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John Kelly's Washington

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John Kelly
Friday, June 4, 2010; 12:00 PM

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John Kelly: may not be the right word. It is a matter of life and death, though.Earlier this week I wrote about bluebird boxes being vandalized in some Montgomery County parks. Stupid kids? Maybe, except for the fact that similar vandalism occurred last year, suggesting a pattern, and one set of bluebird babies were killed, suggesting a sicko.t it, like some proto-serial killer. natural instincts. Is that unfair to the birds? Or is that just cats being cats?s not okay for dogs to kill cats? (I should raise these questions Saturday night, when I'm a "celebrity" dog-walker at the Washington Humane Society's Bark Ball. [And speaking of dead birds, what's up with the dead headless chicken {or is that redundant?} found on a Silver Spring street?])s World War I dead. And I drove the new Mercedes Gullwing--at about one-tenth the speed it is capable of going.Time to find out how fast you're capable of going...

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You need to be funny today: So I can stop sobbing over the photos of oil-covered birds.

John Kelly: Uh-oh. I probably shouldn't have brought up the dead bluebird babies thing.Let's see...funny...funny... Well, at the risk of coming across all Weingarteny, how about this story from a Philly paper: "Air Force pounds MILF lairs with rockets."

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The headless chicken: Perhaps I should start by warning sensitive stomachs not to read this. I think I know where it came from. It was supposed to be someone's dinner but the cook failed to understand the robustness of a dead chicken.How do I know this ? My dad, in explaining his distaste for eating chicken, told me that when he was little, it was his job to help his mother by chasing Sunday dinner around the backyard after she cut its head off. Once or twice, he had to get a ladder and climb onto a neighbor's roof where the chicken had keeled over after managing a headless flight.

John Kelly: Do you think someone lost track of it after delivering the almost-fatal blow? Or did they just lose their appetite? I think it's more likely it was part of a voudoo or Santeria ritual.I found it interesting that MoCo animal services picks up nothing smaller than an adult possum.

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Washington DC : Hi John, Love your chats. I was going to submit a really good question, but when your page appeared and I saw the picture of the beautiful lady selling iPads, my jaw dropped and I totally forgot what I was going to ask...

John Kelly: How come I don't see that ad? All I see is an ad for steam train excursions through the Maryland countryside. I guess my computer's cookies tell advertisers that I'm not cool enough for an iPad.

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Conversating and changing things up for you and I: Hey John--I was recently chatting with someone who commented that we were 'conversating.' He seemed shocked when I informed him that conversate is not a word. Should we start a list of the grammatical errors that bother us the most? I despise the over and inappropriate use of prepositions (you don't wonder where things are at, just where they are; you don't change things up, you just change them), and am saddened at the increasing misuse on newscasts and--gasp--in the Post. I also hate the misuse of 'I' in place of 'me', mostly because people use 'I' trying to sound smart.

John Kelly: Those are all annoying. What annoys me most? Probably the same thing that annoys the very funny British comedian David Mitchell in this video podcast from the Guardian.

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Arlington, Va.: Is there anything that MoCo is doing to try and catch the sadistic monster that's killing baby bluebirds? Isn't killing and torturing small animals one of the classic signs of a future serial killer? Did anyone happen to mention this when you were working on the column?

John Kelly: It is an active case, with an investigator assigned to it. I spoke with her and she said they had a lead or two. In the meantime, some of the bluebird monitors--the volunteers who check on the boxes weekly--are thinking about moving the boxes onto private property. They think that a vandal might be less likely to do his sinister work on private land than on public park land.Here's another odd thing: Some of the boxes were taken away then returned all nailed, stapled and screwed shut.No one mentioned the serial killer thing, but I have heard that before. Killing bluebirds is also a violation of the Migratory Bird Act. It's a protected species.

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D.C.: This might be impertinent of me, but I'd like to suggest a series of occasional pieces on the early history of the D.C. area. I'm not talking before Watergate, but prehistoric, antediluvian -- even before dinosaurs walked the Earth. I grew up in SE D.C. and used to go hunting for fossils that were left as part of the Brightseat Deposit. You could find cool sharks teeth, petrified clams and sea mollusks, etc. And this was all at the current site of the Addison Road Metro station. I'll bet a good geologist with a local interest could supply you with all kinds of nice material, even stuff for the kids pages. Just a thought.

John Kelly: KidsPost did a neat series of pages that showed the area through the millennia, including back in prehistoric times. I can try to look into some of that, though my historial pieces tend to be the sort that cause people to go, "Oh yeah! I remember that nightclub/restaurant/personality/etc." rather than "I remember when Diplodocus roamed the land."

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cats and birds: Cats should be kept indoors. Have you heard about the story of the scientist on Galapagos whose cat single-handedly (or pawedly) made a species of bird endagered by attacking and killing them all?Of course I can't verify this but one of my biologist friends told me this so it must be true.But even besides that, unless you have feral cats in your barn or something, keep your kitty inside. Especially if they are declawed (shudder), not vaccinated, or haven't been spayed or neutered. They are perfectly happy indoors-- I have two, I know.

John Kelly: I don't think all cats are happy indoors, though. Don't some demand to be let out?Then there's the case of that guy in Florida who was killing feral cats because they were killing some rare bird. And here's a case from Texas.

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D.C. Song and High School Reunions: I would set D.C.'s new song to the tune of "O, Canada," because when I hear that tune at a sporting event I can never recall the words and make something up on the spur of the moment - "O, Canada, your trees are green and leafy ...". For D.C., it could be "O Washington, your chili is so beefy ..." Can you suggest a funny book about a high school reunion? I can't think of one. "I Love You, Beth Cooper" is about a high school graduation.

John Kelly: Answer Man will offer some more D.C. tunes on Sunday. After seeing Trouble Funk at the 930 club anniversary on Monday I think any official D.C. song has to have a go-go beat.

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The evolving English language: The neat thing about English is that "conversate" now is a word, whether we like it or not, because somebody used it in a sentence. Living languages change. If Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius could observe that the "everyday words of an earlier generation need a glossary now," then surely we can accept the same growth in our own language 19 centuries later.

John Kelly: Word choice certainly tells us something about the speaker. "Conversate" seems to me a word that sends a specific message. You would choose it deliberarly for effect. Unless you really didn't the word "converse" existed. Same with something such as "ain't." If George Will says "ain't" he's doing it to make a point.

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DC Song?: Rewrite YMCA.That ought to do it.

John Kelly: Double-U DC!I wanna live in Double-U DC!

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Don't tell me : you "graduated" college.People graduate from college and some chemists graduate beakers.

John Kelly: What does "matriculated" mean? Can you say "I matriculated from college"? Or "I matriculated at college"? It sounds vaguely dirty. But then, so does "pedagogy."

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Feral Cats: I've got three feral cats on my deck right now. They live in the woods out back. My apartment complex has them caught (or try to) spays and neuter them, and turns them loose. They cut off the tip of the left ear to indicate caughtednes.

John Kelly: What if they catch them more than once?

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Bluebird killers: The weirdness of returning the bluebird boxes but nailed shut struck a chord with me as I am now reading Rex Stout's "Not Quite Dead Enough," in which a batty (no pun intended) character is trying to kill hawks in New York City "because they kill pigeons." She's a pigeon-lover and is harassing the mayor and any officials she can find in an effort to get officialdom "to remove all the hawks from the city." Maybe DC has a similarly nutty starling-lover or sparrow-lover.

John Kelly: That's a possibility. Or a starling- or sparrow-hater. Supposedly these birds really go to town on bluebirds, taking over the nest, killing the babies. Maybe someone is trying to eradicate sparrows or starlings that he thinks have taken over the bluebird boxes. But that doesn't explain the baby bluebirds.

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Cats and birds: Come on - human beings do not kill birds out of a long established instinct. The blue bird thing sounds like someone killing for pleasure and that is icky/scary. That being said, our song birds have enough to deal with without cats. Cats should be inside - it is better for them. They are healthier and live longer. But nature is not always nice. In my backyard I have seen a cat kill a chipmunk, a fox kill a squirrel and deer brutalizing my hosta - and I live in Rockville!

John Kelly: Does it all come down to cuteness? There can't be that many chromosomes separating a chipmunk from a rat. And yet I love the former and despise the latter. I wouldn't like either in my house, but I look forward to seeing chipmunks in my yard and was saddened when I was walking the dog the other day and saw on the road what looked like a tiny chipmunk rug. Of course, rats have that whole Black Death thing to live down.

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Flirting w/perfection: Have you ever flirted with perfection, only to have someone else deny you of being perfect, and then apoligize to you, cause they were wrong?

John Kelly: Hmmm, lemme think.... No. Nobody's prefect.

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Heat exhausted middle schoolers: What's with the story of the middle school kids who had to evacuate the building for a bomb scare the other day? Apparently they thought it would only take 20 minutes to give the all-clear, but kids ended up outdoors for an hour--- and they had to call emergency personnel to administer water and gatorade for the kids sickened by the heat! When I was 12 years old, an hour on the schoolyard on a beautiful day in June was known as *Recess.*Are kids so out of shape from junk food and video games that they can't be outdoors for an hour without fainting from heat exhaustion? It's not like it was 95 degrees and they were standing at attention wearing army fatigues and backpacks. Or am I missing something here?

John Kelly: Ha. Good point. I saw a bit of the meeting that the principal had with parents when it was on the news the other night. I was struck by two things: There weren't that many parents at the meeting. That suggested most people weren't that upset, though maybe only those who had kids who fainted went. Secondly, the principal spoke in that sort of namby-pamby boilerplate that so many executives and politicians resort to. "Our primary concern is the students. We want to learn from this and move on." That sort of thing. Why can't people just say, "Wow, we screwed up. I'm sorry it happened and we'll try not to let it happen again."

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Feral Cats: John Kelly writes: What if they catch them more than once?They're turned loose.I've never understood why it's ok, even encouraged, to feed wild birds, but not wild/feral cats.

John Kelly: Interesting point. But are there such things as wild cats? Aren't they the same species as domesticated cats, just living in the wild? Whereas, I can't buy a cardinal at the pet store.

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Do you have an opinion on..: .. Why don't women dress like ladies anymore? You know: hats, dresses, silk stockings, heels, perhaps gloves on occassion. You don't have to answer this: How come women today dress like.. men? Ugh. In the immortal words of Chester A. Riley - What a revoltin' development this is!

John Kelly: Any women or cross-dressing men out there care to address this?(By the way, I don't think you're right. I was just noticing the other day that the summer dresses are out in full force, especially in downtown D.C.)

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Bad words: I'm a professional editor, so I could give you a list a mile long. However, not 15 minutes ago a friend was ranting about a commercial that used the word "orientate."My current peeve has to do with the creation of verbs from nouns. I think Googling and texting started the trend, but it's gone mad. I'm waiting for someone to tell me that she Kleenexed the baby's nose.

John Kelly: "Kleenexed" reminds me of something from "Clockwork Orange." Anthony Burgess has some great language in that novel. You also see language like that in noir novels. One that George Pelecanos seems to be fond of is "keyed," as in, "Jackie keyed the car and drove down 13th Street."

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why it's okay for cats to kill birds but it's not okay for people to kill birds? : Because people KNOW better. We don't need birds, it's not wired into our DNA to kill them. Cats have a secret liscense to kill, sorta like James Bond.

John Kelly: I wonder: Does Miss Moneypenny have an apartment full of cats? Pussy Galore does, obviously.

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early history of the D.C. area: There's Calvert Cliffs!

John Kelly: That's right. It's full of old stuff.I remember when I was a kid lving in Texas finding a fossil of a razor clam in our suburban neighborhood. It was a new development so the land around us was always being scraped and dug and built upon. I thought that razor clam was the coolest thing ever and was convinced I had found a new species. My mom actually took me to a nearby university to show it to an expert there who proclaimed it to be ... a razor clam, like millions before it. Nothng special but I though it was cool.

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Our natural environment is amazing: and few know how much gold is here to pick up or get out of streams, if people take the time to do it.

John Kelly: Yeah, but I think the return on the investment of time is pretty meager. If it was easy and profitable, everybody'd be doing it.

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Women's dress: Because it's restrictive and uncomfortable; and in the D.C. summer, it's HOT. That's why, Archie Bunker. You spend a week in stockings and heels and see how you like it. And don't forget to get your legs waxed, and to wear a full face of makeup.

John Kelly: like turning the faucet on your forehead. Speaking of which, check out this video, part of our 30-Second Summer series. (Have you sent yours in yet?)

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Silver Spring, Md: Domestic cats kill huge numbers of birds every year, many of which are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, or both. Domestic cat predators also compete with far less numerous wild predators, including predator birds like hawks. Domestic cats that are allowed to roam free are also more likely to catch and spread disease, and have a much shorter life span than house cats. My personal feeling is that cats should stay indoors, for the sake of both the cats and the birds.Perhaps neighboorhoods with free-roaming cats need more coyotes.

John Kelly: Oh the coyotes will be here soon enough. What eats them? Wolves? Jackalopes?

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Orientate: "Orientate" is standard in British English. They snicker at our "orient." The opposite is the case for "burgle" (Brit) and "burglarize" (American). This is just not something to fall on your semantic sword over.

John Kelly: What drove my daughter crazy when we were in England was "revise" to mean "study." Her schoolmates would say, "I have to revise for my maths exam." That's another one: maths.

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Papageno killed birds: For the table of the Queen of the Night. That's how he met the bird girl, Papagena.Now sing the aria. With the Fs above High C. This song literally separates the women from the girls.Mustache or no.{for those of your readers who watch 24, this is all from the opera: The Magic Flute. Mozart. Wolfgang, not Ralph.}

John Kelly: Grazie.And you know how people used to catch birds back then? Put sticky stuff on branches so their little feet would get stuck. I remember my parents telling me when I was a kid that the surefire way to catch a bird was to sprinkle salt on its tail. Anyone else remember that? It was only recently that I realized they were joking.

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the grammatical error that bothers me the most is:: "changing things up for you and I."--It shoud be "ME". When choseing between "I" or "me" and "you and", chose the one you'd use if it was singular rather than at the end of "you and ..." So "Changing things up for me"proves that the correct usage is "changing things up for you and me."

John Kelly: Just remember Helen Reddy: She didn't sing "Sometimes it feels like you and I against the world."

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What drove my daughter crazy when we were in England was "revise" to mean "study.": Why should their standard expression have driven her crazy?

John Kelly: Because it usually preceded a bout of the old ultraviolence, me droogie.

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Cats outdoors: We used to have outdoor cats - seemed to be the thing in our neighborhood. I now have two indoor cats. One has never been outdoors and the other had been an outdoor cat when we got him at age 1. Our compromise is we let him outside on a dog leash. He loves it and will take walks with us up and down the sidewalk and stay in our patio area (we keep an eye on him). No dead birds/squirrels plus we have a happy cat.

John Kelly: What about bells? Do those work? I mean, just to give the birds a fighting chance.

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Cats should be inside - it is better for them. They are healthier and live longer. : But they're happier going outside: it's their nature. I could say the same to you: you're safer staying inside forever, but you DO go out a live life. I give the same right to my cat.

John Kelly: I have all sorts of rights that a cat doesn't have. Nor do I clean myself with my tongue.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coyote: Cougars sometimes kill coyotes. The coyote's instinctive fear of cougars has led to the development of anti-coyote sound systems which repel coyotes from public places by replicating the sounds of a cougar.[34] Bears can also rarely kill coyotes, more likely in competitive rather than predatory attacks. However, both cougars and bears have been displaced from carcasses by coyote packs.[35]

John Kelly: That's it. I'm changing the ringtone on my cell phone. From now on it's going to be CougarSounds. I probably shouldn't Google that, though. I'll end up with Courtney Cox moaning.

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{for those of your readers who watch 24, this is all from the opera: The Magic Flute. Mozart. Wolfgang, not Ralph.} : What on earth does watching '24' have to do with Papageno/Papagena??? Is it that people who watch '24' aren't sufficiently cultured to know about Mozart and his operas? If not that, I'm bumfuzzled.

John Kelly: Uh-oh. Not only do we have the cat/bird people at each other's throats, now we have Kiefer/Wolfgang aggro.

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Dead animals: I witnessed my dog kill a possum a few mornings ago. It was really disturbing. I told my husband that the "innocence is gone." He reminded me that our dog is an animal and what he did was normal. I told him I was referring to my own innocence.

John Kelly: Are you sure he really killed the possum? They are notorious actors.

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Belling the cat: I had a cat that brought home a baby bird. Horrified, I attached a bell to her collar. The next day I caught her walking very carefully - practicing to walk without the bell making a sound. She could still catch birds. We made her into an inside cat.

John Kelly: I'm reminded of that scene in "Jurassic Park" where the Aussie dino wrangler is creeping through the jungle in search of the raptors and pauses to say, "What a clever...." just before getting eviscerated.

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How come women today dress like.. men? : Dude, try wearing high heels, pantyhose, thong s-- and then you'll admit grown free adults should get to wear what makes them comfortable. I like skirts, but I love jeans too, so I will wear jeans as often as I can (which is basically when I'm not at work). Let's all BE the ladies and gentlemen we can BE and not judge individual dignity on whether one is wearing pants or not.

John Kelly: Well put.

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Perfect Game: John, if you were Bud Selig, what would you do?

John Kelly: I can't bring myself to watch that video. It's so heartbreaking. Boswell's story was nice today, about how everyone is making the best of the situation. But it does seem like it's high time for instant replay for plays like. If I was Selig I wouldn't retroactively make it a perfect game but I would start putting the machinery in place for replays.

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Annoying Speech Errors: I hate it when people say or write "I could care less." Really? You do care?Also, and this is sadly heard mostly in TV news casts, "Scientific advancements."

John Kelly: There does seem to be a belief that the more syllables in word--of even the more letters--makes it "better."

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Did you read?: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.That novel pretty well sums up contemporary western society.Hint: It's you folks with kids who are doing all the damage. Time for a societal clipping of something other than ears!

John Kelly: You mean "Men Who Hate Women" or whatever its title is in Swedish? I read the book and saw the movie and decided after the fact that though I enjoyed them while reading/watching them, they don't stand up to pondering.

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Word usage pet peeve...: Not sure if this counts but it absolutely drives me insane when someone says/writes "centers around." It is physically impossible to center around something...you center "on" something. Ugh.

John Kelly: I think I may have done that myself. But never again!

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Are you kidding?: I will wear silk stockings, gloves, and dresses when (a) I can find a work dress that isn't cut down to there and (b) when I see the majority of men wearing spats, suspenders, polished shoes, and vests while carrying walking sticks and top hats. Puleeze.

John Kelly: Ha! I will if you will!

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Bad Words: I'm an editor for one of our military branches. The military uses words I've never seen or heard in any other written documentation. I tried to correct them but realized I was fighting a losing battle. I now let the words slide and concentrate on the daily abuse of the comma.

John Kelly: You're doing, the lord's, work.

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Cats, birds, etc.: I think one of the previous posters put it quite well: Cats have a hard-wired instinct to hunt and kill birds; people don't. That's why I don't get too exercised if a cat kills a bird, but whoever is killing those bluebirds is a sicko of some kind.As for keeping cats indoors, some cats are quite happy indoors, but some aren't. We have three of the former and one of the latter; haven't seen the latter in at least a month. He is presumably out in the woods somewhere, killing birds -- if a fox hasn't killed him. He would be totally miserable if kept in the house, and he would make our life miserable. When we adopted him we knew he liked to go outdoors, but he has progressed from "likes to go outdoors" to "won't come inside." Oh well, that's the way it is.

John Kelly: At what point does he stop becoming "your" cat?

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Did someone recently watch Clockwork Orange: Or is it burned in you brain, me droogie ?

John Kelly: No I just haven't had lunch yet and so I'm hungry. I guess I could be making references to "Like Water for Chocolate" or Condaleeza Rice's autobiography.

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not judge individual dignity on whether one is wearing pants or not.: I was worried you'd make a joke about going about without pants is generaly not very dignified... lol

John Kelly: There's another difference between England and America. Don't say "I hate wearing pants" in England. And heaven help you if your first name is "Randy."

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Domestic vs wild animals: I too am a dog person but they kill wildlife too. Wednesday evening my Irish Setter came running out of the woods with a fawn in her mouth. The fawn was screaming and the dog gave it a good shake. Probably killed it . We live in rural Virginia on 20 acres of wooded hills so the dog could easily run up the mountain and lose us without leaving our "yard." So we weren't able to find it. Once a couple of years ago she (the dog) caught a groundhog by the tail and ran up the mountain with it. Ever hear a groundhog scream?A few months ago she treed (how's that for verbing a noun) a bear cub and earlier this week she treed a black snake. Both instances were close enough to the house for us to simply bring her in and let the "victim" wander away.Having said that, I have to also tell how the squirrels torment the dog, running from tree to tree and chirping at the dog "you can't get me"!

John Kelly: Wow, and I thought things were exciting at the bird feeder in my back yard. Well, bird feeder/cat feeder. No, I haven't heard a groundhog scream, but I'll be thinking about that all weekend now.

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Jackalopes: are vegan.

John Kelly: And taste like chicken.

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I hadn't heard about the heat-exhausted middle schoolers...: See, that's just one of the countless things that are wrong with society today (I know I sound like a senior citizen, but I'm only 41 - can you imagine what I'll be like in another 25 years?). The administrators didn't do anything wrong - those kids should have been able to handle being outside for an hour. But instead they are spending all of their time inside their air conditioned bubble in front of the computer, video games, etc.We don't have a/c and believe it or not, it actually makes the heat of summer easier because we acclimate to it. Now I freeze inside stores and restaurants. People spend all winter complaining about the cold, and then do their best to make everything cold in the summer. It's ridiculous.

John Kelly: Humans are ridiculous. It's a wonder our pets stick with us.

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Changing things up for you and I: I posted this and I used it deliberately--both the use of I (instead of me) and the use of 'up' after change are incorrect (as is conversate in the original topic line). I don't mind these errors in chats or casual conversations--or when they are used deliberately as with John's ain't -George Will example. But I cannot stand when they are used in settings (newscasts and newspapers) where correct grammar should be used. I must admit that the adding of prepositions (e.g., switch things up) suprises me the most because you are ADDING unnecessary words. I sort of get it when grammar is misused to shorten things, but not to make them long (or should I say lengthen things up).

John Kelly: It's that belief that complexity is preferable. But somtimes the best tools are the simplest ones. I mean, a Leatherman or Swiss Army knife is nice, but a well-made, well-balanced screwdriver is more of a joy to hold.

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Queen of the Night.: Oh please! Sing The C BELOW middle C. That's real woman territory. Not those squeaky high notes that can be hit by prepubescent boys!

John Kelly: Since I'm a drummer I have no idea what you're talking about. Our sheet music comes down to: Hit this, now hit this.

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Verbs from nouns: Googling certainly did not start it, it's been going on for years. There was a Calvin and Hobbes strip in which Calvin says "Verbing weirds language."

John Kelly: True dat.And over dis. That's all the time we have today. Thanks for stopping by. I don't think we solved the bird/cat conundrum but we explored its nooks and crannies. Enjoy the weekend. Oh, and if you're out at The Post Hunt on Sunday, be sure to say hi. I'm volunteering, whatever that means.


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