July 30, 2004

There's No Nonsense Like This Nonsense...

Today's Musical Selection: "Can't Explain" by the Who

Hello there, everyone! Well, the Democratic convention is officially over. John Kerry reportedly gave a very effective and well-received speech. I say "reportedly" because I personally missed it, having become inexplicably fascinated by the "Celebrity Poker Showdown" over on Bravo. Yes, I am appropriately ashamed by this.

What is the appeal of this show? I'm not sure. For those who have been lucky enough never to have been entangled in this, "CPS" matches five C-list celebrities in a game of no-limit Texas Hold 'Em (once described by the Brunching Shuttlecocks' Lore Sjoberg as a "game that sucks away your money with the forces and speed of a cartoon anteater") in which the proceeds, of course, go to charity. (Just once, wouldn't it be great if the celebrities got to keep the money? Wouldn't it be great if, say, a house payment was on the line while David Cross is pondering his chances of drawing to an inside straight? Just wondering.) This is not good television. The show is two hours long. There's no real tension. The graphics are unbearably cheesy. Host Dave Foley cracks bad jokes and tries to figure out whatever happened to his career. The celebrities squint and look serious and try to pretend they know what they're doing. Expert commentator Phil Gordon tries to evaluate the celebrities' moves as if it was a real game. And if I hear the words "Shuffle up and deal" one more time, I may snap and kill someone.

And yet I know I'll be watching again next week. Why? That's what I can't figure out. The moves associated with Texas Hold 'Em are kind of cool and fun to watch, but I can't stand to watch real legitimate poker tournaments. And it's not as though I'm a big fan of the celebrities involved; last night's group included one person I'm actualy familiar with (celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who predictably came in hyper-aggressive and flamed out early), two people I've heard of but couldn't actually place (Kathy Najimy and Mimi Rogers), and two people I knew nothing about whatsoever (Michael Badalucco and Steve Harris). And it's not as though I'm a big celebrity gawker normally. So why is the show so addictive?

After pondering the matter, I think it's something about watching celebrities with their hair down. I'm also a big fan of the '70s game show "Match Game", in which contestants tried to match celebrities' answers to risque questions. (For those who aren't familiar, it's like "Hollywood Squares," only funnier.) That show was much better than "CPS" (Gene Rayburn was the gold standard for TV game-show hosts), but it had that same aspect of taking celebrities out of their natural element and putting them in a loose, alcohol-soaked setting where they could make fun of each other and behave more naturally. I didn't know a lot of the celebrities on "Match Game," either, but it was still amusing. And despite not knowing most of the celebrities on "CPS," it was fun and enlightening to see Mimi Rogers' poker face, or watch Kathy Najimy hold hands with her opponents before big draws. It's garbage TV, absolutely, but it's fun garbage, and in doesn't involve anyone being covered with cockroaches.

E.J. Dionne had a nice column in this morning's Post praising the Democrats for stressing national unity and attacking divisiveness at the convention. I agree with Dionne that this is a shrewd idea. Dionne says the approach calls to mind Ronald Reagan, who also famously campaigned against divisiveness. Critics of the strategy will point out quite rightly that Kerry has none of Reagan's buoyant optimism and personal warmth. But that's one reason, I believe, why the strategy is so brilliant.

Traditionally, optimism is the province of the incumbent's campaign, since it's easier to run an upbeat campaign on the theme that things are going all right under your leadership. Reagan's appeal worked because (1) things were clearly not going all right under Jimmy Carter, and (2) Reagan was such a charismatic speaker that he could imbue people with a sense of optimism just by speaking. Now, things are clearly not going all right under George W. Bush, and his campaign team can read polls: running an upbeat campaign based on his presidential record isn't going to work.

Ah, but no one likes to listen to Kerry speak! He's such a dour and gloomy person that he might as well be travelling with a rain cloud over his head. So figured the Bush team. They made a crucial tactical decision to go negative early, to define Kerry negatively in the minds of voters before Kerry could define himself. The Republicans wanted to finish Kerry as an effective contender before the convention, so that they could fall on the ball the rest of the way.

This strategy obviously carried a risk. It's always risky for an incumbent to go negative, to attack early. It might look like he's running scared. And if the challenger can weather the attacks and remain standing, the incumbent has little choice but to keep attacking and hope to draw the challenger into a firefight. Once you're drawn into the fray, as an incumbent, it's almost impossible to climb back out.

But the Bush team figured that an Eeyorish personality like Kerry could never effectively launch a message of hope and optimism. Plus, the Bush people figured to have a big money advantage, allowing them to govern the tone of the campaign. So they went ahead with the negative strategy.

But Kerry came prepared. He picked Edwards, a man who practically defines optimism, as his running mate. And the convention unveiled a platform of restoring unity and bringing a brighter future to everyone. At this point, the GOP has to be nervous, since they have to bank on Kerry failing to sell this message effectively. If they're not nervous, they're absurdly overconfident.

I think the Republicans were banking on Kerry running a much harsher, attack-oriented campaign, attacking Bush as dangerous for the country. Then, Bush could run a macho campaign based on decisive leadership vs. Kerry's waffling, and painting Kerry as a shrill extremist in thrall to the Michael Moore wing of the party. But with Kerry running on the Kumbaya platform, Bush is going to have to be much harsher, much more negative. It would be extremely difficult for Bush to come back with an upbeat message now. (And if he tries to lighten up his appeal by dumping Cheney in September, it's really going to look desperate.)

Now here's the interesting thing: if Edwards had won the nomination, or if Kerry had picked Edwards quickly after winning the primaries, the Bush campaign probably would have counted on a more upbeat campaign and adjusted accordingly. But by waiting until July to add Edwards, Kerry got the White House to prepare for a different campaign. For a guy who's knocked as a bad campaigner, Kerry certainly seems to be a good strategist.

Now, Kerry's speech was pretty strong stuff for a campaign based on hope and positivity, but I like the move. Kerry showed strength in his speech. All the other speakers were bright and positive and uplifting, but Kerry showed that he's ready to fight. In a reversal of common political wisdom, it looks like Kerry will be his own attack dog, rather than delegating the job to surrogates. For one thing, if the candidate himself is leading the attack, there are limits on how shrill the attack can get. Furthermore, Kerry knows that Bush's appeal is going to be based on strength and confidence. Kerry has to show that he can match that, in order to establish himself as a viable alternative. In a presidential campaign, strength beats weakness every time. But measured strength beats cocksure arrogance. If Kerry can show himself to be firm without being cocky, he could blow a big hole in the heart of Bush's message.

For the Democrats, of course, the question is whether the message will take. The convention can't be a one-time show. The Kerry-Edwards ticket has to sustain this theme the rest of the way. I believe they can do it, but only time will tell for sure.

Finally, the trading deadline is tomorrow. I would like to spend Monday analyzing the trades in my inimitable fashion, as I did last year, but in order for that to happen, we need to see some deals. Let's go, guys! Chop chop! Brad Fullmer isn't my idea of a headline name. Make it happen!

And with that, it's off to the weekend. See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at 02:55 PM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2004

The New Generation and the Old

Today's Musical Selection: "Yakety Yak" by the Coasters

Hello again, all! Today, a day after everyone else, I'll say a few words about Barack Obama, the speaker who electrified the convention on Tuesday. Then, with a tremendous crashing of gears and no apparent connection, I'll talk a little bit about Randy Johnson as the trading deadline approaches. Try not to get whiplash, friends!

Now, about Obama. Yes, he's tremendous, and yes, he's everything they say he is: smart, eloquent, engaging, smooth. He announced himself as a major player on the national political stage Tuesday (and incidentally, probably would have sealed a victory in his Senate race even if he'd been up against Ditka). Someone (I wish I could remember who) sounded a cautionary note yesterday, reminding everyone that four years ago, Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee was the Democrats' keynote speaker, and he was supposed to be the next big thing, too. And it's a useful reminder: people's attention spans are appallingly short, and Obama might well fade into the woodwork after the election's over. However, Obama is also a better speaker than Ford was, and Obama's currently in a high-profile race which figures to garner him attention beyond the convention, while Ford didn't have a second act.

Like Ford, Obama represents a Democrat's demographic wet dream: youthful, mixed-race, interesting life story, well-educated but still with the common touch. There's a difference, though. In 2000, when Ford was chosen, it almost seemed like the Democrats were desperate for anyone who might prove the party's vitality. The party's public face had become that of a bunch of aging white guys, Washington old hands who are more comfortable talking about appropriations bills and subcommittees than the pain and suffering of the average American. The Republicans' public face consists of aging white guys, too, but the GOP has long marketed itself as the party for aging white guys, so the connection is natural. The Democrats, meanwhile, are supposed to be the party of the young, minorities and women, and so a convention full of guys who look like William F. Buckley would not do. Enter Ford. He's young! He's black! He's Southern! Look, we have hope! It's as if the Democrats were casting for a slot ("Help Wanted: Fresh young minority face to provide Hope for Future"), and Ford was the first available face.

Obama, on the other hand, got the slot on merit. Certainly, it helped him that he's young and African-American, but he's also tremendously talented. As my man Frinklin stated in a brilliant analysis post that I'll cite later on, Obama is the Democrats' Albert Pujols, a phenomenal young talent. This keynote speech was like a September call-up, with the major-league club giving the kid a taste of the big time and whetting the fans' appetite for what's in store. Ford, on the other hand, was like the hot hand in AA getting a turn in the rotation to sell tickets for a last-place club. Having Ford speak looked opportunistic and desperate; having Obama speak looks strong and confident.

(Incidentally, I don't think Ford is as dreadful as this comparison makes him sound. I just don't think he can compare to Obama as a politician.)

Not only is Obama a good speaker, he has a good message. My man Frinklin said a lot of worthwhile things about Obama's performance:

There is something essentially thrilling (especially to us wonk types) to hear a new fusion of American politics. That is what Barack Obama did last night. I did not notice the specifics until I listed to the speech again, and checked out Andrew Sullivan’s posts on the subject, but this was a fusion of essentially conservative values (personal freedom and responsibility) with a traditionally liberal social conscience. If the name weren’t taken already, this would be “compassionate conservatism”. Perhaps “responsible liberalism” would be more appropriate. Add to that exciting fusion his undeniably American background (son of a Kenyan immigrant and Kansas farm girl), polished speaking style and willingness to confront scary issues, and you have the Next Big Thing in politics.

To use a sports metaphor, this was Albert Pujols. Do you remember when he came up? The Cardinals were excited about him, but trying hard to keep him concealed, fully expecting him to spend at least a half-season in the minors. Baseball people, both old-school scouts and modern-day SABR types were excited, too. Pujols had a good spring, and he broke camp with the Cards. Pujols faced high, but not excessive expectations. He did not meet them, he did not exceed them; Albert Pujols destroyed his expectations.

That is what Obama did last night. If you’re a politically connected person, you’ve heard of Barack Obama before last night, regardless of your party affiliation. Maybe it is because you’ve read blogs or websites. Maybe someone you knew heard him speak, and gave you a nudge, “You really need to hear this guy.” Whatever it was, you would have heard the name. Last night he came out with a thrilling, magnetic speech, topping everyone on the card so far, even Bill Clinton. He destroyed expectations. Now, he has a lot more of them. I don’t know what happens to him from here. I sincerely hope, as an American, that he doesn’t sell out, or get fat. Last night on Larry King, David Gergen said he’d be the first African American President. He may be right. A Democrat’s dream: Kerry/Edwards win in ’04 and ’08, and Edwards/Obama in 2012.

I think Frinklin accurately summed up the buzz generated by the combination of Obama's speaking skill and his message. Call it "responsible liberalism," call it the new centrism, call it whatever you want, it's a powerful message, and one that has the potential to define the Democrats for a new generation.

If you didn't catch Obama's speech, the text is here. The heart of Obama's message is that we are all one America, a diverse, generous and tolerant land where we are free to pursue our goals while sharing common ideals. (Mickey Kaus, I believe, wondered sardonically if Obama's "one America" and John Edwards' "two Americas" average out to 1.5 Americas.) Obama's vision is the bright side of the civil-rights movement, the one we see so little of in modern America. Obama's vision is a fulfillment of Dr. King's: the benefits and joys of American life is available to everyone, and yet we are all able to maintain our distinctiveness and pursue our goals freely. It's a welcome change from the message of modern separatists, who stubbornly insist on attacking and repudiating America's common culture as much as possible. It doesn't hurt that Obama, the son of an African father and a white mother from Kansas, is the living embodiment of the merging of cultures in America.

That's one of the things I really like about Obama's message: he really believes in the "melting pot" ideal, or at least a modern update thereof. And better yet, he touches on the "melting pot" without actually saying the words. He embodies it, and he refers to its ideals in his speeches, but he doesn't use the hoary and somewhat discredited cliche. He's reinvented the concept for a new age, and that's very powerful indeed.

Better yet, Obama can speak to Republican themes, and speak movingly. He speaks of hope and opportunity in a way the Democrats haven't since Clinton. He speaks of personal responsibility as well or better than any Republican. He speaks of faith and God credibly -- a very welcome development for a party that has generally treated religious faith on a par with, say, belief in the occult. And he also talks about social responsibility in a way that makes old-school Democrats happy. It's a glorious synthesis of past and future, one that the Democratic Party would do well to adopt in forthcoming elections.

Now, the crashing of gears. Rumors are swirling that Arizona left-handed behemoth Randy Johnson, originally ticketed out of town by Saturday's trading deadline, may well be staying put. What started off as a hot rumor has descended into a mess that has made all the major parties (Johnson, the Diamondbacks, and the New York Yankees) look bad.

The Diamondbacks look bad because of the way this whole mess got started. The Johnson-out-of-town rumors began in the press. Initially, Arizona insisted that the Big Unit wasn't going anywhere. Then, after a while, they appeared to change their minds. By that time, they'd pissed off Johnson, and both sides wound up negotiating through the papers, which is almost never a good idea. If Arizona really wasn't going to trade Johnson, they needed to stick to there guns, rather than going behind the scenes to sound out other clubs. (That's a shabby thing to do your biggest star, and a stupid thing to do if he has no-trade rights, as Johnson does.) And if the Diamondbacks were planning to trade him, or even explore it, they needed to sit down with Johnson ahead of time and agree on a list of teams where he'd be willing to go, so that everyone's happy. Now Johnson's upset, and Arizona is facing the choice of an unhappy superstar or an awkward trade.

Johnson looks bad because of the way he's handled his end. He has every right to be upset about the rumors that started swirling all of a sudden, particularly since he reportedly didn't want to be traded before the rumors started. But once he decided to start calling the shot, he behaved like a petulant child. First he said he'd like Boston. Then he said he wouldn't go there. Then he said he wanted to go to the West Coast. Then he refused to go to the Dodgers. Then it was the Angels. Then he said it was the Yankees or nothing. Then his agent threatened that nothing would be a very bad idea. Up until now, Johnson has enjoyed a positive public image, or at least as much of one as a 6-foot-10 pituitary case with bad hair and bad skin can enjoy. But his latest maneuverings have marked him as just another greedy mercenary. (It would be one thing if he'd never won a Series ring. But he got his in Arizona in 2001.)

And the Yankees? They look bad because their attempts to land Johnson have spotlighted just how bad their farm system is. Johnson would have been in pinstripes (real pinstripes, not purple pinstripes) a week ago or more if the Yankees had any prospects to offer. But they've got almost nothing. Years of fattening up the big-league roster, scooping up other teams' stars, have finally caught up with the Bronx Bombers. It's so bad that George Steinbrenner fired his farm system director the other day, largely out of embarrassment. And the source of the embarrassment, primarily, has been the Johnson negotiations.

For all parties involved, I think, Saturday can't come soon enough. Maybe then Johnson will be gone, or won't, and everyone can slink back into their respective corners and pretend this all never happened. (Arizona also deserves a whipping for the hash it's made of the Steve Finley deal, but let's not even go there.)

That's enough for today. Mush tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 03:06 PM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2004

Wild About Teresa

Today's Musical Selection: "Hard-Headed Woman" by Elvis Presley

Good day, everyone! Today I'm thinking about Teresa Heinz Kerry, in the wake of her speech at the Democratic convention last night. (Most everyone's buzzing about Barack Obama, and deservedly so; I'll cover him tomorrow.) I'm inspired to write about Teresa because of some negative commentary posted about her over at Real Clear Politics the last couple days. The gist of the comments: Mrs. Kerry is a liability to her husband's presidential campaign. I couldn't disagree more.

Yesterday, RCP's Tom Bevan used articles discussing Teresa's reputed bad temper to raise questions about her suitability as First Lady, though he is quick to stress that he personally thinks she's fine:

I recently talked to a friend of mine who interviewed Teresa and had nothing but good things to say about her. My friend said she was warm, funny, strong, and likeable in private. Unfortunately, Mrs. Heinz Kerry doesn't project nearly the same image publicly, if indeed that's really how she is.

Either way, another couple of outbursts like the one yesterday and her behavior could become a liability for Kerry. It won't help that the scrutiny of Teresa's temper will stand in stark contrast to Laura Bush, who rarely (if ever) has a bad word written or said about her.

People don't vote for first ladies, but candidates' wives can certainly leave either a positive or negative impression on voters (as Hillary did in 1992 with "let them stay home and bake cookies") which may help or hurt on the margins. In an election that could be razor-thin - especially in the traditional, values-oriented Midwest - John Kerry's wife could end up costing him some crucial votes.

Note well Bevan's passivity in describing the situation. At no point does he actually say, "Midwestern voters will reject John Kerry because of his wife." Instead, he just keeps saying that Teresa could be a problem for Kerry, particularly in the Midwest. It sounds vaguely like a mob boss issuing a sotto voce execution order: "Gentlemen, I have a feeling something very unfortunate could happen to Mr. Gambini this afternoon."

Today, John McIntyre continued the negative drumbeat, again raising the question of Teresa's fitness as a presidential spouse, and once again stressing that he personally thinks she's swell:

I've always felt Teresa was going to be a liability, if for no other reason than she is just not the average American's vision of what a First Lady should be like. Whether that is fair or unfair is another issue - and largely irrelevant to the discussion of her political impact. The bottom line is that together the accent, the money, and the attitude produce a package that isn't always flattering to middle America.

Personally, I've always found Teresa Heinz Kerry to be interesting not only because she is so opinionated and outspoken, but because in some ways she doesn't seem too self-absorbed by the importance of the campaign. That attitude can be refreshing in a primary campaign with multiple candidates. It's nice to have someone who is a little different. At some point, however, you would expect her to understand the gravity and importance of the situation that potentially awaits her should John Kerry win...

I don't think people vote for President because of the candidate's spouse, but after last night's speech it seems clear that Kerry's wife is going to be a liability for him. The real question is how much and will it matter. I'm not suggesting this is a big vote mover, but in a race that could be extremely close, even 0.3% in states like Ohio and Wisconsin could make all the difference the world.

Note well again: McIntyre believes that Teresa is "going to be a liability," though he personally likes her. That passivity again. What gives? If McIntyre and Bevan, both distinctly right-of-center politically, think Mrs. Kerry is engaging and entertaining, who is this anonymous "they" for whom she's going to be a problem?

What this is, of course, is a way for the GOP to tap anti-feminist prejudices without being overt about it. Conoisseurs of the old "Southern Strategy" will be familiar with this technique. After LBJ cast the Democrats firmly on the side of civil rights in '64, the Republicans sensed an opportunity. A lot of longtime Democratic voters, particularly in the South, didn't think much of the civil rights movement, and felt abandoned by their own party. The Republicans skillfully swooped in and, using coded racist appeals, picked up a lot of disaffected Southern voters. The GOP knew that overt racism was out, and would cost them a lot of support in the North, but talking about "tradition" and "preserving law and order" allowed the Republicans to assure white Southerners, with a wink and a nod, that the party was "safe" on race. Similarly, the modern GOP raises these "concerns" about Teresa Heinz Kerry to assure voters that the Republicans are "safe" on gender.

As with race in the '60s and '70s, there are a lot of voters, particularly in the South and Midwest, who feel at some level that this whole women's-rights business has gone too far, and that women belong back in the kitchen. Now, no mainstream party could overtly endorse that position without getting pounded, but if one party is on record rejecting it, the other one has an opportunity if it can find a way to reach those voters on the sly. The Republicans have used the candidate's-wife route to make this argument very effectively. If a Democratic candidate has a strong and ambitious spouse, the Republicans can raise questions about her and thereby reassure traditionalist voters without alienating more progressive moderates.

Hillary Clinton was the textbook opportunity for this. Democrats hailed Bill Clinton's wife (deservedly) as a smart, outspoken, independent and capable woman. They cheered when she talked about a "co-presidency" and "getting two for the price of one" and when she rejected the idea of standing by her man and baking cookies. Maybe Geraldine Ferraro's misadventures had put the kibbosh on having a woman on the ticket for now, but here was the next best thing: a First Lady who spoke out loud and proud about the issues facing the country. You go, girl!

Of course, there were plenty of voters who were uneasy about this. And the Republicans knew they'd have an advantage if they could reach those voters. But coming out and saying "Career women are scary" simply wouldn't do. So, instead, they started muttering about Hillary. "Isn't she awfully ambitious? Isn't she a pretty radical departure from the standards of a First Lady? Doesn't she seem awfully cold? And did you hear the way she slammed cookie-baking mothers? Can you believe that? Doesn't she appreciate what a good and noble thing it is to be a stay-at-home mother?" Clearly implied in all this was that the Republicans would never stand for uppity women getting too big for their britches. And traditionalist voters listened.

Here was the tricky part of the trap for Democrats: there's no effective way to respond to the coded appeal. Hillary couldn't just fade back into the woodwork without disappointing her Democratic fans and giving Republicans a chance to gloat. On the other hand, if Democrats responded by saying, "You're damned right Hillary's ambitious, and we love that! Something's wrong with you if you don't!", they're basically doing the Republicans' dirty work for them. It excites the pro-feminist crowd, sure, but it only further alienates the traditionalists who already aren't comfortable with Hillary. (That's the problem with bold progressivism that loudly rejects traditionalist thinking: all your opponents have to do is raise an eyebrow and say something like, "That's awfully bold," and boom, they've got the moderates in line behind them. It takes a pretty shocking event to change that dynamic.)

And if the Democrats attempted to call the Republicans out on their coded sexism, the Republicans could insist that they intended no such thing, and accuse the Democrats of militant political correctness. "What kind of world is it," the Republicans would say, "where you can't even raise the slightest concerns about a powerful woman without being accused of sexism?" Voila, now the Democrats look shrill, radical and paranoid. You see the diabolical brilliance of the rhetorical trap. It's like Chinese handcuffs: the harder the Democrats try to get out of it, the tighter they're bound.

(Really, it makes you wonder why anyone ever bothers with overt racism or sexism anymore. Covert appeals are so much more effective. As far as I can tell, that only occurs when racism or sexism is the dominant position, thus removing the need to be covert, or when the speaker isn't smart or sophisticated enough to do better.)

So now we have Teresa Heinz Kerry, a smart, outspoken, independent and capable woman. Her work and head of the Heinz Foundation revolutionized philanthropy, and revitalized the city of Pittsburgh. She's warm and personal where her husband is cold and formal. She's brash and blunt where her husband is careful and reserved. In some ways, she can be a real asset to the Kerry campaign. Therefore, she is a threat. So out comes the coded rhetoric again.

Now, Teresa's a "loose cannon." In other words, she's speaking out of her place, being uncontrollable and uppity. She's got a bad temper, another sign of her uncontrollability. (A bad temper is a whole lot more of a public liability for a powerful woman than a powerful man, no?) She doesn't understand the "gravity and importance" of being First Lady, which sounds like a critique of headstrong and flighty women if I ever heard one. (McIntyre also mentions her accent and wealth, a bonus appeal to xenophobia and classism.) She's a dangerous type, all right.

Perhaps you've also heard the well-circulated fable that the Heinz corporation, supposedly owned by Teresa, outsources its production overseas. Besides accusing Kerry of hypocrisy on the outsourcing issue, this story also takes another shot at Teresa by claiming that she controls the activities of the Heinz corporation. (This, by the way, is not true. She doesn't even own a significant percentage of the company stock.) Not only does she run the business, this story goes, but she's running it poorly, taking away jobs that rightly belong to American workers. But then, what can you expect if you leave a woman in charge, right?

Put altogether, the charges all add up to the same thing: Teresa is no one's idea of a traditional spouse. Because of that, she's a threat to the natural order of things. Sure, she was fun to listen to during the primaries, but was does it say about Democrats that they'd actually put her on the national ticket? Put Kerry in the White House, and who knows what she might do? Whatever it is, it's sure to be embarrassing to the country, because she doesn't understand her proper place.

By contrast, we have Laura Bush. Just like Sara Lee, nobody doesn't like Laura Bush. I like Laura Bush. I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't. But she's particularly beloved by Republicans because of what she represents. Barbara Bush was a traditionalist feminine icon, to be sure, but she was also of an age when American women didn't have a lot of other choices. Laura is of a different generation. She could have followed the path that Hillary Clinton did; she's roughly the same age as Hillary (only four years older), and she certainly seems bright and capable enough to do anything she cares to. But she chose to follow a more traditional route. She chooses not to makes waves in her public utterances. She chooses to deflect the spotlight, rather than court it. She chooses to stand loyally beside her husband and be a classic First Lady. What a perfect symbol! What a great model to show to traditionalist male voters who wish the women would quit whining and get back to cleaning the bathroom!

Again, the Democrats are in a bind here. If they proclaim Teresa's virtues too loudly, they're once again doing the Republicans' work for them. If they were to start taking shots at Laura, they'd not only alienate traditionalists, but they'd hand Republicans the opportunity to slam them for hypocrisy. (And rightfully so; Laura Bush's life choices are just as valid as Hillary Clinton's or Teresa Heinz Kerry's.) And if they remain silent, they seem to be tacitly acknowledging that Laura is the better First Lady. Once again, the trap is carefully set.

Here's where McIntyre and Bevan come in. Both of them can claim with perfect credibility that Mrs. Kerry's personality isn't affecting their votes at all. They'd vote for Bush no matter whom Kerry was married to. But by suggesting that Teresa "might be a problem" for Midwestern voters, they offer cover to those who might be on the fence in those states. (They'd have mentioned the South, too, except that conservative pundits don't want to admit that the South is competitive at all.) So your average male voter in, say, Ohio might be undecided between Bush and Kerry. Maybe Teresa's outspokenness makes him uncomfortable, but he doesn't want to admit that, because it makes him sound sexist. But Bevan and McIntyre have now given our hypothetical voter some talking points: "Yeah, it was a close call, but in the end, I just didn't go for Kerry's wife. Too chatty, too temperamental. Can't have someone like that representing the country." And so he pulls the lever for Bush.

And what can Democrats do? Not a whole lot. As I mentioned, it's a pretty effective trap. But the Democrats need to force the Republicans out of the coded-language bunker and get them speaking openly about the proper role of women. If the GOP has to start speaking openly about what they feel is appropriate for women in general, rather than just taking potshots at specific candidates' wives, they might suddenly find things heating up for them.

But the Democrats had better act fast. They never found an effective rebuttal to the Southern Strategy. Now, the coded racist appeals are pretty much obsolete, but the region is solidly Republican now. People are in the habit of voting Republican in the South. And it'll take a lot of doing for the Democrats to break that lock. If they can't rebut the gender strategy, in 30 years we might be saying the same thing about the Midwest.

By the way, I neglected to talk yesterday about the Brewers' pickup of Russ Branyan. I like Russ; I always thought he was going places, even though he never quite broke through with the Reds and Indians. He's a low-average slugger with a ton of strikeouts, and that's what we can expect from him in the future. He's 28, which means we've probably already seen what he's capable of. An All-Star Branyan is not. In all probability, he's a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter extraordinaire.

But that's a good thing; we desperately need more power, and it never hurts to have a left-handed bench bat hanging around. More to the point, spare parts like Branyan are the kind of thing that separates potential contenders from mediocre teams. The fact that we're bringing in a guy like Russ indicates that we're starting to think of ourselves as a contender, and that's a very welcome change from the past several years. Hopefully, we'll build on this in the offseason, upping the payroll a bit and bringing in some more pieces: some more outfield power, a hot-hitting third baseman, an ace lefty reliever and a middle-of-the-rotation horse. If we spend our money wisely, I think we can get those pieces and keep our payroll in the $40-50 million range, and have a legitimate shot at the wild card next year. Hope is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

And with that, I'll wrap it up for the day. See you tomorrow!

(Cross-posted to Open Source Politics.)

Posted by Fred at 03:13 PM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2004

All You Need Is Love

Today's Musical Selection: "With Every Beat Of My Heart" by Josie and the Pussycats

Hello there, all! After a suitable fortnightly wait, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice have returned to proffer romantic advice for the quietly desperate masses out there. Our cuddly couple comes to us today from Birmingham, Alabama, where Uncle Millie says he's "looking for some Southern Comfort." Aunt Beatrice says he's not talking about the beverage, either, but knowing Uncle Millie, he probably is. At least partially. Unless he's actually talking about... well, never mind that. Let's just turn things over to Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, shall we? Take it away, you crazy lovebirds!

- - - - -

I Know A Place For Lovers Who Wander -- For Instance, My Hotel Room, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Howdy, lads! And a big sooooooooooooooeeeeeeeeey to you all!

AB: They say "y'all" down here, dear.

UM: Yes, yes. Well, we all (or is it "w'all"?) are having a hooting and hollering good time down here in Birmingham! Yes, sir.

AB: You'll have to forgive Uncle Millie. Ever since we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, he's been attempting to master the Southern dialect. Without success.

UM: Now, that's just a crockpot of crawfish, my love. I've taken to the Southern culture as a river trout takes to the mighty Mississippi! My heart belongs to Dixie.

AB: "Dixie" being the name of the woman he met while country line-dancing on Sunday.

UM: I can grapevine with the best of them, y'all lads!

AB: Just give it up, will you? You sound ridiculous.

UM: Bullhockey, love. Bartender, sir! Why don't y'all bring us a couple more bourbon and we'll take a gander on through these-here letters?

BARTENDER: Do what now?

AB: You're all ready to be character witnesses in the homicide trial, right?

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

About three months ago, my girlfriend dumped me. I didn't really see it coming, and I took it pretty hard. I'm starting to recover from the blow, I think, and get back to my ordinary routine. Except where it comes to relationships. My friends have been trying to fix me up on blind dates, and for a while I resisted, because I just wasn't ready. Finally, though, I went on one last week. The girl was nice enough, but I spent the whole time thinking about the ways she wasn't as good as my old girlfriend. Ack! I feel like I'll never be able to enjoy dating again, because the new girls just won't measure up. How do I get myself in a better frame of mind?

Randy in Saginaw

UM: Well, now, lad, that's what we Dixie folks like to call a real pickle. That girlfriend of yours, she wound herself around your heart like kudzu.

AB: Kudzu? You don't even know what kudzu looks like.

UM: Why, I surely do, love. Now, lad, y'all are gonna need to turn it all around, I reckon.

AB: Enough, Gomer. Randy, it's not at all uncommon to struggle with dating again after the end of a long-term relationship, especially if the breakup wasn't your idea. And yes, the first few dates are probably going to be awkward for you. You just need to ride it out and know that the pain will fade over time.

UM: Just like when y'all get kicked in the family jewels by a mule.

BARTENDER: Do what now?

AB: Ignore him, bartender; he's not used to all this sun. If you still find yourself having trouble, you might want to sit down and force yourself to think about your former girlfriend's shortcomings. After all, no one's perfect, and surely your girlfriend did some things that bothered you. Perhaps she always forgot your birthday, or didn't call when she was running late, or insisted in attempting an accent that she wasn't even vaguely capable of pulling off.

UM: Why now, ma'am, I do believe you're referring to myself there.

AB: You think so? Anyway, Randy, I think once you start thinking of your old girlfriend as paradise lost and start thinking of her as a real person, you'll have an easier time seeing other girls as measuring up. Sure, your new date may not know exactly how much mayonnaise you like on your sandwiches, but she's probably got qualities that your last girlfriend didn't. And soon enough, you'll be able to see new women without comparing them to your last girlfriend at all.

UM: The darling little lady has said some fine things, but she's managed to overlook the surest solutions to your woes, lad. The only surefire way to forget about your last girlfriend is through lots of meaningless sex. See now, your head and your heart are plagued with the memories of the girl that dumped you. But your body's always ready for a good time. Let it guide you from bed to bed, and you'll forget about that ol' girl in no time.

AB: Once again, Uncle Millie proves that idiocy sounds the same in any accent. And if you ever call me your "darling little lady" again, I'm going to turn that mule loose on you.

UM: Whoa, Nelly!

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I've been dating "Margaret" for about 6 months now. Margaret's smart and funny and I enjoy spending time with her. The problem is physical intimacy. I like it, she doesn't. I'm not talking about sex; I'm talking about hugging and kissing and even holding hands. I'm really into all that stuff, but she doesn't seem to go for it. She doesn't resist it, exactly, but when I move in to kiss her or put my arm around her, I can feel her stiffen up a little. Is this normal? What can I do about it?

Marty in Phoenix

AB: Hi, Marty. If you and Margaret have been dating for six months and she's still not comfortable with hugging and kissing you, that's definitely not normal. She has a problem of some sort with physical intimacy. Possibly she was abused as a child, or perhaps physical contact was rare in her family. Maybe she recently left a bad relationship. Maybe she was raped. There are a lot of possibilities. And the only way to know for sure is to talk to her about it. The two of you are long overdue for a discussion about this.

UM: I thought that was their problem. They need, as Elvis said, "a little less conversation, a little more action."

AB: Hush. Marty, clearly this relationship isn't going to be satisfactory to you unless you have more physical contact, so you need to sit Margaret down and explain that, and find out why she doesn't seem to enjoy it. Don't be accusatory, just be honest and direct. "I've noticed that you seem to stiffen up whenever I try to hug or kiss you. Is there a reason you're not comfortable with that?" And be open-minded and listen to what she has to say. For all you know, maybe you hug so hard she thinks you're going to crush her, or perhaps she thinks you're a bad kisser. THe most important thing is to be able to communicate openly with her about it.

UM: Aw, bullhockey, my love. Lad, you're a true saint to have stuck it out this long with a cold fish like her. But how long can you stand around trying to get water from a dry well? I say you should dump her and find someone who's good at the indoor rodeo, if you catch my drift.

AB: We all catch your drift, dear. People in Africa are catching your drift even as we speak.

UM: Yeehaw! Well, go on out there and ride 'em, cowboy.

AB: Seriously, Millie, if you don't drop the accent, I'm going to get a branding iron and apply it somewhere very unpleasant.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I have a question about lovemaking. I have a long-distance boyfriend, and he and I have lots of fun in bed whenever he comes to visit. We're compatible sexually, and we both love to try new things, which is really great.

Here's the problem: My boyfriend has this fetish. I've heard of it before, but it's unique enough that if I said it here, he'd probably be able to identify himself. Anyway, I'm not really into it, but I'm willing to indulge him because he likes it so much and we don't see each other that often. At first, it was just an occasional thing (he knew I wasn't that excited about it). But now it seems like every time we make love, we have to do his fetish. It's getting to be too much. How do I talk to him about it without making it sound like I don't care about making him happy?

Heather in Dallas

UM: Well now, dear, surely you're aware that here in the South, we believe in the woman deferring to the wishes of her man. It's the natural order of things, and surely you wouldn't want to go against it. I think you should do as he requests.

AB: Thank you for that lovely 19th-century viewpoint, Uncle Millie.

UM: It's the traditional view, and we Southerners believe strongly in tradition, ma'am.

AB: For the last time, you are not a Southerner! Just stop it. I'm curious as to how often the two of them see each other. Does it say in the letter anywhere?

UM: Uh, well, no. Nothing in here about that. I didn't say anything about it, did I?

AB: No, but sometimes we trim letters for space. Let me see it; maybe there's a clue in there.

UM: Uh, no, I don't rightly think that's a good idea, ma'am.

AB: Why not?

UM: Well-

AB: Stop being silly and give me the letter.

UM: But ma'am-

AB: Give me the letter.

UM: I'd rather not-

AB: There. Thank you. Now let's take a look at- wait a second, she does mention the specific fetish in here.

UM: Yes, but I thought it would be better for everyone if we left that information out. We should protect her privacy. It doesn't change the-

AB: And it sounds awfully... familiar. Very familiar indeed. I don't think it was her privacy that you were concerned about. Was it?

UM: Well-

AB: And what's this PS? "Come on back soon! I miss you!" Interesting.

UM: Uh.

AB: Millie? Care to explain this?

UM: Well, golly, look at that there clock! I do believe we're plumb out of time-

AB: Not so fast. I haven't given Heather my advice yet. Heather, dearie, I think you should get rid of your boyfriend before his wife tracks you down. Okay, pumpkin?

UM: And that wraps up our column for today! Tune in again in two weeks for more romantic advice! Right, my love?

AB: Sure. Right after I make a gelding out of you. My love.

BARTENDER: Do what now?

UM: Happy hunting!

AB: Bye, y'all.

- - - - -

Well, thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. As always, look for them again in this space two weeks from today.

And having nothing worthwhile of my own to add, I'll go ahead and take off. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 03:19 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2004

Hall Thoughts

Today's Musical Selection: "Easy Come, Easy Go" by Bobby Sherman

Hello there, everyone! Today the big buzz is about Ricky Williams' retirement, about which I don't have much to say. Football isn't my favorite sport, and besides, it's not clear exactly why he did it. (Hei Lun over at Begging to Differ offers up an interesting theory, that Williams was about to face major suspension time for marijuana use, and it's worth a read.) The only thing everyone agrees on is that Williams was an odd duck, and that he really didn't feel at home in the football world, something I'm always sympathetic to.

Rather than talking about Runnin' Ricky, I'd prefer to focus on the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony that occurred this weekend. Reliever Dennis Eckersley and third baseman/designated hitter Paul Molitor were this year's guests of honor, and they have something in common: both triumphed over personal problems, particularly substance abuse. Both Eckersley and Molitor referenced these problems in their speeches. A number of commentators have called this the "New Age induction," since both speeches sounded like they might have been cribbed from a self-help manual. Eckersley spoke openly and movingly about his battle with alcoholism. Molitor touched on his own battle with cocaine from the early '80s. Both men paid tribute to their ex-wives. It definitely wasn't your father's induction ceremony.

Eckersley's speech was the one most commentators focused on (since it was more open and emotional), but I was more interested in Molitor. Molitor was one of the Brewers' brightest lights in my childhood, so naturally I was a big fan of his. At the time, he was just a great ballplayer to me, likeable primarily because he helped my team win games. Then he left Milwaukee in '93 in a cloud of acrimony to sign on with Toronto, where he won a richly-deserved World Series title. At the time, I didn't know what to think. Molitor was Milwaukee, he and Robin Yount. Yount stayed. But Molitor departed. Was it the money? Was it the lack of rings? How could he do this? It was my first experience in getting kicked in the teeth by the business side of baseball. (Later, of course, it became clear that the Brewers were at least as much to blame as Molitor for his departure, and it's certainly telling that the Brewers have not seriously contended since Paul left. Perhaps he knew something we didn't.)

Even then, I only knew Molitor as a ballplayer. But as time went on, and I grew older, I learned more about Molitor the man. First, it was the background mentions that Molitor had had a "substance abuse problem" earlier in his career. The "substance" was never specified, although anyone familiar with baseball in the '80s could probably connect the dots pretty easily. I never quite did, though. Maybe I just didn't want to. Eventually, the accounts became more straightforward: Molitor had used cocaine.

Nowadays, this sounds much more shocking than it did then. Nowadays, everyone knows the horror stories about cocaine, the risk of addiction and damage, the downside. But for a while, in the late '70s and early '80s, America thought it had found the perfect party drug. No side effects, no hangovers, just a tremendous high. It was a status symbol in some circles, and it was virtually mandatory among fashionable rich people who liked to party. And nowhere was this more true than among athletes. Baseball, because of a highly-publicized trial in Pittsburgh in 1985, was the sport most associated with cocaine use, but athletes in other sports did it too. (The NBA's Phoenix Suns had so many players snared in a drug sting in the mid-'80s that there was talk of folding the franchise.) It may seem stupid to younger people that so many athletes succumbed to cocaine in those days, but remember, these players didn't grow up hearing about how bad cocaine was. They didn't know how addictive it was, or what long-term abuse could do to you. They just thought it was a way to have a good time, to celebrate being young and rich and famous.

To Molitor's credit, he realized the damage cocaine was doing to him and his career, admitted his problem and kicked the habit cold turkey. And, of course, after he beat his problem, he went on to the long and productive career that landed him on stage in Cooperstown yesterday. Considering the lengthy list of cocaine abusers from that era whose habit derailed or at least diminished their careers, this is a significant accomplishment on Molitor's part.

Of course, Molitor's winding road doesn't end with his triumph over cocaine. He went through a difficult divorce a couple years back, and in his speech he acknowledged publicly for the first time that he fathered a son, Joshua, out of wedlock in Toronto. In some ways, I thought that was the most touching part of Molitor's address: revealing Joshua's existence in such a public venue, and promising to work on having a better relationship with the boy. Traditionalists grumbled that Joe DiMaggio never would have mentioned that in his induction speech, but I thought it spoke well of Molitor that he did. It takes a hell of a man to speak about that so openly. The most damaging thing about something like that is the silence, and the secrecy was corrosive, I'm sure, for both father and son. I really hope things work out for Molitor and Joshua.

Of course, it was hard not to listen to Molitor and Eckersley talk about their struggles without thinking of Pete Rose, who was just up the street, signing autographs and trying desperately to upstage the induction ceremony, as he does every year, unrepentant ass that he is. You may recall that Pete kicked off his latest get-me-in-the-Hall tour the day that Molitor and Eckersley were announced as being in the latest class. It was a typically crass and classless show from Rose, but the juxtaposition is interesting. Like Ecklersley and Molitor, Rose had an addiction problem in the '80s that threatened to destroy his career. Unlike them, however, he made no particular effort to control or beat it, preferring instead to pin blame on whoever was closest and most convenient, whether it be Bart Giamatti or Fay Vincent or John Dowd or the press. He's a manipulator to the max, never caring whom he might step on or annoy in his quest for personal ego-gratification. He is, in short, a dismal human being.

Now, you can certainly argue that Rose's addiction was no worse than Eckersley's or Molitor's, and you can argue that he should have been ordered into treatment rather than banished from the game. We can argue about whether betting for your own team is worse than betting against it, and whether gambling on baseball is tantamount to fixing, and any of the other side debates that have gone on for years now without any satisfactory resolutions. But one salient fact remains: Pete Rose has had 15 years since his banishment to get his life in order, and he hasn't done it. He hasn't even tried. All he's tried to do is figure out what minimum amount of public expression of guilt will get him off the hook. I still don't think he believes he has a problem, or ever did. And as long as that's true, he doesn't deserve to be cut any slack.

When Rose was initially banished from the game, I felt that keeping him out of the Hall of Fame was piling on. For someone who achieved so much and loved the game so well as Rose, it was cruel to deny him the Hall, especially given that sociopaths like Ty Cobb were deemed fit to inhabit Cooperstown. But the longer we've seen the swaggering, ugly Rose on display, the less sympathy I've felt for his omission. I still believe that he deserved to be in eventually; there's simply no justification for keeping the all-time hits leader out forever. But I'm increasingly disinclined to give Rose the satisfaction of entering Cooperstown during his lifetime.

It's true that the Hall of Fame is strictly a measure of one's baseball deeds, and not one's success or failure as a human. However, Molitor and Eckersley, in addition to being Hall of Fame players, are Hall of Fame people, for the way they're persevered and overcome. Pete Rose, however great a ballplayer he may have been, is no Hall of Famer as a man.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2004

Let's Get Ready to Ramble!

Today's Musical Selection: "The Grooviest Girl in the World" by the Fun & Games

Hello there, all! It's Friday at last, which means it's time to prattle on in aimless and disjointed fashion. Woohoo!

Today I'd like to begin with last night's Jeopardy! episode, which was fascinating. It was a case study in the ongoing saga of Alex and Ken. Allow me to share some notes, which I jotted down as I watched:

- Alex announced that some people had questions about Ken Jeopardy's performance, and they wanted to test him for steroids. The audience laughed a little, but Alex was clearly looking for a bigger laugh, so he staggered around in search of a punchline before finally giving up. It was pathetic.

- Ken correctly answered a question about the movie "Scarface." Alex then proceeded to do a really bad Pacino impression: "Say hello to my little friend!" Ken replied, "After the show, okay?"

- Ken swept the "Stupid Answers" category, and the audience applauded. Alex scolded them: "Do not applaud someone for running the 'Stupid Answers' category. It says more about you than it does about him."

- During the interview portion, Alex described one of the contestants as a "nice lookin' girl." It was an uncomfortable moment for all concerned. Now, it's certainly not unheard of for hosts to flirt with female contestants. Chuck Woolery calls female contestants "honey" and "darlin'." Richard Dawson even used to kiss the women on "Family Feud." But both of them seem like natural flirts. It seems like part of their natural personality. But when Alex does it, it's like seeing your elderly bachelor uncle hitting on your girlfriend: awkward and disturbing.

- Ken blew a question on purpose! He said the former captial of Delaware was Wilmington, giggling all the way. He's clearly getting bored with winning all the time. If either of his competitors appeared competent, I think he might have bowed out tonight.

- KJ clearly does not listen to classic rock. He didn't even guess on any of the questions in the "Sentimental Rock" category.

- Same category: Alex read the REO in "REO Speedwagon" as if it were a word, rather than spelling it out. He corrected himself, saying, "I'm tired here, folks. I used to drive a REO." This struck me as unlikely, since I remembered the REO nameplate as collapsing in the Depression. But while they stopped making cars in '36, they kept making trucks under the REO name until the '70s. So it's possible that young Alex used to pilot a REO truck. Useless trivia for the day.

- Before Final Jeopardy, Alex once again dared Ken to aim for the one-day money record (he's tied it twice). So, of course, Ken tied it again, leading Alex to utter the clench-jawed declaration, "You're doing this just to bug me!" As tempting as that would be, I'm sure that's not it. I have two theories on why Ken refuses to beat the record:

1. Ken is a humble soul at heart, and he doesn't want to make more of a spectacle of himself than he has to. He doesn't want to put every record out of reach; he's just winning easily because he can. But if he were really that humble, I'd think he'd have won by now. Which leads me to...

2. He's trying to leave himself with one challenge. He's already smashed every other record in sight. He hasn't had a serious challenge in weeks. He needs to leave one mountain intact. This theory will, I believe, be proven if he finally allows himself to beat the record at some point, and then loses the next day. Wait and see.

So what did we learn? We learned that Ken is doing an admirable job of remaining himself in this increasingly surreal situation. By contrast, Alex is becoming increasingly deranged. Ken's ongoing success has disoriented Mr. Trebek. Having been relegated to second banana, Alex is resorting to increasingly desperate tactics to get attention. I mean, bad impressions of Tony Montana? Come on, Alex.

Later that evening, I saw the latest MTV get-out-the-vote commercial. And I must say, I have dire concerns about their effort. The whole "Vote for Something" slogan is a decent way to encourage voting without pushing a partisan agenda. But before displaying the "Vote for Something" slogan, you see a variety of things that you could presumably vote for. In this commercial, we see a shot of a clear-cut forest, followed by a variety of environment-related things we could vote for. And one of them says, "Vote for Forest Fires." Vote for forest fires?! What the hell? Now, granted, I don't know of anyone who's running on a pro-forest-fire platform, at least not this election cycle. But still... MTV? What the hell is this?

Finally, I want to acquaint everyone a bit with the above-referenced musical selection. "The Grooviest Girl in the World" was a minor hit in the late '60s by a garage-rock band from Houston named the Fun and Games. It's a fun good-time sing-along song, but I particularly enjoy it for its bizarrely stilted lyrics and tortured rhymes:

Sha la-la la la la la-la la la la la la-la-la-la-la, hey!
Sha la-la la la la la-la la la la la la-la-la-la-la

There she was standing over by the telephone
Oh what a beautiful girl
Standing in the phone booth
Giving me a sweet look
Makes me want to give her a whirl

Hey, little Judy in disguise
Lucy in the sky
Come fly with me in my balloon...

Cause you're the grooviest girl in the world
You're a feminine portait of grace
You're the grooviest girl in the world
And I'm a guy with impeccable taste
Ahhhh, ahhhhhhh, yeah!

Walking such a long way
Talking to her all day
Sipping on a strawberry fizz
Playing with her long hair
Saying how much I care
Telling her how groovy she is

Hey, little Judy in disguise
Lucy in the sky
Come fly with me in my balloon...

'Cause you're the grooviest girl in the world
You're a feminine portrait of grace
You're the grooviest girl in the world
And I'm a guy with impeccable taste
Ahhhh, ahhhhhhh, yeah!

Can you imagine describing a woman as a "feminine portrait of grace" and then calling her "the grooviest girl in the world"? I love that. The juxtaposition tickles me.

And with that, it's downhill to the weekend. See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at 03:29 PM | Comments (1)

July 22, 2004

The Politics of the Whole Loaf

Today's Musical Selection: "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealer's Wheel

Hi there, everyone. Today I find myself with a new reason to be irked by the Bush administration: politicking over the tax cuts. This doesn't have to do with the fact of the tax cuts themselves. It has to do with the fact that, once again, the Bush administration refuses to accept reasonable compromises worked out by other people, preferring instead to push for complete and total victory, and to hell with the carnage. Even after almost a full term, Bush still does not understand that this is no way to run a government.

What happened this time? Well, three of the more popular tax-cut programs (expanding the 10-percent tax bracket, the tax break for married couples and the $1,000 child tax credit) are set to expire at the end of the year. Congressional Republican leaders worked out a deal in which these tax cuts (the most politically popular ones) would be extended for a period of two years, and there would be certain tax increases in other areas to help offset the impact on the deficit. Now, it may be true that the tax cuts are not something we can afford at all in times of financial difficulty. But given that admitting that is tantamount to political suicide, this plan is a good compromise: Republicans (including Bush) get to tout their victory on the tax-cuts. Moderates get to claim that they supported both fiscal responsibility and tax relief for the middle class. Democrats get to claim that they kept the extension to a manageable length. And (hidden bonus) everything comes up again in two years, just in time for midterm elections. Everybody wins, but particularly the Republicans (which figures, since it was their plan).

Well, the Bush administration apparently wasn't satisfied. The president's advisors swooped in and killed the deal. Why? Well, Bush has been agitating to make the tax cuts permanent, and two years just doesn't seem decisive enough for him. He wants a five-year extension, and none of this offsetting-increase pussy-footing around either. After all, George Bush is a strong leader. Too strong to waste time with piddling little compromise plans. Bush is determined to go the full monty!

Now, this isn't strictly a dick-measuring contest. Politically, there's a logic to this. The longer extension will come up for a vote in September, when all sorts of election-year pressures will come to bear. Bush figures that Democrats and moderate Republicans, come crunch time, are not going to want to be on record voting against these tax cuts, the ones most people like. The president is gambling that he can get a little now, or a lot later.

Imagine, if you will, the Republicans at the craps table in Vegas. They've made a few passes, built up a pretty sizable fortune, and now Congressional leaders are ready to cash out, content with their winnings. But President Bush is demanding that they let it ride. He's rolling the dice, and he feels like he has the hot hand. Come on, seven!

For people who like their leaders in the mold of Western heroes, this stuff goes over great. The firm-jawed president tossing aside the compromise and demanding a better solution looks great in the movies. However, it's not so terrific in the real world, where the goal is to do the greatest good for the greatest number.

Here's the problem: Suppose the Democrats decide to make fiscal responsibility a centerpiece of their electoral appeal. (Perhaps hard to imagine them doing this with a straight face, but bear with me, won't you?) They would then be justified in voting down the longer extension, and they can claim with credibility that they would have been okay with a shorter extension and offsets, but the longer extension is just too irresponsible. Naturally Bush & Co. would try to pin the "tax hiker" label on the Democrats, but there are signs that people are starting to see through that tax-cuts-uber-alles platform that worked so well in the mid-to-late '90s.

Furthermore, disgusted moderate Republicans might well join the Democrats in a display of backbone. If Bush pushes to defeat the moderates, it shatters the Republicans' image of party harmony, already fraying at the edges, which has served them so well previously. There's a very real risk that the fiscal-responsibility-vs.-irresponsibility storyline could win out over the tax-cuts-vs.-wasteful-spending storyline, especially since the Democrats, having control of exactly zero branches of the federal government, aren't in a position to ram through wasteful spending programs without Republican help. Think of it this way: A guy like Ohio's George Voinovich, a moderate Republican with immense personal popularity, doesn't need Bush's help to win re-election. He's not going to be cowed by the president's posturing. And if Bush and Voinovich wind up in a stalemate over the long extension, whose electoral chances would this hurt in Ohio? (Hint: Not Voinovich.)

Meanwhile, the Republican congressional leadership feels undermined and humiliated by the president. They work out a deal, and he comes in and stops it. Look at this passage from the article:

The White House's forceful actions left congressional Republicans scratching their heads. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said earlier this month that he wanted to delay considering a tax cut extension bill until September.

But Bush called him to the White House earlier this month to demand action before Congress recesses for the political conventions this summer. At that time, the president expressed the fear that September's short congressional session would be so politicized that nothing would get done and the tax cuts would expire.

Hmm. So Grassley wanted to take things slowly at first. Then Bush comes in, pounds the table and demands that something happen nownownow. So Grassley dutifully goes and does his best, comes up with the best deal he can, and the president spits on it and says it's not good enough. Does this sound like the kind of person you'd want to work for?

When Bush was elected, he famously swore that he'd be a "uniter, not a divider." And once elected, he made a big show of inviting the Democrats over for coffee, shaking their hands and giving them goofy nicknames. Everyone felt good.

Then, at the first opportunity, Bush threw the Democrats under the train, and let them know that if they weren't going to play ball his way, they would play at all. So much for bipartisan unity. Bush was a president for Republicans only.

But then he started going after his own party's moderates, trying to bully them into doing things his way. So he's a president for conservative Republicans only. And now he's undermining his own Congressional leadership. Eventually, it's going to become clear to everyone: President Bush plays for his own team exclusively. In the end, he knows what he wants, and he's willing to bully anyone who stands in the way of his getting it.

If you are a sheriff in the Old West attempting to bring justice to a lawless frontier, this is an admirable management style. If you are presiding over a nearly-even partisan division in the most prestigious nation in the world, however, it is less than optimal. I'd say to Bush what I said to James Lileks on Tuesday (namely, "If there's only one right way to do things, why bother with a democracy?"), except that I'm not sure that Bush would be as hesitant to scrap the democratic system as Lileks would.

And consider the following possibility: What if the longer tax cut extension is defeated? What if the cuts end up expiring? It might wind up costing Bush the elections, and more than that, his intransigence will probably hurt the Republicans even if he is re-elected. Newt Gingrich could tell you what happens when Republicans try to play hardball with the budget. If the public perceives you as the holdup to an agreement, you will pay dearly. Gingrich overestimated the public's appetite for government spending cuts then. And I think Bush may be overestimating the public's appetite for tax cuts now. And if the Republicans lose this fight, the reverberations will continue beyond 2004.

And somehow, I'm not convinced that Bush cares. If he wins, he probably figures (with some justice) that he'll at least have the House in GOP hands until he leaves office. And if he loses... so what? Does Bush really care about the Republicans' Congressional fates in '06 if he loses this year? That's what comes back to bite you in the butt when you play ball with a guy like Bush: he'll protect you when he can, but he won't hesitate to sacrifice you to protect himself. If the Republicans did get wiped out in '06 after a Bush loss, he'd probably blame them for not listening to him more.

Bush is nothing if not a man of principle. Next to him, John Kerry surely is a waffler. Next to Bush, nearly all of us are wafflers. In Bush's book, waffling is the worst possible sin. We should ask ourselves whether that's true. And quickly, before we've committed ourselves to another four years of Marshal Bush.

I was going to write something about the Sandy Berger flap, but Frinklin beat me to the punch, and did a fine job at it. I agree with his pox-on-both-your-houses assessment of the situation. No one comes out of this looking good.

Finally, for today's Sign of the Apocalypse, click here. There are no words.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 03:37 PM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2004

An Ode to Ken Jeopardy

Today's Musical Selection: "Drivin' My Life Away" by Eddie Rabbitt

Hey there, everyone! As promised, today I plan to write about something lighter, Jeopardy! uber-mensch Ken Jennings, or as Tony Kornheiser calls him, "Ken Jeopardy." At first, I was raring to write a good lengthy piece on the subject, and then I saw this piece by Bill Simmons. For those of you out there who are writers, I'm sure you've had this experience: coming up with a brilliant idea, sketching it out in your head, getting on a creative roll... and then seeing that someone else has already run with your idea, and better than you could. Especially if it's a writer you admire. It's kind of like being kneecapped with a baseball bat by your childhood hero. Once I realized that Simmons had tackled the Ken issue so well, the wind was out of my sails.

But then I slowly got my wind back. Because I realized that, as good as Simmons' article was, he didn't tackle everything there is to know about Ken. So I decided to proceed as planned, using Simmons' article as a springboard for my own. I hope you enjoy it.

Simmons isn't a big fan of Ken Jeopardy's personality, describing him as boring and unlikeable. And I agree that Ken isn't the most warm-and-fuzzy of game-show contestants out there. But I don't dislike Ken as much as some. For one thing, he reminds me of some friends I knew in high school. I wasn't at all surprised to learn that Ken was a Mormon, because the Mormon friends I had were very much like him: clean-cut, wholesome, friendly, humble, smiling, almost preternaturally upbeat. Their personalities seemed sanded smooth, as if all the rough or negative parts had simply been rubbed away. Ken strikes me the same way. One of my Mormon friends, upon discovering that my birthday was the next day, went home and made me a cake, from scratch. Two layers. Icing too. I'll bet Ken would do that. If my car was broken down in the middle of the night and I was stranded, I'll bet Ken would give me a lift. And yet, I understand the objections to Ken. There's something inaccessible and distant about him, as if he's not quite one of us. It might be his Mormon beliefs; their belief that they are the chosen people tends to separate them a little from the rest of us. But whatever it is, he does seem a little different. (Simmons describes him as having a "Stepford mug," which I think is accurate.)

Of course, the fact that he knows all the answers tends to irk some people, since we are a proudly anti-intellectual culture. Ken's intellect doesn't bother me, though, since I'm usually that guy. My friends have long since grown sick of watching trivia-type game shows with me, because I'm constantly shouting out the answers and expressing disgust with the contestants if they botch them. With the smug superiority of someone who doesn't have to worry about ringing in or the glare of the studio lights, I usually whip anyone on stage.

Ken, though, is even better than me. He comfortably rattles off answers that I can't quite retrieve from the back of my brain, comes up with things I never even knew, and does it all with the cool nonchalance of a guy sitting on his couch munching Chee-tos. (Quoting Simmons: "At this point, [Ken] is doing everything but making cell phone calls or throwing in a load of laundry during the show, as he goads opponents into taking crazy risks.") The way he rattles off five or ten answers in a row, with barely a pause to breathe... that's impressive. I've reached the point where I don't even try to compete with him; I just tip my hat when he comes up with an answer I don't. (I've noticed, however, that sports is something of a weakness with him. Suffice to say, I usually clean up there.)

Simmons also put his finger on Ken Jeopardy's unique appeal, the mystique of the hot hand:

Yes, he's a smarmy know-it-all with the personality of a hall monitor, the kind of guy everyone hides from at a Christmas party. But he has "it" -- that indefinable quality you have when you know you're good, when you're in the zone and taking everyone for a ride. The '86 Celts had it. They toyed with teams before ripping their hearts out, Temple of Doom style. The [Jeopardy Guy] does too. Not since the pre-nanny Tiger has somebody laid the smack down like this. He doesn't beat people, he dismantles them.

There's something comforting about seeing the JG's smiling, Stepford mug every night, and the way he shakes his head in disbelief as Trebek announces his absurd money total.... Maybe he's boring; maybe he's unlikable. But like the truly great ones, he raises his game when it matters. Who else can you count on to do that these days?

There's something great about watching a person or team who has "it," that combination of talent and luck and ruthless killer instinct that juggernauts are made of. Ken may be a peach of a human being in normal situations, but in the Jeopardy! arena, he's a juggernaut. Plenty of smart people with quick trigger finger could probably rip off a few wins in a row, but sooner or later they'd get nervous, or bored, or just run up against someone better, and be defeated. In order to win 35 games in a row, you can't just be smart and quick. You need that, yes, and luck too, but you need something else. You need "it," that indefinable something that separates Cinderella stories from underdog champions, and talented champions from dynasties. That sense that, when the chips are down, you can beat anyone at any time. This year's Pistons team had "it." So does Ken Jeopardy.

From time to time in my career as a dedicated weekend warrior, I've had "it." There are days when I was certain that, even if I was playing against someone better, I would win. And on those days, I did win. When I was growing up, I played a lot of one-on-one basketball against a kid who was taller and more talented than I was, and had a penchant for tinkering with the rules when things weren't going his way. Time after time, I'd surge out to an early lead, and he'd wait, conserve his energy, wait for me to tire myself out and then calmly start hitting his shots and eventually winning.

Well, one day I went out there and said enough was enough. And suddenly I ran harder, rebounded more tenaciously, reached longer to save out-of-bounds balls. Shots started falling from places where they never fell for me before. Eventually he realized that something was going on, and turned his game up, expecting me to wilt. But not this time. I fought him even, then snared a crazy rebound, turned around and hit a jumper falling out of bounds to secure the win. That was my first experience with "it."

Ever since then, I've been fascinated by that feeling. It's so glorious and intoxicating when you have it. You're in a sort of trance, not really fully aware of what's going on around you, just locked into that zone. I can definitely see that happening with Ken, those times when he's just rattling off answers bang-bang-bang, referring to all the categories in shorthand to save time, sometimes clicking in before he knows the answers and counting on his brain to bail him out, knowing that it will. And he also has those moments when he knows he's clearly superior to his opponents, and so he take the time to toy with them, giving himself new challenges, making his dorky attempts at humor and pretending his Daily Double answers are just shots in the dark. I've been there, too, creating new mountains to climb for myself when I realize that the available mountains aren't high enough. I know someone in the zone when I see him, and Ken is in the zone.

Simmons notes one particular incident that I remember very well, probably the last time anyone mounted anything resembling a challenge to Ken:

Last Thursday, a competitor named Tom wagered all but $200 of his $6,200 nest egg on a Daily Double. You do that when you're going against the best. It's like bunting to break up a Koufax perfect game. Tom heard the question, hemmed and hawed, winced a few times, then threw out a "guess" ... and nailed it. Uh-oh. That's the JG's move. This was like John Starks sticking out his tongue and dunking on MJ. Certain lines should not be crossed. Even Alex's voice hushed.

You can guess what happened next. Trailing by $1,400 with half the board remaining, the JG rolled up the sleeves of his professor's jacket and went to work: six straight answers for six grand. When a flustered Tom botched the next one, the JG answered it correctly, exhaling for good measure. By the end of the second round, he'd tripled Tom's total, practically preening as they headed into commercial. The lesson, as always: don't wake up a sleeping corduroy giant.

That was a truly amazing moment. It was a brilliant ploy on Tom's part: the only way to beat Ken Jeopardy is to go all-out on the Daily Doubles. It's the only prayer you have of catching up. And you don't get to take the money home for finishing a respectable second. Tom knew what he had to do, and he did it. Unfortunately for him (and there was nothing he could do about this), there was too much time left, so Ken just kicked ass the rest of the way and left Tom gasping. Had the Daily double come closer to the end of the round, it might have worked. But that moment -- the realization that someone just might have figured out how to beat Ken -- was great television.

Not as great, though, as seeing Ken get on the nerves of Alex Trebek. Let's face it: up until recently, the only reason to watch Jeopardy! was to watch Trebek's ongoing disintegration. When I was younger, Trebek's knowledgable quizmaster persona was a welcoming presence, the appropriate companion to the show. Somewhere along the line, though, Trebek seems to have become convinced that he was God's gift to quiz shows, and became insufferably arrogant, as if he personally concocted all the questions and the contestants were morons for not knowing what he "knew." (Come to think of it, "insufferably arrogant" is a fair description of my game-show-watching persona. But a national audience doesn't have to put up with me.)

And then later on, he just fell apart. He started leering at female contestants like a construction worker on lunch break, reminiscing fondly about doing drugs in college and singing absent-mindedly to himself when the show returned from commercial break. (I swear I saw all these things happen. Easily the creepiest moment occurred when a young female contestant looked up at the sky after nailing a question, and Alex said, "Correct. And I adore the shape of your neck when you tilt your head upward." I swear.) It was hard to believe that I'd ever wanted to be like this man.

Ken's emerging has highlighted a couple things about Alex. First, he hates being upstaged. Second, he hates contestants who appear smarter than him. As time has gone on, Alex has grown less and less able to even fake congratulations for Ken after each successive win. Lately, he's come to sound like a man reading off the rolls of deaths in combat. Alex is even more noticably perturbed when Ken steals the spotlight from him. Last night, Ken made some lame joke and the whole audience laughed. Alex immediately started snarling, "You do know, of course, everyone, that this is the Ken Jennings Show. So let me get out of the way here. Ken, relax. Stretch a little. And when you're ready, at your leisure, select another category." Ken has become bigger than Alex, and Alex can't stand it. It's fun to watch him fume.

So when will Ken finally be beaten? Simmons theorizes, "I see it ending like Gagne's save streak -- a close game, then some sort of fluke and everyone standing around in disbelief. Either that, or one of the other contestants pummels him to death." A decent possibility. Eventually, you think, he may run into someone who's as good as he is, remains within striking distance, and manages to beat Ken in Final Jeopardy. Personally, though, I think it will end when Ken gets bored. Once he runs out of extra mountains to set up for himself, or clever ways to write his name, he'll go down.

I can foresee two ways for this to happen: He'll start betting the whole wad in Final Jeopardy, and eventually he'll get one wrong. Maybe he'd even refuse to answer the question. If he did that, especially after hitting some milestone like 50 wins in a row, it sends a clear message: I'm only beaten because I want to be. It's a strong statement. Probably too strong for a nice guy like Ken.

So I think it'll happen the way Simmons envisions, only it'll be semi-intentional. He'll have a deliberately slow trigger finger. He'll "forget" some of the answers. Once he sees somebody he could credibly lose to, as he's been on the ride long enough, I think he might just lay back and let his competitor win. It's subtler, a less-obvious assertion of superiority, but it's more gracious. And Ken seems, at bottom, like a gracious guy.

In the end, I think we should be thankful for Ken Jeopardy. As Simmons points out, it's not often that we get a chance to see someone operating at that level, and we should be grateful when we can see it. It's not every day that we get to see greatness in action. We should take our opportunities when they come.

Loyal reader Carl of FoolBlog shares my distaste for James Lileks and his approach to political discourse, and he passed along a very funny parody of some popular right-wing bloggers. Lileks is second on the list. If you've never read it before, you should definitely give it a look.

And that's all for today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? See you then!

Posted by Fred at 03:47 PM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2004

Doing Hard Time

Today's Musical Selection: "Radar Love" by Golden Earring

Hello there, everyone. So, did everyone enjoy yesterday's column on Ohio state politics? It was extremely wonk-oriented, I know. The Smart Lady expressed this opinion to me, that the column was not so much for general consumption. And I told her that I didn't care. If you really want to enjoy my work, you have to understand that sometimes it's going to hurt. And that's how I can tell the true devotees from the dilettantes. My fair-weather friends will read Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, or my rips on George Steinbrenner, or my squabbles with Hammerin' Hank. But only the true believers will slog through columns like yesterday's. "It's a challenge to my readers," I told The Smart Lady. "How deep is your love?" She said she'd never heard that question phrased as a threat before.

Actually, I thought about slapping a disclaimer on yesterday's column, following the lead of James Lileks. But though I think Lileks' disclaimers are well-advised, I decided not to use one for mine.

Here's why. I think the Lileks disclaimers are useful because it allows people like me to read his work without a problem. For those not familiar, Lileks' site contains a mixture of ironic commentary on pop culture, stories about his young daughter and hard-edged right-wing political commentary. Whenever he's about to launch into the political commentary, he always offers a warning, so that those inclined to skip such things can wander off elsewhere and laugh at the old recipe books instead.

I appreciate the warning myself, because without it, I would have a hard time reading Lileks. I first became aware of him when he was writing columns in the Post, and from there I found my way to his site, most of which I like. I really enjoy his pop-culture stuff, and I don't even mind the little-daughter fluff (even though many of his critics tend to gag on it). But the political commentary is always going to come between us. It's not just that we come from opposite ends of the political spectrum; as I hope loyal readers can attest, I'm not so virulently partisan that I can't stand to listen to commentary from the right. It's his tone that bothers me.

When I first started reading his stuff, I ignored the disclaimers and read it all; after all, I liked his other work, so why not the politics? But after a while, I realized that the whole time I was reading it, I was screaming "No! No! No!" in my head, over and over. At first I tried composing counter-arguments, but after a while I realized it was useless. I could spend hours explaining why I found his arguments faulty, and he'd still think he was right.

What is it that I find so objectionable about his screeds (Lileks' word)? Generally, I think it's the fact that he preaches with the zealotry of the converted. Lileks admits to having been a leftist in his younger years, and now that he's "seen the light," he can no longer see the virtue at all in the old ways of thinking. There's a behavioral theory, which I can't quite remember the name of, which holds that the most zealous defenders of the standards of a group are its newest members. And if you think about it, it makes sense: the newest members are those whose status is the most tenuous, so they have the most to gain by ensuring that the standards of the group are firmly upheld.

Here's an example: Who is more likely to engage in garish and ostentatious displays of wealth: someone whose family has been wealthy for generations, or someone who made millions of dollars overnight? Naturally, it's the guy who just made his money. For him, the money is a new fact. Suddenly, he's been vaulted into a class where he didn't previously consider himself to belong. So of course he's more likely to insist on rubbing his money in everyone's face. Chris Rock likes to define it as the difference between being rich and being wealthy: Rich people blow their money on fancy cars and expensive toys, while wealthy people invest in assets, education, and things that appreciate over time. But it's easier to be "wealthy," as Rock conceives it, if you're accustomed to being rich. If you're born into money and are reasonably certain that you will not be deprived of it during your lifetime, then you don't feel the need to show it off. You can concentrate on making sure that future generations will be as blessed as you are. But if you've just come into money, you're never sure that it won't disappear just as fast as it came, so naturally you're going to want to take the opportunity to flaunt it while you've got it.

In short, the most virulent displays of classism tend to come from those whose status in the upper class is most tenuous, either because they just arrived or they're in danger of falling out. The concept of "noblesse oblige" is only meaningful to someone whose status among the noblesse is comfortably assured. (That's the dirty little secret of hereditary aristocracy: For all its flaws, it tends to produce an upper class which is secure in its status, allowing it the luxury of treating the lower classes better, if it chooses. On the other hand, since capitalism is premised on the idea that everyone can rise or fall through the classes on his own effort, it tends to encourage those on top to exploit their advantage and engineers mechanisms to keep themselves there.)

How does this apply to politics and Lileks? Well, someone who's been a lifelong Republican, who's secure and comfortable in that affiliation, is going to feel more comfortable granting the good intentions and valid arguments of their counterparts on the left. On the other hand, someone who's new to the party is likely to feel the need to explicitly, and loudly, reject the arguments of the other side, in order to reaffirm his new status. (The same argument applies in the opposite direction, as Arianna Huffington could tell you.)

If Lileks now feels that he's a hard-right type, then that's fine for him. What irks me is that he seems to have now decided that there are now only two allowable political camps: people who agree with him, and people who are foolish and unserious. What legitimate democratic political system is based on that philosophy? If there's only one right way to do things, why have a democracy at all? Why take the chance that the people, in a moment of weakness, will vote for the wrong option? Wouldn't a totalitarian system be better?

So if I had to wade through Lileks' supremely arrogant righteousness every time he felt like spouting off, I'd probably eventually grow sick of it. And in time, it would probably color my opinion of his other stuff. Have you ever had a friend who you thought was really funny in general but, every so often, would do something really inappropriate in public? Like making racist remarks, or grabbing at the posteriors of passing women, or dropping his pants? Over time, you usually decide that whatever benefit the friend may bring is outweighed by the irritation and frustration of the awkward moments. I don't mean to equate Lileks' political views with dropping trou in public, but it's that same thing. My irritation with his political rhetoric would eventually swamp my admiration for the other stuff.

And to his credit, Lileks understands that. Hence the disclaimer. He may not have much patience for the political views of people like me, but he still wants us to be able to communicate. Were we friends in the flesh, Lileks and I would probably get along pretty well, provided that we usually avoided talking politics. And by attaching the disclaimers, he allows me to do the same thing in cyberspace. We can share our interest in deceased pop culture, laugh together over it, and avoid coming to blows over the politics. It's a good policy, and I thank him for it.

So why don't I put disclaimers over my wonk-only posts? Because I don't think that they'll negatively impact my relationship with you, The Reader. The worst thing about me you can find out from reading those posts is that I'm an incredible dork, and you already know that. Perhaps reading about the state of the Ohio Democratic Party will bore you to tears (it probably should, if you don't live there), but I have enough faith in your deductive reasoning that I believe you can see where a column like that is heading pretty early on, and skip it if you don't want to read about it. Perhaps I should put in some sort of divider that will allow readers to skip to endnotes that might be more interesting, which I will consider. If you have any thoughts on this, let me know.

But don't try to let me know in the comments. Apparently, SquawkBox has decided that I've got too many thoughtful readers to allow me to keep using their service for free. I'd consider upgrading to the pay service, but since I'm going to be moving pretty soon anyway, why bother? So for now, I'm just going to go comment-less. Anyone wishing to make a note of something I've written can still do so at mediocrefred1979 -at- yahoo -dot- com. You know where to find me. (My apologies to loyal reader Frinklin, who had a good comment about the Food Network chefs that no longer exists. Sorry about that, buddy.)

And if you've made it this far, you deserve a reward, so I direct you to Bill Simmons' Vengeance Scale, which is an entertaining attempt to characterize degrees of revenge. Ever wonder whether the song "You Oughta Know" was a stronger act of vengeance than the Revenge of the Nerds? Now we have a quantified scale! (I disagree with some of his rankings, but that's the beauty of it.) Check it out.

And tomorrow, I promise to try to be entertaining. See you then!

Posted by Fred at 03:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2004

Back to Ohio

Today's Musical Selection: "Love Rollercoaster" by the Ohio Players

Hello, all. I hope everyone had a fine weekend. Today I want to look at Ohio, a state I'm rather fond of, through the lens of the upcoming presidential election. Slate unveiled its latest swing-state profile on the Buckeye State. Both campaigns have tabbed Ohio as crucial to their hopes for victory. The stakes, however, may be higher for the Democrats, for whom an '04 victory may be their last hope for keeping Jerry Springer from taking the party's nomination for governor in two years. The thought is too gruesome for many Democrats to contemplate, that things have come to this pass.

Here's the problem for Ohio Democrats: Demographically, Ohio is pretty even: heavily Democratic Cincinnati and Cleveland are balanced by Republican-leaning areas across the rest of the state, with Columbus as a pivotal swing area. The problem is that, despite the state's general competitiveness, the state's Democratic bench is relatively thin.

Ohio's last Democratic governor was Dick Celeste, who left office in 1991 amid controversy after commuting the sentences of all prisoners on death row in the state, which damaged his prospects for future office. Their last two Democratic senators, Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn, retired four years apart, both too old to consider a run for the governor's chair. And with the party's elder statesmen out of the picture, the Democrats have scrambled to locate replacements, without much success.

Traditionally, in looking for a statewide candidate, a party looks at its Congresional representatives and big-city mayors, since these are the people with visibility enough to be credible candidates. And as it happens, the Democratic roster in these areas is shallow right now, due to a combination of factors.

Cleveland's current Democratic mayor, Jane Campbell, has been in office less than two years. Prior to that, Cleveland hadn't had a Democratic mayor since Dennis Kucinich back in the '70s. Cleveland is probably the best place in the state for Democrats to develop candidates, and the recent lack of Democratic mayors has really hurt the party.

Cincinnati's current Democratic mayor, Charlie Luken, has the resume to make a credible run for statewide office. But his term in office has been marred by ugly race riots that would surely become an issue in a statewide race. Also, he doesn't appear inclined to make a statewide run, apparently more interested in running for re-election next year than using the office as a springboard to higher office. The previous mayor, Roxanne Qualls, has declared herself out of the running for future elective office after losing a Congressional race to Republican Steve Chabot. The mayor before Qualls, Dwight Tillery, has a fairly rocky relationship with the Democratic party, having fought with them over the role of African Americans in the party power structure, so it seems unlikely he'd get a nod. Unlike Cleveland, Cincinnati has potential Democratic candidates, but none who are ready and willing to make an effective statewide run.

Ohio's House delegation consists of 18 members, only 6 of whom are Democrats. Two of them, Tim Ryan and Stephanie Tubbs Jones, are relative newcomers and probably not ready for a statewide race. That leaves the following four: Sherrod Brown, Marcy Kaptur, Ted Strickland and Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich certainly has the profile, after standing as Democratic nominee for president this year (thus displacing the disgraced Jim Traficant as Ohio's most visible Congressman), but he's too liberal to have a real shot at winning statewide. Kaptur has represented the Toledo area for over 20 years, an impressive record. But if she had designs on statewide office, it seems likely she'd have run by now.

That leaves Strickland and Brown. Of the two, Brown is a little more liberal, particularly on social and religious issues. Brown has been in office longer, elected four years before Strickland. Brown represents an area outside of Cleveland, Strickland a chunk of southeast Ohio that borders West Virginia. Might they be possibilities?

Based on the record, I wouldn't count on Brown. The pugnacious congressman (and former Ohio secretary of state) is developing a reputation as being to the Ohio governor's race what Mario Cuomo was to the presidential race. In 1998, Brown sensed a void in the state Democratic power structure and thought about entering the governor's race, but backed off. In 2000, the Republican state legislature threatened to use the redistricting process to knock Brown out of Congress. Brown responded by threatening to run for governor. The Republicans backed off, and so did Brown. In both cases, Brown would have been pitted against old nemesis Bob Taft, who knocked Brown out of his secretary of state position in 1990 in a rough campaign. Now Taft is gone, and here's Brown, daydreaming about running again. Purely coincidentally, I'm sure, the Ohio legislature is talking about redrawing Brown's district again. Looking at the record, it looks to me like Brown's gubernatorial aspirations have more to do with personal vengeance and defending his turf (and possibly stroking his ego) than with any actual desire to be governor.

Strickland's another story. His aspirations are relatively fresh. And representing a rural district as he does, he has a chance to make inroads in areas that the Democrats have struggled with. On the other hand, some question whether he can hold the cities, without which no Ohio Democrat could stand a chance. Whatever doubts there may be, however, he's the best the party has to offer, statewide.

This is where Springer comes in. Though he's become famous as a trash-TV talk-show host, Springer does in fact have political experience: he served as mayor of Cincinnati in the late '70s and early '80s, and lost the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to Celeste in '82. (Springer's political career was undone when a prostitution sting revealed a check written by Springer to a hooker. Lesson for politicians everywhere: when visiting a house of ill repute, always pay cash.) But Springer brings two things that the Ohio Democratic party is sorely lacking: celebrity name recognition, and money. Like him or not, Springer's presence in the race would attract megawatt attention to Ohio. And Springer's wealthy enough that he could virtually self-finance his campaign if necessary. Given the state of the Ohio Democratic organization, neither prospect is unwelcome.

Here's a sign of the desperation of Ohio Democrats: In 1998, with incumbent governor George Voinovich forced to leave office due to term limits, the Republicans nominated Taft, a man whose primary political asset is his last name. The Democrats, after Brown backed off, nominated Lee Fisher, who had lost his bid for re-election as attorney general in 1994. This was the best the could do. Taft won. When his re-election bid came around in 2002, Taft had done little to endear himself to the people of Ohio, and he was considered beatable. With the pressure on to locate a winner, the Democrats found Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan, whose primary claim to fame is being married to Captain Janeway from the Star Trek series, whichever one it is. Hagan immediately endeared himself to Ohio voters by telling everyone that he would not have a problem sending someone to buy marijuana for an ill relative. The people of Ohio found this platform so inspiring that they elected Taft by a 20-point margin.

This year, with popular moderate Republican Sen. George Voinovich up for re-election, Springer thought about entering the race. He backed out at the last minute, allowing State Senator Eric Fingerhut to step forward and absorb the expected pummeling at the hands of Voinovich. Now, Springer has his eye on the governor's race, and it's likely to be tough for the Democrats to stop him.

Timothy Noah, who wrote the Slate article, suggests that a Kerry loss would virtually ensure Springer receiving the Democratic nod. I'm not sure I follow the logic, assuming there is any and Noah's not just scare-mongering. Noah argues that only a Kerry victory can allow the Democrats to have someone capable of stopping Springer. But even if Kerry wins, the Ohio Democratic party isn't going to be any stronger. Even if Kerry beats Bush in the state, Voinovich is likely to crush Fingerhut, only further highlighting the Dems' weak bench. And the other Senate seat, held by Mike DeWine, is unfortunately coming up in the same year as the gubernatorial race, meaning that if, say, Strickland were the gubernatorial nominee, the party would have to find someone else to stand against DeWine in what figures to be an uphill battle anyhow.

No, the best way to stop Springer is for state Democrats to realize what his candidacy would mean. A Springer race would be a virtually certain embarrassment for the party... after all, few previous celebrity candidacies have come with this kind of negative baggage. And even if Springer does win, he's not going to have any coattails: a self-funded campaign would mean that the fundraising apparatus will remain in its current wheezing state, and while Springer would undoubtedly be willing to endorse his fellow Democrats, at bottom his reign would be all about self-glorification. Springer's term in office would do little if anything to improve the party as a whole. A candidate like Strickland, even if he lost, would do more for the party. Rejecting the Springer vanity candidacy would prove that the Democratic Party apparatus lives on in Ohio. Further, a statewide race would boost Strickland's profile for future races. It would also give encouragement to other potential future stars, such as Ryan and Tubbs Jones, that the party has not fallen into the hands of people like Springer.

Would a Kerry victory help? I guess it's possible. If Kerry leaned heavily on the Ohio Democratic party not to pick Springer, it might help. But in the end, the only people who can save Ohio Democrats from Springer is the Democrats themselves. In the end, the party has to produce a candidate credible enough to convince primary voters to overlook Springer's celebrity.

Right now, in electoral terms, the Democrats in Ohio are trying to climb Mount Everest. The Springer candidacy is the equivalent of a helicopter to the top: sure, it's quicker and easier, but what happens when the copter is taken away, or runs out of gas? You wind up back where you started, probably with a crash. And it only delays you further in doing what you need to: climbing the mountain the right way, slowly but surely. The Ohio Democratic party needs to get in shape, and the only way to do that is one step away. Right now, the Democrats would be best served by ignoring Springer's looming shadow and going for that first step: preventing a Voinovich landslide and delivering the state to John Kerry this year.

A comment by loyal reader Carl of FoolBlog on my challenge to name Food Network chefs with whom you might like to share a beer:

I'd be happy to throw back a few drinks with that Anthony Bourdain. Yeah, he's a colossal, pompous ass. He's also very funny, and just self-deprecating enough to be more entertaining than annoying. Plus he'd get liquored up and pay for everything.

Jamie Oliver isn't completely bad either. His young English hipster schtick is a bit overdone, but his enthusiasm for cooking is really genuine.

Personally, I'd find Bourdain's pompousness a little too much to be overcome by the humor. Despite the obvious appeal of having someone to pick up the tab, I'll stick to reading his books. For what it's worth, I bet Jamie Oliver would offer to pay, then once you were both blasted, suddenly "remember" that he'd left his wallet at home. I never got into Oliver's show myself (that English hipster thing, I guess), but I agree with you that he really does appear to enjoy cooking, and I'll give him credit for that.

That's all for today. Something else tomorrow!

(Cross-posted to Open Source Politics.)

Posted by Fred at 04:07 PM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2004

Friday Channel Surfing

Today's Musical Selection: "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Ha" by Napoleon XIV

Hey there, everyone. Today being Friday, rambling will of course be the order of the day. But today, I've decided to try rambling with a theme. If it works, perhaps I'll try rambling with a theme on future Fridays. Today's theme is: Stuff I've Seen on Television.

The first thing I've seen is something Timothy Noah got to writing about before I did, but I believe I noticed it before he did. It concerns Dairy Queen's new drink, the MooLatte. The problem that both Noah and I have with this name is its similarity to the world "mulatto," a term for a person of mixed-race (one black parent and one white parent) ancestry. The connotation is especially unfortunate given the drink's medium-tan color.

Now, this connection was immediately apparent to me because of a running joke my friends and I had in college. We were irritated when KFC turned Colonel Sanders into a bizarre animated character who spouted hip-hop lingo and danced the Cabbage Patch. So we hit upon a marketing concept that restored the Colonel's true heritage. "Everybody says that white meat is better. But I know you... you like that rich, sensuous, tasty dark meat. So how do you get what you really want without the neighbors talking about you? Introducing the Colonel's new Mulatto Fried Chicken! It's light enough to pass for white, but it's got that scrumptious dark taste you really want. It's slave-whuppin' good!" The kind of outrageous smartass college-kid humor that too many beers will produce. So when I saw that DQ had produced something called the MooLatte, my immediate reaction was, "My God, they didn't. No... they... didn't." Except they did.

The worst part of it is that I can't think of anything else that "MooLatte" sounds like. If there was another word that they were clearly attempting to make people think of, the "mulatto" association would have just been good for a chuckle. But no. "Mulatto" is the only word that it sounds like. Isn't there anyone at Dairy Queen with a brain? This is perhaps the dumbest product name I have ever personally experienced. Dairy Queen should stick to making bad ice-cream treats and leave it at that.

On the other side of the ledger, I really like the commercials for the eHarmony dating service. Personally, I'm suspicious of online dating services, but eHarmony's sounds better than the rest, for one simple reason: Dr. Neil Clark Warren. He appears in all the commercials, talking in that easygoing voice about why his dating service will produce happiness. (Because they "match you on twenty-nine different dimensions," a phrase I hear in my sleep, Dr. Warren's odd emphasis patterns and all.)

Dr. Warren is probably the best advertisement for his own service, because his appearance directly reassures people who are skeptical about online dating. On the one hand, he's a doctor, so he must know what he's doing, right? (What he's a doctor of is not exactly clear -- and I don't care enough to check -- but the imprimatur of professional credibility makes it sound like a responsible operation.) On the other hand, the gray hair, the smile and the soft-edged voice gives Dr. Warren a grandfatherly air. He seems like a trusted matchmaker. Surely a man as kind and gentle as Dr. Warren wouldn't set you up with an ax murderer. It's that blend of professionalism and grandfatherly warmth that makes me like him so much. Not enough to use his service, but enough to invite him to dinner. If you're ever passing through the Fedroplex, Dr. Warren, look me up.

Last night I was watching the Orioles and Devil Rays on TV from Tampa, where a die-hard crowd of perhaps 1500 was on hand (Feel the excitement!), and I noticed a guy about 20 rows up holding a sign reading, "FREE KOBE." Oh, please. Kobe is not Mandela. He is not a political prisoner. The case against him is not some travesty of justice. He is a rich, spoiled athlete who is guilty, at minimum, of adultery with a 19-year-old girl and, at worst, of rape. Free Kobe, my ass. Hmm, where did I last see him, anyhow? Behind bars? No, seems to me I last saw him sitting at a table at a press conference announcing his new $100-million-plus contract. Seems pretty free to me.

Loyal reader Ginevra said in a comment on my Jeff Smith memorial that she shares my impatience with the Food Network. In response, I pointed out that Rachael Ray and Alton Brown are the only people on the network that I'd actually want to have a beer with. The others may be excellent chefs, but I don't think I'd want to spend time with them. So I open the question to you, The Reader: if you had the opportunity to spend an evening with any one Food Network personality, who would it be? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

I saw John McEnroe's new talk show last night, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, McEnroe remains refreshingly honest and true to himself. It's great to see a talk-show host who doesn't feel the need to shuck and jive and do the fake laugh. If McEnroe finds his guest's joke funny, he'll laugh. If he doesn't, he won't. I like that.

On the other hand, he's just a little too himself, if you know what I mean. He'll trail off in the middle of an interview, completely ignoring his guest if he's bored. Or he'll embarrass himself: yesterday, he was interviewing some model (can't remember her name), and upon discovering she was 19, attempted to set her up on a date with his 18-year-old son. She said 18 was a little young for her, so he said, "Oh, so you like older men, huh? A lot older? Does that appeal to you?" Pause. "I look really pathetic right now, don't I?" Well, yes. And again, the honesty is refreshing, but...

In short, McEnroe's greatest strength is also his great weakness as a talk-show host. He's refreshingly, defiantly himself, but being himself also means coming off as unprofessional. If he can polish his style such that he's a little smoother while maintaining that McEnrovian frankness, I think the show could be a real hit. I'll be monitoring it.

And with that, time to roll downhill to the weekend. See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at 04:17 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2004

Stop This State, I Wanna Get Off!

Today's Musical Selection: "I Will" by the Beatles

Hello there, all. Today I want to emit one of my periodic blasts against my home state, Virginia. Alert readers are probably aware by now that Virginia is a schizophrenic state, containing a bizarre admixture of tech barons and bureaucrats in the north with old-fashioned antebellum country folks down south. Half the state has embraced the 21st century; the other half refuses to relinquish the 19th. This combination tends to produce certain bizarre side effects, one of which has recently been in the news.

It seems that Virginia law permits people to carry firearms openly in public. Yes, you read that right. Furthermore, while everyone was giggling about that Sunday blue-law business, the genius state legislature passed a law invalidating local gun-control statutes, meaning that localities (such as Alexandria) with the brains to ban open carry were SOL.

So, as you would expect, happy gun owners have been celebrating by brandishing their sidearms in public. Some of these incidents have occurred right in Dot-Com Canyon, which is mildly alarming to me, given that I live there. Police were dispatched to the scenes, where the gun owners reminded them that, as insane as it my sound, they were powerless to disarm these law-abiding citizens. I figure it's only a matter of time before I bump into one of these Quick Draw McGraw wannabes. I can't wait.

Let me be clear here. In all of these cases, it was clear that the gun owners had no intention of firing their weapons. They simply wished to display them. This doesn't make me feel better. I have a simple, pragmatic attitude toward gun-control laws: Can any good come from permitting guns in a particular situation? And personally, I cannot foresee any good coming from allowing people to pack heat in public. Call me a bleeding-heart if you will. Just based on the way people drive around the Fedroplex, it occurs to me that the last thing this situation needs is for the parties to be armed.

In fact, most Virginia gun laws fail to meet this first-do-no-harm standard. A few years back, the Old Dominion liberalized its concealed-carry permit laws. Previously, you had to demonstrate an actual need for a concealed-carry (for instance, employment as a private investigator). Under the new rule, concealed-carry permits were given away as prizes in McDonald's Happy Meals. Try as I might, I could not foresee any good coming from offering concealed-carry permits to people who could not prove a need for them.

Later that year, Fairfax County tried to pass a law barring civilians from bringing loaded weapons into police stations. The state shut them down. I thought and thought, but I couldn't think of any good coming out of a situation in which a law-abiding citizens brings a loaded gun into a police station.

This is what life's like in Virginia. My dad and I were once driving back from Maryland, and there was a traffic backup on the bridge back into Virginia. I wondered aloud at the cause of the backup, and he said, "They're stopping everyone, checking for guns. If you don't have one, they issue you one. You just can't live in Virginia without a gun, you know." He rolled his eyes.

I understand that pro-gun people come from a different place on this than I do. I once dated a country girl, and she mentioned that, for fun and relaxation, she liked to shoot off her gun at tin cans in the backyard. I reacted to this as if she'd just revealed that she clubbed baby seals for fun. She was mystified by my reaction. For her, guns were part of growing up; she'd been around them from a young age and considered it part and parcel of life. I considered guns as a threat, something to be avoided if at all possible. It was a stark example of the different worlds we'd grown up in.

Fortunately for gun owners everywhere, we have the NRA. The NRA regards any attempt to limit people's possession of firearms as a crisis, and will fight against even reasonable gun control tooth and nail. It's the principle of the thing, they say. And I imagine it is. But isn't it interesting that some of the NRA's staunchest defenders can't stand the ACLU standing up for unpopular speech, on the principle of the thing? Personally, I think it's good to have people standing up for pure principle, provided that they aren't permitted to write the laws.

When you let unchecked principle rule the day, you get people wearing sidearms in restaurants. And I find myself checking the real estate listings in other states.

Speaking of moving... I'm quite glad that Mike Ditka elected not to run in the Illinois Senate race. Had he run, he just might have won. And had he won, I would have had to seriously consider fleeing to Canada. Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger bothered me, but as they governed states in which I had no particular business, I could rest assured that they were someone else's problem. But Senator Ditka, being in Washington, voting on laws that affect the entire country, would become my problem in a hurry. We dodged a bullet.

Kudos to Ditka, though, for recognizing that he wasn't temperamentally suited to the Senate. Someone might upset him, he said, and then he wasn't sure what he'd do. We already have one Jim Moran in Congress, we don't need two.

That's all for today. Slop tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 04:22 PM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2004

My All-Star Thoughts

Today's Musical Selection: "Cheap Seats" by Alabama

Hey there, everybody! I've got some exciting news to share with all of you, and I'll get to that at the end of today's entry. First, though, I want to share with you my thoughts on the All-Star Game, which took place last night at Don't-Call-Us-Enron Field in Houston.

MLB's is the only all-star showdown I watch with regularity. The defense-optional contests that the NBA and NHL put on bore me, and the NFL's flag-football Pro Bowl is beneath contempt (though fun, I'm sure, for the players, who get a trip to Hawaii out of it). And being the sort of person I am, naturally I enjoy offering a sarcastic running commentary for the amusement of myself and my viewing partners. The problem is that last night, I didn't have any viewing partners. Therefore, I struck on the idea of typing up my commentary while the game was in progress, and posting it for the amusement of you, The Reader. Ever wonder what it's like to watch a game with Mediocre Fred? Well, now you can find out! All you need to add is me pacing the room and periodically diving for the Doritos and Coke, and it's like you're there! So sit back and enjoy!

- For the curious: For tonight's All-Star viewing, I'm wearing a Seattle Pilots cap. A show of support to my boys, the former Pilots. Frinklin, this one's for you.

- Love the Blues Brothers theme, but, um, wouldn't it have been better last year? (Last year, the game was in Chicago.) It seems like the product of some genius marketing guy who was just hired. "Gee, why didn't we do this last year?" Okay, let's do it this year.

- The "I, All-Star" promo/intro was unfortunate. First of all, Will Smith has no business anywhere near the All-Star Game. Second, comparing the players to robots... bad idea.

- Why don't the players smile during introductions? Most of them showed all the warmth and excitement of men standing in front of a firing squad. Can't you at least pretend it's an honor, guys? The first player to even show a hint of a smile was Curt Schilling; first player to show teeth was Gary Sheffield, who was actually being booed.

- Hey, wouldn't it really suck to be at the All-Star game in front of your hometown fans... and get booed? Welcome to hell, Jimy Williams. (Especially if rumors of your impending dismissal are true.) Fun note: all four All-Star "coaches" (Tony Pena, Carlos Tosca, Clint Hurdle, Williams) might be fired before the year's out. Wonder if that's ever happened before? [Editor's note: Williams was fired the day after the game, replaced by former Brewers and Tigers manager Phil Garner, one of the game's good guys who deserves a chance to show what he can do with major-league talent.]

- Both the Brewers' representatives, Ben Sheets and Danny Kolb, smiled. At least they appeared happy to be there. Thanks for making us proud.

- Derek Jeter appeared to be walking with a limp when he was introduced. I was tempted to call my dad and say, "Hey, your shortstop's limping," but I know that would just give him another opportunity to whine about the Yankees' alleged woes. Nobody knows de trouble I've seen...

- Fantasia Barrino (who I understand won the "American Idol" show) sung the national anthem. As has become typical in the modern age, it was a complete butchery. Attention, pop singers everywhere: Do not attempt to sing the National Anthem. You will only embarrass yourself. You do not have the vocal range. However, if you cannot avoid singing the anthem, remember: It is not a torch song. It is not the place for you to do that little R&B voice-modulation warbling thing that bad singers everywhere do to draw attention to themselves. If I have to hear one more singer go Christina Aguilera on the anthem, I'm going to snap and start mowing down people with an Uzi. Just stop it.

- Muhammad Ali has deteriorated badly, alas. The shaking is uncontrollable and very visible. (Not when he starts boxing, though; when he throws jabs, he looks like the Ali of old.) I'm glad they didn't try to have him throw out a pitch. The sense of humor's still intact, though: During a group photo, he gave bunny ears to Alex Rodriguez. That made me smile.

- Quote from announcer Tim McCarver: "Guerrero is a great player. He's been nicknamed Vlad the Terrible." Vlad the Terrible?! Isn't that Vlad the Impaler? It's Ivan the Terrible. Moron.

- If Roger Clemens loses this game, will he blame his catcher? And by the way, did anyone tell him that "This One Counts"? He sure isn't pitching like it. [Editor's note: This morning, Tom Boswell wrote that he thought Piazza pulled a Crash Davis and told the hitters what was coming. Sure would serve Clemens right.]

- Alex Rodriguez asked the umpire to check the ball. Does he really think Clemens is throwing spitballs in an All-Star Game? Then again, if anyone would throw spitballs in an All-Star Game, it would probably be Clemens.

- McCarver: "It has been a disappointing season for the Houston Astros fans here in Houston." Has it been less disappointing for Astros fans elsewhere?

- A grounder to second, clanks off Jeff Kent's glove, and McCarver is stunned that they called it an error. Hello? Giambi is not a fast runner. Kent had him dead to rights if the ball landed in his glove. McCarver's not adding much value to tonight's broadcast, if you ask me.

- More McCarver: "Randy Johnson was scheduled to be the second pitcher, but instead it looks like McKeon will bring in [Danny] Kolb. Which makes sense because the National League is already six runs down." Which makes sense because...? They really need to either cut off McCarver's mike, or cut off the beer supply to the booth.

- Bottled-water commercial featuring stereotypical Irish people singing "Drink, drink, drink" and brawling. How tasteful. That commercial got my Irish up, that's for sure.

- George and Barbara Bush are sitting in the front row (I saw them in the background while Rolen was batting). No acknowledgement by the crew. Perhaps if they had a Fox sitcom, they'd rate a mention. (The Bushes finally got their call in the fourth. Although I think the producer had to browbeat Buck and McCarver into mentioning them.)

- Oh, look, it's Halle Berry in "Bondage Gear: The Movie!" Didn't Cameron Diaz just star in that? I guess this just proves: one woman's desperate-for-cash porn movie is another woman's star vehicle.

- Ivan Rodriguez loves Yanni. The Fox guys gave him a hard time about it, with a little montage and everything (great line by Joe Buck: "Somewhere, Pat Morita is weeping"). Different strokes and all, but... between the love of Yanni and the kissing his relievers during the playoffs last year, you have to wonder about Pudge a tad, don't you? Is he married? Just wondering.

- Danny Kolb goes one scoreless inning. Doing my boys proud! Nice work, Danny.

- The Mastercard commercial about the Red Sox in the World Series was brilliant. Tremendously clever. (It was also good, though expected, when they did it for the Cubs. I bet they won't do it for the White Sox. How bad does it suck to be a White Sox fan, with all the tragic history of the BoSox and Cubs, but none of the love from intellectuals and romantics?)

- By the way, Ivan Rodriguez just patted Barry Larkin on the butt as Larkin stepped into the batter's box. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

- Fox has this dumb animated puppet, Scooter, who's explaining baseball terms for the kiddies out there. So Scooter explains what a slider is, and McCarver says, "Thank you, Scooter." Joe Buck points out, "You just thanked an animated character." And McCarver goes, "Yeah, I do that a lot these days. For whatever reason." And I believe him. For whatever reason. McCarver later says, "There's the slider that Scooter was talking about," therefore proving that he appears to regard Scooter as a real person. More medication for Mr. McCarver, please...

- Buck and McCarver just finished canonizing Bobby Cox for bringing the Braves back into the race. Sample quote from Buck: "You give Bobby Cox a bunch of veterans, and he'll turn that bunch into a winner." Not to spit on Bobby's Hall of Fame plaque or anything, but 45-42 is an interesting definition of "winner." The Brewers have a better record.

- Lousy feed... the picture keeps flickering and breaking up. Where'd Fox get their satellite, Wal-Mart?

- Ichiro Suzuki swings the bat like a 5-year-old, throwing his whole body into the swing, but damned if it doesn't work. He looks like he should be hitting about .050, but he's a magician.

- Randy Johnson breaks off a wicked slider, and McCarver says two things that flabbergasted me: "Scooter would have been proud of that slider" and "Terrifying... in any language." Oh, nurse...

- That Burger King commercial where the guy throws his buddy's TV out the window always cracks me up. Don't know why. Also, I love the line in the Gatorade commercial, "It's ninety feet to first no matter where home is."

- Jack McKeon commenting on the NL East race: "There's four teams that are right in it, and whoever gets on a hot streak over the next month or so is gonna make it hard for us." Implied: The Marlins aren't going to be that team. Gamblers, take note.

- Sign of the apocalypse: "The Budweiser Fantasy Player of the First Half." Just shoot me now, please.

- The "Diamond Cam" view of the batter looks like the view of a drunk in the gutter trying to look up someone's skirt. Not that I know that view personally.

- I've never understood the fascination with aerial shots of an event taking place in a domed stadium. Ever wanted to see what the roof of Houston's stadium looks like? Me either.

- Barry Bonds, standing on first base, just told Jason Giambi, "Love you, baby." Not that there's anything wrong with that. That led to the following McCarver rant: "That sound bite just goes to prove that there has never been anything useful said between a first baseman and the runner on first in the history of baseball. Ever. Ever!" McCarver proceeds to babble about this for five minutes, but he's absolutely right. Kudos to McCarver for taking a slap at his own network's programming decision there. (Joe Buck contributed his own version of this chatter, in English and Spanish, though his knowledge of Spanish appears limited to "Que passa?")

- I can't say enough bad things about the stupid gimmicks at Don't-Call-Us-Enron Field. The train? The hill? The flagpole on the field? The hill and flagpole are ripped off from old ballparks, in other cities, where there was an actual reason for them. In Houston, they're stupid and self-consciously kitschy. And I've seen centerfielders practically kill themselves chasing flyballs up that damned hill. And the train is stupid beyond words. I hate that park.

- Clever between-innings music segue: "If You're Gonna Play in Texas" by Alabama. Or, rather, it would have been clever if they'd actually played that line. Instead, we got "That lead guitar is hot but not for a Louisiana man," thereby ensuring that the humor was lost on 99.9% of the audience. Good move, Fox!

- Did you know that C.C. Sabathia is a junior? What's more, he just had a son, whom he named C.C. the Third. I don't know what to do with this information.

- Sabathia wears his cap cockeyed, in the current hip-hop fashion. And McCarver, showing off his knowledge of modern trends, said, "He wears that cap like a true left-hander." Whatever that means. McCarver apparently didn't notice the distinctly right-handed Ron Belliard, who wears his cap the same way.

- Buck just talked a bit about the Astros' struggles this season, describing in some detail the Beltran trade and Houston's in-limbo status right now. And McCarver, whom I'll remind you is being paid to provide color commentary, adds the following priceless informative gem: "Yep."

- Ivan Rodriguez wears so much jewelry that the microphone actually picks up the sound of it jingling around his neck. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

- McCarver just aimed for some poetic announcing, and it came back to bite him, which should be no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention. Here's the offending sentence: "Pujols keeps the bat on the ball, keeps it fair, and keeps the National League back in the game." What? How do you keep someone back in the game?

- Oh, look, they just stopped the game in the middle so that Bud Selig could give a bad speech and give Roger Clemens a lifetime-achievement award. I'll bet that seemed like a good idea before Clemens gave up six runs in the first inning. (And Joe Buck, classy to the end, just reminded Clemens of his stinkbomb in front of a packed house, on national TV, with Clemens' family standing right there. I imagine Buck was only sorry he couldn't tell Clemens that his fly was open.)

- In his speech, Selig referred to Clemens' "Hall of Fame 21 career." I assume the word "year" was supposed to be in there somewhere. I've always been a Selig defender, in terms of his commissionership, but the man is not a speechmaker.

- Joe Buck made it up from the field back to the booth fairly quickly, and McCarver said, "Runs fast for an announcer! How'd you get here so fast?" And Buck said, "Through the magic of the 5-year-old stadium elevators." Now, Don't-Call-Us-Enron-Field opened in 2001. Are the elevators older than the stadium? I'm confused.

- McCarver described Javier Vazquez's curveball as a "12-to-6 curveball." This is plainly false. It's a 1:30-to-7:30 curveball. Although picking on McCarver for this feels like a cheap shot, given all the other crap he's been spewing.

- Fox just ran a tale-of-the-tape-style graphic comparing Braves catcher Johnny Estrada to CHiPs star Erik Estrada. Ha ha ha. I wonder how long that one's been sitting in the can. I'll bet some production assistant got a raise for that one!

- Ivan Rodriguez flies out, and he gives the first-base coach a handjob on his way off the field. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (Okay, so I made that one up.)

- I'm sure Derek Jeter enjoys the endless replays of his dramatic diving catch into the stands from a couple weeks back, but I'll bet he could live without the shots of his bruised and bloodied face. Just a thought.

- David Ortiz just went deep, and Miguel Tejada appears to be his personal servant. Tejada toweled Ortiz's face dry, fanned him with a towel, and gave him some sort of congratulatory cheek-slapping ceremony. I wonder what Ortiz did for Tejada when Miggy won the Home Run Derby. Probably nothing. It's a rough life.

- Joe Torre just admitted that he spelled Ted Lilly's name wrong on the lineup card (he wrote "Lily"). Not that Ted's an undeserving All-Star representative or anything. I'll bet you even know what team he plays for. Go ahead, guess. I'll wait. (Answer: Toronto)

- Miller just had an ad proclaiming its taste superiority to Bud, and invited viewers to visit the Web site www.sweetmotheroffrothygoodnessthatsbadnewsforbud.com. Being the sort of person I am, I immediately entered this URL in (I even spelled it all correctly), hoping that I'd be rewarded with free beer for life, or at least some cool video or something, in exchange for my persistance. The reality, however, was a bitter disappointment. It's a cold, cruel world we live in.

- There was just a commercial for a movie called "Harold and Kumar Go To the White Castle." I watched patiently through this commerical, waiting for the announcer to say, "Is this movie coming soon to a theater near you?" and for one of the actors to reply, "No, but I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance." But no. Apparently this is a real movie. Heaven help us all.

- A perfect 8th for Ben Sheets. How about that! For the record, to date: Brewers pitchers 2 IP, no runs, 1 hit; all the other NL pitchers 6 IP, 9 runs, 12 hits. Am I proud to be a Brewer fan tonight? You bet your ass I am. Maybe McKeon should have found room for a few more of our guys...

- Here it is, the 9th inning, and on comes uber-reliever Eric Gagne... with the NL losing 9-4. I was hoping that the scoreboard operator would have a sense of humor and flash "GAME OVER" as Gagne came in, but no such luck. Wouldn't it be funny if teams that make a big production over their closers were forced to go through the same production when their closers entered in non-closing situations? Even better, those teams should be forced to bring in their closers at least once per season in a mop-up situation. Wouldn't it be great if, say, the Padres had to bring in Trevor Hoffman to the tune of "Hell's Bells" when the score was, like, 12-2? Am I alone in feeling this way?

- Another Gagne note: I didn't realize until tonight that he has an accent mark over the "E" in his name on the back of the uniform. I guess he got tired of people pronouncing his name like Greg Gagne. As far as I'm concerned, if he wants to insist on the French pronunciation of he name, he should have stayed in Canada. (By the way, the accent mark in Gagne's game is properly called an "accent aigu." See, Mom, four years of French lessons paid off!)

- It's final now, 9-4 AL, and the whole team came out to the mound to celebrate the victory. Mariano Rivera traded high-fives with his catcher, Victor Martinez, then Pudge came out and jumped on Mariano's back with a big grin on his face. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

- Alfonso Soriano won the MVP award, and he proceeded to speak excitedly with Jeanne Zelasko about his general joy at winning the game and his season to date. I'd relate exactly what he said, but I'm afraid I didn't catch any of it. He reminds me a lot of Chico Escuela, the fictional Mets ballplayer on Saturday Night Live back in the '70s. I'm not sure if Soriano actually said "Baseball has been berry, berry good to me," but I wouldn't be surprised.

- In recapping the events of the game, McCarver began by saying, "The worm turned early in this one." If he was referring to the worm in the bottom of a tequila bottle, I'm with you on this one, Tim.

So what did we learn last night? We learned: Pop singers should not attempt the National Anthem. Tim McCarver should probably be committed to a mental institution. Halle Berry looks good in skintight leather. The Brewers are doing their fans proud. Bud Selig shouldn't give speeches in public. "Harold and Kumar Go To the White Castle" is a real movie. Baseball has been berry, berry good to Alfonso Soriano. And Ivan Rodriguez is a homosexual. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

No announcement on the Expos yet, but all the signs continue to point to a decision coming soon. Here's hoping we see a resolution quickly, so this whole charade can be moved out of the spotlight.

Speaking of big announcements, here's mine: I'm movin' on up! Yes, the MuNu community has gathered in secret and decided to allow me into their community. The upshot of this is that I'll be setting up in new digs in the near future. As soon as I have more details, I'll share them with you, The Reader, but for now let me just say I'm honored to be asked, and I look forward to the untold wealth and elevated social status that undoubtedly come along with being a member of the MuNuniverse.

And with that, I'm taking off for the day. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 04:43 PM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2004

A Strange Romantic Brew

Today's Musical Selection: "Searching For a Heart" by Warren Zevon

Good day, everyone! Before I deposit you in the advice-giving arms of Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice once again, I wanted to speak on behalf of baseball fans everywhere regarding last night's home-run derby: Miguel Tejada?! I mean, my God! 15 home runs in one round! That is the most in All-Star history. Even more than the year McGwire kept going yard in Fenway a few years back. Now, I'll grant, Tejada has pretty good pop... for a shortstop. But where did this outburst come from?

I will say that Tejada's victory serves as a delightful comeuppance to the commentariat, which could always use some comeuppance. Think about all the buzzing about the 500-homer men in the competition. "Oooooh, Bonds! Ooooooh, Sosa! Oooooh, Griffey!" The commentator drool threatened to flood the press-box at Don't-Call-Us-Enron Field. And along comes Tejada, who with diligent effort might join the 500-homer club if he plays until age 60, and he takes down the lot of them! It's the moments when the sport completely undermines the pre-fab storylines that I love the most.

But I digress. Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are coming to us today from Denver, Colorado. Uncle Millie told me that he's dreaming up things to do in Denver when he's dead. I asked him if he'd come up with any ideas, and he told me, "Then, as now, I plan to spend a lot of time on my back." Is it any wonder that the ladies love him so? Without further ado, I give you: Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice!

- - - - -

Love is Like Whiskey: Strong, Intoxicating, and Too Much Can Make You Sick If You Don't Know What You're Doing, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello, lads! Today your favorite romantic advisors are doing their advising in the pleasant confines of the Rattlesnake Cafe here in Denver. I'm currently getting cozy with some good rye whiskey, so let me turn things over to the woman who's always got me on a Rocky Mountain high, Aunt Beatrice.

AB: Thank you, Millie. Hi, everybody! I wanted to start off today by assuring everyone who wrote in expressing concern about the fireworks incident from our last column. No one was hurt, and Uncle Millie did remember to take out the extra rental-car insurance, so we're not in dutch with the fine folks at Hertz. And Uncle Millie's annual fireworks spectacular went off, somewhat incredibly, without a hitch. No injuries and no police investigations.

UM: Naturally there were no police investigations, my dear. That's what my $500 a year buys. Do you think you're dealing with children?

AB: That would explain why we're not filing this column from jail, I suppose. But everything's fine, folks, so you can rest easy. No arrests, no injuries, no property damage.

UM: Well, the first two are true.

AB: What do you mean?

UM: Well, I heard from the Randalls down the street. You remember those lovely hollyhocks they used to have?

AB: Used to...? Never mind, I don't want to know. Let's just get to the letters.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

Here's a bit of an unusual question. I've had a couple dates with "Megan", a woman I met through a dating service. She's beautiful, fun to talk to, and seems equally smitten by me. No problem, right? Here's the thing: I'm a conservative Republican, deeply committed to my beliefs, and I found out in casual conversation that she's an equally committed liberal Democrat. Now, I'm not one of those types that thinks Democrats aren't fit to breathe the same air as the rest of us, but I can foresee this becoming a big problem for us, especially as the election gets near. How much of a problem should this be?

Robert in Provo

UM: Ah, lad, you must make priorities. Are your politics so important to you that you'd allow them to come between you and a beautiful woman? Lad, nothing should come between you and a beautiful woman. Not race, creed, religion, politics, clothing...

AB: Uncle Millie's right, or at least as right as he ever gets. Couples that love each other can overcome differences like politics. Look at James Carville and Mary Matalin. Politically, they're quite different. And yet they're happily married. I think people who let things like politics define who they are, and keep themselves from enjoying otherwise pleasant relationships because of it, aren't worth knowing anyhow.

UM: My beloved wife has the right of it, lad. A gentleman should never narrow the pool of potential mates based on something immaterial to romance, such as politics. Only remove women from consideration based on issues that matter, such as whether she puts out on the first date.

AB: Millie!

UM: Are you saying that shouldn't matter?

AB: You- but- that doesn't- never mind. There's no point in arguing. Robert, rejecting a woman because of her politics sells her short. Get to know her better before making a judgment! If it turns out that she thinks Republicans aren't fit to breathe the same air as she is, that could cause a break-up. Not because she's a Democrat, however, but because she's a snob.

UM: When in doubt, trust in Uncle Millie's old axiom: The only time politics should become involved in a relationship is if you're making love in a voting booth.

AB: That's just gross.

UM: Au contraire, my love. Especially with the new touch-screen voting machines. I'm a supporter of those. Don't have to worry about the levers gouging into your back-

AB: Enough!

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

My girlfriend and I have been dating for about six months. We have a pretty good relationship overall: we have our ups and downs, but in the end we're happy with each other. There's one subject that is a constant problem for us, though, and that's my habit of looking at pretty women. This argument has naturally escalated as we've gotten into summer, and the women have been wearing clothing that reveals more of their God-given assets. Now, my position is that I'm a lover of natural beauty, and when it passes me on the street in a crop top, I should take advantage of the natural vistas. My girlfriend's argument is less coherent and logical, but the words "disgusting" and "pig" are usually involved.

Now, it's not like I say anything to these women. I don't even whistle. I just look. Is that so wrong?

Mike in Waltham

AB: Hi, Mike. And yes, it is wrong. Your admiration of "natural beauty" is very touching, but mountains and trees can't tell you're staring at them, so there's a big difference. Also, it shows a lack of respect for your girlfriend when you stare at other women. Why don't you stick to appreciating the "natural beauty" by your side?

UM: Poppycock. A man living next to the Grand Canyon would eventually cease to be stunned by its majesty after seeing it every day. Staring at other women keeps the eyes fresh, and in fact probably keeps him from getting bored with his current lady. Am I right, lad? It acutally strengthens the relationship.

AB: I don't believe this.

UM: You and I both know, lad, that admiring pretty women is a man's God-given right. After all, why would He have given us eyes, if not to appreciate the wonder of His creations? It's our duty as God's creatures to look, and don't let any woman tell you different. The key, lad, is subtlety. For instance, now that it's summer you should be able to get away with wearing dark glasses in public. Saves the eyes, don't you know? And assuming the glasses are dark enough, you should be able to observe more discreetly, provided you don't crane your neck excessively. And if you do, you should work on developing your peripheral vision.

AB: I have to say, Mike, that if I were your girlfriend, I'd probably be willing to settle for a "look but don't touch" policy. I wish I could institute that policy around here.

UM: Once again, God has commanded His children to "be fruitful and multiply." So I simply-

AB: Oh, save it.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

Why are men such scum? I'm 28, and I've just about had it. They say they'll call and they don't. They cheat on you. They tell you you're the only one for them, then pick up other women the minute you're out of sight. They're too loud, too crude, they never listen, they're obsessed with sex and sports. Argh!

When I was younger, my mother wanted me to be a nun. I thought she was crazy. Now I think she might have had the right idea. Are all men really as awful as the ones I seem to wind up with all the time? If not, where are all the good ones?

Sally in Carson City

UM: Ah, my dear, I know it can seem as though all men are dreadful when you're having a run of bad luck. But at heart, beneath the bluster and the vanity, most men are decent fellows. Plenty of them would listen to you, treat you with the love and respect you deserve, practically worship the ground you walk on, if given a chance.

Where are they? A lot of them are probably as confused and discouraged as you, convinced that they'll never find the right woman out there. To find them, stay away from the usual bar scenes, and look off the beaten path. Ignore the gentlemen who come toward you with their brash pickup lines and capped teeth, and look for the ones sitting alone, perhaps too shy to make a move. The gems are out there, my dear, if you know where to look.

AB: That's touching, Millie. And what he said of men is certainly true of him. He's got his layers of bluster and vanity - a lot of them in fact - but there really is a heart of gold underneath. And if you take the time to get to know men like him, you'll find that... Millie, who's that waving at you?

UM: I don't see anyone.

AB: Over there, in the corner. The one who's... walking this way.

UM: Oh, that's, um... my eyesight's not too good... oh, it's my cousin Debbie. Hi, Debbie, dear!

D: Millie! I finally found you again!

AB: She's a kissing cousin, I see.

D: What's she talking about? And who is she, anyway?

UM: Well, this is-

D: So is this the Mile High Club?

UM: Mile High Club? I'm not sure I understand.

D: When I met you on the plane, you said you wanted to make me a member of the Mile High Club. Remember? So, where is it?

AB: So, this is your cousin, is she?

UM: I think this may be a case of mistaken identity. Excuse me for a second, won't you?

AB: Certainly. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Sally: all men are scum. The sooner you come to terms with that, the better.

Anyhow, we should be back in two weeks. Provided we're both still alive then. See you then. And on behalf of Uncle Millie, happy hunting!

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, as always, for that... educational experience. They'll be back in a fortnight.

Having nothing to add, I think I'll take my leave as well. Enjoy the All-Star game tonight! See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 04:53 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2004

Farewell to a Friend

Today's Musical Selection: "America the Beautiful" by Ray Charles

Hello, all. I hope it was a pleasant weekend for everybody. For me, the weekend was colored by the death of Jeff Smith. The name is probably not familiar to most of you. It might become more familiar if I tell you that he was the Frugal Gourmet. For many of you, he might still not be familiar, or familiar only in a "I wonder what ever happened to...?" sense. Well, buckle in and listen to my story. I miss the Frug, and if no one else is going to mourn his passing, I will.

The Frugal Gourmet sparked my love of cooking. As a kid, I used to watch his show religiously on TV. This was back in the old days, when cooking shows were the domain of PBS, and were actually focused on teaching people to cook, rather than a venue for egomaniacal celebrity chefs to preen and pimp their cookbooks and talk about truffles as if anyone who doesn't keep them on hand is a hopeless clod.

Once upon a time, cooking shows were a much friendlier venture. I watched Nathalie Dupree, the sweet Southern woman with the impeccably clean apron, and Martin Yan, the exciteable Chinese fellow who told bad puns and flashed a mean cleaver, and Justin Wilson, the drunken Cajun who tossed ingredients around in between antic Louisiana folktales told in his molasses-thick dialect, and of course Julia Child. But the Frugal Gourmet was my favorite of the whole bunch.

The show didn't have a gimmick. The Frugal Gourmet never cooked a chicken in the dishwasher. He didn't pretend that caviar was a staple of the average pantry. He didn't lecture everyone on the proper Italian pronunciation of his dishes. He didn't have a studio audience of zombies that shouted "Bam!" He simply showed the average person how to make delicious dishes simply and inexpensively. That was it. And in the pre-Food Network days, that was enough.

What made it work was the Frug himself. Smith was a warm, gentle man (encompassed in his end-of-show benediction, "I bid you peace") with an easy sense of humor. He was like an old patriarch, passing down family stories and recipes and techniques to the next generations. His philosophy was based on the idea, lost on the celebrity chefs, that cooking should be fun, not intimidating. Rather than "Let me show you how amazing I am," Smith sent the message, "Let me show you that you can do this too."

He saw cooking, too, as part of a larger vision, as something that ties our nation together. Some of our proudest moments, Smith believed, were achieved over the kitchen stove. Getting Americans out of the McDonald's and into the home again would help to make us a greater nation.

Let me share a passage from the introduction to one of his cookbooks, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, so you can see what I'm talking about. Try to imagine manic Emeril Lagasse, frosty Martha Stewart or smirking Bobby Flay saying this:

We Americans have had a bad image of ourselves and our food for a long time, and I am done with it. I am so tired of people from the New World bowing to Europe, particularly France, when it comes to fine eating. We seem to think that if it comes from Europe it will be good, and if it comes from America it will be inferior. Enough! We really do not understand our own food history, and I think that means we do not actualy understand our own culture.

Most Americans do not think of themselves as an ethnic group, but we are an ethnic body, all of us put together. The word ethnic comes from the Greek ethnos, meaning "nation." It refers not necessarily to a bloodline but to a group of persons distinguished by singular customs, characteristics, and language. While we are a nation populated for the most part by immigrants, we are nevertheless an ethnic group, a strange mixture, perhaps, but an ethnic group. We share a common language, but more importantly, we share a common memory. And there certainly is such a thing as American ethnic cooking. It is cooking that helps us remember and restore that common cultural memory.

Writing like that blows me away. It's accessible, engaging, and encouraging (calling on us Americans to reclaim our culinary legacy), but more than that, it's a clarion call. A Declaration of Independence for cooking! He reminds us that what binds us together as a nation is more than some distant symbols and yellowing documents locked away in museums. We are a nation of chefs! And our national cuisine is a living thing, the perfect example of the metaphorical "melting pot" that gets harder and harder to believe in. It seems implausible that cooking together could heal our national fragmentation, sure, but Smith makes it sound possible. And you could tell it wasn't just rhetoric. He believed every word of it.

He also encouraged families to cook together, a message that my family took to heart. As in most families, I suppose, my mom did most of the cooking. But my dad got into it as well, thanks to the Frugal Gourmet. Inspired by my interest, my parents bought the Frug's cookbooks. And my dad started looking through them, and preparing some of the recipes. You must understand about my dad: during his childhood, mealtime was something to be endured, not enjoyed. Over the years, he has regaled us with tales of childhood dishes such as Shake-'n'-Bake squirrel, ham in orange sauce, and meatloaf made with Lucky Charms (marshmallows included). Based on his stories, it's a wonder that Dad wasn't put off eating altogether in his youth.

Suffice to say, cooking was not part of his repertoire. But the Frugal Gourmet changed that. He started doing some cooking. He made Shrimp Louie and Oysters Alvin and peanut soup. And I was his trusted assistant, loyally retrieving ingredients, mixing and measuring. This was just one of the ways that my dad took time out of his busy schedule to spend with me (a subject for another post), but it's one of the ones I remember best. Together, my dad and I came to enjoy cooking.

Some of my favorite college moments involved cooking. In particular, I remember one morning that four of us spent the entire morning making the biggest breakfast ever served. Waffles, omelets, bacon, multiple sauces and syrups, etc., etc. We were just playing "Can You Top This?", culinarily, for three hours. Or the time when one of our apartment-mates had a crush on the RA, so we invited her over and cooked up an Italian feast for the two of them. (It didn't work, alas.) Cooking wasn't a dread undertaking; it was fun, like improvisational jazz in the garage.

So what happened to the Frugal Gourmet? Why isn't he remembered as fondly as Julia Child (whom he may have been, for a time, more popular than)? Well, that's where the scandal comes in. In 1997, a former assistant of Smith's accused the chef of sexually abusing him. Once the first allegation was lodged, many other young men came forward accusing Smith of abuse. Smith settled out of court for millions of dollars, and the case faded away. But so did Smith's career. His show was cancelled, and he produced no new books or shows after the scandal. His health declined significantly in the aftermath, and he was only 65 at the time of his death.

I don't know what to say about the allegations. Nothing was formally found in court, though the payoff was awfully large for someone innocent. It's hard to square the allegations with Smith's image as a man of God (he was an ordained Methodist minister), although the recent Catholic Church scandals have perhaps made us less capable of surprise in this area. If Smith did what he was accused of, then he will have to deal with that in the hereafter. If he did not do what he was accused of, then I can't imagine a more awful fate than what befell him. He lost his career, his good name, and quite possibly years off his life.

Either way, I do not choose to remember the man for the scandal. I prefer to remember the sweet, gentle Frug, encouraging us all to follow is example, demystifying cooking for the average person. Especially nowadays, when the Food Network chefs seem to think that cooking is all about them, it's refreshing to remember someone who kept the focus on the cooking. I keep the old Frugal Gourmet cookbooks on my kitchen shelf and refer to them often, not necessatily for the recipes themselves (I'm not a by-the-book cook), but for the inspiration and the stories. I bid you peace, Jeff. Godspeed.

Another moment of silence for Isabel Sanford, whom you should remember as Weezy from The Jeffersons, who died at age 86. Weezy's patient, loving, take-no-crap persona was the perfect foil for vainglorious blowhard George. And I'll never forget the time that she dropped the N-word on the air. I loved The Jeffersons, one of the few shows to deal openly and honestly with race, and Isabel will be much missed.

I was all set to resume the Joe Morgan Watch this week, but he didn't make too many memorable flubs last night (at least not during the part of the game that I watched). One moment did, however, stick in my craw. He and Jon Miller were plugging the All-Star Game, and Jon mentions the game's slogan, "This One Counts." Bear in mind that MLB has been flogging this slogan relentlessly for two years, that it's part of all the All-Star advertisements, and it's basically been drummed into the brain of the average baseball fan as if we were the Manchurian Candidate. So Joe says, "Yeah, I think I heard that idea somewhere before." Dios mio, friends. I think I've heard it somewhere before too, Joe.

Here's a link that has provided me with endless amusement: Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About. It is exactly what it sounds like, only better. Mil Millington, author of the page, has a wonderfully British sense of humor and a well-honed sense of injustice, both of which make his page a hoot and a half. You'll thank me later.

This just in: My main man Frinklin has nominated me for Mu Nu-dom, or something. I'm not entirely sure what this means, but Frinklin thinks I'm "super-groovy"! How about that! I am honored by the nomination, and we'll see how it goes.

Finally, The Smart Lady takes a few whacks at one of her favorite targets, Tim Noah. She said it all, and much better than I would have, so just go over and read it.

Posted by Fred at 05:02 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2004

Friday Stew

Today's Musical Selection: "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" by Dionne Warwick

Hello there, all! It's a pretty warm Friday in the Fedroplex... summer appears to be here to stay now (as it usually is in July). We have copious quantities of heat and humidity to look forward to. Oh, goody.

What shall we talk about today? How about with my favorite Slate columnist, Mickey Kaus? I admit, this time Kaus has me completely stumped. He's been bashing Kaus with such regularity that I figured that he'd vote for Charles Manson ahead of Kerry. But now Kaus admits that he's given money to Kerry, and intends to vote for him! Now, granted, it wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement: Kaus believes Kerry will be a "be a failed, Carter-like President," but "we survived Carter and we'd survive Kerry (though it will be a long, hard slog!)." But still... does anyone who's been reading Kaus over the last several months believe that he's become a Kerry man?

I suppose this is good news for the Democrats, if even Kerry-haters like Kaus are so disturbed by Bush's overseas adventures that they'll back the Democratic standard-bearer. But still... is anyone else a little suspicious about this? I suspect it has a lot to do with Edwards, although Kaus hasn't fellated Johnny Sunshine since Kerry picked up. It's all bamboozling.

On the sports desk, how about the Brew Crew! They're a mere 1 1/2 games out of the wild-card slot with the All-Star break approaching. This is simply astounding. Normally, in Milwaukee, there is a time for the Brewers being 1 1/2 games out of the wild card. That time is April. The last time we were this close to the wild card this late in the year was 1996, when we finished 80-82 with an offense paced by John Jaha and Kevin Seitzer and a pitching staff fronted by Ben McDonald and Scott Karl. At the time, I was young and stupid enough to believe that the team had hope then. Now, I know that we're not going to contend this year, not really. But is there hope now? Call me stupid, but I'm willing to believe again. I think we're building this the right way. And maybe in another decade, I'll look back at Lyle Overbay and Doug Davis the way I now look at Jaha and Karl.

On second thought, why should I automatically assume we're out of it? Who in the National League is going to run away with the wild card? The Cubs? The Astros? The Reds? The Marlins? The Mets? The Braves? The Dodgers? The Padres? (Sorry, Frinklin.) As I see it, there's not a slam-dunk pick in that whole bunch. All of them have flaws: too old, too young, not enough hitting, not enough pitching, too many injuries. None of these teams have shown any signs of making it to the next level. So why should we automatically eliminate the Brewers? I'll be the first to admit that Milwaukee making the playoffs would be a huge, huge upset. But why not believe? We've suffered long enough. We deserve a playoff race to follow. Provided that we don't do something stupid like trade our best 5 prospects for "the final piece" we need to compete, I'm willing to believe.

Crazy whispers going on in Illinois, suggesting that Mike Ditka might step into Jack Ryan's place in the Senate race. I certainly hope this isn't true; what qualifications could Ditka possibly have? But if it does happen this way, give the Republicans credit. They do this right. When the Democrats take a stab at these mid-stream replacements, they tend to pick admired old politicians (Frank Lautenberg and Walter Mondale), while the Republicans tend to go for media icons with no political experience (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ditka). As usual, the Democrats are hung up on the idea of good government, and actually trying to find someone who'd do a good job in office. Whereas the Republicans are smart enough to realize that voters don't care. The average voters is going to vote for the name he recognizes, regardless of how good a job this person might do in office. If you put your average senator up for re-election against, say, Michael Jackson, the Gloved One would win in a landslide. My party needs to stop pretending that politics is a meritocracy and learn how the game is played. Perhaps if the Republicans tap Ditka, the Democrats can convince Barack Obama to drop out in favor of Bill Clinton. (Knowing Obama, though, he's probably too hung up on integrity to consider something so imaginative.)

So, who's watching the Tour de France? I'm not. I actually watched a stage in the company of my parents Wednesday evening, and I recall thinking to myself, "These are the same people who used to make fun of me for watching NASCAR." The stage we watched was a time trial, which reminds me very much of the NASCAR races I used to watch, except the teams aren't even, strictly speaking, racing against each other. They're racing against a clock. For those not in the know, during time trials the teams are launched off at 3-minute intervals, and therefore you don't actually know who's won until the last team finishes. At least in auto racing, when the checkered flag drops, you know who won. You don't have to wait for the guy 23 laps behind with three wheels and no doors to finish.

The actual racing stages are somewhat better, but it's hard to take those seriously when the favorites can finish 25th and laugh it off. When Lance Armstrong captured the yellow jersey a couple stages ago, he admitted that he wasn't going to try to hold onto it, not until later on at least. Strategically, this makes sense: there's no point in Armstrong wasting his energy trying to beat people who aren't any serious threat to him for the overall race. But how much fun is that for the average fan? It's like watching the Lakers during the regular season. Why should you bother to watch the early stages, knowing that the favorites aren't even trying to win? How meaningful is it when some no-name guy from Spain captures a stage and admits that he can't win the whole thing?

This is not a knock on Lance Armstrong. I have nothing but respect for his athletic accomplishments. But you couldn't pay me enough to watch him achieve them. Sorry.

And with that, I'm rolling downhill toward the weekend. See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at 05:07 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2004

Sorry, Folks

Just not feeling it today. I don't know what it is about Thursdays. I shall return tomorrow. See you then!

Posted by Fred at 05:09 PM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2004

Feelin' Groovy

Today's Musical Selection: "Good Day Sunshine" by the Beatles

Hey there, everyone! I'm feeling more upbeat about the Kerry-Edwards ticket today. I've observed a bit of it in action, and I like what I see. While I still don't think that Edwards will make the best vice president, I do think he's the best running mate Kerry could have chosen. For the campaign, I think Edwards is Kerry's best partner.

What led me to this conclusion? Two things I observed. First, there is genuine enthusiasm among Democrats for this ticket. This is important, and more important than some analysts will admit. Everyone talks about swing voters being the ones that matter, and there's some numerical truth to that. (For instance, look at Frinklin, who was perfectly prepared to abandon Bush if the Democrats came up with an alternative he liked.) No candidate can win by appealing exclusively to his party base.

But no candidate can win without the base, either. This was always the problem with Joe Lieberman's "Mr. Electability" argument. Sure, he might have done well against Bush in appealing to moderates. But the idea of voting for Lieberman centrism would have made a number of leftists physically ill. They would have defected to Nader, perhaps, or Dean if he'd run an independent campaign, or they'd have just stayed home in disgust. Mathematically, you need to protect your base.

Also, as a practical matter, a candidate needs to generate excitement in order to seem viable. And the people most likely to be excited about you, enough to go out and wave signs and stump door-to-door and proselytize their friends, are your partisans. Swing voters aren't going to show up and scream at candidate rallies. It's the loyal party members that generate buzz for a candidate. And if the loyal party members are going, "Oh no, we've got a couple turkeys on our hands," swing voters will pick up on that. In order for a candidate to have a chance to appeal to swing voters, he must first be sure he has his party behind him.

If Kerry had gone with, say, Dick Gephardt, it would be hard to imagine Democratic partisans getting excited. If they think Kerry's too stiff and wooden, they'd really hate Gephardt. And without partisan excitement, the ticket could look forward to being the best-qualified losing ticket in modern American history. (Unless you'd like to make a case for Humphrey-Muskie in '68.)

Second, look at Kerry when he's next to Edwards. He's smiling! He looks relaxed and happy! He appears to be having a good time! All this is a crucial change in demeanor, and it changes the whole campaign dynamic.

I got tired of listening to everyone whack Kerry for his weaknesses on the stump, so I started watching some of his campaign appearances, intending to write a column about Kerry's underappreciated speaking gifts.

That column was never written, because I couldn't think of anything to say. He's trying... his gestures have improved, and he seems to be making sure that the lighting doesn't make his face look so craggy. But the man is not a born stump speaker. He doesn't connect with large audiences. He certainly hasn't given a rip-roaring speech that I've observed. Now, I wouldn't call Kerry a worse stump speaker than Bush, master of mangled syntax and Clint Eastwood inflections, but the burden of proof is on the challenger. And Kerry's not a speaker who creates excitement.

Along comes Edwards, who was born to stump. His connections with the audience are magnetic, almost Clintonian. Not only does he bring a campaigning spirit that Kerry lacks, but he makes Kerry better just by hanging around. He makes Kerry seem sunnier, younger, more vigorous. Perhaps voters will warm more to Kerry if the Edwards charm continues to rub off on him. The cheerier personality also should make it easier for Kerry to sell an optimistic message (something else Edwards has experience with). And voters like optimism in a presidential campaign.

All this adds up to the same thing: By picking Edwards, Kerry improved his marketing campaign to the American people. He didn't really need a running mate to bolster his credentials (as Bush needed a guy like Dick Cheney). Rather, he needed someone who could help him connect with voters and the media, someone who's skilled at salesmanship, someone to be the sizzle to his steak. Edwards is that guy. Kerry makes a better case with Edwards by his side than he did flying solo, and that's what matters in the campaign.

The Yankees are 7 games up in the AL East race, and (would you believe it?) my dad's still not happy. I was kidding him about Saturday's 10-9 loss to the Mets, and you'd think the loss dropped the Yankees into fourth. Moan, moan, moan. So I twisted the knife a little further.

"So, how did it feel to be going into the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, and look to the mound to find... Tanyon Sturtze?"

"I don't think Joe Torre was interested in winning," Dad replied.

He then proceeded to bitch about Jose Contreras, his favorite target. "They sent him out there last time, his family was in attendance... everything was great. Maybe he's turned a corner. Then he goes out Saturday... and stinks it up again." He then proceeded to suggest that the Yankees should threaten to ship Contreras's family back to Cuba unless he improves. "Maybe there's an INS agent who's a big Yankees fan."

Some people might think these are harsh words, but believe me, this represents an improvement in Dad's opinion of Contreras. Earlier in the season, he actually said, "They ought to hack him up into little pieces and send him on the next boat back to Havana." This is the man who raised me, ladies and gentlemen.

Dad was mollified a bit by the fact that Joe Torre saw fit, as is his custom, to invite the entire Yankee squad to the All-Star Game (except Tanyon Sturtze). Meanwhile, I'm thrilled that the Brewers managed to get two (2) representatives, Ben Sheets and Danny Kolb, on the NL squad. We take our pleasures where we find them, I guess.

Enough for today. More meandering tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 05:23 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2004

We Have a Ticket!

Today's Musical Selection: "Hell's Bells" by AC/DC

Hello, all. As you can surmise, I did not wind up posting yesterday. Too much else going on. Today I was going to regale you all with tales of my Pittsburgh weekend, but John Kerry decided to go ahead and upstage me with a dispatch of his own from Pittsburgh, tapping John Edwards as his running mate. I'm not bitter about Kerry stealing the spotlight from me, although it's worth noting that I've never upstaged him. But never mind that.

So, it's Mr. Sunshine again, is it? The people's choice, allegedly. I'm not going to pretend I'm thrilled by this choice; I'm already on record, repeatedly, deriding Edwards as a pretty-boy lightweight who's not particularly bright, and it would be pointless for me to try to wish all that away, given the relative ease with which you, The Reader, can click on the archive link to the right over there and quote me back to myself. The most positive thing I can think of to say about Edwards is that at least he's not Dick Gephardt.

Moreover, I'm surprised at Kerry for making the choice. I believed him when he said that he wanted a vice-presidential candidate who could step in as president if the need arose. I was looking forward to the "We Are Serious Men" theme that might have gone along with an experienced choice. Instead, we've got Edwards, who's been in politics for all of six years. What gives?

In raw political terms, it probably makes sense to pick someone who might provide the campaign with a warm, upbeat tone, since that's more likely to attract your typical swing voter than someone else as sober and dour as Kerry. Still, I thought Senator Kerry sincerely believed that having a vice-president who was ready to step in was important. Some might think that abandoning such an important belief is a sign of desperation. Or perhaps the campaign people prevailed on him to make some concessions to the realities of modern campaigning. Either way, I don't like it.

But this isn't about me. Kerry doesn't have to convince me to vote for him. So will the choice of Edwards help Kerry win those swing voters out there? Possibly so. Let's take a look.

A lot of people seem to think that Edwards will help Kerry in the South, but I'll believe it when I see it. During his run in the primaries, let us recall, Edwards won exactly two states: North Carolina and South Carolina. Edwards might help Kerry win North Carolina. Emphasis on "might." But the Democrats couldn't win South Carolina against Saddam Hussein if Saddam ran as a Republican. So what, precisely, is Edwards going to help Kerry win? Possibly Virginia. Possibly Florida (although I have my doubts). Just because Edwards speaks with an accent, that doesn't mean that Southern voters are going to flock to him. Regionalism just ain't what it used to be.

I do think that Edwards' upbeat tone might be helpful. Optimism is winning in a presidential campaign. People like it. They're willing to overlook a great many flaws in a candidate if he can inspire them. And optimism is not Kerry's natural mode. He's a serious-minded person by nature. Having Edwards around to lighten him up can only help. It's dangerous for a presidential candidate to be perpetually down, particularly a challenger. It leaves voters with the impression that the the challenger's entire appeal is based on the undesirability of the incumbent. Voters want a reason to vote for the challenger, and in this day and age, that takes a little sunshine. Enter Edwards.

Moreover, an optimistic Kerry-Edwards campaign almost forces the Bush-Cheney ticket to run on seriousness, which we all know was a big hit for George Bush the elder in 1992. And the more the Bush campaign tries to impress voters with its seriousness, the more Dick Cheney is going to be an issue. Cheney is a serious man, but he's serious to the point of looking sinister at times. Kerry may come off like a guy who'd be boring to hang out with at parties, but his seriousness isn't as dark as Cheney's. (I still worry about Cheney dismantling Edwards in debate, unless Edwards is willing to show the mettle that Joe Lieberman didn't in 2000.)

Slate's William Saletan likes the pick of Edwards for a related reason: He think Edwards is a better campaigner, while Kerry is a more qualified choice for president. There's definitely something to this... people like me (and Saletan's wife, apparently) who distrust Edwards' credentials can feel comforrtable with Kerry in charge, while people who don't like Kerry's style may connect better with Edwards. It has the potential to be a dynamic duo, if the chemistry works right. If picking Edwards means that disenchanted Democrats have a reason to feel enthusiastic about the campaign again, this can only help.

Also, to Edwards' credit, he brought more to his campaign than just a nice tone. He had some creative ideas about tax credits for things like education that the Kerry campaign would do well to entertain. And Edwards also managed to sound the "people vs. the powerful" theme more effectively than Al Gore did. (Though I doubt Kerry's going to try that tack.) One of Edwards' strrengths is that he seems like a man of ideas, which voters tend to like in a candidate. Kerry, like Bob Dole, seem like a guy who gets things done, but he doesn't necessarily come off as an idea guy. This is an area where Edwards might help.

But the most important advantage to having Edwards on the ticket occurred to me while reading Howard Kurtz's column this morning. Kurtz muttered a bit about "the media-industrial complex" pushing Kerry to take Edwards, which I believe to be true. He quoted Jonah Goldberg, who had a devastatingly accurate take on Edwards: "No serious person I know thinks Edwards would have ever gotten into politics if he'd been burnt by acid as a teenager." By the time I finished, I was confirmed in my opinion that Edwards is a creature of media hype, the Britney Spears of the political universe.

But wait a minute. Haven't the media been disenchanted as all hell with Kerry for a while now? Hasn't he been getting pretty tough reviews in the press? The media do not like John Kerry, at least as a candidate, and it seems unlikely that they're going to start liking him in the near future. Given that, why not pick a running mate that the media appear to have a collective crush on? It could only improve Kerry's press. And given that a lot of the public's perception of how well or poorly a candidate is doing is filtered through the media, the better the coverage, the stronger Kerry looks. So perhaps by courting the media, consciously or unconsciously, by picking someone they like, Kerry's demonstrating a shrewd understanding of the political process. (John McCain also fits in this category.) I wish I'd thought of it earlier, but you know me and my meritocratic hangups.

We've heard from Edwards-backer Saletan, but Slate's leading Kerry-basher, Mickey Kaus, has thus far been silent. Perhaps the contrast of seeing his least favorite candidate and his favorite candidate on the same ticket was just too much for Mickey, and his head exploded. Here's hoping that when he comes to, he'll be a new convert to the cause.

I can't leave you without sharing a couple highlights of the Pittsburgh tour. My visit to the Steel City has made me quite fond of it, its unpretentious, unabashedly industrial feel and surprising architectural beauty. PNC Park, home of the Pirates, is a gem. Although Wrigley Field remains my favorite park, the total experience of PNC is hard to beat. For starters, the park looks over downtown Pittsburgh, a lovely view, but it's unobtrusive. Unlike a lot of modern parks, PNC doesn't beat you over he head with the skyline. The focus is on the game. But the city is there, in the background, pretty as a painting. And on game days the Roberto Clemente Bridge is closed to cars, and fans walk over from downtown to the park on the bridge. I really loved that feeling, walking toward the game, feeling the buzz and excitement of the Pirates fans around me.

Of course, since the Brewers were the opponent, I came decked out in Milwaukee garb. And no one booed me, cursed at me or tried to jump me, which I appreciate. I saw a small scattering of fellow Brewer fans in the stands, but unsurprisingly the crowd was very pro-Pirate. And it was a good night for the home team, as the Pirates notched their eighth straight win, 5-2. As we were preparing to leave, I was passed by a Pirate rooter. He took one look at me and my Brewers outfit, patted me sympathetically on the shoulder and passed on. I appreciated that.

I also enjoyed the walk back across the bridge after the game. A fellow was sitting there blowing his sax, and I tossed a quarter in his case. As I was walking away, though, he shouted, "Hey, Brewer fan!"

I could only presume he meant me. "What?"

"I got a song just for you!" And he blew out "Taps" on his saxophone. I bowed to him and waved my cap to the laughing crowd on the bridge, and started to walk away.

"Hang on, I got another one for you!" And he play "Na-Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," which actually sounds really good on the sax. I laughed, waved my cap again and danced off toward downtown.

The next day, Papa Shaft and I paid a visit to what remains of Forbes Field, where the Pirates played up until 1970. All that now remains is a stretch of the center-field wall, which is made of brick with cement pillars, and the old flagpole, which was on the field in center. What used to be the field is now the University of Pittsburgh law school. The remaining chunk of the wall is surrounded by trees, so that it's not immediately obvious from the road. We approached the wall reverently, taking it all in, imagining what it must have been like to chase flies there in the old days. We threw ourselves up against the wall (of course), and quickly realized that the brick is far less forgiving than today's padding. I tried to imagine Brooklyn's Pete Reiser, the outfielder with a love of the game and a complete disrespect for fences, running over and over into walls like these. (No over-the-wall snatch catches here; the wall must have been 20 feet high.) I jogged down to right field, now the pavilion of some glassed-in building. I shouted to Papa, "Clemente played right here." He smiled and nodded.

As we were leaving, I said, "It's a shame that Clemente's ghost has to be floating around the law school like that." Papa replied, "Yeah. But better than than Three Rivers." Which was a good point. Incidentally, neither Papa nor I are big into the supernatural. And yet our discussion of Clemente's ghost, pawing the concrete in right field and waiting for a game, seemed appropriate. Something about being in contact with history like that puts you in mind of the ghosts. Especially Clemente, dying young as he did... you think he has to be there, somewhere, still chasing long-forgotten fly balls and lighting up the vanished field, just like he used to. If he is, I hope he's had a chance to check out PNC. I think he'd like it.

Enough for today. Something else tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 05:31 PM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2004

In a Long-Weekend State of Mind

Today's Musical Selection: "Communication Breakdown" by Led Zeppelin

Hi there, everyone. As per usual, it's time for the Friday ramble-fest. Tomorrow morning, Papa Shaft and I set sail for Pittsburgh. Mentally, I'm already there, standing on line at Primanti Brothers. But let's see what I can dredge up for your entertainment.

Ah, here's an item in today's Post, warning Fedroplex residents to watch out for coyotes. I think I speak for Washingtonians throughout the area when I say: What the hell? Coyotes? Since when are coyotes a feature of life in the Fedroplex? Up until now, it has been a fixed fact of my existence that coyotes are a Southwestern thing. (There is, after all, a reason that the Winnipeg Jets chose "Coyotes" as a name when they moved to Phoenix.) I'd always considered it safe to assume that coyotes had their sphere of existence and I had mine, and never the twain shall meet. Why can't the coyotes stay in their region? (To be fair, very few coyotes can read maps, and so they probably don't know they're trespassing, but still.) The article is silent on how the coyotes got here; I assume they've been taking advantage of Southwest's Fun Fares.

I'm curious: What attracted the coyotes to this area? Is it our renowned school system? The booming tech industry? Personally, if I was a coyote, I probably would choose to live somewhere where I was less likely to be run over by some idiot cell-phone yakker driving his Lexus SUV 20 miles over the speed limit up the shoulder, but I am not a coyote. Any coyotes reading this are encouraged to leave a comment explaining their choice of habitat.

Sticking with the latest from our Washington desk, good news for late-night Metro riders angry about the unbelievably sutpid decision to run 2-car trains at night: Metro is monitoring the situation. Expect a quick reversal as irate passenger threaten to throw Metro's "monitors" under the train if they don't bring back 4-car trains in a hurry. I have a feeling that the 2-car-train fiasco will soon sit alongside other disastrous decisions in history, like Custer's Last Stand and the introduction of the Arch Deluxe at McDonald's.

Angry Metro customers will enjoy this humorous list of suggestions on how Metro can further economize. I'm still laughing.

Only in Virginia: The General Assembly, in a rare burst of forward thinking, finally gets around to repealing some of the old Sunday "blue laws" from the 1600s... and they accidentally arrange things so that workers have the right to demand Saturday or Sunday off for religious reasons. Stunned business leaders have pointed out that this might force some companeis to close entirely on Sundays, due to a lack of employees. Virginia's esteemed leaders are currently trying to figure out what they can do about this. Leave it to Virginia to try modernizing the laws and wind up back in the 1800s. (Seriously, I've read enough state codes in my time to realize how easy it would be to make this mistake. But it tickles me anyway, because it's so Virginia.)

And now, let's shift the spotlight back to me. I'm looking forward to this trip... it's nice to get out on the road, experience a change of scenery, get some fresh air. Sometimes, in connection with my job, I spend a few days on the road, visiting glamorous places like Beltsville and Springfield, and I always enjoy that. I don't like being chained to the desk, but it's more than that. I like choosing my own route, deciding whether to start the day early or late, listening to my music all day, figuring out shortcuts and back roads, having lunch whenever I pass an interesting restaurant... it's like being an independent agent, instead of an employee.

Of course, I do enjoy getting a regular paycheck. That's one part of the emplyer-employee relationship that really works for me. Something about getting paid gives me a funny special feeling... I believe it's called "being able to eat." And being able to eat makes the world go 'round. Not literally, of course. Gravitational forces make the world go 'round. But you know what I mean. Right? Uh, right?

All right, stop it right there, Freddy!

What? It's... my old office-mate Hammerin' Hank! What are you doing here? I thought you were in prison.

I got time off for good behavior.

That's hard to imagine.

Haw haw. Anyway, here I am!

I see that. But why?

I can see that you're steering this column straight into the ditch. You're fresh out of ideas, and that's where I come in.

Well, all right. I could probably use the help. But we aren't going to see a replay of the same insensitivity and crudity that got you banished from the blog previously, are we?

No, "we" aren't. I mean, I'm a man with opinion, and I ain't gonna go pussyfooting around like you. "Oh, gosh, I almost have an opinion on this... maybe I should take a firm stand... but that might upset someone, and I hate seeing people upset... heaven forbid I take a position on something... what to do, what to do?" Are you still clearing all your opinions with the Smart Chick?

No. And I never did that. I respect the Smart Lady's opinions, but we do disagree on some things. And I don't sound like that, either. It's just that most issues have several points of view that are valid, and I want to make sure that I recognize-

Yeah, yeah, whatever. You just scoot over and let me take over, and you can go back to fantasizing about eating those fat-boy Primanti Brothers sandwiches and worshipping the Smart Chick. All right?

I'm not so sure about this.

Thank you. Now, let's see what you've got here... coyotes in DC, huh? You don't know why they're here? Well, I do.

You do? Well, this should be interesting, for once! You actually have some useful information to impart.

Shut up and let me finish, okay?


Now, why are the coyotes coming around DC? I think it's pretty obvious, but obvious stuff ain't always so obvious to your over-educated types like Freddy over there. Go to college, get some fancy degree, and it seems like you don't know nothing useful. I got a GED, and that's book learning enough for me. Anyhow, I'm sure you non-intellectuals have figured out about the coyotes already, but just in case we got a buncha intellectuals out there reading this, I'll explain it to you.

Now, where do coyotes usually live? Out in the Southwest? And what's in the Southwest? That's right, Mexicans. The place is overrun with 'em. The coyotes are used to that. It makes 'em comfortable. So what happens when the Mexicans start taking over places like DC? The coyotes follow 'em.

How do the coyotes know where the Mexicans are going? They follow the smell. Wherever Mexicans go, they set up Mexican restaurants and supermercados and all that other Mexican crap, so it's just like home, only cleaner and with decent-paying jobs. Plus, a lot of 'em live 15 and 20 to a house, and a lot of 'em don't believe in regular showering, if you know what I mean. So the coyotes can track the Mexican BO and the smell of frijoles. Plus, ever notice how a lot of 'em wear way too much cologne? (The Mexicans, not the coyotes.) I can smell a Mexican from a mile off with that cologne. And the coyotes can smell real good, so they can probably smell that cologne from a hundred miles off. So the coyotes put their noses to the wind, and if they catch a whiff of Mexican food, Mexican BO, and cheap cologne, they figure it's home. And off they go.

So if we want to keep the coyotes out of DC, the solution is obvious: Get rid of the Mexicans.



I already warned you about this. What you just said is racist and ignorant and just plain repulsive. I can't believe I thought you actually knew the first thing about coyotes.

Hey, that's facts, buddy boy. You can like it or lump it.

No, it's not "facts," Hank. It's bigoted claptrap. And while I should have come to expect this from you, I'm still disappointed. I thought you might have learned something while you were away.

Hey, Freddy, in the words of my personal hero, Dick Cheney-

Oh, no you don't. Not on this blog. Get out.

Whatever. I shall return.

Over my dead body.

Don't give me no ideas.

Good point. Hammerin' Hank, everybody. I'm very, very sorry.

And that's all for this week. I may or may not post on Monday, depending on how my schedule works out. See you next week!

Posted by Fred at 05:40 PM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2004

Sorry, Folks

Today's Musical Selection: "Strange Brew" by Cream

I had a decision to make today. Either I could torture all of you with a recounting of my physical decrepitude in the wake of last night's volleyball game, or I could take the day off. I tried and tried to think of something better to write about, but all I can think about is whether I'm going to be able to walk when I'm 40. Therefore, I'm taking a pass today. I'll do better tomorrow, I promise. Ta-ta for now!

Posted by Fred at 05:43 PM | Comments (0)