Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

Archive for June 2011

We’ll Play Spin the Molotov Cocktail

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A slumber party? Why, that’s a terrific idea, Lynn. Good for you. Only in second grade and already getting creative with birthday celebrations. How many friends do you want to invite?

Ah, I see. Hmm. Well, Lynn, we’re going to have some difficulty fitting the whole class, even just the girls. It is a big class, after all. If you really want this to be a sleepover for everyone, then you’re going to have to trim the numbers a little. I can suggest a couple of ways: invite only the kids you like – or that you would like to like you – and forget the others. They’re just losers, and you don’t want to associate with losers. The other possibility is to invite everyone for a party, but only your real friends get to stay over.

I want to make clear that either way, you must make sure that absolutely everyone knows which group they’re in. You can’t have losers just up and assume that they’re in just because no one rubbed their loserness in their face enough. So when you issue invitations, distribute them when everyone is around and make a point of remarking loudly about who deserves your friendship and who could never hope to be in your league.

But that’s just the beginning, since we do need to plan the party itself. Obviously it needs to be on a weekend when no one has to worry about getting up late. So let’s make it next Saturday night, since your birthday is Sunday, and we can do a little “official” birthday celebration at breakfast, and you and your friends can have another special thing to gloat about in the presence of the unworthy, just to twist the jealousy dagger a bit.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though; we need to discuss the afternoon and evening first. So you want just to invite one group, not stagger it as I suggested? That’s good; it’s less complicated that way. What activities do you have in mind? Oh, nice – pin the tail on the donkey. May I suggest a variation you might enjoy? How about instead of a donkey, you use the picture of one of your unpopular classmates? Oh, I knew you’d like that.

Then what? Oh, I guess pizza, unless you have some other idea. Hmm. Yes, going to the pizza parlor instead of ordering in is a good idea, and it’s walking distance, too. Are you sure that Freeman girl will be outside at that hour? She might not see you and your buddies pass by. Oh, she always plays with her dumb dolls about then? Fine. You need to pretend you don’t notice her. It will actually sting more than if you say anything to her. It will be a greater blow to her self esteem to realize her existence doesn’t even register with you than if you take the time to give her attention, even if it’s negative. It’s important that you internalize that attitude long before junior high.

When you come home, we’ll announce it’s pajama time. Ooh, it just occurred to me: if you really want to do this exclusion thing right, there has to be somebody who ends up crying and going home early because everyone is treating her like an outcast. It’s probably best if you find someone who really, really wants to be part of your clique, someone who will be thrilled to pieces to be among those who received an invitation. But once she gets here, you have to make sure she doesn’t get too comfortable. She can’t be allowed to really feel she’s made it into your inner circle. The idea is to keep the teasing and meanness limited until we get back from the pizza place. Then, once everyone gets out their pajamas, have the rest of the girls gang up on her and mock her mercilessly. It could be anything, but her taste in sleepwear would make a fine issue to start with. Then you can move on to her hair, and how it resembles some kind of roadkill baking in the sun, or accuse her of liking the most hideous boy in the class. I’m sure you know that facts aren’t the point here. Your goal is to make sure this girl ends up in tears, running to me so she can call her parents and go home. I’ll pretend to sympathize, but inside I’ll be cheering you on. Before she leaves, you need to say something about not wanting to have over a crybaby who would probably wet herself in the middle of the night anyway.

But back to pajama time. Once everyone is ready, I’ll put on a nice long movie for you to watch. I have a number of them you haven’t seen yet: Silence of the Lambs, The Shawshank Redemption, Platoon, Schindler’s List, and Pulp Fiction. Any of those should really set the tone for the rest of the night. If any of your guests decide the movie is too scary, that’s a clear indication she’s a loser and should go home sooner rather than later.

It’s important that you learn this lesson early in life: there’s no such thing as too picky when it comes to choosing friends.

Written by Thag

June 30, 2011 at 11:06 pm

This Court Will Recess While the Plaintiff Puts Away All the LEGO

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Thank you, Your Honor.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: you have been assembled here to decide whether Thag and Miggtha, the parents of the plaintiff, have served ably as parents. The plaintiff intends to demonstrate that the defendants knowingly and maliciously deprived my client of privileges to which he has an inalienable right: play dates; junky snacks; being served first; going a week without bathing. They engaged in this behavior with complete awareness that my client desired the exact opposite. They imposed their will on him, using their superior size, experience and authority in the household.

As counsel for the plaintiff, I apologize in advance for exposing you to the disturbing images, episodes and statements you will encounter during these proceedings. But they must be examined by your eyes and ears if justice is to be done. You alone have the power to determine whether the defendants can continue to serve as parents to my client, or at the very least to compel them to alter their parental policies for the better.

We will show that the deprivation the defendants cause my client are attributable only to malice, not to legitimate considerations; that the desired and actual effect of these policies was to upset my client; and that the defendants reacted to my client’s anger by denying he had a legitimate grievance.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your job: to examine the evidence presented to you and, determine whether, as we believe, it proves that my client’s parents must grant him the privileges and pleasures that he deserves.


Good morning, members of the jury.

I, too, must apologize to you, for the colossal waste of time this will turn out to be.

You see, contrary to what the plaintiff’s counsel would have you believe, the only animus at play in the interactions between the plaintiff and defendants came from the plaintiff himself. The only malice ever expressed was a product of the plaintiff’s own distorted perception, not from my clients. I intend to show that every single episode of alleged parental misconduct was either precipitated by the plaintiff himself, or beyond the control of my clients.

Thag and Miggtha are more than adequate parents: they provide and care for their children; tuck them in every night; read them stories; even let them watch movies when time allows. But they have certain red lines the plaintiff has repeatedly and flagrantly attempted to violate. It is those violations, not my clients’ legitimate responses to them, that should be our focus here.

Far be it from me to accuse the plaintiff of systematic brinkmanship and provocation although such a characterization cannot be far from the truth; but I will demonstrate that his accusations against my clients stem not from a just desire to right any wrongs perpetrated against him, but from a corrupt worldview that assumes he is automatically entitled to the fulfillment of his desires. For the plaintiff, justice means getting what he wants – or making those who refuse to do so feel his wrath.

Do not be fooled, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. What you will see is not the malicious, cruel story of abusive parents, but a pair of put-upon, tired and patient human beings whose son has yet to outgrow the notion that the universe revolves around him.

What the plaintiff needs, ladies and gentlemen, is not restitution, but the loving, sincere provision of a swift kick in the pants.

Written by Thag

June 30, 2011 at 12:06 pm

And I Got a Paper Cut While Writing This

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Bill, Elaine, I’m sorry about the damage to your apartment. I’ll do what I can to fix or replace whatever got damaged. I was trying to keep the place well while you were gone, and did OK for the first couple of weeks, but then circumstances conspired against me.

I’ll try to give all the details in this message so you don’t get completely shocked when you see what went wrong, but I do understand that beholding it all with your own eyes upon your return will nevertheless give you pause. I apologize again for causing you that.

It all started when I went to check on the plants on my way out of using the bathroom. I knew they hadn’t been watered in at least a week, so I found a glass in the kitchen and brought some water over. I didn’t want to overdo it, so of course I didn’t empty the glass completely. But I accidentally whacked the glass against the side of the ceramic planter. Not only did the glass go flying, but I gave myself a nasty cut on the webbing between my thumb and forefinger. I tend to faint at the sight of my own blood, so I knew I had to do something about the bleeding right away.  I ran to the bathroom – and slipped on the spilled water.

I sprawled on the living room floor and cut myself all over my hands breaking the fall. The blood got all over the rug, but I couldn’t do anything about it at the time, since I needed to administer first aid. So I got myself to the bathroom as quickly as I could and sat on the toilet. But I didn’t notice I’d left the seat up when I was there before, and fell in.

I couldn’t get myself out so easily because my hands were all cut up, but I had no choice. I tried to grab the hand towels to give myself a grip, but only lifted myself an inch or two when the towel rack came off the wall and hit me in the ribs. I was knocked back down into the toilet. I was finally able to wiggle into a position where my elbows could support my weight as I slowly unstuck myself from the toilet bowl. Now I was soaked as well as bloodied, but I managed to stand up and move toward the sink. I wanted to brace myself on the vanity, because I already felt faint from the pain and bleeding. But I didn’t make it, and collapsed into the bathtub.

The shower curtain broke my fall a little bit, but only because it was torn completely from the curtain rod. On the way down my head hit the soap dish and knocked it off the wall, and my arm hit the faucet lever and turned on the hot water. It took me a minute to realize what was happening, but by then, scalding water was coming out of the spigot all over my midsection. I jumped up, screaming, and leaped out of the tub, hitting my head again on the now-bare curtain rod and knocking it down.

I leaned over as fast as I could to turn off the water, but the curtain rod had come to rest just so, and it poked me hard in the crotch. I doubled over and fell into the tub again, splashing bloody water all over the bathroom. I did manage to turn off the water and slouch against the outside wall of the bathtub, wondering what I should do, but I blacked out again.

When I came to, my bleeding had stopped, but I hurt all over from the cuts, the burns and the bruises. The Schillers from downstairs heard the commotion and came up to check. Poor Mrs. Schiller. She slipped on the little puddle of water as I did and banged into the planter. She hit it with her head, knocking it onto the floor, where it smashed and dumped soil everywhere. Mrs Schiller was knocked unconscious, but Mr. Schiller came in right after her and called an ambulance, but it took him a while to hear my groans as he fussed over his wife. He carefully made his way to the bathroom and saw me amid the wreckage, whereupon he had a heart attack and collapsed, knocking over an end table and causing the lamp to smash on the floor. The exposed filament was now touching the fringed edges of the blood-stained rug, and the rug began to smolder. It took me a minute to realize that I smelled something burning, but I gathered my remaining strength and hobbled out to the living room. I kicked the lamp away from the rug and stamped out the burning part, but didn’t notice that the still-exposed lamp filament had come to rest against the front flap of the sofa.

The sofa burst into flames. I hobbled over to the kitchen and filled a pitcher with water, which I then threw over the flames, repeating the process a couple of times just to make sure. The second time, some of the water landed on Mrs. Schiller, who came to and sat up; the third time, I must have missed the couch and got her full in the face. She lunged at me and began pummeling me, and as you can imagine, I was in no condition to defend myself. But very quickly she looked over and saw her husband. She, too, gasped and clutched her chest, and soon collapsed. The paramedics arrived a few minutes later.

Again, I’m sorry for the trouble, and I’ll do what I can to make things better. Please relay my good wishes to the Schillers when they are released from the hospital, which I understand could be any day now.

Oh, and I think my wallet fell out of my pocket somewhere in the bathroom. Possibly into the toilet. Please check and let me know.


Written by Thag

June 29, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Work Ethic: Noun; What I Lack

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In my junior year of high school I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a journalist. Thank God I never acted on that decision. For one thing, I can’t stand deadlines. They make me want to hide from the work and hope it goes away. I’m surprised how often that actually works. [Note to self: the US Presidency is probably not in your career path.]

It actually wasn’t my decision at all, come to think of it. My AP English teacher decided it would match what she perceived as my skill set and passions. She even ended up writing an effusive recommendation for some merit-based scholarship based on my supposed goals of bringing the truth to the world with compelling, articulate flair. In a fit of what now seems to be insanity, I even had her sign my yearbook. She did so with breathless prose, extolling the virtues of good journalism and the nobility of chasing such a dream. She wrote it in French. In retrospect, I must say her virtues as a teacher remain difficult to prove. Not to mention her presumed ability to arrive at an accurate assessment of an adolescent’s still-nascent talents. I should have seen even then that there was no way I’d ever succeed in journalism.

I harbored the illusion that I would eventually grow out of my tendency, which flowered from the fourth grade onward, not to give enough of a damn about things assigned to me. “Half-assed” doesn’t begin to describe most of my last-minute project submissions: if you strung them end-to-end you might end up with three quarters of an ass. But the few projects about which I did care, I did well. I suppose I assumed that as I approached a path in life that hewed more closely to a career that suited me, those would be the rule rather than the exception. I was a moron.

Fortunately, I discovered rather early in my college years that journalism and I were not destined to blossom together. Although I quickly advanced through the hierarchy of the undergraduate newspaper, I found myself assigning the meaty, potential-rich stories to others instead of snatching them for myself. I just wasn’t interested in more work than was absolutely necessary. My most notable journalistic achievement during those years was transcribing a conservative lecturer’s hourlong diatribe against the impending opening of the university’s first fraternity. My avoidance of work, on at least one occasion, extending to manufacturing absurd scenarios that would shift the burden of responsibility for my uselessness to the laps of my unsuspecting superiors.

The occasion that comes to mind occurred during my second semester on campus, when I hadn’t done an iota’s worth of work toward a major story, since I was too busy playing simulated chess on my roommate’s computer. The night I was supposed to submit it, I took one of my unused 3.5″ floppy disks and slammed it repeatedly in the door to my dorm room, taking care to crease the internal disk and render it all but unusable. I then sulked into the newsroom forlornly brandishing the disk and lamenting the fate of this major story. Oh, and that this unforeseen turn of events could not be remedied my me, as I had important prior commitments. But my shirking was seldom so obvious that it became too discernible a pattern. What I did discern, however, was that although I had no specific ideas of what career to choose, I would certainly not choose journalism.

So it gives me a measure of gratification to see the myriad philippics in all and sundry bastions of traditional media, railing against the newfangled business model that values eyeballs over all else, to the point that the pillars of good journalism as we knew it are at risk of collapse. The gratifying feeling lasts about four seconds, until I realize that I am unemployed anyway.

Still, I breathe a sigh of relief that I did not waste years of my life pursuing a career in a field rapidly transforming from excellence in reporting to excellence in marketing. For journalism, I never had the requisite discipline; for marketing, I never had the requisite lack of a soul or conscience.

Even at this moment, as the four of you read this post, I cannot bring myself to do what every rational person would conclude is the reasonable act: despite my sincere wish to succeed as a writer, I refuse to sell my soul to Facebook, to cynically exploit my friendships in an effort to give this blog prominence. Heck, I don’t even have a Facebook account.

Call me a traditionalist. Or whatever. Whatever you call me is probably not important enough to warrant any effort on my part to respond. There’s a simulated chess game going on here, after all.

Written by Thag

June 28, 2011 at 10:27 pm

In Other Words, Only My Wishes Count

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A Glossary of Childspeak

It’s not fair: I don’t like that I’m not getting what I want.

Just a minute: In about eight minutes or until you mention it again, whichever is later.

What?: I’m going to plead ignorance even though I know perfectly well I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

I’m sorry: I’m sorry I got caught.

I didn’t do it: See: I’m sorry.

[Insert sibling name] is bothering me: I’m bothering [sibling name] and object to his/her ability to respond in kind.

I’m thirsty: I’m looking for excuses to get out of bed again.

But it’s mine!: It’s more important to assert my control over everything than to let the baby play with a worthless item and thus keep him happy for a few minutes; better he screech for the rest of the afternoon.

But I want!: My wants should trump everything: justice, nutrition, equality, and parental commitment to people other than me.

I have no homework: I couldn’t care less whether or not I have homework.

I did my homework: I’m praying you won’t tell me to show you my completed homework.

I didn’t have a snack today: I’ve had the countless helpings of junk food that my friends provided, but that doesn’t count.

I don’t like it: I want to save as much room as possible for dessert.

But I like it: I’ll say anything to get you to allow me to engage in shortsighted behavior with benefit only in the immediate and superficial.

Fine: I’ll do what you say, but be aware that I see this as an affront to all things good and pure, i.e. my desires.

I’m hungry: I want junk food.

But you said!: I ignored every proviso, condition and stipulation that you made and only focused on the part about getting what I want.

I put it away: I threw it on the floor, but there’s a chance it looks like it’s near its proper place if you choose just the right angle.

I have no clothes: I resent the occasional need to look for clean laundry in the -gasp!- laundry room.

[Insert sibling name] is distracting me: [Sibling name] is dutifully facilitating my efforts to avoid doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

I didn’t hear you: I was ignoring you and hoping you’d get sidetracked by something else so I could keep doing what I’m doing.

Written by Thag

June 27, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Your Job as a Kindergarten Teacher Is to Torment the Parents

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Sarah, this schedule for the end-of-year kindergarten party needs some work. You made the mistake of leaving the kids time to eat something.

When we schedule these things, we specifically make them at dinnertime. To give the parents the illusion that some nutritious food will be available immediately afterwards, we rely on them to bring pot luck food, but inevitably they all bring cake of some sort, or at least cheap store-bought cookies. Starting any time after five means we might inadvertently give some families a chance to get some non-crap comestibles into their systems, and we can’t have that; not when we’ve spent the whole year plying them with sugary snacks when the parents aren’t looking.

Start by announcing that pickup time is early today – say, eleven-thirty. That will give the parents several unanticipated hours of conflict between work and child care, establishing a firm base of resentment before we even start the festivities.

What we need to do is call the event itself, for, say, a quarter to five. People will straggle in, as they always do, and we won’t actually be ready to start for another forty-five minutes to an hour. I’ll get up and make some long-winded announcements of thank-yous to various people: you, other staff, various parents. We’ll have an hour’s worth of performance by the kids: some singing, some dancing, some reciting lines, some interactive stuff with the parents. I see you’ve already got some parents preparing a skit, which is good; they won’t want to waste their preparations even if things are running late.

Following the kids’ display of whatever pathetic moves we’ve taught them – to dangerously amplified music, of course – we’ll crowd everyone into another room for an educational bit: some storytelling, a moral lesson, a bit of history. When we’re finished, and people think it’s time for the fathers’ skit, we’ll get everybody back in here for some more kid-centered activity – a bit of dancing to more loud music should do it – and then we’ll do the skit. They’ve already been informed that the skit should end with more music and dancing, so we’ve got that aspect covered and then some.

When the skit ends, it should be almost seven o’clock already, and everyone will expect to go eat and leave. But that’s when we’ll allow time for the parents to show their appreciation by taking a few minutes to give us some gifts and shower us with disingenuous praise through gritted teeth, to much forced applause. Thinking it’s over, a number of families will get up to leave, but that’s when we’ll start the slide show. It was supposed to be limited to ten minutes, maximum, but in fact it goes almost fourteen. Then we can let everyone go eat.

It will be past dinnertime by then for most of these four-year-olds, so they’ll go to where the food is and begin gorging. Inevitably, there will be no flatware, even though someone will remember to bring a knife to cut the frosted cake. So that cake will go uneaten, causing bitterness all around, but the rest of the junk food will get finished quickly. Some freak parent might even bring a fruit platter, but its nutritional value will be far outweighed by the fat and sugar in all the other treats.

That’s where we’ll have various take-home gifts for the kids: badly cropped and stretched photos, flimsy plastic doodads of dubious utility, and just enough other detritus to make carrying it all, plus a now-tired, hungry child, an exercise in frustration and resentment. That is how to cap off the year, Sarah. Let’s get started.

Written by Thag

June 26, 2011 at 11:55 pm

The Physics of Parenting

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Archimedes’ Principle: Any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid.
As Applied to Parenting: The bathroom floor is gonna get absolutely soaked.

Newton’s First law of Motion: Every body remains in a state of constant velocity unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force.
As Applied to Parenting: The kid will stay in bed until you force him to get up; and the kid will remain wild until you force him to calm down and get ready for bed.

Newton’s Second Law of Motion: A body of mass subject to a net force undergoes an acceleration that has the same direction as the force and a magnitude that is directly proportional to the force and inversely proportional to the mass.
As Applied to Parenting: Keep valuable objects out of the kid’s reach.

Newton’s Third law of Motion: The mutual forces of action and reaction between two bodies are equal, opposite and colinear.
As Applied to Parenting: The more you need the kid to cooperate, the more likely he is to resist.

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation: Every point mass in the universe attracts every other point mass with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
As Applied to Parenting: The toys will never, ever remain put away.

Newton’s Law of Cooling: The rate of heat loss of a body is proportional to the difference in temperatures between the body and its surroundings.
As Applied to Parenting: The food will be too hot for the kid to eat, or you waited too long and it’s already too cool to be appetizing.

Boyle’s Law of Gases: For a fixed amount of an ideal gas kept at a fixed temperature, pressure and volume are inversely proportional.
As Applied to Parenting: That diaper is going to stink.

Law of Conservation of Energy:  The total amount of energy in a system remains constant over time.
As Applied to Parenting: Just when you’ve gotten one kid to sleep, the other will wake up crying.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: One can never know with perfect accuracy both of those two important factors which determine the movement of one of the smallest particles—its position and its velocity. It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the direction and speed of a particle at the same instant.
As Applied to Parenting: You will wrongly anticipate which direction the toddler will toss his bowl of cornflakes.

Law of Conservation of Mass: The mass of a closed system will remain constant over time.
As Applied to Parenting: No matter how healthy he is, you will be made to feel like a bad parent because your child’s weight percentile is low.

Law of Conservation of Momentum: If a closed system is not affected by external forces, its total momentum cannot change.
As Applied to Parenting: No matter how good the rest of the day was, once things start to go downhill toward evening, you know you’ll have a fiend on your hands by bedtime.

Avogadro’s Law: Equal volumes of ideal or perfect gases, at the same temperature and pressure, contain the same number of particles, or molecules.
As Applied to Parenting: Somehow the kids can tell when a sibling’s balloon, seemingly identical to his own, is actually inflated to a larger volume, and thus cause for a tantrum.

Written by Thag

June 23, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Some of My Best Friends Are Antisemitic

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Jack, this is just amateurish. No one goes for old-fashioned antisemitism anymore.

It’s one thing to couch your Jew-hatred in terms of Zionism; we all do that. But if you want to keep those hymies from moving into this neighborhood in greater numbers, you’re going to need some arguments more sophisticated than Jewish control of the media. That’s not gonna play in Peoria. Besides, Peoria already has an established Jewish presence, so you have to rethink your whole approach.

What you need to do is find some issue that really bothers the people around here, and then develop some approach that somehow links Jews with the dark side of that issue – but you have to make sure it’s not a Jewish issue, or the antisemitism is too obvious. It’s been decades since a guy could count on knee-jerk Jew-hatred in America, or at least open Jew-hatred. What you want to do is attract the closet antisemites and give them enough plausible deniability so everyone can claim it’s not about the Jews’ Jewishness at all.

So what you might do is oppose construction of a synagogue, but only talk about how it would disrupt traffic, or the skyline, or be too noisy. And those concerns can be completely fabricated; you only need them to give you and your associates cover. Since we’re talking Orthodox Jews here, give an example of how crowded the streets will be on Saturdays with people going to and from services. If you’re loud enough about it, your vehemence can make up for any perceived ignorance. And if anyone pokes holes in your claim, like by noting that Orthodox Jews don’t drive on their Sabbath, well, you just move on to the next claim, no harm done. After all, it was just an issue of traffic as far as you’re concerned.

Then there’s the issue of an eruv, that string around the town that makes renders the whole place a single residential area in Jewish law. The Jews won’t be allowed to carry things around outside on the Sabbath without it. But since the community will need municipal approval to attach the string to telephone poles, you can take aim at their attempt to make the place more hospitable to Jews by claiming the project illegally involves the government in religious affairs. That way you can make it about the constitution instead of about how much you hate kikes.

I know you’ve also tried to muster opposition to Jewish migration by arguing about property values. But I don’t think you’ll have much success there, since it’s just ain’t so. In fact a growing Jewish community pushes property values up. You’re best off just dropping that subject, unless you want to look like a bigot and an idiot. Idiot is OK these days, but bigot is not.

Of course if you want to go really hardcore, and are willing to invest some serious time and energy, you could go the San Francisco route and try to get ritual circumcision banned. If you go down that path, just make sure not to get too caught up in the medical evidence for or against; there just isn’t anything conclusive either way. You need to keep the discourse squarely in the emotional realm: make it about babies’ rights; throw around loaded terms such as “mutilation” and “genital cutting”;  call the practice barbaric. Those are good ways of staying on the offensive and avoiding the issue of your opposition to Jewish existence, not merely Jewish practice. Your lead here is the highly successful model of antisemites who claim only to be anti-Zionist, a roster that includes such reputable souls as Saddam Hussein and Mahmoud Ahmadinijad.

You know I would never steer you wrong, Jack. Some of my best friends are antisemites.

Written by Thag

June 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Please Do Not Put the Used Syringes in the Recycle Bin

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Caroline, it’s so sweet of you to take care of our plants and keep our house while we’re overseas. Chris and I are grateful to you for making the time commitment. I’m just leaving this note to make sure you have all the information you need.

I guess we’ll start with alarm system. I told you the code, but in fact all the code does is give you about 15 seconds to get through the front hallway to the kitchen, where you have to punch in the code again on the keypad behind the toaster oven (next to the fridge). If you don’t make it in time, the kitchen doorways are sealed by an iron portcullis that drops very quickly from the ceiling, and noxious fumes start coming from the air conditioning vents. So please, please make sure to get the code punched in swiftly. I’d have included instructions about taking care of the dog, but poor Fifi set off the alarm accidentally a few weeks ago and got impaled on the portcullis.

When you leave, please reset the alarm on your way out by punching in the code again, first from the kitchen and again from the front hallway. You’ll have to enter the code on the hallway within thirty seconds of doing so in the kitchen, or trap doors open on the entire ground floor. The trap doors lead to an oubliette that we don’t really use except to store old copies of National Geographic that won’t fit in the bathroom, and we don’t tend to go down there more than once or twice a year. So just be careful.

Next: the plants. Most of the plants are taken care of by an automatic irrigation system; the only ones to worry about are the three bonsai trees in the study and the Audrey II in the living room. The bonsai trees just need some trimming every now and then to keep their shapes; you probably won’t need to do anything, since we just trimmed them yesterday. But the Audrey II needs either a couple of live mice or half a pint of human blood, every other day. We tend to use mice: just place them in a paper bag at the opening to the plant’s main pod, and the Audrey II will devour them quickly. If you get squeamish and don’t want to handle mice, feel free to use blood; we have some needles, tubes and bags in the master bathroom that you may feel free to use. And you’re welcome to lie down on the bed, but make sure any stains are properly laundered.

We have a tank of exotic fish in the study, most of which are also fed automatically at the right intervals, but the piranha in the other tank needs fresh meat every few days. We keep some leftover pieces of meat on the door of the fridge; two or three of those should do. If any of the pieces you select still have fur or accessories, such as ribbons, on them, please remove them before placing the meat in the tank. If you run out of meat – though you shouldn’t unless Glenn gets unusually hungry and doesn’t leave anything over – you can find more pieces of Fifi in the freezer; you’ll just have to soak them in lukewarm water in the sink for about ten minutes before you drop them in the tank.

We had the place fumigated just before we left, so don’t be surprised to find dead roaches or other little beasties. You can just sweep them up and dump them in the trash. We might also have forgotten to check the second-floor guest room beforehand, and neither of us can recall actually saying goodbye to our last houseguest, so it’s possible you’ll find a body in there if you decide to look. That’s entirely up to you, of course, but if you elect not to check, please keep the guest room door closed just in case. If you do find a body, that would obviously give you more options when it comes to feeding Glenn. And please examine the body’s possessions so you can leave us a note telling us who it was.

Trash collection is on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and we didn’t have time to empty the trash cans around the house before we left, so please take care of that for us when you get a chance. The bins are on the south side of the house, right near the shed with the vials of rare communicable diseases. There’s probably trash from the shed in the bins, so you’ll want to don a mask before removing the lids to add anything. Cliff, our friend who lives in the shed, sometimes likes to curl up in one of the bins to read his German medical journals from the early 1940s, so please knock on each one to alert him before you wheel the bins to the curb for collection.

That should do it, I think. There’s no need to answer the phone or open the mail; we’ve received so many ransom notes that we don’t bother treating them urgently anymore. After all, they want our money, so they can sit and stew until we get around to answering. And we’ve called to suspend delivery of the paper until we get back, so don’t go looking for our copy of Der Stürmer. If it does get delivered, just slide it under Cliff’s door; he usually enjoys it after we finish with it.

Again, thank you so much, Caroline! We’ll give you a call when we get back. Perhaps we can have you over for a home-cooked dinner.

Written by Thag

June 21, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Extra! Extra! Read All About These Tired Slogans!

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Right now, for a limited time only, you can get your hands on these advertising clichés with NO MONEY DOWN! That’s right! No money down on these proven hits! With our rock-bottom prices on hackneyed advertising copy, you won’t find a better deal anywhere else!

Why settle for less when you can have the best? Act now, and these overused phrases can be yours at prices so low, we’re not allowed to reveal them in this ad! And if you order now, we’ll also include a set of spare exclamation points! Use them in text messages! Use them in e-mails! Use them to indicate swear words! The sky’s the limit – if you call now!

We all know there’s nothing like a good cliché. When the chips are down and the whole enchilada is on the line, you want phrases with an unmatched track record. You want words that have been there, done that and bought the T-shirt. You want locution that gets right to the heart of your message using language so trite that no one is surprised to read or hear it. In other words, you want to buy these clichés RIGHT NOW. So what are you waiting for?

This great deal won’t last forever. And to make sure your heart’s in it, for the first two hundred callers we’ll also throw in images of streamers, balloons and some fictitious room full of operators just waiting to take your call – operators uttering such phrases as “how may I help you?” and “will that be all, sir?” With those images, you’ll have no trouble at all putting together your own hold music – and this package includes the sought-after platitude “your call is important to us”! Think of what you can accomplish with the tired phrases, the exclamation points and the disclaimers recited at breakneck speed in the last few seconds of the ad!

But wait…there’s more. If you’re one of the first thirty callers, we’ll also give you this book full of quotation marks that you can apply to phrases of your own, and give them the mystique that only quotation marks can provide! Turn words into “words” in a flash! Confuse literate people with your “use” of “terms”! Cast doubt on your intelligence by making your printed slogan look ironic or sarcastic! Nothing tells your customers you might not care about them quite like “We care about our customers” with the visual equivalent of “air quotes”! And it all comes with a thirty-day, MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE!

So what are you waiting for?! Call now and get the cliché package and the exclamation points – at low, low prices! And if you’re one of the first two hundred callers, we’ll give you the stock imagery of attractive, overdressed operators busily answering phones! If you act quickly enough, you can be one of the lucky thirty who walk away with “handy” quotation marks! Get up and call now! Our operators are standing by!

(Void where prohibited. Limit one per customer. Offer expires 01/01/11. This promotion may not be combined with any other promotion. Employees of Mightier Than The Pen and their families are not eligible for this offer. Domestic US shipping only. Please allow four to six weeks for delivery. Price does not include shipping and handling. Tax, title and registration extra. Offer valid only while supplies last. Batteries not included. Each sold separately. All part of a complete breakfast. Paid for by Tim Pawlenty for President. Writers’ opinions are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mightier Than The Pen. There will be no green M&Ms anywhere backstage. The presence of green M&Ms will result in the cancellation of this contract. © 2011.  All rights reserved.)

Written by Thag

June 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Emphasizing the First Syllable of Asphalt

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You know the guy who doesn’t look before changing lanes? That driver you always see cutting across two lanes to get to the exit ramp he nearly missed? The one with the cell phone plastered to his ear? I’m that guy.

I’m in such a hurry, and what I must accomplish is so important, that getting to my destination trumps everyone’s safety. I could be nothing but a sales associate at Target, or a clerk at some municipal office, but damn it, my deadlines are more important than your puny little life. Otherwise I wouldn’t be trying to shave precious seconds off my schedule by risking it.

So today, when I made an illegal left turn on my motor scooter across two lanes of oncoming traffic, that wasn’t an arbitrary gambit aimed at putting myself, several drivers and a dozen pedestrians in danger; it was also a demonstration of my schedule’s importance and the priority it has over everyone else. Not merely priority over everyone else’s schedules; even a thundering idiot understands that. I mean priority over everyone else’s physical existence. With enough emphasis and frequency, this message might eventually percolate enough to increase awareness, and as a result, prompt the realization among humanity at large that they are better off staying home and letting me proceed on my way unimpeded.

It’s not that I want to pull such stunts all the time, though I do admit that gunning through the intersection a couple of seconds after the signal turns red provides an invigorating adrenalin rush. I, too, prefer a world in which such moves are unnecessary. You all can help build such a world by staying the hell off the roads when I need to get from place to place. It will also benefit you: by refraining from getting in my way, you will save yourselves the aggravation that you have come to associate with driving. It’s a win-win situation.

The tailgating, the blaring horn right behind you, the passing by swinging onto the shoulder – these merely function as what I hope are temporary devices to get me where I must be despite the inconsequential herds of hoi polloi teeming along my route just when I need it to remain clear. I certainly don’t pay all those taxes just to have those otherwise useful stretches of road crammed with ignorant hordes of buffoons who labor under the delusion that they need to disrupt my timetable. What do you think the public bus system is for, you imbeciles? Let me spell it out for you: it’s for you, so you can stay out of my way. Don’t like the bus? Work from home. Or walk. Or live somewhere with a subway system.

Just think of all the money you’d save on insurance, too. You could spend it instead on Wii games. Even driving games. That’s how I learned to drive.

Written by Thag

June 20, 2011 at 3:02 pm

St. Peter Takes a Break from His Grueling Schedule to Talk to Us

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Being St. Peter has its perks, certainly: I get to meet almost everyone seeking a place in Heaven, to rub soul shoulders with some of the world’s most interesting personalities. But of course at times the routine becomes impossibly dull.

On balance, I have it better than old Pius XII, who’s been given an observer role at the Righteous Gentile Division. He’s just supposed to look and see how things are done, not to get involved. He’s assigned to the same department as Raoul Wallenberg, Chiune Sugihara and Oskar Schindler – gets to watch them bask in the glory of their sacrifice, but can’t participate. Me, I get to talk to everyone, without exception, and I can take my sweet old time doing so. There’s no rush, is there?

And I know I shouldn’t toot my own horn, but you should have seen the place before I took charge of admissions. So many people seemed to think that if they dropped a name or two, that would cancel out their misdeeds on Earth. Torquemada tried that with me, the little git. What’s it like down in Gehenna, Tomás? If you see Himmler, tell him we just love that death mask. It’s so him.

But I tightened things up nicely; the Lord Himself said as much at a staff meeting a few hundred years ago. Did you know that until I redesigned the whole system, the Pearly Gates waiting area couldn’t accommodate more than a few thousand people at once? The old design plan was more than adequate during ancient times, when your major natural disasters and battles didn’t account for nearly the number of simultaneous victims that today’s catastrophes produce. But when we foresaw the dawn of the industrial age – not to mention the battle of Gettysburg – I spent my spare time expanding the place and streamlining the processing. In the nick of time, too, because the first World War broke out just a couple of weeks after the whole things became operational. That battle of the Somme kept us busy, it did. But thanks to those renovations, we didn’t have more than a few hundred people backed up onto the steps.

I get some funny questions, though. I don’t mean the people who want to know whether they’ll be reunited with their beloved pets; of course they will, unless the pet was some reincarnated Nazi. No, I get these clueless jerks who want to know why we’re letting “Darkies” in, or who can’t wait to get through so they can meet their idol, John Gotti. Then there are the atheists, who are always a riot. That look of dawning comprehension is priceless.

Just a few weeks ago we had the dubious pleasure of welcoming Osama bin Laden to this side of death; he looked a bit the worse for wear. Kept loudly insisting on various luxuries, going on about 72 virgins. Boy, you should have seen his face when reality set in. Aside from the gaping hole, I mean. We never did have time to patch that up before shipping him south. Oh, well.

I have to say, though, the achievement that makes me proudest is the early-warning system we had installed not too long ago. We get advance notice of impending arrivals long before they show up, which gives us time to clear away the clutter and make the place look presentable. Before we had that system, you never knew who might pop in; it was really embarrassing when Emily Post arrived, as you can imagine.

Well, it’s been a pleasure. I’ll see you all eventually, one way or another. Be good, now.

Written by Thag

June 19, 2011 at 3:59 pm

But I Wanted an *Exploding* Christmas Tree

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Dear Santa,

I know that most of the letters you receive arrive in the weeks prior to Christmas, so this might come as a surprise, as Christmas was two days ago and I’m only writing it now. As you can tell, this is not your typical letter to Santa: not a wish list, and not an attempt at casting ostensibly naughty behavior in a better light. The fact that you visited our house at all this year means that I was, in fact, on the “nice” list.

However, I do feel the need to communicate with you about a previous letter that I did send, the one that contained a detailed list of items I wished to find under the tree this Christmas. Having established that I had earned gifts from you this year, it puzzles me that my wishes seemed so egregiously disregarded. For your convenience, I have included a copy of the list as Attachment A.

As you can see, the list contains twenty-six items, and they appear in order of preference. But of those requested items, not a single one ended up under our tree. I did not receive my first request, a Nintendo Wii. By itself that might not be of major significance, but it causes me consternation in light of the gift delivery to my friend and classmate Gregory Walsh, just up Maple Street from me, who did receive the Wii he had requested from you, while I had to make do with a two-volume dictionary and a world atlas, neither of which, you will note, appeared on my list. In fact the closest thing to a book on my list is number 22, a DVD set of all the Harry Potter movies; I am told they started out as books.

I do not wish to imply that you, personally, are responsible for the error; of course, with many, many millions of households to visit, keeping track of the deliveries by necessity requires delegating responsibility to someone else. Nevertheless, that someone messed up badly, as I received absolutely nothing that I requested. I can understand that actual light sabers are hard to come by (number eleven on the list), but a toy one would have demonstrated that the list was received and processed. The mess-up in this case is so severe that I wonder whether you received my original letter at all. Even though I sent it three times just to be sure.

Yes, I realize that it was not identical all three times; there were additions, a subtraction and clarifications in each of the two latter letters. However, it defies comprehension that not even the obsolete versions of the list found expression in this year’s actual gifts. I certainly did not request a new scarf, but there it was, lying there with an ugly yellow ribbon, the kind of scarf Great Aunt Mildred would make for Uncle Myron. In fact I’d almost thought it was the same one, but for the fact that it doesn’t have the ketchup stains on it, and Uncle Myron showed up later wearing his just to make sure Mildred noticed. Mom made me wear the new scarf, too, for Mildred to see, I guess to make her feel good that Santa approves of her taste enough to copy it.

I realize that there is no superior or supervisor to whom to report this debacle, so I am left with no choice but to appeal to your sense of justice and proper procedure, and to request that this matter be sorted out as soon as possible. Gregory Walsh is going to be absolutely insufferable as soon as we get back to school, so I would appreciate if this can be satisfactorily resolved before Christmas break ends on Monday.

I trust this matter will receive due attention. Should you require more information from me, such as an explanation of the difference between a MiG-31 bomber-interceptor and a MiG-29 air superiority fighter (numbers 13 and 15, respectively), I shall be more than happy to elaborate.

Yours truly,

Jeffrey Halladay

Written by Thag

June 18, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Please Keep to the Left; That’s Where the Less Horrible Posts Are

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Oh, hello. I can see many unfamiliar faces in the crowd today, so perhaps a little tour of Mightier Than The Pen is in order. If you’ll read right this way, please.

This is our main entrance to the facility. Thag sits in this out-of-place dining room chair for long periods, ostensibly trying to think of what to write. In reality, a good chunk of that time is spent thinking about food and seething about his kids’ latest achievements in household deconstruction. Just two days ago, for example, after the little darlings played with the window screen in their bedroom, he was forced to put it back in position; naturally, it ripped completely off the frame at the bottom, rendering it useless in the neverending existential war against mosquitoes. So Thag sat right here, when he should have been working, wondering whether all children were as talented at finding things to break, of if his alone could claim that distinction.

In this next room, Thag keeps his previous posts. Some have aged better than others, as you can tell. He had to put down one or two when it became clear that they would never amount to anything. A couple of others are barely hanging in there, and it might make sense one day soon to put them out of their misery. This one, for instance, is a collection of New York Times headlines that Thag misread, and for some reason thought that others would be interested in what he thought they said. Just beyond that, in the next row back, is one in which he tried to write as if he were not such a cynic, and vomited before he could get past the first paragraph.

Of course there have been some successes, albeit small ones. That framed one over there on the wall nearly went viral; the one just below it generated almost a hundred comments, but from only about five people. Yes, that’s right, people with no lives, it stands to reason. If you look more closely, you’ll see that the vast majority of those comments are from Thag himself.

In this next room we have the kitchen where Thag wanders when he misinterprets writer’s block as hunger. Underneath those unsightly stacks of dirty dishes, pots and pans are actual countertops, and you can see where the sink would be by observing where the stacks don’t seem to reach as high. Watch your step near the refrigerator, please – there’s still a wad or two of this morning’s cornflakes and milk that the toddler decided the floor needed more than he did.

Now if you’ll follow me back to where Thag sits to write his posts, you’ll notice the window that faces the neighbors he’s always going on about, the ones with the unorthodox ideas about child-rearing: leaving the kid alone as he chucks random items from the yard into the street; not noticing that the kid has spent the afternoon stacking bricks and sharp objects in the path of oncoming cars. The location of the computer also makes verbal communication with Mrs. Thag quite difficult, as she tends to address him from her computer terminal on the floor above – I’m afraid I can’t take you there, as it’s a restricted area; it’s where the kids’ bedrooms are. Hazardous materials and all that.

Well, that’s more or less it for the tour. Feel free to poke around and have a look at the detritus that Thag has produced in the last year or so. I’m sure you’ll find it, uh, unique.

Written by Thag

June 17, 2011 at 9:34 am

You’re Lucky My iPhone Never Worked in the First Place

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Invoice no. 0001

To: Thag and family

Date: June 15, 2011


Item Description No. of units Unit price ($US) Total
Babysitting 3 hrs.



Homework help 1 hr.



Janitorial services (dinner dishes) 0.5 hrs.



Janitorial services (food fight cleanup) 0.5 hrs.



Janitorial services (three-year-old’s self-administered haircut) 0.25 hrs.



First aid services (ten-year-old’s paper cut) 0.5 hrs.



First aid services (thrown toys) 0.5 hrs.



Medical expenses (LEGO pieces in foot)



New lipstick (raided handbag) 1 tube



New makeup mirror (raided handbag) 1 mirror



New mascara (raided handbag) 1 container



Cash losses, estimated (wallet emptied into toilet)



Janitorial services (unclogging toilet) 0.25 hrs.



Dry cleaning expenses (lipstick, mascara stains) 2 pcs. Clothing



If you ever want me to babysit again





Written by Thag

June 16, 2011 at 3:33 pm

On Today’s Meeting Agenda There’s a Big Orange Stain

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Good morning, everyone. Thanks for assembling so promptly. It’s quite a breath of fresh air. Free donuts will do that, I guess. Dibs on the Bavarian Cream.

The announced topic of this meeting was something ridiculously boring and irrelevant, and I don’t even remember it: something about adapting to a new paradigm of interactive blah blah blah. But it’s good to see so many of you here anyway, trying to accomplish two things at once: feigning interest in something the CEO has to say, and finding a legitimate excuse to beg off your usual work so you can nap in your auditorium seat while some buffoon dims the lights for a tedious series of PowerPoint slides.

There will be no more PowerPoint presentations today. Or ever. They are a time suck more potent than Angry Birds, more pervasive than pharmaceutical commercials. If you want more details on that last item, see my full ad in Ladies’ Home Journal, and ask your doctor about Dammitol.

That’s right: no more PowerPoint presentations. If you’re calling a meeting, you’d better not waste everyone’s time reading aloud the contents of each slide. We, too, learned how to read many years ago, and can decipher those mysterious markings on our own. If you wish to impart your wisdom to the rest of us, send us a well-written e-mail. Or speak to us. Meetings shall occur only when a group of people need to interact regarding a specific set of issues. The key word in that sentence is “interact,” which does not mean, “you all sit there trying not to make your iPhone use seem too obvious while I drone on and on about some Venn diagram.”

Some of you are using your iPhones even now. Anderson, for example, just tweeted that he’s pretty cheesed about my forcing him to attend a meeting when he had planned to be on the golf course with a client. Crowley is trying to catch up on Marshall’s Facebook feed, which, as I understand, is a daunting task even on a full-size screen. And Lee and Markowitz are messaging each other back and forth in a never-ending contest to see who can interpret my words as rudely as possible.

But I like that. I like the multitasking. I like the efficiency. I like the intolerance for meetings. In keeping with that attitude, I am announcing a new policy, effective immediately, as follows:

1. No meeting shall exceed twenty minutes except by my advance approval. It better be important. Do not waste my time and yours trying to get approval to waste more time.

2. If a meeting exceeds the allotted time, the conference room heaters will turn on full blast, the lights will cease to work and the intercom speakers will emit nothing but the sound of pigs squealing at maximum volume for half an hour.

3. At regular intervals during any meeting, the participants will be asked to vote discreetly though their mobile devices whether the meeting is worthwhile. When a majority of respondents answer negatively, the lights will cease to work and the person conducting the meeting will be docked pay commensurate with the time the meeting took.

4. Since this meeting policy will cause much increased use of e-mail, chat and texting to get things done, it is imperative that we communicate clearly. Any use of creative spellings, missing letters, numbers where letters should be, and the like, will result in the confiscation of the device used to mangle our language so mercilessly. Each badly constructed sentence will result in a day’s participation in our Community Volunteer Initiative, where you will dole out slop to disgusted high school students in the cafeteria at Thomas Jefferson High School over on the next block.

5. That’s it. This meeting is already getting too long. Get the hell back to work before I think of more incentives.

Written by Thag

June 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm

You Like Puns; You Just Won’t Admit It

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à la mode: The scoop on Islamic gaming cheat codes

antedate: Matchmaker’s pre-screening procedure

antidote: When the patient wishes to be left alone

apprehension: Anxiety associated with iPhone programs

ascend: Upload backside photos for forwarding

attacks: An assault on the wallet

bard: Secured, as a door

buttress: Supportive seat cushion

chard: Burnt veggies

condescend: The elevator down to solitary

congestion: Stuffy, highbrow humor known for its lack of booger jokes

cuban: Takin’ to the third (world) power

debate: What to put in de trap

deliver: A step in autopsies

egest: Joke of the day by RSS feed

farce: The Irani state news agency

flourished: A drunken rose peddler

forgo: Why intersections need stop signs

gold: Scored in hockey or soccer

hard: Faked a laugh

ingest: Jocularly

intestine: Not yet ready for release

irritate: Otitis

isolate: The White Rabbit’s refrain

jiggle: A wee dance

lantern: Sysadmin rotation

liability: The capacity to defeat a polygraph

magistrate: Judicial bribery pricing system

midrash: Spot-on interpretation of well-red markings; abdomiletics

pretense: The anxiety prior to a camping trip

progesterone: Skilled stand-up artist with masterly use of pregnant pauses

proposition: Stagehand’s job between scenes

reverse: Write another draft of the avant-garde poem, maybe backwards this time

rude: Off-color ancient graffiti

ruminate: The guy who shares your accommodations, but  his habits make you think he lives in a barn

screed: Made an excited, high-pitched sound, probably in reaction to something cute

sequence: A row of shiny things

servitude: What one gets from the waiter bitter over being trapped in a dead-end job

truculent: The buildup on a big vehicle’s air filter

upstage: Waking hours

wiggle: A small toupée

Written by Thag

June 14, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Dead or Alive, Schrödinger’s Cat Tastes Better with Salt

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The Associated Press reported today that the Dead Sea is both shrinking and growing at the same time, calling to mind adherents of various fad diets. In related news, Erwin Schrödinger’s deceased cat called to say it was still alive, yet remained completely imaginary.

One could dismiss the story (about the Dead Sea, not about the cat) as the result of too much sitting around in a desert staring at things, which would also account for the appeal of the Arizona Diamondbacks, not to mention certain legislative phenomena from that state, if you catch our tumbleweed. But such a perfunctory dismissal might prompt the reader not to delve deeper, which would deprive him or her of another juicy tidbit from the AP piece: apparently, various international bodies (whether this includes Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was not mentioned) have, over the last couple of decades, been tossing about the idea of building a canal between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea to keep the former from drying up.

Understandably, with such a project costing multiple billions of dollars and exerting an unpredictable impact on the environment, not much has happened in this regard beyond the theoretical. No one wants to give such a project the go-ahead with so little to go on. In a sense, then, we remain in a state of not knowing whether or not it will happen, because while it hasn’t been approved, it hasn’t been nixed, either. In Schrödingerian terms, the canal has been both approved and rejected, which might serve to explain why the Dead Sea has been both shrinking and growing.

If only it were that simple. No, the truth is even more bizarre: tourists hoping to dip into the sea in its northern section have to go farther and farther out each year just to reach the water, as a result of simple evaporation, while the southern section’s resorts face the threat of flooded lobbies from the eight-centimeter-per-year rise. And this rise cannot be attributed to the arrival of masses of morbidly obese American tourists, but the resorts’ increasing proximity to the water might appeal to those who seek to minimize unnecessary movement between reinforced hotel bed and the sea, the only place such people’s knee joints can experience relief.

The southern section is prime territory for the mining of a host of minerals, and the salt released during the mining process gets dumped back into the sea, causing the sea floor to rise. So instead of a canal, there’s a proposal afoot to dredge oodles of salty muck from the southern section and dump it instead in to the shrinking northern section, much in the way one consolidates all the uneaten beef stew from last night’s dinner into the garbage disposal before loading the dishes in the dishwasher (you parents out there can feel free to come up with your own associations involving diapers with poop so sticky it takes a dozen wet wipes just to get the undigested poppy seeds off the kid’s skin).

Complicating matters is the even ickier subject of money. For some reason the companies extracting minerals and profit from the sea are reluctant to spend their cash on matters other than making profit, while the relevant environmentally conscious organizations and government ministries insist the that the companies do just that. But I say there’s no reason they can’t both be right, as in the old Talmudic saw; to hell with mutual exclusivity. If Schrödinger taught us anything, it’s that you can eat your dead cat and have it, too. Bottoms up!

Written by Thag

June 13, 2011 at 4:00 pm

If Restaurants Were Run Like Airlines

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Maître d’: Good afternoon. Thank you for calling Chez Guevara. How may I help you?

Thag: Hello, I’d like to make a reservation for six o’clock. Four people.

Maître d’: Four people, for six o’clock. Under what name, please?

Thag: Thag.

Maître d’: Mr. Thag, may I have a phone number in case we need to reach you?

Thag: Certainly. I’m at 555-1213.

Maître d’: Very good, sir. See you at six.

Thag: Thank you. Goodbye.


Maître d’: Good afternoon. Thank you for calling Chez Guevara. How may I help you?

Thag: Hello, this is Thag. I called earlier about a reservation for four people at six o’clock, but I need to change that.

Maître d’: Just a moment, Mr. Thag. Did you say six?

Thag: Yes. Four people.

Maître d’: I’m sorry, sir, I don’t have anything like that in the records.

Thag: What? That can’t be – I just made the reservation an hour ago.

Maître d’: An hour ago? Oh, sir, but you never closed the reservation, so it never went through.

Thag: Closed…what are you talking about?

Maître d’: It’s standard procedure, sir. A reservation must be closed before it can be processed further. It shouldn’t matter this time, sir, we still have space left at six o’clock. Would you like me to put the reservation in again?

Thag: Yes, please – but how do you close it after that?

Maître d’: Oh, I’ll just do that right now, as well. One moment…you said your name was Mr. Thag?

Thag: Right. Four people – oh, wait, no, it’s five people.

Maître d’: OK, five people at six o’clock. The reservation is complete. Your phone number in case we need to reach you?

Thag: 555-1213. What good is the phone number if you don’t use it to call me?

Maître d’: We might need to, sir, if there’s a problem with the reservation.

Thag: But you didn’t call me to tell me there was a problem!

Maître d’: Sir, there wasn’t a reservation.

Thag: But there was! I made it an hour ago!

Maître d’: It was never closed, sir, so it never was. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.

Thag: Goodness gracious. I do hope there are no more hassles.

Maître d’: We do too, sir.


Maître d’: Good afternoon. Thank you for calling Chez Guevara. How may I help you?

Thag: Hello, this is Mr. Thag. I’d like to change my reservation to six-thirty if at all possible.

Maître d’: Just a moment, sir…was that a six o’clock reservation for five people?

Thag: That’s right.

Maître d’: How would you like to change it, sir?

Thag: I’d like to make it six-thirty, please.

Maître d’: I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that.

Thag: Why not?

Maître d’: You never confirmed your reservation, sir. We gave the table to another party.

Thag: Confirmed?! What in blazes are you talking about?!

Maître d’: Please sir, there’s no need to get excited. All reservations must be confirmed or they are canceled.

Thag: No need to get excited?! You canceled my perfectly good reservation!

Maître d’: Mr. Thag, I can try to restore it. Please be patient. I will check to see whether we still have room.

Thag: Still have room? Why didn’t you call me to make sure? I left my phone number for just that reason!

Maître d’: Sir, you didn’t call to confirm.

Thag: Why did you take my phone number then? What do you need it for?

Maître d’: In case we need to contact you, sir.

Thag: Why would you need to contact me?

Maître d’: In case there’s a problem with your reservation.

Thag: But you didn’t contact me!

Maître d’: No, sir, there was nothing wrong with the reservation.

Thag: And yet you canceled it!

Maître d’: Exactly. It wasn’t confirmed, so we canceled it.

Thag: But you should have contacted me first to make sure!

Maître d’: No, sir, only if there was a problem with the reservation. There was no problem, just a lack of confirmation. If you’d have called to confirm that would have been a different story. Now do you want me to put it through again?


Maître d’: …I can put you down for a party of five at six forty-five. Will that do?

Thag: It’s not as if I have have a choice, now, is it?

Maître d’: Sir, there’s no need to get testy. Shall I make your reservation for six forty-five?

Thag: Yes. Then close it, or whatever the hell you’re supposed to do. Then confirm it.

Maître d’: Right away, sir. May I have your credit card number and expiration date?

Thag: My what? Are you serious?

Maître d’: Completely serious, Mr. Thag. We need to make sure our guests show up. The space here is in high demand.

Thag: Oh my goodness. I can’t believe this…my card number is VISA 4690555125558444, expires January 2012.

Maître d’: Thank you sir. See you at six forty-five.

Thag: Not if I see you first.


Maître d’: Welcome to Chez Guevara. May I have your reservation please?

Thag: Thag, party of five.

Maître d’: …Party of five…I’m sorry sir, there seems to have been a problem with your reservatio-


TV News Anchor: …Thag, 36, of Shaker Heights, was charged with aggravated assault for attempting to strangle the maître d’ of Chez Guevara, Mr. Thomas Alvarez…

Written by Thag

June 12, 2011 at 8:48 pm

A Field-Level View of Crushing Disillusionment

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I’ll just take a few moments of your time, not wanting to take you away for too long from being disappointed by the sports franchise of your choice. Unless you’re a member of Red Sox Nation, in which case I’ll take you away from feeling that unfamiliar feeling of redemption; the crushing disappointment, self-loathing and complete loss of anything for which to live will come in September or October. As for the eleven or so of you following the Stanley Cup playoffs, not to worry; you’ll have a long summer to spend wondering why you spent so much time watching a bunch of strangers whacking each other and a piece of vulcanized rubber (thanks, Wikipedia!) all over an oblong ice rink. This added what, exactly, to your life?

I have attended exactly one (1) hockey game. It was in Montreal in the dead of winter, 1997, and as you can imagine, those Montrealers take their hockey very seriously, even though the Canadiens’ opponents were the lowly – and I say this with the utmost respect, knowing I could not skate my way out of a paper bag – Dallas Stars. Yes, Dallas, Texas, among the very last places to pop into one’s head upon the mention of ice, let alone ice hockey, sports a National Hockey League team. The team moved from Minnesota, where they were known as the North Stars, but of course that would sound ridiculous in Texas, which lies about as far south as the continental US goes. Because, you know, it’s not at all ridiculous to pay good money to see grown men flail at a puck (and each other) for sixty (60) minutes. Certainly not when it’s manifestly inappropriate for the weather. Dude, if you want to find something to do in an air conditioned environment, go to the mall. It’s free. And you can get beer there, too.

Oh, right, I was talking about the one game I attended. I had the good fortune of sitting with my fiancée-to-be among a group of otherwise perfectly good citizens, but for the fact that they conversed exclusively in French. I am given to understand that this happens in Quebec province now and again; and Montreal, situated as it is smack dab in Quebec, has many such people. We cannot all be perfect; even New York’s vaunted Upper East Side must put up with its share of French speakers, although I am told that Monsieur Dominique Strauss-Kahn might not be there much longer. Something to do with American hospitality standards. In any case, the lack of fellow English speakers eliminated possible sources of distraction, allowing me to focus more easily on the game. We quickly concluded there was nothing of note happening, and left after the first period.

The amazing thing about hockey and other sports, no matter how mind-bogglingly silly, is their capacity to get otherwise ostensibly mature adults to identify with a group of millionaires with little or no loyalty to the locale they are thought to represent. I have nothing against Don Mattingly, AKA Donnie Baseball, one of the Yankee greats, but he lived in Evansville, Indiana the whole time he played in New York. No one expected him to move, and that’s precisely the point: professional athletes play for corporations that happen to function in a specific place – namely, where a sufficient concentration of suckers customers exists that can justify the expenses involved.

But I do not wish to take up any more of your time, especially you folks in Cleveland, who have the pleasure of seeing your Indians start off with an unexpected bang and then wither. You go ahead and get back to the game. I’ll be over here trying to figure out why any heterosexual males enjoy watching men’s tennis.

Written by Thag

June 11, 2011 at 10:35 pm

We Dub Thee Sir Flatulence

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No, we will not name our daughter Chlamydia.

I don’t care how lovely you think it sounds. It’s the name of an illness, honey. That’s also why we couldn’t name her Dyspepsia, remember? I know most people don’t know what those words mean, but the people who do will make her life miserable. Why would we want to saddle her with that? Just think of your nephew Fellatio. Oh, it sounds nice, does it? Do you even know what it means? It’s an act that men like to have performed on them. No, not like a pedicure. Not at all like a pedicure.

Oh, I just wish someone had talked sense into your siblings before they started having kids. My parents and grandparents were immigrants, too, but they were nowhere near that clueless when it comes to names. My family has reasonable, durable names with good track records: Michael; James; David; Daniel; Sarah; Eve; Patricia. You won’t find a single Pudenda among us, unless you understand the word literally – as most everyone hearing a kid’s name will, so none of us named our kids Flatus, Melanoma or Gonorrhea. Oh, you had an aunt named Gonorrhea? Why am I not surprised?

Oh, goodness. I understand you want to name a child after your beloved aunt. It’s only natural to commemorate the people in our families. I’m named after a great uncle who died in the war. But some names just aren’t meant to be perpetuated. The last century had its share of women named Millicent, Chastity and Selma. But those names just don’t hold much appeal anymore; their time is past. You can try to find other names with the same or similar meanings, but I warn you that won’t work so much for your great uncle Sphincter. I know he and your dad were tight.

We have to look at the meanings. That’s what my folks did when they wanted to name someone after my great-grandfather Ruppert. They named my brother Robert, which means the same thing in a slightly different language. So when you look up your aunt Gonorrhea’s name, what do you find? What do you mean you didn’t find it? Haven’t you ever used a dictionary? No, not a name dictionary! Of course it’s not in a name dictionary! It’s not a name any thinking person would give a kid! It’s like naming someone Vomit! That’s not in the name dictionary either!

Your…your cousin? A boy or a girl? Well, I’ll be…in any case, look up gonorrhea in a regular dictionary and tell me what you find. There’s one over here on the shelf. I’ll wait while you find it in there.

Clap? Clap? NO CHILD OF MINE IS GOING TO BE NAMED CLAP! Did you even read what “gonorrhea” means, or just skip to the synonyms?  Give me that dictionary! “A common sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Symptoms in men are burning with urination and penile discharge; in women, vaginal discharge and pelvic pain.” Is that what you want associated with your daughter?

I’m glad I’m getting through. If it’s a boy you want to name him, what, again?

Feces? Did I hear you right?

Oh, @?#!$.

Written by Thag

June 10, 2011 at 10:41 am

Room Service, Please Send Up Two Political Scandals

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Dear Sofitel management:

I recently stayed at your Midtown Manhattan location. While in general the service and accommodations were to my liking, one unpleasant experience has prompted me to write. I hope that by bringing it to your attention I will help you maintain the fine hospitality reputation you otherwise fully deserve.

On Saturday, May 14, not long after noon, I requested some room service, and the hotel dutifully sent a staff member with the items I had ordered. When she arrived, I was clad merely in a towel. In itself, that means little, as hotel staff must be accustomed to encountering guests in all states of undress, owing to the nature of their work. However, this staff member proved most obtuse, completely misinterpreting my lack of attire. I would think that a hotel as sophisticated as yours would employ staff well acquainted with such niceties, but I shall grant you the benefit of the doubt and simply assume there was no opportunity to ascertain this woman’s manifest unsuitability in this respect.

In case I need to spell out what happened, I was forced to lock the door when the maid in question refused to take the not-so-subtle hint that my towel provided, and attempted to leave the premises without so much as acknowledging the overture. Perhaps things are different in New York, but as a Frenchman, I have become accustomed to much more felicitous treatment by women in subordinate positions. In the end, it took brute force to elicit the woman’s cooperation, and even then she only provided it grudgingly.

I need not emphasize to you the serious breach of professional courtesy, not to mention class sensibilities, that this episode represents. As director of the International Monetary Fund and the leading candidate for the presidency of France, I have traveled extensively and become familiar with all manner of hospitality and human relations. In vanishingly few contexts have I met with such utter disregard for the satisfaction of my physical urges. One of the principal reasons for selecting luxury accommodations is the unparalleled attention to physical comforts that such exclusive establishments can provide. In fact even outside the hospitality industry, I have met with little resistance to fulfilling those needs, most notably at the International Monetary Fund itself, where women employees know their place.

Again, I do not accuse Sofitel of malfeasance, or of ill intent. I merely wish to bring the matter of this staff member’s uncooperative demeanor to your attention so that other guests will not suffer as I did the indignity of having to rape a woman to get some action.

Yours truly,
Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Written by Thag

June 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm

To Make Sure You Get up, this Alarm Clock Sounds Like an Overflowing Toilet

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Top Ten Utterances a Parent Does Not Wish to Hear upon Awaking in the Morning

10. “Let’s go downstairs and get some potato chips before Mom and Dad wake up!”

9. “OK, now it’s your turn to throw the stuffed animals through the window.”

8. “Mom! I don’t have any underwear!”

7. “Just let the baby spill it. Dad will clean it when he comes downstairs.”

6. “No! Don’t throw that down the st-” SMASH!

5. “Dad! Tell the baby to stop grabbing my penis!”

4. “Wow. I didn’t know there was that much toilet paper on a roll. Think it’ll flush down?”

3. “Dad! The toilet’s overflowing!”

2. “I peed on the floor.”

1. “I pooped in my pajamas and there’s a hole in my pajamas and it’s on the bed too.”

Written by Thag

June 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm

If I Clean My Room I’m Allowed to Misbehave, Right?

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Proper reaction according to:

Normal human





Undesired food type for dinner Go to kitchen, prepare own dinner Noisy argument, followed by preparation of own dinner Noisy argument, followed by more noisy argument, followed by not eating Noisy argument, followed by forgetting about argument; eating dinner Flinging unwanted dinner onto the floor
Bath/shower time Take bath/shower Pretend not to know, then argue it’s someone else’s turn, then take forever showering Argue it’s someone else’s turn, then take forever getting ready, then insist that only the unavailable parent administer the cleaning Remove clothing long before it’s her turn Climb into tub without waiting for removal of clothes
Breakfast time Prepare, eat breakfast Prepare, eat breakfast; leave used bowl at table “for sibling” instead of removing it to sink Occupy oneself with something else entirely until parent realizes how friggin’ late it is and resentfully prepares a bowl of corn flakes Whine and whine and whine and whine until parent drops everything and prepares a bowl of corn flakes Climb into chair; when presented with bowl of corn flakes, dump it.
Bedtime Get ready for bed Continue reading Harry Potter Pretend not to hear the six reminders Make toddler cry Make four-year-old cry
Sibling’s play date with grandparent Say hello, make self scarce; wait one’s turn Browbeat younger sibling into making it a shared event Cry until older sibling relents, accepting a shared event Grab grandma and get her to read a book before anyone else can do or say anything Be so damn irresistible that grandma all but has no choice but to spend some of the time keeping you happy.
Dinner out Gratitude toward parents; best behavior “Why can’t we have dessert?” “What, no gnocchi with salsa rosa?” Experimenting by yelling overheard epithets at wait staff Experimenting by testing differences between restaurant and homemade food dumped on the floor
Getting in the car Enter car; strap self in Strap self in; keep six-year-old distracted from strapping self in Insist on pressing remote button to unlock car so as to get in first; be last to strap in, upon noticing that Dad has already started the car Climbing over toddler’s seat, whether toddler is there or not Excitement at getting into car; once strapped in, whining about wanting to get out of the car already
Lack of appropriate clothes in closet Check laundry baskets/dryer Select ridiculous remaining combinations, such as too-small shorts and dark socks (with sandals) Complain that there’s nothing to wear, as if clean clothes cannot exist outside one’s closet or dresser drawers; inability to see beyond the top layer of clothes in a drawer or basket Complain that there’s nothing to wear, as if anything other than the exact dress one wants does not exist Cluelessness (inherited from parents)
Arrival home from school Hello; inquiry as to snack options; homework Insistence on carb-rich snack; avoidance of homework in favor of Harry Potter Get sucked into non-snack, non-homework activity; request play date Demand lunch, play date, all of Daddy’s attention Nap; awake from nap in foulest possible mood
Parental admonishment not to engage in particular activity Not to engage in particular activity Get six-year-old to engage in particular activity Try to complete particular activity already begun Immediately engage in particular activity; display complete shock at consequences Be so damn cute as to fend off consequences of engaging in particular activity
Adults conversing Wait until conversation ceases; if urgent, politely get adult’s attention Insistence on participating in conversation far beyond one’s ken Yelling until acknowledged by adult Yelling until one adult directs the other’s attention at the yelling Dumping food on the floor

Written by Thag

June 5, 2011 at 8:03 pm

You Want Dessert? First Eat This Boot

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We, the undersigned, the parents of this household, acknowledge the receipt of the children’s list of grievances, and dismiss them with a wave of the hand. Our point-by-point rebuttal follows.

1. What other parents do has little or no bearing on the management of this household’s affairs, least of all other parents too lazy to insist on a proper diet for their children. We call to attention to the fact that these other households spend ridiculous stretches of time gaping at their television screens, yet somehow our children did not sense that the lack of such an appliance in our household requires remedying that nonconformity.

2. Please refer again to rebuttal point number one. We shall add that on those occasions when the parents of this household make the effort to procure or prepare burgers, pizza or hot dogs, at least one child demands the food be prepared in a very specific manner or it will go uneaten. The parental efforts have not once yielded an expression of gratitude in keeping with the level of desire the children claim to associate with said foodstuffs. On the subject of chocolate spread, it should be noted that an admixture of sugar, oil, stabilizers and just enough cocoa powder to turn the substance brown does not satisfy any reasonable requirement that a substance dubbed “chocolate spread” must contain something more closely resembling actual chocolate.

3. We refer the complainants to every Friday afternoon, when the treats from friendly Mrs. Lewis render the evening repast an intense negotiation session just to get two of the children to finish a single chicken wing each.

4. Refer again to point number one. It should also be noted that unlike many of their peers, the children of this household remain at negligible risk of obesity, diabetes or the development of such a jaded sense of taste that only the cloyingly sweet retains gastronomic appeal. The parents of the household hereby notify the children that they expect commensurate gratitude in ensuing years for a policy that enables said children to appreciate subtleties of flavor and aroma.

5. We refer the complainants to the fructose content of, for example, a wedge of cantaloupe or watermelon. See also point number four.

6. This house is not a restaurant, at which each diner may select a series of items to be prepared according to his or her wishes. What is more, nowhere in the Bill of Rights, or any other text associate with natural rights, can one find mention of dessert as a right of any sort. In fact, as the parents of this household find necessary to emphasize with troubling frequency, dessert must be earned. As access to dessert is not a right, it follows that the availability of dessert in keeping with one’s own finicky, dainty preferences is not guaranteed under any rational system of human rights.

7. Please refer again to points one and four. It bears pointing out that when the children of this household administer their own serving, the result frequently entails a parent cleaning up a hardly-touched dish of said food within ten minutes.

In light of the above, we the parents summarily reject the claims of the children and note that we the parents are the selfsame authorities to which the children seek to appeal. Now get back to your homework or read a book or something.

Authoritatively yours,

Thag and Miggtha (Mom and Dad to you, you little ingrates)

Written by Thag

June 2, 2011 at 10:54 pm