (ugh) and John Mayer (uninteresting) and plenty of show tunes (jazz hands!). An hour later, exhausted from their screeching—I mean singing—and our early departure, they fell asleep.

I kept the car nice and warm to encourage deeper slumber. A little more talk radio and the kids were nicely comatose, though they did wake briefly for a potty break and a burger.

At San Diego State we found hundreds of students camped out in line, waiting for basketball tickets to go on sale. Some had been there for three days. Good role models. At Long Beach State the girls were astounded with the amount of brick. The older buildings were all brick, the newer ones had brick accents and brick features, and even the sidewalks included bricks occasionally in different patterns and designs.

It was all they could talk about. Brick, brick, brick. As though the construction material is what really makes a good college. I pointed out that a much better way to determine if a university provides a quality demonstration was whether the students were willing to sleep outside in record cold temperatures for the privilege of buying tickets to a basketball game.

At the hotel I tried to get a room at the opposite end of the building from theirs, but we had already been assigned adjoining quarters. I asked the girls to either be quiet in their room, or take their loud party attitude out to the pool or any all-night diner or city park they could walk to. I don’t honestly know what they did during the evening, but I assume they were quietly resting in their room.

Really, they were super quiet. Either that or they weren’t there. I didn’t hear them come in late, but my heavy drinking might have deadened my senses.

As far as traveling with four female high school seniors, it wasn’t the worst two days of my life. But I think it might have been a whole lot more thrilling if I had done it thirty years ago.