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Another Great Cat Column

Jon Carroll, the world's greatest writer of cat columns, has graced the readers of the San Francisco Chronicle with yet another classic. Click on the headline for the full text; this is just an excerpt.

Bucket's Role In the Universe
JON CARROLL Monday, August 9, 1999
TRACY SAID TO ME last night: ``What we really need is a second cat.''
We have two cats, of course. For the benefit of all the Chronicle editors who hate every single cat column and make funny puffing noises with their cheeks when they see another one coming along, let me remind these cynical naysayers that my cats are named Archie and Bucket.
Let me say that the People want more cat columns. ``Enough with the political crapola already,'' they remark. Some people bookmark my column on the Web, thinking it's going to be a feline laffathon, and they are ever so irritated when Orrin Hatch and Barney Frank wander through the doors.
Thus: another fine circulation-building cat column.
We have two cats, but we need a second cat. Bucket, we have come to realize, is a third cat. Bucket is a fringe performer. Bucket lives on the edges. She does not come when called. Her domestic pleasures consist almost entirely of finding ever more obscure hiding places in which to nap away the warmer hours of the day.
Bucket has these weird sporadic surges of affection for her humans. She'll go for weeks merely nodding as she passes, and then all of a sudden she's in your lap purring like a steam engine, rolling kittenishly, demanding major hands-on attention. And just as you get a good rub going, she hears a distant bell -- the elves, the elves are calling! -- and she sprints away, not to be seen again for 14 hours.
Classic third cat behavior.
ARCHIE IS A first cat. Archie is the alpha cat. Archie would like to be the only cat. It's impossible to talk to Bucket in a cat-appropriate voice. ``There's the Bucket, the Bucket-boo, there's the Bucket,'' a human might say, and all of a sudden Archie is underfoot.
``Here's the Archie, here's the Archie-whatever, here I am now,'' he insists.
So, on the rare occasions when we interact with her, we have to speak to Bucket as though she were a visiting clergyman. ``Fine weather we're having to be sure and would you like a scone?'' we say in adult tones while scritching her under the neck. Archie, in another room, does not catch on.
SO WE HAVE a first cat and a third cat, and we need a numero two-o. We need a cat that can fulfill the duties of the first cat if for any reason he is unable to serve. We need a cat that appears to recognize us when we walk in the room and takes pleasure from the recognition…

The Pinot Story

There's a story about Pinot Noir at dinner up in the Mother Lode that I was waiting for Marlow to tell. But she got too busy in her last full week at home to write it down. I'm sure she could tell it better.

She's motivated, I'm not. Frankly, it's not a story I am anxious to tell, but as both Vicki and Marlow pointed out, if you're going to write a weekly personal column on the web, it isn't really fair to your readers--no matter how few they are--to leave out the good stuff.

So we're having dinner at the Columbia City Hotel in Columbia, California, in a state park in the heart of the Mother Lode in the Sierra Foothills of California. I decide to order a pinot noir wine. There are two on the menu that look good, a Dehlinger at $48 and another… I forget, let's call it a Husch… at $28. Both come from 1995. Vicki says "We'll never taste the difference, buy the less expensive one." I say, "These prices are based on winemaking style. Let's splurge on the better one."

She responded, "That's pointless." It was, at the point, that I made a mistake I haven't made since my mother won a doubled-up bet at the moment that Sandy Koufax took the mound against the Orioles in the 4th game of the 1964 World Series. I had the Dodgers, who were down three games to none. Mom was betting on the Orioles. Sandy would save the day, I said. "Double the bet?" my mother asked. "Sure," I said. The Orioles blasted Koufax off the mound and swept the series in four games. It was the last time I made a bet of any kind outside of Roulette and Blackjack in Vegas. No sports bets, no pools, no around the house bets.

I succumbed to Vicki's taunting at dinner, however, and bet her the cost of both wines that I could tell the expensive one from the less-expensive one (neither was what you would call cheap). The waiter cooperated, bringing two glasses for each of us, subtly marked. Although the bet did not require Vicki to guess, she played along anyway.

I held both up to the light. Both were perfectly crimson-hued, with not a trace of green around the edges. Both had marvelous pinot noses. I began to sweat a little. I tried the first one. Very simple and clear, a pleasant fruity aftertaste. I tried the second one. It tasted more complex. Well, says I, complexity means more work in the winemaking, right? More time in a better barrel?

Wrongo. But then you saw the punchline coming, didn't you? The waiter said, "The Dehlinger is on your right," Vicki whooped with glee, Marlow laughed hysterically, and if it had been a TV sitcom, we'd have just faded out there. Alas, it was real life, and I had to live with the story for the rest of the weekend, and now, a week later, I've been shamed into preserving it for posterity.

Such is the lot of the Dad.

The Truth About Bill

The best Bill Gates profile I have ever read is in the August 16, 1999 issue of The New Yorker (a mostly white cover with a statue of a bottle of vin rouge). Ken Auletta is given 27 pages--hooray! Tina Brown is gone and her tiny-article fixation left with her!--to discuss the Microsoft antitrust case. Frankly, it looks like he's writing a book, and this is either a sample chapter or his narrative outline. In any case, his opening anecdote nails Gates better than any book length treatment I have ever seen (with the possible exception of The Plot To Get Bill Gates).

The part that rings most true is when Auleta asks Gates at a news conference about Microsoft arrogance. Gates confronts him and says "What do you mean `arrogant. ' "

Gates has made similar statements to me. Since I'm not as fast as Auleta, I wasn't ready with a response. Auleta was (or he's doctored the anecdote to make it appear he was) and describes Gates as chastened by his "people have the right to ask questions" response.

A few paragraphs later, a Department of Justice official describes Gates growing "angry, condescending, snide and petulant." It doesn't take much growth for Gates to make that leap; he's on the edge of all of those emotions every time I've ever seen him offstage. So much so that a colleague, offended by Gates' angry rejoinder to an intended piece of small talk, told him to "Take a chill pill." OK, fine, the man hates small talk. He doesn't have to get het up about it. And since small talk is a normal part of social intercourse, maybe he should get over it. But since there's no one to say no to Bill, his boorish behavior will never improve.

When you get your chance to spend a little time with the great man, turn it down. Spend it instead with Jobs or even Sculley. If you insist on a Microsoftie, spend it with Ballmer or Nathan Myhrvold. At least they're human (especially Myhrvold).

And run, don't walk, to the newsstand for your copy of the current issue of the New Yorker. No, they don't post content on their web site. (Yes they do, behind a paywall.

The Perfect Joke

[A cute joke, cutely presented.]


On the outskirts of town, there was a huge nut tree by the
cemetery fence. One day two boys filled up a bucketful of nuts
and sat down by the tree, out of sight, and began dividing the
nuts. "One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me," said
one boy. The bucket was so full, several rolled out toward the
Cycling down the road by the cemetery was a third boy. As he
passed, he thought he heard voices from inside the cemetery. He
slowed down to investigate. Sure enough, he heard, "One for you,
one for me. One for you, one for me." He knew what it was. Oh
my, he shuddered, It's Satan and St. Peter dividing the souls at
the cemetery."
He cycled down the road fast as he could and found an old man
with a cane, hobbling along. "Come here quick," said the boy,
"You won't believe what I heard. Satan and St. Peter are down at
the cemetery dividing the souls."
The man said, "Shoo, you brat, can't you see I'm finding it hard
to walk as it is." But after several pleas, the man hobbled to
the cemetery.
Standing by the fence they heard, One for you, one for me. One
for you, one for me..." The old man whispered, "Boy, you've been
tellin' the truth. Let's see if we can see the devil himself."
Shivering with fear, they peered through the fence, yet they were
still unable to see anything. The old man and the boy gripped
the wrought iron bars of the fence tighter and tighter as they
tried to get a glimpse of Satan. At last they heard, "One for
you, one for me. And one last one for you. That's all. Now
let's go get those nuts by the fence, and we'll be done."
They say the old guy made it back to town 5 minutes before the

Reality Check

This seems appropriate as Marlow goes off to college.

For you parents (and grandparents): Charles Sykes is the author of Dumbing Down Our Kids. He volunteered high school and college graduates a list of eleven things they did not learn in school. In his book, he talks about how the feel good, politically-correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and set them up for failure in the real world.
You may want to share this list with them.
Rule 1: Life is not fair; get used to it.
Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you
to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: You will NOT make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn't have tenure.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping; they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes. Learn from them.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you are. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents' generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades; they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This, of course, doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave
the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Only Hugh can prevent florist friars

Great Shaggy Dog Story

Barry Surman figured I'd like this story. He was right!

Two members of a small monastery decided to open a small florist shop. The idea of buying beautiful flowers from gentle friars appealed to a lot of people in the town, and soon they were flocking to the shop.

Meanwhile, the florist across town saw his business virtually disappear when all his customers began buying flowers from the monks. He thought the monks had an unfair advantage, so he visited them and asked them to return to the monastery and leave business to businessmen. They politely declined.

So he visited the monastery and asked the abbot to persuade the monks to abandon the business. He declined as well. Next the florist sent his mother, his parish priest and his children to visit the monks, asking them to cease their business so the original florist could make a living. It didn't work.

Finally, in desperation, the florist hired the town thug, Hugh McNasty, to use personal persuasion. Hugh showed up one night with a cudgel, shattered the windows of the monks' shop, tossed their flowers out into the street, and gave the monks black eyes, promising them he'd be back unless they closed their business. Terrified, the monks shut their store and returned to the monastery.

Proving, of course, that ....only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

And Now A Word From England


Larry King, American expatriate in London, and a friend and colleague of mine from two stints at InformationWEEK, dropped me a note:

I'm actually on holiday and have been since the day before you wrote this, so I'm just now picking up e-mail at my mother's house, since the first thing she wanted me to do was go with her to buy a new computer -- Compaq, Pentium II, color printer.
She debated with herself over a scanner before deciding that learning Windows 98 was enough to keep her busy. I gave her my computer when I moved to London and created a monster.
So I'm trying to figure out how I feel about CMP. Mostly sorry for the people who work there, I suppose. A friend of mine got bounced out of Ziff after it went public and watched its stock dive. Why can't techie publishers understand either the Internet or the stock market? Ziff put tons of money into its web activity and its television channel, which swallowed it all without so much as burping. I gather CMP was having trouble figuring out how to make money on, or what to do with, other media as well.
So given the complete confusion in the executive suite over what the hell we're doing for a living, of course you want to go public, so you can share your confusion with Wall Street. Nothing a securities analyst likes hearing more than hesitation and confusion in an executive's voice when he's explaining just what it is the company hopes to make money doing. The analyst is going to run right out and recommend that stock to all his brokers and traders. What he's going to recommend is they sell it till their ears bleed.
By the way, when are you people going to learn that if you let nuts have guns, occasionally one of them will go nuts with a gun?

I did point out to him that he hasn't, that I know of, formally become a British citizen yet, so perhaps the use of "you people" here may be a bit hyperbolic.