Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Still vacationing

Sunny Florida has been a blast. We're enjoying the fabulous Living Room Suite here at Chez Mom. Tonight we are conducting an experiment in dessert, codenamed "Project Puff."

Thanks to everyone's visits and links, the Hive has moved up a rung to "reptile" in the TTLB Ecosystem! It was a pleasant surprise for me when I checked in.

More tomorrow...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Winner of the caption contest

It was a good contest, especially for a first time - 16 entries. High quality stuff, too. You guys are the best!

3rd place -
Janet: "New scientologist and newly pregnant, Katie Holmes attempts to be the first woman to give birth, through her mouth." (But no drugs, mind you. Scientologists are already wacked.)
2nd place -
Hoodlumman: "Xenu demands birthday wishes!" Almost made me lose my coffee, that one. Welcome to the Hive!

And our winner - WunderKraut! "No, no, no... the probe goes in the other end!"

Thanks to everyone for their lively entries. Wunder, you shall be getting a prize once I return from my holiday revels. The next post you see in this site will be December 28th. For the moment, here is a little something for you all!

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

One if by land, two if by sea

Earlier in the year, some enterprising dolts were busted for running a mobile brothel just outside of Tampa's Raymond James Stadium. (Everyone stopped to stare at your technicolor motorhome...) The big break for the police in this case came when the proprietors handed out their flyers to some undercover cops.

This came a few weeks after a bunch of the Minnesota Vikings went on, *ahem*, a three-hour tour, leading to eventual criminal charges against four players (three of them former Pro Bowlers: Daunte Culpepper, Bryant McKinnie, and Fred Smoot).

Now, there's a slender chance that both of these clubs could make the playoffs this year. I hear that Tara Reid will sing the national anthem while wearing Janet Jackson's wardrobe.

One of them will almost certainly play the Carolina Panthers, who sacked two of their cheerleaders after allegations of mutual pom-pom shaking in a locked bathroom stall. Currently this is under dispute, with the accused saying that one of the two were drunk and the other was simply helping her ride it out. This is bad enough, since the drunken lass was under the legal limit for such activity. Before she made her statement, the original suspicions led to one of the best lines ever heard on HBO, when Cris Carter of "Inside the NFL" said, apparently seriously, that they wouldn't have needed each other if they were permitted to fraternise with the players.

Now, who was it who called this the "No Fun League"?

A Christmas Gift for You

In the spirit of Christmas, visitor Brendon has dropped us all a holiday link, which I am pleased to display prominently here. Happy Christmas, as our friends across the Atlantic phrase it.

Speaking of gifts, I'd also like to thank everyone stopping by for the contest, who are making it hard for me to come up with a winner. I've been chuckling most of yesterday. A warm welcome to those who are stopping in for the first time, even if you haven't commented! We've been nearly twice as busy as usual, and I'm grateful for you. It's a neat Christmas gift for me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Scientology's Top Gun

(To go along with our caption contest, you may enjoy a bit of fun courtesy the Barking Spider - his site is in stasis but he's still got plenty to say. I've gotten his kind permission to run his latest as a guest post, which is not only the first guest post in the Hive's history, but also the first time the Fly invited the Spider into his parlor.)

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. - Galatians 5:1.

Let's say you are not some theological wizard. How can you tell if you are in a cult? A couple questions to ask:

If you are a new convert, do they let you go to the little boy's or girl's room by yourself? Most cults will not let you out of their sight. They will have programs with the intent to fill you with so many activities that you lose your old friends and get sucked up. The Boston or International Church of Christ is an example of a nasty cult found at a lot of colleges. I had to throw these chumps out of my dorm once. [That was at dear old Rutgers, where they used to operate under the banner of Campus Advance. Jeff was my Residence Advisor. -NF]

Is there secret knowledge that is not shared with you until you are ready for it? For example, Tom C's girlfriend is being lied to when she is told that one can be a good Catholic and a Scientologist. Later on, when she is sucked in enough to be allowed to go potty on her own, she will get straightened out about that. It's not until you are an Operating Thetan VII that you are let in on all the neat "alien battle 75-million years ago and we are hampered by the spirits of dead aliens" stuff.

As for Christianity, the secret texts are on sale at Wal-Mart. Every Sunday, my pastor opens these classified documents and talks about what's in them with no regard for COMSEC - the doors wide open, big sign outside telling everybody when he's going to give up the secrets of the faith. And if you ask the right person, you can probably get a copy of the secret text to take home. Don't even have to stuff it in your shorts like Sandy Burglar.

On one thing Tom C and I do agree: someone who was once dead is coming back. It's just not going to be L Ron Hubbard. (Hint: His birthday is this Sunday.)

From the LA Times. - Jeff

My only question - is that a picture of L Ron on the sidebar, or has the Skipper finally gone cuckoo?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Get well wishes for Emily

It's rough being ill. I recommend a pint of Flaming Moe.

Oh, I stay home from my job
And my head spins and throbs
My lungs wheeze, and my nose blobs
Since I caught the flu

Oh, I drink lots of soup and tea
I barely have the energy
To change the channels on TV
Since I caught the flu

It must have been at my family reunion
I'll never go back again
Aunt Bertha sneezed on me
In walked this misery
And it's been here since then

Now, I'm sick of being ill
I've about had my fill
Of Sudafed and NyQuil
Since I caught the flu...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Caption Contest!

Were they served Froot Loops, or would that have been cannibalism?
Are there words for this sort of thing?

Well, possibly. Not the words Top Ray Gun has in mind, perhaps, but I know all y'all are up to the challenge.

Leave your caption in the comment section. The lucky winner will get his thetans catalogued for half-price!

"Y'know, Katie, if I unplug you here in the Matrix, you die in real life..."

(w/t to Sheila for the link to the photo page)

Sundries Four

Faded photograhs
Covered now in lines and creases...

Oh, sorry. Sundries IV. Onward to the content:

1. I like Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback. (I actually passed up a solid chance to meet Peter King one-on-one: he walked into the lobby of my workplace less than a first down from where I was standing. I decided that I didn't want to be a huge geek. Should have been.) It hurts to take issue with one of his assertions, but one of his passing thoughts in today's column crossed me up: "When will someone realize Isiah Thomas actually doesn't know what he's doing? I mean, what positive non-playing thing has this man ever, ever done in pro basketball?" Actually, ESPN's mighty Bill Simmons uses it as a running gag in his own columns, once suggesting that a network run an "Anti-Apprentice" in which Isiah takes a series of small businesses and plows them into the side of a mountain.

Part of me says that's editors may not have liked his mentioning the Distinguished Opposition, but a second part sees Simmons mention King by name more than once, and a third part suspects that they probably communicate via email every once in a while, professionally. Meanwhile, the first part keeps reading and sees him mention ESPN just two items down from Isiah, and starts to agree with the rest of me. (It's this page. Isiah is item 10-b, ESPN is 10-d.) To end on a positive, though, I liked King's take in item eight, the Rhoden essay in the Times. It definitely doesn't jibe with reality. Maybe he can get together with J Whyatt Mondesire and hold a symposium?

update - this thing got away from me. Seven items, some of them longish... Not a sundries, by any means, so I decided that a few of these would get their own posts, which occupy the next three entries.

Sundries Four and more

2. Not a "Not a Desperate Housewife" - Stacy has decided to close her blog. Her many fans will be disappointed. She was sharp and smart. But it's worth noting that she hasn't quit; she's simply re-organizing priorities, and the blog isn't one of them. In a way, it's like John Kruk: he got a base hit in his last at-bat for the Chicago White Sox, giving him an even .300 average over his career. He promptly shook hands with the first baseman and his line coach, and walked off the playing field forever. It was the best conclusion to "this season of my life," to quote Stacy's farewell, and it's fitting.

I hope to see her around the Web from time to time. In the meantime, a new slot now opens up in the Pantheon of Links. I'm open to suggestions, plugs, and shameless bribes...

3. Other programming notes - the Nightfly 2005 East Coast Tour starts on Christmas Eve at my cousin's big 7-fish feast, continues through Freehold at my ladybug's family bash, and down to Florida for a stay with Mama Bug. If I'm awake for any of it I'll try to do some remote posting.

Sundries Four and ¾

4. One of my email alerts contained the following item: "Snubbed in Washington, Bruce is the Boss in Trenton." This is how it goes:

Sometimes state legislatures step in where federal lawmakers fail to act. In that spirit, the New Jersey Senate has passed a resolution honoring native son Bruce Springsteen on the 30-year anniversary of his breakthrough Born to Run album.

Well, if that spirit isn't going to rule on education, taxation, the drinking age, abuses of Eminent Domain and the Commerce Clause, or the First, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments, at least it's still alive somewhere.

[State] Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) sponsored a resolution after the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate refused to consider a similar resolution proposed by New Jersey’s federal senators, Frank Lautenberg and now Gov.-elect Jon S. Corzine.

Good for the GOP for refusing to waste all of our time, for once. Political views have nothing to do with it, either, as I don't think Ted Nugent or Alice Cooper should be a drain on the limited mental wattage of the US Senate. (Of course, some still think that the eeeeevil conservatives must still be clueless fogeys threatened by the energy and rebellion of rock. Aaaahhh, saxaphone solo! Dean Martin, help!)

Springsteen, who has roots in Long Branch and Freehold and lives in Rumson, stepped away from the political sidelines for the first time and got politically involved in the 2004 presidential election, lending support to Democrat John Kerry.

That was a big winner. By all means, you folks go ahead and resolve to honor the guy's savvy political sensibility. I'm going to spend my time wondering why Sen. Kerry (D-MA) doesn't mind the conflict of interest, voting on resolutions honoring the guy after he worked on his campaign, instead of before, when he was simply a superb musician.

Springsteen has a big fan in Corzine. The incoming governor attended the rocker’s first concert in Trenton in decades at the Sovereign Bank Arena recently and has said he’d enjoy having Bruce perform during next month’s inauguration.

Syntaxacosis is going around; cover your mouth at the computer, kids. Translation: Corzine is a big fan of Springsteen's music. He attended his recent concert at the Sovereign Bank Arena, Springsteen's first in Trenton for many years, and has said he'd enjoy having Bruce perform during his inauguration next month. See, commas are our friends!

(One more post after this, with three items. Enjoy!)

Sundries 4 x 4

(Thanks for your patience - this is the homestretch!)

5. The picture at the top of
Lilek's Bleat today reminds me of a great blonde joke:

Q. Why don't blondes like to bake chocolate-chip cookies?
A. It's too much work to peel the M & M's.


6. Heheheheh, again - Check out
Nigeria 4-1-9 Live, starring Jersey's own Dossy. This is why the 'Fly uses caution while talking of Hexes Told Them and similar games of chance and skill.

7. Finally, Christmas. The PC has given me the following songs while typing:
  • Brook Benton, "This Time of the Year"
  • Les Brown Orchestra, "We Wish You the Merriest"
  • The Temptations, "Silent Night"
  • Vince Guaraldi Trio, "Skating"
  • Marvin Gaye, "Christmas in the City"
  • The Waitresses, "Christmas Wrapping"
  • The Beach Boys, "We Three Kings"
  • Robert Goulet, excerpted from the Simpsons ["Your manager says for you to shut up!" "Vera said that?"]
  • Leroy Anderson, "Sleigh Ride" [the original and greatest]
  • Ella Fitzgerald, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"
  • "Trim up the Tree" from How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • Frank Sinatra, "I'll Be Home for Christmas"
  • The Platters, "Blue Christmas"
  • The Temptations, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" [Hey Rudolph!]
  • Louie Armstrong, "Winter Wonderland"
It would be even better if I could retrieve the albums I have on cassette. Some of them are the dickens to find on CD, which may be appropriate for the season, but puts me more in the mind of Humbug than God Bless Us, Every One. See you soon...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bug on Fire

update, 12/19, 2:00 am - the links have been adjusted to fix the problem that RNG mentioned in the comments.


Carnival #31 is up over at the Rix Mix. It's a solid roundup.
Naturally, one looks for one's byline, and in doing so, I see I have been credited as the Firefly. This is curious since Mr. Snitch did the same while linking to the same post as Rix. (The Snitch glitch is now fixed.)
They say that any publicity is good, as long as they spell your name right. Ah, well. It's a start, and having hosted twice myself, I know hosting the Carnival is like wrestling bears with flamethrowers. It's all good, guys - I have no issues. But go, read up!

Friday, December 16, 2005

I've got to hand it to him

He's a disruptive attention-hound who blows apart team cohesion, but give Terrell Owens a little due credit: he's not a dummy. Indeed, he grabs headlines nearly as well as he grabs footballs, which is why this Giants fan is writing Eagles stories all the live-long day. If this particular story is accurate, I can see Owens' point.

He rehabbed like mad from an injury that ought to have ended his season and was the best player on the field. (He should have joined Dallas' Chuck Howley [SB V] as the only losing players to win the game MVP.) In return he feels that the Eagles didn't recognize that effort, just as he bitched about Philly ignoring his 100th career touchdown. It was, to him, more of the same neglect. He's got a great point about Chad Johnson, too - in fact, Johnson is rather explicit about playing "can you top this?" with TO when it comes to endzone celebrations.

(Nor is this anything new. The reason the league initially started giving out 15-yard penalties for excessive celebration was that the endzone stuff began requiring a team choreographer, sometimes with five or six offensive players doing a brief routine. In reply defenders seized upon Mark Gastineau's famed "sack dance" - which looked almost epileptic to me, like he was so jacked he couldn't help himself - and began developing their own "signature moves" after big plays, from Mike Strahan's innocuous bicep flex to John Randle's lifting his leg over the fallen QB.)

Now, a little exuberance is one thing. Running to the center stripe in Dallas and spiking the logo is another. It's the difference between joie de vie and showing up your opponents. Dude, of course someone on the other team is going to clock you. (George Teague, in this case - the same man who, while at the University of Alabama, came up with one of the more memorable interceptions during their national championship year in '92.) And the media bitching? Sabotaging the 49ers and then nearly the Eagles? Refusing to report to Baltimore after his trade? Obviously TO's thinking was that Kyle Boller was one of the five worst starters in the league - but doesn't that mean that he should have loved playing for McNabb, one of the five best, in an offense that features tons of passing? Making the Super Bowl for the first time wasn't worth what he's complaining about?

It goes right back to "disruptive attention-hound." Not from ego, per se, but the simple desire to feel appreciated. Manny Ramirez is much the same way, which is why every once in a while he gets in a funk and dogs it for a week or so; then they tell him they love him and he hits .375 the next month. It's almost endearing. You can't quite say the same of Owens, but in the wake of this interview with GQ, I suddenly see a glimmer of light for him. I was already pretty certain that, sooner or later, someone would play him; but now there will be more play for his services. People will say (perhaps foolishly) that they can give him that attention and keep him happy, so that his talent rules his unruly behavior. I don't see calculation here; I see a kid (for all his years, in many ways TO is a big kid) who loves playing, who knows he's great, and is jumping about saying "Hey, Dad, watch this one! Did you see? Wasn't that awesome?" The Eagles aren't the kind of organization to do this, so they'll send him someplace that will.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A heartbreaking work of staggering genius

This is the title of a one-time best-selling book. It sounds quite self-conscious from the few descriptions I read, from the title to the characters critiquing the narrative they're participating in. Notwithstanding, I would give it a try if I had not read Sheila's December 14 post. I simply don't need to bother, because now I know what heartbreaking genius looks like.

Read it all, as the man says. Afterward you may better understand the confession below.

I've told tales for as long as I can remember. My first "real" story is a dreadful mishmosh of Star Wars and the Hobbit, with cruel witches, heroic captians, and planets whipping merrily through space shooting rays at each other. I was six.

No-one else knows for sure what my first-grade teacher thought of the exercise. In miniature, I was as painstaking as Lucas or Tolkein - I included a copyright and index (the entire story is probably 150 words, mind), and invented something called a light-year decade. I wanted it to be the best book ever.

Flash-forward three years. Now I'm writing longhand, cursive, in any wire-bound notebook I can find. Of this, nothing has been saved, but I do vividly remember one story: My childhood friend Raun and I are playing football in my front yard when a sudden gust dumps a pile of autumn leaves on us; we discover that they are not just golden-colored, but actual gold. From there, 9-year-old logic takes over. What do you do with gold leaves? Too heavy to carry, too hard to pile and jump in. Where does gold go, anyway, after it wafts to the ground? Duh - it goes to Fort Knox.

There's no antagonist, and plot holes the size of the Chrysler Building - why would Mom and Dad have the Pentagon on speed dial? (Was there even speed dial yet?) Oh, of course they took the call. Naturally, they came right over. And so we were off, escorted by a general (or George C Scott dressed like one), trailed by more cops than the final fifteen minutes of Blues Brothers. I don't remember the rest, but I do remember how I felt writing it. One thought rode below every detail and supported everything I tried to put into it: tell the truth. If it didn't make sense I rewrote until it did. Now, it stands out like a stoplight in a cornfield: the cheerful benevolence of all concerned. Happiness made sense; there were no exploiting adults, no shadowy conspiracies, no suspicion or subterfuge.

Off and on through grade school and high school, I wrote about anything in whatever manner would occur to me: prose, poems, sports, sci-fi, parody. Then I made a terrible mistake while taking creative writing courses in college. I decided that I had to Mean Something. Everyone else seemed to. Good writing was apparently just like eating your vegetables - no good unless you learned something, or if you enjoyed it. So I wrote a dreadful morality play that nonetheless earned great praise from most of my peers and the teacher. (I said the Right Things, God help me.) I paid a good deal of attention to the construction of the story, including all the things a good story should have - foreshadowing, character arc, flawed heroes, rich descriptives. Unfortunately I succeeded. I hit all the right notes, never realizing that together they played no tune.

Over that winter's break, my father passed away. I scored my best grades the next semester, probably to keep myself numb. Next fall I had my next writing course, and turned in a better story - for a moment, I recaptured the desire to get it right, to truthfully explore the terror and guilt of loss, and succeeded well enough to earn a double-edged gift in reply from my professor: "You have a mastery of the narrative voice. I'm not sure you have the right voice for your narrator, but it runs the whole story without a false note." That's some high-proof hooch to pass to a 20 year-old writer, and it went clean to my head. Should have been enough to ruin me for good and all, too, but God stepped in with a double-edged gift of His own. I got the chicken pox and was forced to withdraw for the semester.

Eventually I lost the writing for a while. I was seeing someone, and was so deeply serious about it that I never allowed myself to notice that she was increasingly less serious. Eventually she broke it off by telling me that she had been seeing someone else. It was a toxic stew. That betrayal, and guilt for my own failure and inattentiveness, and crippling emptiness, combined with something that had been growing in me through my writing - as I increased in skill and craft, I lost the small secret that turns the writing into an actual tale. I immediately applied this mistake to my pain and began writing "to heal." I sent back all her letters to me - "I won't be needing them anymore," I said. I burned the wallet photo I had of her. They were all symbolic works, and all kept me from the trouble of actually dealing with anything important. Who needs life when you can act like you're alive? I could go long stretches like the ideal Christian Man I had to be, lest others know my true, dark self. I began to enjoy the idea of having a true, dark self that nobody really knew. I tossed layer upon layer on myself until the whole structure tottered.

For a few years I did many of the things on this list, knowing it would make me (and others) miserable. I wanted punishment. Just dying would have let me off the hook, and I was determined to pay my own price in full. But it was stupid. After a while despair was, in its own twisted sense, fun, an indulgence. I was a tragic figure who would thus be able to make a great biography after I finally crossed from the stage, with the laments of my grateful public to ease my passing. In effect, I was offering play money to discharge a real debt, and God met irony with irony - I wound up costing some of my dearest friends real hardship while I indulged in fantasy suffering. I still hadn't gone through it, until one of these friends casually mentioned that his wife knew my ex. Married now, you know, with a kid.

"Good for her!" I said, because that's what you should say. But those were the words that finally wrote myself into a corner I could not escape on my own. I was led out by Christ. I don't know if there was any other answer for me. I fear that I would have fulfilled my selfish wishes, and condemned myself to something that death could not cure; and I still work on it now. That's how it goes. Suffering is harder than analyzing the suffering, just as telling the substance of the story is harder than the actual craft of writing. Both are, I hope, coming along.

That's what I thought about when I read Sheila's post. It brought me back to those days in a moment. I saw myself knock on her door, ready to finally tell her everything. (More acting, I'm afraid, though at the time I didn't know it.) And when she answered, with the familiar look of welcome and anticipation, I was ready for my close-up - but she broke from character. She saw that it was me, and in an instant her face just folded. I was the moment she hoped she wouldn't have to endure, and she was resigning herself to it. It was worse than hatred, worse than a shout or a slap. It was so shocking that I have never before or since been so helpless. My mouth became so dry that I physically couldn't talk properly. Oh, I tried anyway, in such a fog that, when she finally shut the door on me, I rather stupidly walked into it, assuming that I must be allowed in. And under its influence I drove home utterly convinced that I was fine, that I was wronged but above retaliation. (I retaliated against myself instead.)

Sheila wrote for herself, not me, and if it's a subtle trap to apply it to myself, fine. I'm caught. Her post kicks the leaves away from the snare and leaves it plain. It was what I needed to hear, perhaps as much as she needed to say it. I can't thank her enough.

One of the side effects of the attitude of my earlier life is that, whenever I see well-done writing, I immediately think of two things - first, that it's good, and second, that if I were only more dedicated, I could match that standard. But I never enjoyed anything anymore; along with the power to move I lost the power to be moved. I was like a man who thought he loved food because he knew how to cook. For the first time in a long time, reading Sheila's post, I rejoiced that it was written, that a marvelous work was done.

It may be said, in reply, that I've had some pretty good posts of my own lately, and I hope that's true, because I want to do well. But you'll notice that a good many of them are simply inspired by other posts. It didn't occur to me, until I read Sheila, that I had this post inside me. I never put my list into words until a syndicated columnist prodded me. Many of my stories-in-progress were prompted by dissatisfaction of ones I'd read - I wanted to see them done right. You could say that's a step gained, the recovery of my desire to tell the truth. I hope that's it. But it also says that there's something I lost between 9 and 33 that I haven't fully recovered, the internal spark that had me writing at every odd moment, bringing my own work to life instead of needing a jolt from others. It's the difference between Frankenstein and his monster. I've largely escaped the doom I sought, but what did it cost me? Whatever else happens I don't want to write "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." I want to describe what that nine-year-old boy saw when he looked at the world.

(By the bye, a "light-year decade" is 20 years long, and the witch tries to put Captain Michael, our dashing hero, to sleep for that length. It about worked, too, but the good people helped end the curse early. "What happened to me?" he asked when he came to. Thanks for telling me, Sheila. And thank you, good people all.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Mediocre at best"

That's the title of the article written by a gentleman named J. Whyatt Mondesire in the Philadelphia Sunday Sun. He was referring to Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, but upon a close reading of the content, I think it applies to the author rather than the subject.

For one thing - before reading word one - I pause to note that, in 2003, when it was Rush Limbaugh saying that McNabb wasn't a top-flight quarterback, the whole world jumped ugly on him. Ironically, in doing so they supplied evidence in favor of Limbaugh's most explosive point, that people regarded McNabb beyond his skills and results because he is black. Since Limbaugh's comments McNabb has had the best stretch of his career.
Have some numbers:

.Pre-RL 56 _ 969 _ 1721 _ 56.3 _ 10169 _ 5.91 _71/41_ 32-19
Post-RL 38 _ 749 _ 1222 _ 61.3 __ 9264 _ 7.58 _63/25_ 29-9

Rush's assessment of McNabb's performance was credible when he made it; much less so now. But anyway, back to the actual article, which is one long frolic through the catnip.

Yo--Donny! I'm calling you man. Hey, soup guy, over here! Donovan E. McNabb, you hear me callin' you. Will you please pay attention?

Even by the loose standards of sports journalism, this is wretched writing. In fact, it is horribly stereotypical faux-street patois. It only gets worse, as shall be seen.

Well....well...I've seen you Donovan E. McNabb--in your formative years as well as your mid-career development--and one thing is certain. Donovan E. McNabb you're no Doug Williams.

Let's look at Doug's career statline next to Donovan's:

McNabb_ 94 _1718 _ 2943 _58.4 _ 19433 _ 6.60 134/66 _61-28
.Wllms_ 88 _1240 _ 2507 _49.5 _ 16998 _ 6.78 100/93 ..?..

Oooops, you're right. He's no Doug - he's well ahead. Though I can't find Williams record as a starter, I can say with confidence that it was far worse, since from 1978-1982 he played for Tampa Bay. (Those were the pre-pewter, Suckaneer days.) The only thing he has on Donovan is the Super Bowl title...

The Grambling all-star completed 18 of 29 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns, capping it off with 35 points in the fourth quarter alone. He followed that performance with three conference championships in 2000, ‘01 and ‘02.

The stats from the '88 Super Bowl are correct, but it was the second quarter, not the fourth; and the three conference championships are from Williams' time as head coach of Grambling University. Way to fact-check, former journalism major at CCNY. And are you suggesting that McNabb, at 29, should already be toting a clipboard? Quite an endorsement of his leadership (a subject we'll revisit).

Your record is another matter entirely. In fact this whole dismal season so far has really been a testament of fallen dreams and lost opportunities...

Or injuries. The man was playing with a hernia, doofus. He put off surgery to keep playing.

Normally this column talks very little about sports because the games that grown men play pale in comparison to the great issues of racism, politics, social calamities, health crisis's [sic], war and peace, etc. which gives us plenty of fertile territory to explore and pontificate about. However, this week I felt compelled to offer some personal thoughts about your horrific on-field performances this season because at their core there is a lie you have tried to use to hide the fact that in reality you actually are not that good.

Unfortunately, no-one at the Sun is willing to edit their publisher's ponficiations. But their reticence compels me in their stead to consider that your run-on sentences and overblown phrases mask a truth that you can't write for crap.

[Our author compares the stats from Donovan's first four games against his final five this year, and continues.] The sports hernia you suffered after the team's Week 3 win over Oakland clearly is a mega factor in the latter numbers.

Nice of you to notice.

But who can forget your mind numbing fourth-quarter collapse in last year's Super Bowl against New England. [sic (again)]

Wait a minute - the guy went 30-51, for 357 yards, 3 td and 3 int. That is a credible performance in a big game against a team that has won 3 of the past 4 championships. Hell, his Pro-Bowl performance (1-8, 24 yds, 1 int) was far worse. He collapsed? Philly was down 10 points with nine minutes to play and couldn't finish the rally, mostly from clock mismanagement, and that is not wholly the quarterback's fault. He looked gassed at the very end? He ran for his life the whole game, flinging 50 or so passes, and being sacked four times - yeah, what a choker.

...for you to continue to deny we fans (as well as yourself) one of the strongest elements of your game by claiming that "everybody expects black quarterbacks to scramble" not only amounts to a breach of faith but also belittles the real struggles of black athletes who've had to overcome real racial stereotypcasting in addition to downright segregation.

HE HAD A HERNIA. A part of his intestines were STICKING OUT OF HIS ABDOMEN.

College football in the South didn't drop its White Only wall until 1966 four years after James Meredith while trying to enroll at Ole Miss, which went 10-0 that year, even as its practice field was covered federal troops who had bivouacked there.

That is not a fifty-word typo, but an actual attempt at writing.

Earlier this month Sports Illustrated reporting pioneering black players in the vaunted SEC had to endure serious hardships, such as "Fritz Pollard, the black all-America at Brown during World War I, (who) had learned to spin on his back and thrust his cleats in the air when tackled, to protect himself from late hits; how Iowa State's Jack Trice was trampled to death during a 1923 game against Minnesota; and how in 1951, on the first play from scrimmage, an Oklahoma A&M player broke the jaw of Drake running back Johnny Bright, forcing him to abandon football and causing the school to withdraw in protest from the Missouri Valley Conference."* Hey Donny, see any difference yet in your trumped up racial views and those pioneers?

This entire sojourn to Cloud Cuckoo Land is a trumped-up racial view, and McNabb didn't write it. He has the freedom to sit back and play football for serious money, and be a respected national pitchman, AND be a local hero in one of the toughest sports towns ever - on a team whose fans booed him the day he was drafted, in the city that has the last National League baseball team to racially integrate. (Again, you can't be bothered to look things up? Lucky for you the waiting room had an old SI, or you may have had to use Google or pick up a phone or something.) He honors those sacrifices by doing what he's doing; and they paid that terrible price to let him do it.

Taken together, your pretty decent arm, strong desire to win, and your instinctive ability to scramble in the backfield gave you an awesome package. Take away any one of the legs from this tripod, and whole thing falls flat...

So when McNabb was only an average passer, you were publishing nonsensical screeds about him, right? Or were you attacking anyone who suggested that he still needed a little work?

Finally, your failure as a team leader off the field to my mind did as much as anything to exacerbate the debacle that has become synonymous with T.O.'s full name.

That's the sainted Terrell Owens, the model of decorum in San Francisco. The guy who gets just accolades for returning from a bad injury to play so well in the Super Bowl, while you blame Donovan for not ending his own season sooner.

Just think how the whole media circus could have been avoided had you had the courage to offer only a tiny fraction of your bonus this year to Owens and running back, [sic AGAIN] Brian Westbrook.

AHA! Now it's out. You're trying to extort McNabb on behalf of poor, downtrodden Terrell Owens ($7 million salary this year). He should pitch in for Westbrook ($1.43 mil), who signed a contract extension all of five weeks ago, paying him $34 million in salary and bonuses for the next five years.

I realize that it's SOP for you self-appointed leaders of the community to play class warfare, but these are all elite professional athletes, of the same class. But you have to work out your guilt-mongering and ego-driven posture in training for your planned run for Congress. Given that, I'm not sure what to hope for - even a Giants fan like myself isn't cruel enough to inflict you on a whole ward of Philadelphians, but you're clearly not cut out for writing. (I don't care what your bio says.)

*I put this quote in black instead of red because it's the only thing in Mondesire's article with good grammar and cogent thought. Naturally it was the one thing he himself did not write. I wanted to make sure it stood out from its cartoonish surroundings.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The simpering life

Have you ever wondered how to enhance your own timidity and sorrow? Want to maximize the time you waste? Don’t be trapped on the inside looking out! This list is for anyone who’s ever muttered, “Wow, I wish I could slack like that! It’s like he’s not even trying!” If you really want to master the art of lukewarm living, adhere to these useful guidelines (but not too closely, now):

  1. Allow people who mock you to influence your life. Little minds shrink when opposed.
  2. Fall seven times, rise six.
  3. Don’t allow your conscience to approve of your conduct; that could cause you to persist in noble pursuits.
  4. Neither permit your conscience to disapprove of your conduct; that could cause you to reform your ways.
  5. Your elders are a great resource of experience, support, and advice, so ignore them.
  6. History is full of examples of people overcoming desperate odds and doing great works. Therefore, learn nothing from history.
  7. Be sloppy in small matters: it’s excellent training for larger failures, should you have the misfortune to be trusted with anything important.
  8. Effort changes things for the better, but it cuts into your leisure time and demands discipline and sacrifice. You’re more important than that.
  9. Have no ambition beyond the status quo, and no principle save to avoid trouble.
  10. Do not worship, or otherwise admit any claim, desire, or authority above your own.
  11. Shun anything imaginative or aesthetic. Art, beauty, music, and poetry are the enemies of the drab and mediocre.
  12. Settle. Excellence is an unreasonable demand to make of oneself.
  13. Insist on rights and privileges, especially those you have not earned.
  14. Danger, misfortune, fear, and injustice are the lot of all men; who are you to try to do better than that?
  15. Do not focus wholeheartedly on any task, lest your accomplishments make others feel badly for themselves.
  16. Disappointment is proof that you were wrong to begin with.
  17. Quitting is a trap – it admits responsibility and requires action. You ought to avoid both whenever possible. Therefore, when giving up, just drift off and leave your tasks to others.
  18. Do all things the way you always have: tepidly, unwilling to learn, and with a proper attitude of gloom and petulance.
  19. Avoid new things. They broaden the mind, challenge the body, and strengthen the will. Remember, you’re ok now!
  20. Dreams are dangerous. They inspire and encourage. You should have none of your own and belittle those of others.
  21. Don’t be brave, persistent, lively, or daring. These things lead to success – and worse, happiness.
  22. Risk in nothing – neither work, nor play, nor study; nor especially love.
This post was inspired by Doug Giles of and his own list of twenty, found here. (Wing tip to the inestimable Fausta.) I took the liberty of some editing, based on my own inside knowledge as a first-class saboteur of my own life; needless to say, I prefer my version but you can be the judge. However, I do admit one failing – my list was supposed to fall short of twenty, thus standing as an example of how not to finish a task. Sadly, I succeeded instead.

Monday, December 12, 2005

All right, what are we playing?

OK. When you look at your cards you know what they're worth - that is, once you get cards. (We wouldn't want you to go into the game unprepared, right?) But before we deal, we have to know which game we're playing. "Poker" is really not a game as much as a genre, with all sorts of variations that can be drawn into roughly four classes. You may wind up with as few as two or as many as nine different cards.

For now we're going to cover (briefly) those four classes of game. (As we keep going, each of these will be linked to a post going into more detail about specific games.) And to save ourselves grief, we are going to take for granted that (unless specified) these games are straight poker, meaning no wild cards. Here at the Hive's School of Cards we keep things simple.

1. Draw. Draw games are the first things many of us think of when we hear "poker," perhaps having been involved in games while we were kids. A draw game means that you get your hand, decide which of the cards could stand improvement, and trade them in to the dealer, who gives you fresh replacements from the deck.

2. Stud. A stud game works a little differently. You don't get your cards all at once like in a draw game, and some of your cards are dealt face up, for everyone to see. Of course, this means that you also get a gander at what other people may have. It represents a step upward in strategy and complexity.

3. Community. These games resemble stud in that some cards are face-up; however, in a community game the face-up cards go to the center of the table and every player uses them. As a result, the down cards (known as hole cards in poker parlance) become very important. The most popular poker game today is a community-card variety best referred to as Hexas Told Them, lest the Hive be buried under an Everest of spam.

4. Un-poker. As a change of pace, some home games enjoy what one may call Carnival Cards, in which a dizzying array of rules and wild cards fly about the table. The sounder varieties can be classified in one of the first three categories; the remainder are entertaining as a change of pace, but do not follow the basic rules of poker - for example, one game called 7-27 counts points more in the manner of blackjack than poker. Only when the first three are thoroughly covered will we delve into this shadowy fringe of faux-poker.

Again, we will cover specific examples in future installments. Right now I want to move from "what" to "how," because all of these games have a few things in common beyond flushes beating two pair and what-have-you, what one might call card etiquette. Some tables are more lenient than others but it's better for the host or the dealer not to need to correct you. In general, here's how to make a good impression on your fellow card slingers:

Point #1 - the dealer has the last say. It stands to reason. Before a single card leaves his hands, he calls the game; if there are special rules and/or wild cards, he spells them out; and he makes sure that it's all dealt properly and promptly. On top of all that he makes sure that the pot isn't short. He's the Mozart of this particular little concerto, so it's only fair to defer: if you're not sure about a game or have a dispute during the hand, the dealer is the final court of appeal. Besides, most games rotate the deal each hand, which means that sooner or later you'll be the one making those decisions. Given the nature of poker, it's important to play friendly.

Seriously. I know you're trying to take each other's money, but think. Remember when we talked about the slow-roll? That principle applies all over. Don't kvetch if you've lost; don't crow if you've won. Your friends may not take kindly to this as they watch you rake in their gas money for the month; and it won't go over any better among strangers.

Point #2 - don't act out of order. (Or, Everything I Needed to Know About Poker I Learned in Kindergarten.) Take turns. If you toss money in early, you've hurt the game - the people you skipped might suddenly decide to fold instead of play, costing someone a larger pot than they would have had (perhaps even you, so don't do it). And if they decide to raise the bet instead, now you've already committed money to a hand that may suddenly look rather shopworn. You can still fold, but you do NOT get your money back once it's in the pot. In fact, let's call this point 2-B - if it's in the center, it's gone. That goes not only for money you've wagered but cards you've folded. If you toss it away you can't get it back, so think twice. (The ONLY exception is if, after all the bets are made, you have accidentally put in too much. Then the dealer, and only the dealer, can give you back the difference. To avoid this causing trouble, some games require you to keep your bet out in front of your cards until everyone has either matched it or folded. Only then does the dealer sweep them all into the pot.)

Point #3 - knowledge is power, so ask if you don't know. Even an expert player can innocently mishear the instructions (did you see that catch?!?) and then proudly exhibit an imaginary hand (whaddya mean fives aren't wild?) and lose. Speak up if it seems odd or unclear: it saves trouble (and more importantly, your money) and helps you learn the games more quickly. The reverse of this coin is that, once you're out of the hand, keep knowledge to yourself! Don't sneak peeks at the others' cards (even with permission), and don't discuss the hand with other folded players unless you're positively out of earshot. Your loose lips may sink a promising hand based on information you unwittingly reveal in your words, or even your looks. Above all, never show your hole cards once you've folded. Fold face down - in fact, any of your exposed cards (in stud games) ought to be turned over as well, so people don't think you're still in the action.

Point #4 - act decisively. What you mean to do, do plainly, even if you have to say out loud what you're doing. This especially helps when (as is inevitable) the pot is light an ante. (An ante is a small bet everyone makes before the deal begins, to ensure that you're playing for something more than the coffee stain on the tablecloth.) But in general it pays to be above-board and trustworthy, and this helps because it lets the table police itself. If you toss money to the pot and nobody quite sees it, you will (at best) confuse others, who won't know if you've called or raised without asking. But if you say "I call" then not only will they know, they'll remind you how much you owe (see how nice a friendly game is?).

(Some games solve the ante problem simply - the dealer antes for everyone on his deal. This way the pot always starts right. As the night progresses and the deal rotates, each dealer puts in and nobody is shorted. But it still pays to be above-board about it.)

Various tables, again, will have a certain flexibility to these four basic points, and as the players in a regular game gain familiarity some of these show a definite flexibility. It's nice to know what the courtesy is beforehand, though.

Next up? Draw, pardner! We'll cover some basic draw games and maybe deal a few sample hands...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Flamingos Unite!

In solidarity with the Tree Hugging Sister and our fellow Flamingos...

The Jersey Boids are with you, Ms. Sister.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Things to do in Jersey when you're sick

Today was intended to be the second part of the poker posts. My brain isn't working very well right now, however, so I'm stealing a meme from Cullen, Lisa, and Sheila. Have some facts!

1. My uncle once: funny, it's hard in my mind to separate them; my only two uncles are identical twins. I suppose it's safe to say that my uncle once passed himself off as his brother.
2. Never in my life: have I fired a gun.
3. When I was five: I was diagnosed as 'emotionally disturbed/ learning disabled' and put into the BOCES Special Education program on Long Island.
4. High School is: good for self-knowledge and gaining perspective in life, if you're lucky enough to be unpopular and picked-on.
5. My parents are: hard-working, devoted, creative, and determined.
6. I once met: Tony Szabo, pro roller-hockey player. He came to an open skate at our rink and made the whole pack of us look like lawn jockeys.
7. There's this girl I know who: I have a distant cousin who is trying to break into professional music. She plays piano and writes songs. I've only met her a couple of times.
8. Once, at a bar: had two beers and a shot the night before a tournament playoff. Then I went home while the rest of the team kept going. The next day we beat the #1, #2, and #4 seeds to win the tournament.
9. Last night: was Wednesday.
10. Next time I go to church: is tonight, a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics (Feast of the Immaculate Conception).
11. When I turn my head left, I see: a window. It's old and drafty. Caulking has helped a little.
12. When I turn my head right, I see: my Dad's picture on the side of the desk, and then my printer, and then my bedroom door.
13. How many days until my birthday?: About 270, I'm not sure.
14. If I was a character written by Shakespeare I'd be: the first Shakespeare play we ever covered in class was Romeo and Juliet. I was Mercutio, but missed a day ill and was replaced. Ironically, they gave me Tybalt, so I got to kill my understudy.
15. By this time next year: I hope to finally have some of the larger stories fully-written.
16. A better name for me would be: I can't think of one. Every time they have one of those "What's Your ______ Name?" mine turns out like crap, so I'm keeping what I have.
17. I have a hard time understanding: Oh, it's a long list: calculus, cricket, modern novels. Also wondering, after Katy Hnida and everything else, what took Colorado so bloody long to fire Gary Barnett.
18. If I ever go back to school I: will graduate this time.
19. You know I like you if: I laugh when you bust on me.
20. If I won an award, the first person I'd thank would be: my parents.
21. Take my advice: life is short, don't wait to live it.
22. My ideal breakfast is: eggs, sausage, hash browns, juice, coffee.
23. If you visit my hometown: walk the main drag through the village; stop at the Black Forest Bakery - which is still there. (PS - click "Special Occasions" and scroll down for a cake you can't refuse.)
24. Why won't someone: act responsibility with taxpayer funding?
25. If you spend the night at my house: you will be a little crowded, but most welcome.
26. I'd stop my wedding: when the priest said "The Mass is ended; you may kiss the bride." Anything else had better require the National Guard.
27. The world could do without: Baby Boomer nostalgia.
28. I'd rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: run for public office.
29. Paper clips are more useful than: toothpicks. In a pinch, you can use a paper clip on your teeth, but you can't fasten paper with a toothpick.
30. If I do anything well, it is: leaving it up to my friends to judge what I do well.
31. And by the way: you are all very kind to come by every day to share and reply to my ramblings. AND if I knew how long this would take I would have just gone ahead with the poker...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Thank a veteran

Today is Pearl Harbor Day; 64 years ago today our naval forces were overrun by a surprise pre-dawn attack by the Empire of Japan.

We fought back, both in the Pacific and in Europe, despite starting the war on desperate footing - a disastrous economy, skeleton armed forces, and the daunting distance between our shores and the fighting theaters. In less than four years we had complete victory.

The best measure of the completeness of this victory is the current state of the Axis powers. Germany and Japan are allies with working democratic institutions and have been so for many years. Moreover, they are sometimes at odds with us economically and politically, without breaking those alliances. They are truly free and independent, not conquered vassals.

Personally I feel that our current conflict in the Middle East is much more akin to this war than it is to a certain abandoned conflict that rhymes with Be It Mom. If we see it through in the same manner I have every confidence that the countries of the Middle East will retain a lot of their character, with notable additions - liberty, opportunity, and independence; and like Germany and Japan today, and the United States of old: "they [shall] have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do."

For the support of this, our generation has "pledeg[d] to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." There is no substitute for seeing it through now.

(For more on this day, please visit the following links:

Rob at File it Under: "A day that shall live in infamy"
Coalition of the Swilling: "Stories"
Half a Pica: "A day that shall live in infamy"
It Comes in Pints?: "No Great Post"
The Sheila Variations: "Today in history"
Michelle Malkin: "Pearl Harbor: 64 Years" (with many links)

...but not MSNBC, which has but one link to a small video snippet on the day. And that's better than the National Review Online, which has zilch. C'mon, guys...)

update, 6:10 pm - it's only fair to note that last year, on December 7, I posted twice after a ten-day holiday-and-sickness-related absence; neither post mentioned Pearl Harbor. C'mon, Fly...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Emily, Prophetess

...her Narnian prediction posted to the web at 9:32 am, December 5. Behold, I then click on over to the Bad Hair Blog and find "Maybe I'll Go See Narnia," in which Fausta gives the fisk to one Polly Toynbee of the Guardian. [Sadly, I can't give you a direct link. Click here and scroll down one post.]

Toynbee don't like Narnia. Or to be more specific, she don't like everything Narnia reminds her of. The books have an "arm-twisting message" which "does not make any more sense in CS Lewis's tale than in the gospels." That message is that Christ died for us while we were sinners. How dare he! (In fact, let me let Polly say it: "Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?") And, not coincidentally, she despairs that people will get political ideas as well: " in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right."

Oh, and by the way, she eventually gets around to actually reviewing the plot of the film - eight paragraphs in. Of course she's not the reviewer for the paper: "The Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw gives the film five stars and says, 'There is no need for anyone to get into a PC huff about its Christian allegory.' Well, here's my huff."

That's right, Toynbee simply wanted a rebuttal. As a result she winds up sounding much like Queen Oural in Lewis' magnificent, overlooked "Til We Have Faces" (the book of his I'd most love to adapt to a film), patiently, bitterly writing out her complaint against the gods.

It would have helped in this if Toynbee had actually understood a word of the book, which she quotes often in her screed. For example she says that Edmund sells out his siblings for some Turkish Delight. NO. The Witch promises him that he shall be King after she's gone - a greater lure than some enchanted candies. And, much like the Devil, she's not excatly lying, because she has already held Narnia in thrall for 100 years, and has lived far longer before that. She has every expectation of outliving Edmund. And, again, she quotes the whole bit about "Aslan is on the move" that the beavers explain to the children - but leaves out that the prophecy is about them - "When Adam's flesh and Adam's bone/ Sit on Cair Paravel in throne/ The evil time will be over and done."

So, yes, Edmund needs Aslan, but Toynbee neglects that in a real sense, Aslan needs Edmund - three children will not fulfill the prophecy. All Narnia needs the children.

Toynbee also says, "His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come." But again, if that's about Narnia, why are the children expected to eventually become kings and queens? Why do they fight a pitched battle against the Witch's superior forces? And if it's about Earth, how does this statement make sense alongside the accusation that America is a meddlesome blight that insists on risking blood and treasure for freedom? For whatever else you may say about the current President, he seems to think that his faith requires taking responsibility. (For that matter, you could say the same thing about Joe Liebermann.) It sounds like he's read Phillipians 2:12-13, in fact: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you." It's John Kerry and Jimmy Carter whose faith requires that they make bold stands on the sidelines while moral issues are settled.

Ms. Toynbee's only real point is that Lewis wrote the books as evangelical tools, believing that the imagination has its part in the soul's service as do the mind and heart. She even admits the need, noting in her column that "...43% of people in Britain in a recent poll couldn't say what Easter celebrated. Among the young - apart from those in faith schools - that number must be considerably higher." But of course she doesn't like the cultural and imaginative defense of Christianity any more than she likes its armed defense. She takes pains to mention Tolkein's dislike of allegory, but conveniently ignores that Tolkein was on Lewis' side when it came to Christ, which is really inexcusable since she points out that Tolkein helped convert Lewis.

It's quite plain that she thinks of this as a cultural war, and she wants her side to win. She isn't about to settle for peaceful coexistence. Sounds familiar, and totally unsurprising.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

It was bound to happen

Talk about a card game, and you may not learn enough to win more cash, but you get a reward of sorts: spammers. The comments are clean, don't worry, but somehow they've gotten my home email (not the nightflymail account) and are offering Nigerian widows on discount meds who will refinance my mortgage live on their webcam.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


Or, what do you call someone with the same name?

Said gentleman is, oddly enough, also a writer, although with more professional credits than I (meaning, more than zero). This could be why he updates only sporadically. It could also be why, despite this, he has 17 comments on his last post, a number I've never reached in 213 tries (and counting).

Good luck to you, sir!

Much better

Remember this?

Not surprisingly,
it's been redesigned. I'm pleased to have added my own small voice to the chorus of others who helped bring down this turkey. I raise my glass to you all. (And I gratefully tip my wings to reader NJ Marina, who found and sent the link.)

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

I've been asked to provide a small tutorial on the nature of the neighborhood poker game. (That's the Hive, your one-stop blog for politics, theology, and gambling!) Let's start basic: how do you win a hand of poker?

OK, let's start more basic - what is a hand of poker?

A hand is five cards. Some games are played with more cards for each player, but in order to determine who wins, one chooses the best five cards, based on their rank (from Ace high to 2 low) and suits (four of them: clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades). (Extra cards tend to make the winning hands stronger: first, you get more cards to choose from, and second, good players can make better decisions when they see more of the cards.) And which five cards do you want? Basically, you want stuff that comes out lower on the following list. Here are the possible hands of poker, in order from least to best:

» High card. Also known in poker circles as "crap." Nothing matches, nothing's in the same suit, not enough consecutive cards. This means that you just take the five highest cards and that's your hand. Called by the rank of the high card, as in "I've got ace high."

Ah - but what about two people with aces? It's time to cover tie breaking. (This applies to everything else on the list as well, so keep track.) The highest card is always the most important: A-8-6-4-3 beats K-Q-J-10-5, even though all those picture cards (the king, queen, and jack) look so impressive. If the high card is the same, keep moving down until you find different cards: A-J-8-5-4 beats A-J-8-5-2, for example. So yes, it's possible to have tie hands - not that these hands will win, even if tied. These are the dregs, I tell you. Someone just about always has at least one pair, which sounds an awful lot like a segue...

» One pair. Two matching ranks. The pair is, again, the most important part, so 2-2-6-4-3 beats any of the hands described above. But twos are the lowest of the pairs, beaten by everything from a pair of threes to a pair of aces. If you have an identical pair, then the highest unpaired card breaks the tie: K-K-10-6-5 beats K-K-8-7-6.

(This tie-break card is usually called the kicker, because like football kickers, they usually screw up everything. No, I'm not bitter.)

» Two pair. Just what it says. Q-Q-7-7-A is an example. The higher pair of the two gives the strength of the hand, so if you've got A-A-2-2 you beat the player with the queens and sevens. If you also have queens and sevens, however, you can't win because you can't out-kick the ace. If you both have identical hands, split the pot and keep dealing - nobody else will want to relive how weird that was. (Usually announced as "queens over sevens," so you can sound professional while losing to "aces over twos.")

» Three of a kind. Sometimes called "a set." But you can just say "three nines" or whatever. Notice that here kickers won't be an issue, since only pinochle decks have more than four nines. (More on that later...)

» A straight. Here's where it gets fun. People start tossing about their fancy lingo and their cute matched cards - "Kings over." "Sorry, set of nines." But then you coolly announce, "I've got a straight." There they are - five cards in sequence (suits don't matter). The high card in the sequence determines which straight wins if there's more than one, but that doesn't matter to you, because you've got the ace-high straight, A-K-Q-J-10, also called "Broadway" (it's where the stars come out to shine, ya know). So you start to rake in chips - until -

» A flush. - until the chump next to you taps you casually on the arm and says, "Your straight's no good here." Then he turns over five cards of a matching suit and ruins your night. (That's why it's not kosher to wait until someone else thinks they've won before turning up your hand. It's called "slow-rolling," and once Mr. Flush does it to you, you'll know how those cute matching cards felt.)

Like everything else, high card in the flush determines the winner, so an ace-high flush beats a king-high, and so on. Suits, however, don't break ties. Hearts are not more valuable than clubs, for example, so if you've actually tied with another flush (all your cards have the same rank), just split the pot and keep dealing. (However, that is weird enough to talk about while you split, if you're neither slow nor obnoxious about it.)

» Full house. This is a three of a kind plus a pair: Q-Q-Q-7-7, for example ("queens full of sevens," as compared to "queens over sevens" from before). It's an excellent hand, and some casinos will offer a "bad beat jackpot" if someone loses while holding one (though usually it has to be aces full.) It's also known as a boat - everyone else sinks down in their chair when it floats by, muttering "Good hand." (Let's pretend that's what we heard.) The higher three-of-a-kind part will determine the winner if there are two boats gunning it out.

(And ties? Again, impossible under normal circumstances. But our friend Martin re-defines the term 'possibility.' Martin's the guy who introduces a new game to the table and then has to ask, "How do I deal this?" every other time it's played. Martin's the guy who tries to slow-roll a hand that someone else has already beaten, and then takes five minutes trying to figure out how his cards don't win the pot. And Martin's the guy who brings the cards to the game, only to have seven guys turn up full houses or four of a kind on the first hand - yup, you guessed it; Martin bought pinochle cards. If your home game doesn't have a Martin, go invite one.)

» Four of a kind. The crown-prince of poker, four of a kind (or "quads") is tough to get and gives you a virtual lock on the hand. As such, you shouldn't pull the old M*A*S*H joke of "two pair - two red tens and two black tens." Your friends will have every right to banish you from the game after a line like that. Two four-of-a-kinds are quite rare in the same hand, but if so, the higher rank wins. But even quads have to bow to a higher authority...

» Straight flush. Yup. It takes the deadly combination of two different hands to beat a four of a kind. A straight flush is five cards of the same suit in sequence, such as 7-8-9-10-J of hearts. Just for giggles, I'll point out again that the highest card breaks ties, so 7-8-9-10-J of hearts would beat 4-5-6-7-8 of diamonds. (The poor guy with the diamonds won't be giggling, however. Best to have an ambulance on hand for him.) And the queen mother of all straight flushes is the ace-high straight flush, also known as the royal flush.

(I've only seen one natural royal flush in my life as a casual player - a hand in which the dealer, as a gag, rigged the result so that I would get one. It was worth it just to hear the reactions upon seeing it.)

And that is that - unless of course you're playing with wild cards... Ignore the green section if you don't need (or don't care) to know about it. Everyone else:

Wild cards are a card that can be counted as anything by the bearer. (This must be determined before the dealing starts - I can't emphasize that strongly enough.) So, if the dealer calls "twos are wild" before the hand, and you hold 2-7-8-10-J at the end, you have (tada!) a straight - you count the wild deuce as a nine.

Naturally this makes the winning hand stronger, and the more wild cards out there, the worse it gets. With wild cards, decent hands like two pair or three of a kind usually wind up losing to crap like your jack-high. However, crap like your jack-high usually winds up losing to a two pair that suddenly becomes four of a kind because one pair is wild - so don't get your hopes up too much. Lousy cards still tend to lose to good cards. However, wild cards are fun for one thing:

» Five of a kind. Through the use of the wild card it is possible to gain five of a rank even though there's only four of everything in the pack. Some people pooh-pooh the wild card, but it's worth it to be able to say, "I've got five aces." It's the highest hand in the universe - it beats the royal flush and everything else out there.

(It's also fun to be able to say, offhand, "Oh, I've got a royal," even if two of them are really deuces play-acting. It's a royal flush, man. For an instant the club soda becomes a martini, the radio starts playing cool jazz, and you're James freakin' Bond scoring a hundred thou at Monte Carlo. "I've got a royal." No big whoop.)

And that's what you need to know in order to start learning the individual games. More in our next!

-- "Spats" Nightfly