There seem to be many different theories about why Christians place ashes on their foreheard at the beginning of Lent. Here's one:
One of the earliest descriptions of Ash Wednesday is found in the writings of the Anglo-Saxon abbot Aelfric (955-1020).
In his Lives of the Saints, he writes, "We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast."
Aelfric then proceeds to tell the tale of a man who refused to go to church for the ashes and was accidentally killed several days later in a boar hunt!
There are two kinds of people on Ash Wednesday: those who wipe off their ashes immediately and those who leave them on all day. I suppose there is a third kind, those who don't take ashes in the first place and are accidentally shot during the boar hunt.
The [Redskins nickname] is a fluke that would have been changed long ago had it not slipped in under the radar of fierce battles to racially integrate the team. The protests of Native Americans were simply overshadowed by confrontations between civil rights activists and groups such as the American Nazi Party, which marched around what is now RFK Stadium in 1961 chanting: “Keep Redskins white!”
[Integration] was vindication for black athletes, who had to put up with claims that they weren’t smart enough to play the game alongside whites. In a bitter irony, a racist team name became linked to one of professional football’s most hard-fought civil rights victories — a caricatured Indian head as a symbol of both interracial triumph on the field and newfound racial harmony in the stands.
Suddenly, everybody but Native Americans wanted to keep the name, lest we forget the lessons of that struggle for inclusiveness. By keeping the name, however, we showed that we hadn’t learned a thing.
I don't know if the name has been retained because of integration, or because of inertia, or because not enough people did anything about it. For whatever reason, the nickname has stuck since 1933, when it was given to the Boston Redskins, who kept it until they moved to the nation's capital in 1937 and became the Washington Redskins. That makes 80 years of the Redskins.
Let that sink in for a bit: The Redskins.
Thinking about it, isolating it, the "Redskins" starts to evolve. It's not like "upholstery." It's more like a word, actually exactly like a word, that describes somebody solely by the color of their skin, with lots of history and implications packed into it.
I don't think a name like "the Washington Darkies" would have lasted 80 years in this city. Isn't it a no-brainer to change the "Redskins"?
Like many no-brainers, though, there has to be something about the issue that makes it a brainer. There are a few points that are frequently raised in favor of keeping the name:
1) The team was named in 1933 in honor of its then-coach William Dietz, who was half Sioux.
2) The name honors the strength and courage of American Indians.
3) A number of polls show that most American Indians find the nickname acceptable, including 90 percent in this poll.
4) Many Redskins fans are passionate about the name and would consider themselves victims of political correctness if the team were to change to something else. As one said: "I understand the the intellectual argument for changing the name of the Washington Redskins, but it is like saying I have to change the name of my child."
5) The team has sunk a ton of money into the name, and it has become a valuable mark. The Redskins are the third most valuable NFL team, worth about $1.6 billion.
I don't mean to sound cynical, but I just think it's true that number 5 is the big one. The Redskins have already sunk a lot of money into keeping and protecting the name, and it won't change until it's financially worthwhile for the franchise to do so. The NFL is a business, not a civil rights movement. A team called the Washington Darkies would lose money because of its name. When a team called the Washington Redskins starts to lose money because of its name, it will probably become something else.
Washington, D.C. is sometimes called Hollywood for ugly people. I think that's a little harsh. I prefer to think of this city as Hollywood for geeks.
That includes the types of star sightings we have. Our stars are stars for the dorks.
I don't count actors and musicians who are here filming, promoting, lobbying, or touring. We have a lot of those, but they usually do a softball interview for the Washington Post at their Four Seasons suite before blowing out of town. You rarely see those types of stars. Those are Hollywood or New York stars. I'm counting only the stars that live and work here.
The type of star that lives here is more of a political, military, lobbying, judicial, or journalism star. The kind of star that appeals to news or political junkies. Most people in the United States would recognize them and maybe even know their names, but they're not famous for something cool like dancing or singing. They're famous for talking or thinking or writing.
Many weekend mornings I'll be in line for coffee at my coffee place. Half asleep, looking at the doughnuts. And then Andrea Mitchell, the NBC News anchor and reporter, will enter and get in line right behind me. The atmosphere in the room changes. I suddenly feel a little nervous. It's Andrea Mitchell. She's on TV all the time. I keep my eyes on the doughnuts. She's off duty. She doesn't want a bunch of people looking at her.
When I walk outside with my coffee, I usually see her famous husband, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, waiting outside for her in his Jaguar. He's never the one that goes to get the coffee, it's always Andrea that has to do it.
That's a big-time DC star sighting. A two-fer.
By a quirk of fate one summer, I saw conservative Washington Post columnist and ABC commentator George Will multiple times. There he was at the next table in a restaurant, wearing his bow tie. Then a week later, there he was at the Nationals game. Then again, just walking around in Georgetown. He looked exactly the same in person as he does on TV. George Will is the ultimate buttoned-down, uptight Washington insider, the kind of guy who uses the word "stadia" for the plural of "stadium," and yet it was pretty cool to run into him all those times. Hanging in the city with my BFF GW.
I used to see George Stephanopoulos all the time, back before he moved to New York to become an ABC anchor, when he was still a Washington, D.C. geek star. His office must have been close to mine because I saw him more often than Leave It to Beaver. He was shorter than I expected. He'd walk without taking his eyes off his phone. He never just looked around.
I was in a restaurant having a late lunch. There was hardly anybody there. Halfway through the meal, Newt Gingrich and his wife were seated at the table right next to me. They both have really white hair. They didn't need bottled water, they were fine with tap water. I respect people's privacy, but it's hard to sit in a quiet restaurant next to Newt Gingrich and not try to eavesdrop.
The presidential motorcade is a frequent occurrence. The first few times it's pretty cool. All those cars! Car after car after car after car. The guy with the machine gun at the top of one of them. The ambulances. Then it gets tiresome. Just another obstacle to getting home. That's not really a star sighting, I suppose. That's just traffic.
I literally ran into Karl Rove one time going into the elevator at a movie theater. That was back when he was working for George Bush, and it was strange to see him doing something relaxing.
That's what strikes me about all these star sightings. The DC kind probably aren't different from the other kinds. When you're around somebody famous you feel a little different for a while, like it's a big deal. Then you realize they stand in line for coffee or order tap water or go to movies. When they appear on television, it seems they don't need to do those things.
Not too long ago, I happened to walk alongside one of the country's most influential people, whose identity I'll keep to myself. He's a household name. You've probably seen his picture dozens of times. He had no security detail, no handlers. Most shocking of all, he got into a PT Cruiser and drove away. One of the most powerful people in the world, and he drives his own PT Cruiser.
LA stars don't drive PT Cruisers. DC stars do.
First of all, Roman numerals are hard to figure out. I'm pretty good at I through X, but then I get lost. Anything past XXXIII is a mystery.
You know how to say "78" in Roman numerals? It's "LXXVIII". How about "1888"? Take a deep breath: "MDCCCLXXXVIII". The Romans needed 13 characters to say what only takes us four. That's just plain inefficient. A surprisingly unimpressive system from the people who invented the aqueduct.
I'll admit it was pretty cool when the year 2000 was MM. But that's about the only good one. I don't like to watch the credits to old movies and see something like "MCMLXXXII" roll past. How am I supposed to know? What's wrong with just using the working man's year?
Somewhere along the line, people thought Roman numerals added flare to things. They started to use Roman numerals for the Olympics. "The Games of the XXVIII Olympiad," and so on. But the Greeks invented the Olympics. How do you think they'd feel about our using the numerals of the Romans for their games? Well, I think they'd be pretty pissed off about it. I'm no historian, but I don't think there was much affection between the Greeks and the Romans.
The NFL coopted the Roman numeral facade for the Super Bowl. Figured it would drape the game with dignity and meaning. It wasn't enough to say "Super Bowl 2." It had to be "Super Bowl II." They must have felt pretty silly during those early years, attaching such grand-looking numerals to what was then a relatively puny game. Like putting a bronze plaque on your store: "Fine plumbing supplies since 2011!"
I think that's phony. A guy who throws a lot of French words into his movie reviews.
Like all things involving Roman numerals, the Super Bowl titles and logos work pretty well when it's a good numeral, like "Super Bowl XV" or "Super Bowl XIX" or even "Super Bowl XXX". Maybe not so much that last one, but you get the idea.
Most of the time, though, it's a catastrophe. Take this year: "Super Bowl XLVII." Next year will be "Super Bowl XLVIII." I think that's unappealing. Lumpy.
The heart of the problem is this: Roman numerals aren't even numerals. They're letters! Every single one of them is a letter. I'm just a bumpkin, but I think numerals should be numerals and letters should be letters, and they should be expected to do only one job.
The Romans might have been a superpower at one time, but they couldn't hack it and got taken down by a bunch of Goths. I'm all for preserving Roman buildings, but I would like to see the decline and fall of their numerals.
"I didn't deserve to win it," Fernández Anaya told El País. "I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn't have closed if he hadn't made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn't going to pass him."Here's the video.
Two words? For 14 years of defending a man? And in the end, being made to look like a chump?
Wrote it, said it, tweeted it: "He's clean." Put it in columns, said it on radio, said it on TV. Staked my reputation on it.
"Never failed a drug test," I'd always point out. "Most tested athlete in the world. Tested maybe 500 times. Never flunked one."
Why? Because Armstrong always told me he was clean.
But it wasn't Reilly's job as a journalist to "defend" Armstrong. And it wasn't his job to stop investigating just because Armstrong told him he was clean. Reilly shouldn't be complaining about Armstrong's insufficient apology or about being made to look like a chump. He should be apologizing to his readers for a lazy, sloppy, crappy, hero-worshipping job of reporting.
The depressing thing about Reilly, who should worry about restoring his own credibility, it that he's not alone. There were dozens, maybe hundreds, of reporters who didn't just write stories or books about Armstrong. They wrote sonnets.
And what about all the journalists who pumped up the Te'o girlfriend stories (like this, and this, and this)? They also should also be apologizing to their readers for a lazy, sloppy, crappy, hero-worshipping job of reporting. Two calls or 15 minutes of internet research would have been enough.
What would happen to you if you didn't do your job?
I'm starting to believe more and more in the wisdom of Charles Barkley: Athletes shouldn't be role models. They are good at dunking and passing and kicking. Why does there have to be something extra?
There's nothing wrong with admiring a famous athlete, politician, scientist, musician, artist. I'll still do that. But as I get older, I think I'll just admire them for what they do, not who they are.
Despite any lessons learned with these stories, celebrities will continue to get pumped up and molded beyond any reality, and then you start to think they aren't real people. Some will get taken down for something or another. I can still admire them for their accomplishments, can't I? Lance Armstrong may be a royal dick, but if we are to believe what we're told about the use of performance-enhancing drugs among professional cyclists, then he was the best doped-up rider among a bunch of doped-up riders. I don't have to like him. I can still be impressed about what he did. I couldn't have done what he did if I was doped from the top of my hat to the tip of my shoe. If he created liability for himself along the way, then there are lawyers who can help him.
The people we should really admire are our grandparents, teachers, coaches, aunts, siblings, colleagues. Our parents. Our friends. We may find out they were doping too, but there they are right before our eyes, and we are very lucky to have them.
(Photo by Joel Sagent/AFP/Getty Images via Slate)
My team, the Minnesota Vikings, was eliminated from the NFL playoffs this past Saturday. Although I've been disappointed many times by the Vikings (as I described in a post I wouldn't recommend reading), this wasn't one of those times.
Working with a lineup of players that won only three games last year, the Vikings overachieved and ended the regular season with a respectable 10-6 record. The highlight was probably the performance of running back Adrian Peterson, who was only nine yards short of having the best rushing season in NFL history.
Nobody, including me, thought they would do much this year. Just making the playoffs was a minor miracle. I certainly didn't expect them to win their game Saturday, which was on the road in one of the harshest stadiums to visit in the NFL. For good measure, their starting quarterback was injured and didn't even suit up, and their backup had barely played all season.
So normally I would have been cool with the loss. And yet I feel bad about it, and that's because they lost to the Green Bay Packers. And losing to the Green Bay Packers leaves my heart filled with dread.
I should really like the Packers. Founded almost 100 years ago, they are an American institution, the only non-profit team in the NFL. They are owned not by some billionaire polluter or sweatshop magnate but by thousands of citizen shareholders. Many of its owners are average Joes who live in the team's hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin, which has a population of about 100,000, about one-tenth the size of the next smallest NFL cities and a one-horse town compared to the places that have dominated the NFL over the years like New York, San Francisco, and Dallas. I have never been there but apparently Green Bay is made up entirely of people who would gladly give your car a jump anytime you needed one and then hand you a Schlitz.
Despite their limitations, the Packers have won more championships than any other NFL team — four Super Bowls and nine pre-1967 "world championships." They play outdoors on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, which is like a cathedral to football fans. Their legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, may have been the best this nation has ever known in any sport.
So it takes a rare kind of courage to support a team like the Vikings, who have shared a division with the Packers for 50 years and have won zero championships. The Packers are like the popular guy in your class who everyone loves, who gets a 4.1 every semester, who hangs with all the cool people, who letters in four sports, who volunteers at the soup kitchen every Saturday, who makes his bed, who gets voted Homecoming and Prom king, who is loved by all the teachers and parents, who plays lead in the school musical, and who also regularly kicks your ass on the playground in front of everybody as they cheer him on. That's a bitter, lonely feeling.
I know you know somebody like that, a perfect person who is better at everything than you are and who everyone loves and thinks is awesome, except for you, who knows the truth. Each of us has our personal Green Bay Packer. For me, my personal Green Bay Packer is the Green Bay Packers.
Just remember that in the end, you're the authentic good guy. We all need to release any grudges we might have and feel at peace because some day everyone will know the truth about the Green Bay Packers, which is that they are a bunch of crooks and cheaters.
The news from Connecticut is hard to watch, and I've turned off the television for a while. But one thing I saw has stuck in my head: the semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle used in the shootings was the same as that used by the D.C. snipers in 2002.
After the D.C. murders, there was a civil lawsuit against Bushmaster and the store where the snipers stole their rifle. The parties settled for $2.5 million, the first time a gun manufacturer agreed to settle a case involving a gun used in a crime.
It may be true that guns don't kill people, people kill people. But when people used airplanes to kill people on September 11th, we spent billions and changed the way we travel and live to try to prevent it from happening again. When people used chemicals in a van to kill 168 people in a federal building in Oklahoma City, we required all federal buildings to use permanent security barriers to try to prevent it from happening again.
So since people continuously use semi-automatic guns for mass murders, including the one that killed 20 first graders in Connecticut last Friday, it doesn't seem too unreasonable to try to do something to prevent that from happening again too.
Maybe the Second Amendment gives people an absolute right to own semi-automatics, and maybe banning them wouldn't be effective anyway. There are people who have forgotten more than I know about this.
What if we encouraged lawsuits by making gun manufacturers strictly liable for use of a semi-automatic gun during a crime? You can imagine how much manufacturers and their insurers would have to pay for the Aurora and Newtown shootings alone. They could only absorb so much of that cost. Sooner or later, semiautomatics would become a luxury. You could still get one, but you'd pay for it.
And why shouldn't you? These kinds of tragedies probably aren't going to stop anytime soon. Why should the taxpayers of Newtown, including the parents of the victims, have to cover all the security, medical, and other costs from that shooting? And why shouldn't gun manufacturers expect to pay? Airplane and fertilizer manufacturers probably didn't imagine their product being used as a mass murder weapon. But a gun manufacturer? After Virginia Tech, Tucson, and Aurora?
Just because you can buy and sell a product legally doesn't mean you can buy and sell it cheap. When asked why somebody would want a semi-automatic rifle, one owner said: "I could ask you why should anyone want a Ferrari?" Maybe we could make semi-automatics like a Ferrari: expensive, rare, bought mostly by guys who want to look at themselves in the mirror.