Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Who uses it: Residents of New Orleans
What it means: A carnival organization that holds a ball and a parade during the celebration of Mardi Gras. The oldest krewe is Comus, established in 1857.
How you can use it: Have your own Mardi Gras party -- and laissez les bons temps rouler.

Hanging in my kitchen are two framed prints of the Kings and Queens of Rex and Zulu, splashed in bright colors as official Mardi Gras artwork. It's as close I need to get to the actual celebration; New Orleans scared me even before the hurricane, even at non-Carnival times, and it's hard to imagine going back there any time soon.

Nevertheless, I expect to find some good times today. I'm headed north again, for lunch in Annapolis with Our Chris, and then a talk by my client, Joseph Finder, at -- of all places -- Land Rover of Alexandria. Seriously, this is part of a series hosted by the Don Beyer Volvo group, and Joe joins an elite group that includes Edward P. Jones and Andre Dubus. Click that link to RSVP, if you're interested in going.

Today is also known as Shrove Tuesday, because it was the last chance to confess your sins and be shriven before Lent. Somewhere I read that the expression "short shrift" comes from the practice of killing your enemies quickly, before they had time to receive absolution. Now that's cold.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Plural marriage

Who uses it: Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
What it means: Taking more than one wife, which the rest of us call bigamy or polygamy.
How you can use it: You shouldn't, and I'll explain why.

The Mormon Church rejected the doctrine of plural marriage years ago, but the fact that they still refer to it by this term -- rather than as polygamy -- shows me, and the world, that they haven't recoiled from the idea entirely. Words are powerful. Polygamy is a crime and something practiced by cultures we consider primitive; plural marriage sounds reasonable and even kind of cozy.

I'm torn about whether to watch the HBO series "Big Love." It looks very entertaining, and I'm a big fan of Bill Paxton (A Simple Plan is one of my favorite movies, and Frailty is one of the scariest films I've ever seen). But polygamy is not benign or funny, even where it's (theoretically) voluntary.

Today is my parents' 41st wedding anniversary, so I wish Dad happy anniversary -- because it will always be their anniversary, as long as anyone is around to remember it.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Who uses it: Film critics
What it means: Resembling the films of Italian director Federico Fellini; excessive to the point of surrealism, and grotesque but beautiful (or beautiful, but grotesque)
How you can use it: If you don't see opportunities every day, you're not paying close enough attention.

A bumper sticker on a pick-up truck I saw in downtown Washington said "Who would Jesus bomb?" What I love about that is that it told me nothing about whether the truck belonged to a right-wing wacko or a left-wing wacko.

If you want Felliniesque, the Olympic closing ceremonies were a good example, but deliberately so. The best Fellini moments are unselfconscious.

And before we bid arrivederci to the Torino Olympics, I'll state for the record that Bode Miller is a jerk. Were I a contributor to the US Ski Federation, I would insist that he be kicked off the team and reimburse all contributors the cost of his trip to Turin, plus the cost of all Olympics-related training and equipment. If he didn't really care so much about winning, why did he take the place of someone who might have cared a lot more? Karma is about to smack him hard, and let's hope he fades away into well-deserved oblivion.

I'm posting late today because I spent most of the day at the Virginia Aquarium with my dad, Peggy & Scott and the kids, and my sister Susan. Henry was a little concerned that all the creatures stay on their own side of the acrylic windows, but he was willing to pose for a photo inside a papier-mache shark's head. If I get a copy of that picture, I'll post it here.

Happy anniversary to my sister Kathy and her husband, Adam, who celebrate their 19th in the Navy way; he's at sea.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ring job

Who uses it: Auto mechanics
What it means: Replacing the rings at the tops of each piston in an internal combustion engine. The rings keep oil out of the engine; when an engine starts burning oil, chances are the rings need replacing. It can be very expensive, and by the time most cars need ring jobs, the price of the ring job is more than the value of the car.
How you can use it: When you need to rebuild something from the fundamentals.

Another morning in Mechanicsville, with Thomas the Tank Engine and Frog and Toad Are Friends. Frog and Toad was my sister Kathy's favorite book when we were little, and I love being able to read it to my nephews. Frog's 1970s-style leisure suit looked weird to me even when it was in fashion, but my nephews don't notice. Nor does it bother them that in Richard Scarry's world, some animals wear full sets of clothing, and some wear only hats.

Dizzy and I head down to Virginia Beach this afternoon, and I need to get the Blueberrymobile's oil changed before I go back to Maine, which made me think of this term. The first car I ever owned was a 1981 Mercury Lynx that had not been maintained at all, and burned oil from almost the first day I owned it. I paid $500 for it, and within two weeks of its purchase, a mechanic told me I'd need to spend $1,100 on a ring job to make it run properly. It was not an attractive car -- dark brown, with a black interior -- and I hadn't had time to become emotionally attached to it, so I put the title in the glove compartment and called a salvage company to take it away.

But it was the car I learned to drive a standard shift on, which was worth $500. I've seen some sniping about the fact that the newly-cast James Bond, Daniel Craig, doesn't know how to drive a stick shift; I like Daniel Craig, but I couldn't suppress my own internal sneer at this news. Driving a standard shift is an essential masculine skill, like grilling and being able to change the washer in a faucet. I own my prejudices.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Who uses it: Animal trainers
What it means: An action that accompanies and eventually substitutes for a treat, as positive reinforcement for training. In clicker training, the clicker is the bridge; dogs learn to associate the clicker with a treat, so the trainer can eventually use only the clicker, without the treat. Dolphin trainers use whistles as a bridge.
How you can use it: Next time you applaud someone instead of throwing money.

Dizzy and I are in Mechanicsville, Virginia today, visiting my sister Peggy and her menagerie: my nephews Matthew and Henry, niece Meg, their dog Ella, and their three cats, Agatha, Oliver and Charlie. The cats lie low when Dizzy visits; he's not reliable around them.

Henry woke up this morning singing the only song he knows, which is the alphabet song. He understands about letters, but seems to think of the ABCs as a song with verses, which means that sometimes "L-M-N-O-P" comes before "H-I-J-K." Over breakfast, Matthew and Henry introduced me to all their engines by name (they are obsessed with the world of Thomas the Tank Engine).

Between driving and work this week, I've started four books, but only finished one. Next week's list will be longer.

What I Read This Week

Christine Wicker, Not in Kansas Anymore: A Curious Tale of How Magic is Transforming America. Christine Wicker, a religion reporter, spent a year exploring America's magical subcultures. She trained in hoodoo, partied with vampires, and attended a witches' gathering in Salem. The year tempered her skepticism -- though it didn't eliminate it altogether -- but it also made her appreciate the value of seeing connections and causation in an otherwise arbitrary universe. My own brand of Catholicism has a strong mystical streak -- for instance, I believe that St. Anthony helps me find lost things -- and I found this book enchanting, in more ways than one.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Alpha male (or female)

Who uses it: Animal behaviorists
What it means: In a group of social animals, the one who leads. Some groups of animals, such as wolf packs, may have an alpha pair, male and female. The alpha male is often the strongest and best fighter, but not always; among the bonobo monkeys, for example, the alpha male is the wiliest.
How you can use it: In any group activity.

Dizzy is the opposite of an alpha dog. Faced with almost any other dog, of any size, he defers almost immediately. But Lucy, a tiny Boston terrier, starts her day during my visits by jumping on my pillow and licking my face -- and Dizzy moves to block her, apparently because he is the only dog allowed to lick my face. Thank goodness, he doesn't do that very often. I love my dog, but I can wash my own face.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Slot

Who uses it: Newspaper reporters and editors
What it means: The copy editor's desk, and by extension, the copy editor himself (or herself). See Bill Walsh's excellent website for details.
How you can use it: When asking someone to check your work.

Greetings from downtown Washington, D.C. It's a gray, rainy day, and I am sitting in my friend Joseph's living room with three sleeping dogs arranged about me. The music on my iTunes is Johnny Cash's rendition of "That Lucky Old Sun," which I may need to change in a minute, before I do harm to myself.

I'm on deadline this morning, and -- as usual -- trying to cram too much into my short time here. Maybe tomorrow's post will be longer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Who uses it: Joseph Mathews
What it means: "Whooping" times ten, usually under the influence of an intoxicant.
How you can use it: I don't know about you, but this week is spring break for many schools in New England... and next week is Mardi Gras. Go crazy.

Joseph coined this word while describing a British reality TV show called "Ladette to Lady." I think its uses are nearly endless... so let's spread it around, but make sure to give him credit.

Dizzy and I arrived safely in Washington, DC, and it's downright balmy here. Dizzy gave me a little trouble about getting into the car in Yorktown Heights... he would be perfectly happy to stay at my Aunt Marie & Uncle Eddie's indefinitely, since they have much higher-quality snacks than he gets at my house, plus a yard inhabited by groundhogs and other creatures, plus my young cousin (once removed) Kristina, who would gladly make herself Dizzy's maidservant.

It's good for him to be here at Joseph's, where Milo and Lucy (two neurotic Boston terriers) harass him and do not let him play with their toys.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Attractive nuisance

Who uses it: Lawyers and insurers
What it means: "An inherently hazardous object or condition of property that can be expected to attract children to investigate or play." The classic example is a swimming pool, but something like a discarded refrigerator is also an attractive nuisance. An attractive nuisance imposes the same legal responsibilities on property owners that they have for people who are invited onto their property -- a very high standard.
How you can use it: For anything that's bound to cause trouble.

From this morning's Kennebec Journal:

Man pulled from ice at Great Pond
Staff Writer
Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

BELGRADE -- Rescuers needed just seven minutes to fish out a Rome man whose four-wheeler crashed through the ice on Great Pond just before 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Leslie Witham, 27, had been fishing on Long Pond and had driven over to visit a friend on Great Pond when his vehicle got too far to the right and went through the ice, said Game Warden Kevin Anderson.

Witham was successfully treated for hypothermia during the ambulance ride to MaineGeneral Medical Center, Thayer Campus, and friends picked him up there, Anderson said.

Witham told rescuers he had been drinking earlier in the day, but Anderson said he did not expect to file charges.

One could argue that the pond was an attractive nuisance, but one could also argue that this man was an idiot and should not be allowed to reproduce. Despite the last couple of days of hard freezes, we had temperatures in the 50s last week; how could anyone think that the ice was solid enough to drive an SUV on?

It was so warm last week that the pub down the hill put its patio tables out, and I was talking to Anna about buying patio furniture of my own. When Dizzy and I walked by the pub this morning, he started barking at nothing I could see. It took me a minute to realize he was barking at the patio table umbrellas, waving gently in the breeze. This confirmed my suspicions that 1) Dizzy doesn't see that well and 2) he too is not the smartest. Fortunately, he makes it up in personality and good looks.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Who uses it: Biologists, especially entomologists and herpetologists
What it means: Shedding an old skin or shell.
How you can use it: When throwing off the old coverings.

The word "ecdysis" gave rise to "ecdysiast," a fancy word for a stripper coined by H.L. Mencken.

It seems appropriate to the season. Although temperatures are in the teens here, the sun rose at 6:35, and spring is undeniably on its way.

This morning's church bulletin had an announcement from the Bishop of Portland about St. Patrick's Day, which falls on a Friday. Sometimes bishops give dispensations from the Lenten fasting and abstinence, when St. Patrick's Day falls on Friday; Bishop Malone is not willing to go that far.

"In order to permit the usual celebrations associated with St. Patrick's Day, Bishop Malone is permitting any individual who so desires to transfer the obligation to abstain from meat from Friday, March 17 to Wednesday, March 15. He is not dispensing from the obligation."

If you can't understand why these lines summarize everything I love about Catholicism, I will never be able to explain it to you. But since my own St. Patrick's Day celebrations are more likely to include grain and fruit products than meats, I think I'll be okay either way.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Who uses it: Curlers
What it means: Socializing with the opposing team after a match. The term comes from the practice of all players stacking their brooms in front of a fire to share a drink together after the game.
How you can use it: When consorting with the opposition.

It would offend curlers to hear their sport described as shuffleboard on ice -- there is more to it than that, but it's basically shuffleboard. And I'd never watch a shuffleboard match, so why am I watching curling? I can't explain why I find it so charming, but everything about it enchants me. I love that it requires special shoes; I love that a company exists to do nothing but make curling brooms -- not normal brooms, just curling brooms. I love the sportscasters who talk about legendary figures in the world of curling as if these are names we all should know.

I'm watching Germany vs. the US right now, and the Germans just knocked all the American stones out of the target. "That'll be on the highlight reel," the color commentator said.

Dizzy and I were down at the river landing yesterday afternoon, and I called Anna. "I just need to tell you that there is no ice left on the river at all," I said. "Isn't that amazing," Anna said.

Yesterday's temperature got to almost 50 degrees. This morning it's 13. In between, we had a major windstorm. Dizzy pays no attention to thunderstorms, but the windstorm made him cry, and he insisted on sitting next to me on the couch until it stopped.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Who uses it: Money launderers
What it means: Structuring financial transactions to avoid federal reporting requirements (keeping cash transactions under $10,000, or wire transfers under $3,000)
How you can use it: To explain why your bank deposits are always so small. It's not that you don't have the money, you're just smurfing...

The irony of smurfing -- and one more piece of evidence that criminals are not always the smartest people in a population -- is that someone making a deposit for $9,995 is likely to get more attention than someone who makes a deposit for $12,000 and fills out the paperwork.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not the world's most graceful person, but I've been unusually clumsy the last few days. I stepped wrong off a curb yesterday, while out with Dizzy, and took a tumble... and then I cut the tip of my right index finger while changing a light bulb (I swear, I wasn't holding it that hard; it just broke). It's ridiculously hard to type with a cut on the tip of one's index finger, so I have been improvising a seven-finger method that is more trouble than it's worth. Annoying. (Oh, and before you ask, it's not alcohol-related... I'm taking antibiotics the size of Mike-and-Ikes.)

In the meantime, here's

What I Read This Week

Megan Abbott, Die a Little. The next time I hear someone ask, "Why don't women write noir?", I'll give them a copy of this book. In 1950s Los Angeles, schoolteacher Lora King feels uneasy about her new sister-in-law, Alice -- and winds up drawn into a world that challenges her deepest beliefs about her brother and herself. Abbott gives us a vivid picture of 1950s suburbia, as well as two unforgettable characters in Lora and Alice. Die a Little got an Edgar nomination for Best First Novel, and it's well-deserved.

Alexander McCall Smith, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies. I've been a fan of this series, set in modern Botswana, since the first book, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency. My mother loved them. Maybe that's why this book didn't please me as much as the earlier ones did. I thought I was getting tired of Mma Ramotswe and her tiny van and her husband, the mechanic J.L.B. Matekoni, but maybe it's just that I won't get to discuss this book with Mom. Some of the pleasure of it is gone.

Arnaldur Indridason, Jar City. It's a measure of how out-of-control my reading stack is that this book was a birthday present, from my pals at The Mystery Bookstore, and I just got around to it this week. It is a very dark police procedural, set in Reyjavik, and the first of Indridason's novels to be translated into English. The police detective Erlendur investigates the murder of a man who turns out to be a rapist, and his investigation wreaks havoc among those who were the murdered man's victims. Jar City is beautiful and sad, and Arnaldur (Icelanders don't use last names, I learned from this book) is a writer to watch.

Elizabeth Crane, All This Heavenly Glory. A series of linked short stories -- some first-person, some third-person -- about Charlotte Anne Byers, who grows up in New York and struggles to find her way before achieving an unexpected but hard-earned happy ending. Charlotte's story is so much like my own, and like those of so many of my friends, that it astonished me to find a book that thought it was worth documenting: the Crissy doll whose hair we cut off, the Lacoste shirts in prep school, the obsessing over totally inappropriate men, the peculiar social structure of an urban neighborhood. Crane writes so beautifully, and is so funny and compassionate, that at the end of this book I wanted to send her an e-mail and invite her out for coffee. She's a friend of my friend Tod's, so maybe I will.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Who uses it: Musicians
What it means: Performing or recording a song made famous by someone else.
How you can use it: It's not karaoke, it's a cover band...

It's not as if anyone who reads this blog wouldn't already know this term, but I like it for several reasons. First, take a minute to think about the infinite flexibility of English: the word "cover," which means putting one thing on top of the other, gives us terms that mean everything from summarizing a screenplay to a military officer's hat.

I started thinking about this last night, when I was listening to Mary Lou Lord's beautiful acoustic version of "Thunder Road." I would never say it's better than Bruce Springsteen's, but it is exactly what a good cover should be: a rendition that honors the original while filtering it through the singer's own unique voice.

It would take me too long to figure out a list of best cover versions, but here are ten I particularly like. Add your own in the comments section.

Ten Great Cover Versions

1. Johnny Cash, "Hurt." Trent Reznor's original is personal; Johnny Cash's remake is universal. Amazing. Also, Johnny Cash, "One" (U2).
2. Jennifer Warnes, "Bird on a Wire" (Leonard Cohen)
3. Pearl Jam, "Crazy Mary" (Victoria Williams)
4. Social Distortion, "Ring of Fire" (Johnny Cash)
5. Kirsty McColl and The Pogues, "Miss Otis Regrets/Just One of Those Things" (Cole Porter)
6. Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch, "I'll Fly Away" (traditional)
7. Barenaked Ladies, "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" (Bruce Cockburn)
8. Too Much Joy, "Seasons in the Sun" (Terry Jacks) and "A New England" (Billy Bragg)
9. The Waterboys, "Sweet Thing" (Van Morrison)
10. Cowboy Junkies, "Sweet Jane" (Velvet Underground)

Okay, that's 12, but it's my list. Oh, and I forgot Dolly Parton's "Stairway to Heaven." I'm not kidding about that, either. So that's 13. And Lyle Lovett's "Stand By Your Man." And...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Benched show

Who uses it: Competitive dog handlers
What it means: A type of dog show in which the dogs must remain in designated areas (the benches) when they're not being shown, so that the public can see them.
How you can use it: For meetings you have to sit through even though you're not speaking.

The Westminster Dog Show is a benched show, as was its fictional counterpart, the Mayflower Dog Show, in the classic movie Best in Show. Rufus, a very cheerful-looking bull terrier, won last night's competition. I can't decide whether this is good or bad. On the one hand, maybe it'll make people less paranoid about pit bulls; on the other, maybe it'll mean more puppies adopted or purchased by people who don't have a clue.

I turn these dog shows on for Dizzy, in case he'd like to see what the competition is up to, but Dizzy never pays much attention. I'm pretty sure he doesn't see in two dimensions.

A woman who lives down the hill from me takes her miniature poodle out for walks in a baby stroller. When I saw them the other day, the poodle was wearing a cowboy hat and a bright red jacket. The woman was chatting with the poodle, who seemed to be listening attentively; I was too far away to hear any of the conversation.

The difference between this woman and me is only a matter of degree. That doesn't scare me as much as it should.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ceteris paribus

Who uses it: Economists
What it means: "Other things being equal," a condition of equilibrium that exists when a variable in a situation changes.
How you can use it: Wishful thinking.

The big joke about ceteris paribus is that other things never are equal -- which is why economics is better at explaining what happened than predicting what will.

I woke up this morning feeling -- not fine, but as if I might feel fine at some not-so-distant point in the future. It's strange how hard it is to remember feeling well when you feel lousy. But I am better today, finally, and might even be all better tomorrow.

My iPod Shuffle gave me Chet Baker's "My Funny Valentine" this morning -- how did it know? -- but that was followed by Nine Inch Nails' "Something I Can Never Have," which confirmed my suspicion that the stupid thing is mocking me. Ceteris paribus, I'm much happier alone on this Valentine's Day than I was with Mr. Wrong, last year.

And anyway, the big holiday today is the birthday of my friend Eileen Consey-Heywood, now resident in Aberdeen. Happy birthday, Eileen. Haggis for everyone!

Monday, February 13, 2006


Who uses it: Military personnel, particularly infantry
What it means: Assassination of an officer by his own troops, especially with a grenade ("frag" is military slang for a grenade, because it fragments on detonation).
How you can use it: When taking aim at a superior.

It was just a matter of time before the Vice President ran amok with a gun in his hands. Really, didn't we all see it coming? I guess we should all just be grateful that it happened on a remote Texas ranch, and that the person who got in his way was a 78-year-old man and not a 30-something mother of three.

No one could make this stuff up, and I can't say anything that would make this more horrifying or hilarious than it is.

Today is my brother James' 30th birthday, so love and best wishes to him as he starts his fourth decade. Happy birthday; no matter how old you get, you'll always be the baby of the family.

Update -- My cousin Sheila has weighed in on Mr. Cheney's accident, in her own inimitable way. Check it out here.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Who uses it: Computer technicians and network administrators
What it means: Computer hardware or software that keeps viruses, worms and intruders out of a computer system.
How you can use it: When protecting yourself.

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I worked as a researcher on one of the redrafts of the latest Harrison Ford movie, Firewall. I haven't seen it yet, but I plan to, if only to see whether my name is anywhere in the credits (I doubt it). The ads alone give me a sinking feeling.

It's not snowing here yet, but the sky is very gray. If anything, I feel even crummier this morning than I did yesterday, so I am not going to church, and I'm not going to the movies, and I'm not going anywhere. I am pulling out my extra comforter and spending the day on the couch with some Theraflu. See you tomorrow.

P.S. In my sinus-infected haze, I forgot to say "happy birthday" to Adrienne Lakadat, who has now been my friend for almost 30 years. Happy days, Adrienne, happy year.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Blood doping

Who uses it: Sports physiologists and endurance athletes
What it means: The process of extracting, then replacing one's own blood before an endurance competition. The theory is that artificially increasing your red blood cells will boost the oxygen available to your muscles in a long-distance event, such as a marathon or bike race. A drug called synthetic erythropoetin (EPO) does the same thing.
How you can use it: When you're giving yourself an unfair advantage.

The tests for blood doping can't prove wrongdoing; they only show that an athlete has more red blood cells than ordinary people do. Athletes who train at high altitude -- which, for obvious reasons, would include most skiers -- often do have unusually high red blood cell counts. Two U.S. skiers have been suspended for flunking the blood-doping tests, and both say it's because of the altitude factor.

I like the Winter Olympics, if you haven't already figured it out. It's not just the skating, either; I love to watch the bobsled and the luge, and I think curling is hilarious. I admitted to Jen yesterday that I watch the downhill slalom mainly to see the wipeouts. I'm not proud of that, but come on; isn't that why anyone watches it? (I steadfastly maintain that the only reason anyone watches NASCAR is to see the accidents. Don't e-mail me about this, I won't believe you. Look deep into your secret hearts, NASCAR fans, and don't lie to me.)

It bugs me to death that NBC is showing all the Olympic events on tape-delay. Fortunately, I live close enough to the border to get Canadian television, and their coverage is live. It doesn't really matter if I can't understand most of the Quebecois commentary.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Who uses it: Gamblers and con artists
What it means: A gesture people make that shows they are lying or bluffing.
How you can use it: If you wonder why your significant other covers his or her mouth every time they talk to you.

It's another fine, cold morning in the Lechner household -- I wound up spending one more night here, and feel better this morning with the powerful help of Theraflu. Dizzy and I are going home this morning.

What I Read This Week

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed. Anna brought me this book from the library, and I may send copies of it to my brothers and sisters. It is a very short series of essays Lewis wrote after his wife died. At one time I might have asked, "Why would anyone want to read that?", but it was tremendously comforting to recognize the thoughts and feelings that Lewis describes, and know that this is just one more part of life.

Lee Goldberg, Beyond the Beyond. An over-the-top satire of sci-fi fan culture, about the revival of a Star Trek-type series that draws deadly fire from the original show's most loyal fans. Lots of gratuitous sex and violence and some sharp skewering of Hollywood customs and a Mike Ovitz-style agent. Great fun, and a perfect read for a sick day.

Amber Frey, WITNESS for the Prosecution of Scott Peterson. I have no excuse for this. Harper Collins sent it to me in a box of paperbacks; how could I resist? It took me less than two hours to read this book -- including the time I spent gaping over the lingerie photos Ms. Frey chose to put in this book that she wrote to prove she was not just a dumb tramp. Sadly, the book shows that Ms. Frey is indeed the proverbial party girl with a heart of gold, and we hear a lot about how many people tell her how strong and brave and great she is -- even members of Laci Peterson's family. Ick, ick, ick, ick. Ick. And once again ick. Did I say "ick"? I need more Theraflu.

Joseph Finder, Killer Instinct. Full disclosure: Joe Finder is my client, and a lovely person. I read this book in manuscript form, and went through it again this week with a fine-toothed comb for a new feature we're putting up on his website, whose content I manage. Nevertheless, I say with all objectivity that this book is one kick-ass thriller. Jason Steadman is a nice-guy salesman who does okay, not great; he seems to lack that killer instinct that would drive him to the top. That all changes when he meets Kurt, an ex-Special Forces operative who takes the "business is war" metaphors a little too seriously. More in the vein of Paranoia than of Joe's latest book, Company Man, Killer Instinct is a smart satire of modern business life as well as a powerhouse thriller. It comes out in May; don't miss it.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Who uses it: Ear, nose and throat doctors
What it means: The soft palate, which moves up and down behind the hard palate. Most snoring is caused by the movement of the velum.
How you can use it: When your throat hurts.

"You have to gargle with salt water," Anna told me yesterday. "But it hurts," I said. "I know it does, but that means it's healing."

I have never understood this philosophy of "if it hurts, it's working," which explains why I do not exercise as much as I should. Nevertheless, I did gargle yesterday, and my throat does feel better today. My head still feels larger than it should, and my back still hurts, but I was more productive yesterday than I'd been in a long time, and Dizzy and I will go home later this morning.

Thanks to the Lechners for rescue, and to Dr. Anna for the medical advice.

Happy birthday today to Linda Brown of The Mystery Bookstore, who by some mysterious process seems to be aging backwards.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Who uses it: International relief workers, lawyers, and consular officials
What it means: Someone who seeks asylum in another country in order to escape political or religious persecution.
How you can use it: More carefully than I do.

The word "refugee" got thrown around a lot in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, and I didn't see much wrong with it, until I looked it up. "Refugee" has a specific meaning under international treaties, and even those displaced by environmental disasters don't count as refugees. Refugees, escaping from people or agencies that want to hurt them, are entitled to protections that other displaced people may not be.

It's sad and baffling that some families are still living in hotel rooms, five months after Katrina wiped out their homes, jobs, and belongings. Five months is a long time to be paralyzed; it's not enough time to rebuild your life, but it's enough time to imagine what rebuilding your life might involve.

I myself have taken refuge with the Lechners in Freeport, because I'm coming down with the flu. My throat and ears feel as if they've been scrubbed with steel wool, and I ache all over. I'm up at 4:30 because I haven't really been able to sleep, though I feel too crummy to get much work done. Miserable.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tall poppy syndrome

Who uses it: Australians
What it means: The tendency to belittle or criticize the more successful; the term comes from an episode in Livy's History of Rome, when the tyrant Tarquin Superbus whacked the heads off a row of poppies as a way of advising his son to assert his authority by killing off his city's most prominent citizens.
How you can use it: To explain your own unpopularity.

Tall poppy syndrome is hardly unique to Australia, but it is so prevalent there that they've given it a name and discuss it frequently. Apologists say that it's not excellence they object to, it's taking oneself too seriously or acting stuck-up. Personally, I find arrogance attractive -- in people who have earned the right to be arrogant.

My iPod shuffle is supposed to be random, but it does sometimes seem like an independent intelligence that decides what I ought to be listening to. On this morning's walk, it gave me a whole set -- six songs -- of Van Morrison and ABBA. What the hell...? I only have one ABBA album in my collection (okay, it's a double album), so what did I do to deserve that?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Point of order

Who uses it: Parliamentarians, legislators
What it means: A request for clarification of the rules of procedure, or an accusation that someone has broken a rule. The point of order takes precedence over almost everything; it must be brought up immediately, and debate stops until the point of order is resolved
How you can use it: To draw attention to missteps in an especially nerdy way.

You may have noticed that Blogger's had some trouble lately; I can't complain about it, because 1) Blogger is free and 2) Blogger is still more reliable than Typepad, as far as I can tell. But the Blogger system will be down today between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. Eastern time, for anyone who cares.

The Super Bowl was a good game, but I can't watch the Rolling Stones any more. The Rolling Stones played what was supposed to be their LAST EVER NORTH AMERICAN APPEARANCE at the Hampton Coliseum in December 1981, and as far as I'm concerned, they retired then.

I'm not sure why I feel so much less tolerant of Mick and Keith than I do of Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, whom I saw in 2004 at the Hollywood Bowl. Part of it is that I always liked The Who better than the Rolling Stones -- but hasn't The Who's music just aged better, by any objective standard? I still start most road trips with "Who's Next" in my tape player; I don't even know where my old vinyl copy of "Some Girls" wound up.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Third and long

Who uses it: Football players and sportscasters
What it means: A football team has four tries, or "downs," to move the ball ten yards toward the goal line. "Third and long" means that the team is on its third try with more than ten yards to go; these are the situations that often turn the game.
How you can use it: At any critical juncture -- if you're the kind of person who applies sports metaphors to real life. In other words, please don't, unless you're actually playing football.

In fact, now that it's the end of the football season, can we please declare a moratorium on football metaphors for a few months? The metaphor load gets a little ridiculous, between the war metaphors piled on football and the football metaphors piled on business. Sorry, sportscasters: quarterbacks are not generals, games are not battles, players are not soldiers. There's a real war going on, and you can't compare a bulked-up millionaire to a 19-year-old earning $20K/year in the service of his country. Get over yourselves.

Thanks, I needed to get that off my chest. But my thoughts and prayers today are with my friend Steve Lechner, who has been a Seattle Seahawks fan since he was a boy. For Steve, as for many fans around the country, I know this is more than a game, and I respect that, even if I don't really understand it.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Confidence interval

Who uses it: Statisticians
What it means: The percentage of a sample that is likely to include all features of the population being tested. The confidence interval is what gives pollsters their margin of error; I think what that means is that a margin of error of five percent is the product of a confidence interval of 95%. (If I'm wrong, someone please correct me... statistics baffle me.)
How you can use it: As a measurement of how sure you are.

Yesterday was the worst of all possible weather: a cold rain, which melted the snow but froze into an invisible skin of ice overnight. This morning is foggy but warm, and I saw a female cardinal at a feeder up the street. Dizzy chased two fat squirrels, who were alert enough to escape him easily.

Maybe I shouldn't let Dizzy chase squirrels, but I figure the odds of him catching one are astronomically low. He's lame, and not the smartest -- this morning the squirrels had dashed over into the next yard, while Dizzy was still standing at the base of the tree where he saw them. But it exhilarates him, and it's good for the squirrels not to get too complacent.

Friday, February 03, 2006


Who uses it: College coaches and athletes
What it means: A college athlete who spends a year practicing with the team but not playing, either because of academic requirements or because the student has transferred from another school.
How you can use it: To describe someone who's training, but not playing yet.

Redshirted players don't actually wear red shirts, which has always puzzled me. And "redshirt" should not be confused with "red card," which is a soccer penalty. (I don't watch soccer; do officials actually hand players a red card, or is that just metaphorical?)

I seem to be alternating between good days and bad. Yesterday was a bad day, so I'm counting on today being a good one. I need to get some things done. In the meantime, here's

What I Read This Week

Karen Olson, Sacred Cows. Meeting Karen Olson was the highlight of last year's New England Crime Bake for me; at one point, we were the only women at our table who weren't knitting. (Don't get me wrong: I admire people who can knit well, and I knit (poorly) myself -- but you will never see me pull out a set of needles at a professional meeting, even if the sponsors are a group called "Sisters in Crime." Come on, ladies.) Anyway, it took me way too long to read her first novel, but it was worth the wait. A Yale student falls to her death from an apartment balcony; reporter Annie Seymour soon discovers that the student had been working as a high-priced prostitute, and that her death is tied to a scam that reaches the highest levels of New Haven's elite. Annie is a great character with a sharp, funny voice, and I look forward to her next adventure.

Sarah Vowell, Assassination Vacation. Sarah Vowell follows the historical trails that led to three Presidential assassinations: Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. It's funny and enlightening, showing how the patterns of American history repeat themselves -- and how our current President really ought to be reading more about the McKinley Administration.

Herman Wouk, Youngblood Hawke. When I feel bad, I reread my favorite books; it feels like hanging out with old friends. I bought a used hardcover of this book in college, and read it until it fell apart. It's 783 pages; the spine split, the boards fell off, and eventually even I had to throw it away. Then I bought a paperback edition, and passed it around to all my friends in Los Angeles until that copy fell apart, too. This copy belongs to the Gardiner Public Library, and I am returning it in the same condition it was in when I checked it out. It's a sprawling epic about a gifted writer who seems bent on self-destruction; it's also a cultural history of American publishing and filmmaking, circa 1950. It is one of my all-time favorite books, and if you've read it and disliked it, you can't be my friend. Sorry.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Who uses it: Military leaders
What it means: Relaxing from a position of readiness, or suspending operations temporarily.
How you can use it: When it's time to regroup.

I don't think the Governor of West Virginia used this term when he asked the state's mine owners to close their mines until they'd completed a thorough safety check -- but it would have been appropriate. The President talked about weaning ourselves from foreign oil; using more coal is part of that, and these mining accidents are a sign that people are working fast and sloppy, and not paying enough attention.

The groundhog saw his shadow today, meaning six more weeks of winter. If six more weeks is all we get here in the Kennebec Valley, I'll be happy.

It's also the feast of Candlemas, marking the 40th day after Christmas. Sailors traditionally believed it was bad luck to start a voyage on Candlemas, but why would anyone think it was smart to set sail at the beginning of February?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Who uses it: Directors, casting directors, and actors
What it means: A second (or third) round of auditions for a part
How you can use it: When taking your time to make up your mind.

I had meant to audition for Gaslight's production of The Real Inspector Hound last night, but I never got there. The weather was lousy and my car was iced shut, and when I looked at the calendar, I realized I probably couldn't commit to a busy rehearsal schedule, anyway... so I didn't go.

Instead, I stayed home and watched the State of the Union. Does anyone else feel they're living in a completely different country from the one our President lives in? In my country, the devastation of Louisiana and Mississippi made more of an impact -- and the retirement of the Federal Reserve Chairman deserved at least a mention.

Today, Anna, Jen and I made an expedition to the nearest Trader Joe's -- which happens to be two states away, in Massachusetts. I almost cried when we walked in the door. I have just finished a supper of Chipotle Pepper Hummus with TJ's Whole Wheat Mini Pitas, and if I close my eyes I can almost smell the diesel fumes of the 405. Oh, California...