August 30, 2004

Getting Adjusted to My New Home

Hello, friends! I was hoping to inaugurate my new home with one of my famous food reviews, and I thought that McDonald's new Chicken Selects were as good a place as any to start. Veterans of the McNugget experience are undoubtedly excited by the concept of recognizable chicken at the Golden Arches. (By the same spelling principle behind "cheez" and "krab," I always felt that McDonald's should have called theirs "Chykkin McNugitz.") And I looked forward to trying these new creations, and perhaps marveling a bit at the fact that McDonald's has become so pretentious that what would once have been "Chicken McStrips" are now called "Selects." I was prepared to have a grand old time.

My aspirations were dashed, however, when I saw the new series of commercials designed to promote said Selects. If you live in a home with a television, you've probably seen them. The tagline is "Prepare to defend your chicken." Each commercial features a youngish person who makes threatening hand motions and carries on at length in the ever-popular Major Attitude dialect about the dangers of coming between this person and his or her Selects. Physical violence is not explicitly threatened, but the implication hangs heavy in the air. At first I found these commercials off-putting -- who would want to spend time with these people, anyhow? -- but not overly worrisome.

Then I began seeing them more frequently, and I noticed something very disturbing: In all of the commercials, the holder of the Selects is alone. No one else is in the same room. And yet, our protagonist continues to make menacing pronouncements as if someone else was actually in the vicinity. In some cases, the Select-eater actually mentions these imaginary tormentors by name. And none of these commercials appear to be set in a mental institution, so we can probably presume that these people were once, by some objective measure, considered sane.

So what are we to conclude here? As far as I can tell, the meta-message of these commercials is: "Eating Chicken Selects will make you paranoid and cause you to hallucinate." Is this supposed to encourage people to buy Chicken Selects? Instead of being charged up with desire for the product, I'm filled with questions. Has Mad Cow disease spread to chicken? Do the Selects come with a lithium dipping sauce? Is McDonald's determined to prove that they can come up with even dumber ad campaigns than Burger King? (Speaking of Burger King, does anyone know the whereabouts of the Subservient Chicken? I'd like to bring him in for questioning.)

So as a result of these commercials, I won't be trying Chicken Selects any time soon. Any of you loyal readers who have tried them and would like to let me know how they taste, feel free to leave a note in the comments.

Since I don't have a review for you, instead I'd like to take a moment to praise the fine summer experience I had yesterday. Papa Shaft and I hit the baseball diamond, as we often do, only this time we played longer than we have in a while. I've been on a bit of a losing streak in this games lately, but yesterday I knew I wasn't going to lose. Ever have one of those days where you just go in knowing you're going to prevail? It was that kind of day for me. Even when my curveball wasn't breaking right, even when I had to take off my glasses because the sweat was running down from my forehead and ruining my vision, I knew I'd be all right.

I kept Papa in check in the first inning, and went wild with the bat in the bottom of the inning. I wasn't going to be stopped. Papa, to his great credit, hung in and rallied, and we went into the bottom of the last inning with him ahead, 24-20. (By this point we were dashing off to the water fountain every half-inning and taking long pauses in between at-bats. We both had that bone-weary feeling that comes along in a hard-fought game.) Papa had little control left, and I had just enough bat strength left to keep myself alive. He hung in, however, and he coaxed a pop-up out of me that left me one out from defeat, still trailing by three.

Suddenly, I looked up and realized it was twilight, and that even if we'd wanted to go on, we couldn't have played further innings, because we wouldn't have been able to see the ball. It's been a long time since I played until dusk, and it was a good feeling to be out there. I stroked a couple hits, got within a run, and Papa's control finally gave out. He wound up walking in the tying and winning runs. The light was almost gone now, and the minute the game ended we both collapsed in the grass. Just like old times. When I was a kid, I used to make a habit of playing ball in summer evenings until we couldn't see any more, and it felt great to do it again. It was truly, finally summer at last. And while it's true that I can't bend over without grunting today, it's as much a sweet reminder as a nagging injury.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 10:20 PM | Comments (4)

August 29, 2004

Mediocrity Rules... A Bit

Meep meep meep!

Posted by Fred at 01:05 PM | Comments (8)

August 23, 2004

I Need a Week Off...

so I'm going to take it. I need to recharge my batteries, so I'm going to depart the scene for this week. See you next Monday. The regularly scheduled Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice column will run next Tuesday.

A brief note to Ensie at Both Hands: I'm glad you appreciated the link. Let's be blog friends! I recommend that my loyal readers, if they haven't checked out Both Hands yet, take the opportunity to do so this week.

Posted by Fred at 06:20 PM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2004

Yet Another Rambling Friday

Today's Musical Selection: "Oh Boy" by Buddy Holly

Hey there, everybody! Well, I've finally returned to a normal orbit after the excitement of yesterday. That means it's time for our usual gumbo of witless, uninteresting bits of information strung together in random fashion. Let's get started!

First off, to all you Yankee fans out there: I told you so. When the Yanks dumped Jose Contreras on the White Sox in exchange for Esteban Loaiza, fans of the Bombers were too busy tap-dancing with joy over Contreras' departure to notice or care about Loaiza. But in my Pulitzer-Prize-winning trade-deadline review, I warned everyone that "Esteban Loaiza does not constitute an improvement. In his entire maddening and disappointing career, Loaiza has had one truly impressive season, which was last year. This year, his ERA is around 5.50, and he's shown the exact same inconsistency that so infuriated [Yankee fans] in Contreras."

Didn't believe me, huh? Well, three starts into the Esteban Loaiza Era, the Yankees are already looking to dump their prize new acquisition. Current scuttlebutt is that they're trying to foist Loaiza off on Texas, a team whose rotation consists, at last check, of Kenny Rogers, Ryan Drese, Gaylord Perry, the late Warren Spahn and the San Diego Chicken (acquired in a waiver-wire deal from the Padres in exchange for a mascot to be named later). Worse yet, Scott Erickson is also involved. So the Rangers just might be desperate enough to take a flyer on Loaiza.

To check the pulse of Yankee Nation, I consulted with the Yankee fan I know best, my dad.

MF: So, Dad, how's Loaiza working out for you?

DAD: Mmpf. Well, who cares? We just took him so we could get rid of Contreras. That alone was worth it.

MF: Have you noticed that Loaiza pitches about the same as Contreras?

DAD: Mmpf. Give him time.

MF: Sure thing. The Yankees are famous for being patient, right? In fact, George Steinbrenner loves Loaiza so much that the Yanks are trying to dump him already.

DAD: Really? Someone else would take him? Who?

MF: Texas. They're desperate.

DAD: Well, great! What are we getting back? Maybe their second baseman [Alfonso Soriano].

MF: Ha ha ha. No.

DAD: Well, what, then?

MF: Some minor-leaguer. Anyone, pretty much. Maybe a bag of used baseballs.

DAD: Mmpf.

Actually, the minor leaguers that the Rangers are discussing in exchange for Loiaza aren't that bad. Still, I do believe I called this one. You can thank me later.

Tip of the hat to my man Frinklin, who's written up some entertaining fashion reviews of NFL uniforms. Part one was the AFC, part two the NFC. Both parts are well-written and enjoyable, and Frinklin demonstrates good taste in uniforms, apart from an inexplicable fondness for the sixth-grade-art-project-gone-haywire uniforms of the Tennessee Titans. Check him out.

I also want to welcome to my blogroll the Mrs. Frinklin, and her blog Both Hands. I couldn't agree with her more about the relative merits of Macaroni Grill and Olive Garden. They're both Italian chain restaurants, but Macaroni Grill is far superior. Go figure. (Incidentally, at the risk of reigniting the chains-vs.-independents debate, I would like to point out that the worst Italian meal I ever had was not at a chain, but at an independent, Luigi's in Williamsburg, Virginia. It's probably not there anymore. I hope it was firebombed by angry customers.)

I'm a little ticked off about this Slate swing-state profile on Oregon. The article itself is fine; Chris Suellentrop does a fine job documenting the increasingly hard-left drift in Portland and the disconnect between Portland and the rest of the state. However, the teaser for the article reads, "Is it so progressive that Kerry could lose it?" And the answer, as spelled out clearly by Suellentrop, is a resounding "No." I understand that the point of the "Swingers" series is to examine the scene in states that were tightly contested in 2000 (and Oregon was, largely thanks to Mr. Nader). But this particular teaser feels awfully cheap. Come on, Slate, you're better than that.

I also recommend, somewhat belatedly, Roger Simon's column on Governor McGreevey of New Jersey. Simon provides an excellent analysis of the situation, and he had a read on the situation very similar to mine. Worth taking a look at.

Last night I somehow wound up watching Jim Rome's bad TV show. Don't ask me how this happened. Late-night TV is truly a vast wasteland. At any rate, I recall having watched his show at its debut, and finding it pretty bad. The only thing that I felt it had going for its was the name, "Rome is Burning," which I thought was a pretty cool and clever name. Too bad it didn't come along with a better host.

At any rate, I saw his show last night, and he's changed the name! Now it's "Jim Rome is Burning." It destroys the whole joke! "Rome is Burning" is witty; "Jim Rome is Burning" feels put-on and stupid. How is it that, when a show has only one thing going for it, you throw that away? (Not the first time, either; the promos for his show when it debuted had some cool music that they didn't use in the show. How big a moron is Rome, anyway? Wait, don't answer that.)

I was hoping that, maybe, it would turn out that someone had trademarked the phrase "Rome is burning" and ESPN was forced to change it due to a lawsuit. But no, according to Fritz Quindt, they did it on purpose, "to foster clearer association with the star." How stupid can you be? Did anyone with a brain not see the title "Rome is Burning" and immediately conclude that Jim Rome was involved? Anyone who couldn't figure that out isn't smart enough to turn on their television.

That's all for this week. I promise to try to be less self-absorbed next week. See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at 05:06 PM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2004

I'm Famous! (Well, Not Exactly)

Today's Musical Selection: "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang

Well, I thought my year was made yesterday when I got to meet Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. (It certainly made Frinklin jealous.) Well, imagine my emotion when I open up today's paper and find myself quoted in Boswell's column! (That's me at the end calling Loudoun County a "cow pasture." And if you didn't know my real name before, well, now you do.) I'm tempted to drop him a line telling him that he quoted the Metallica lyrics at the end wrong, but for now I'm just floating on air. I may be a big-city sophisticate and all that, but I'm not so jaded that I don't find it cool that my name is in a big-deal paper, and in the column of one of my favorite writers no less. (Papa Shaft pointed out that if Boswell ever puts out a book of collected column on the DC baseball struggle, I might well be in it. That possibility is so far off the top of the cool chart that I can scarcely contemplate it.)

I'd shift gears and actually write about something meaningful, but I keep breaking out into spontaneous happy-dance jigs that interrupt the thought process, so I think I'll give up on that. Instead, I'm giving myself a one-day vacation. See you Friday!

Posted by Fred at 05:10 PM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2004

Notes From Farragut Square

Today's Musical Selection: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"

Howdy, everybody! I had a surprisingly good day today, all thanks to the Baltimore Orioles' DC FanFest. I'm sure that most of you find this hard to believe, which is understandable. I find it hard to believe myself. And some of you are probably wondering why I'd be at the FanFest in the first place. So for you folks, I'd best begin at the beginning.

I went to the FanFest strictly and solely to meet up with Papa Shaft, with whom I planned to go to lunch. I got there a while before the end of the event, when we were to meet, so I figured I'd wander around and examine the scene. The first thing I noticed was a lot of lines. Lines up and down the square. Lines, lines, lines! It called to mind Communist Russia. It was definitely a line-oriented event. I attempted to avoid the lines and find a shady spot to stand and watch for the protesters.

I'd heard some scuttlebutt that DC baseball boosters were planning to picket the FanFest, an idea I applauded. What better way to publicize the cause than to crash Peter Angelos' market-protecting party? After strolling the premises awhile, and dodging the lines to work into the center of the square, I located Protest Central. Not much of a show; two youngish guys (college-age, I'd guess) holding signs standing next to a middle-aged man. The signs contained a Peter Angelos quote, "There are no real baseball fans in DC," and the phrase "Support baseball in DC/NoVa." I was about to go over and tell the sign-wavers to keep the faith, but something about the middle-aged man seemed familiar, and I was trying to place him. I looked a little closer and noticed that he was writing in a long notepad. Suddenly it all clicked into place: the man was Thomas Boswell!

Boswell is a baseball writer for the Post, one of the greats. I'm a huge fan of Boswell's work; I read his column religiously, and I have all his books. The man is, to me, a legend. And here he was, standing three feet away. Naturally, I couldn't resist going over and introducing myself. He shook my head and invited me to walk and talk. We shot the breeze about the FanFest and DC baseball. After a while, he pulled out his pad and made a few notes. Thomas Boswell was interviewing me! How cool was that? He excused himself after a few minutes, and I drifted off with a huge grin on my face. My day -- nay, my year -- was made.

Incidentally, Boswell is a good guy. He was low-key and friendly, engaging me in baseball chat like two fans sitting in the bleachers on a summer afternoon. I'd love to watch a game with him. He's shorter than I expected, shorter than me, in fact. If I have any criticism of the man, it's that, like many journalists, he appears to dress in the dark. He was wearing a short-sleeve button-down shirt that was maroon-and-white plaid. Boswell has a wife, and I would have thought she would have but the kibosh on a shirt like that. (Boswell, however, was a GQ model next to Jay Gibbons, who was wearing a light-blue shirt with this bizarre Western-ish embroidery along the back at the shoulder blades. Gibbons must not be married, because any right-thinking wife would have long since thrown that shirt in the incinerator.)

Incidentally, I think I understand how the Greg Packer "scandal" happened. (For those not familiar, Packer was a New Yorker who got quoted repeatedly in the Times, so many times that right-wing critics started calling them out on it.) Boswell was following what I presume is the standard procedure for journalists at events like this: he was wandering around, chatting up people who seemed willing to talk and jotting down notes. I'd imagine that, journalistically speaking, this is a safer and saner alternative to collaring people at random and trying to make them talk to you. Obviously, given a story with idenitifiable major players, you need to talk to those people whether they want to talk or not. But at an event like this, where you're just looking for some faces in the crowd, obviously you're going to want to talk to people who want to talk to you.

Given that, if you're someone who wants to get in the paper a lot, the best strategy would be to hang around crowd-based events, learn to identify the journalists and approach them, preferably with compliments. Odds are, if you're a friendly face with something to say, you'll probably make it in the paper. I'd guess that that's just what Packer did. (Was it the Times' fault for not catching on? I'm inclined to say no, because it's the sort of thing that's only obvious once it's pointed out.) I don't have any desire to follow in Packer's footsteps, but I was happy to get to meet a journalist I like and admire.

I did meet up with Papa Shaft afterward, and he called my attention to something I missed: In the office building over the Orioles team store at Farragut Square, mischievous office workers had taped signs in the windows reading "Baseball in DC" and "DC Fans Don't Sell Out for a Free Hot Dog." (Free food was part of FanFest.) Papa Shaft approved the sentiment, and so do I.

Papa Shaft also reports that among the O's players, Jay Gibbons and Todd Williams were nice and friendly guys, while Rodrigo Lopez and Buddy Groom were, um, not. Groom won Papa's official "Mondo-Asshole of the Day" title for sitting there and bitching constantly to Lopez about how they were forced to sit in the sun, while the rookies across the square were sitting in shade. As Papa pointed out, when the session started, Groom's table was in the shade (Rafael Palmeiro having moved it there). But there's not much shade to be had at high noon. My personal take on it is that Buddy Groom should consider himself fortunate to have a job at this point. He's an adequate left-handed reliever, but he's 39 and had rarely if ever been more than a marginal player. If anyone should have been grateful just to be out there, it was Groom.

But then, isn't it usually the case that the most marginal members of a club usually have the worst attitudes? The closer you are to losing your grip on membership in the elite, the harder you're going to fight to stay there and the less pleasant you're going to be to the non-elite. Up until now, I'd never cared one way or the other about Buddy Groom. Now, I'm so irritated by Papa Shaft's report on Groom's bad behavior that I feel no qualms about informing the world that Buddy's real first name is "Wedsel." No, really. Any fans who wish to start up a "Let's Go Wed-sel" chant the next time Groom enters a game have my blessing and admiration.

Oh, and while I'm thinking of it, I think that this pretty much defines the concept of "taking a joke too far." The front page is mildly cute, I guess. But I encourage you to poke around a little further. Someone clearly put a lot of time and energy into this. If you're not convinced, click on the "Order Book" tab. Yes, it's for real. You can actually spend $30 for a book that, by the time it arrives, will probably be a forgotten memory of a lame, discontinued ad campaign.

I elected not to blow the $30 and instead downloaded a copy. It's about 130 pages long. Granted, it's in large type and includes a lot of pictures, but there's at least a good 60-70 solid pages of writing in there. And it's not even good! It's not an effective parody of fad-diet books, it's too long to be an effective product plug, and it's not particularly humorous on its own. Certain elements merited a chuckle (particularly the section on supermodel wrestling, and yes, I'm dead serious), but the overall effect is like a movie based on an SNL sketch: a 30-second premise stretched much, much too far and too thin. Anyone who actually drops $30 on this book should immediately be placed under house arrest and forbidden to make future spending decisions without consulting someone with a brain.

I look at this, and at the Subservient Chicken, and I wonder just what they're smoking over at Burger King HQ. I know Burger King is hemorrhaging market share, and I know Wendy's has passed them for #2 among fast-food chains, and I imagine drastic measures are called for. But is this what it's come to? This is beyond bizarre. Unless they're trying to position themselves as the fast-food chain of choice for stoners (an honor currently held by Taco Bell), I don't know what they're thinking.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 05:14 PM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2004

The Olympics and Me

Today's Musical Selection: "Chariots of Fire" by Vangelis

Hello, everyone! Today I'm going to write about the Olympics, largely because everyone else is. It's one of those big conversation topics, you know? Unfortunately, there's a little problem for me in writing about the Olympics. Specifically, I haven't watched a minute of them. I haven't watched a significant portion of the Olympics in over 10 years. Since this qualifies me as, at minimum, a weirdo, and at maximum un-American, perhaps I'd better explain why.

As you might expect, I'm a fan of obscure sports like curling and handball, so you might think my anti-Olympic viewing stance has to do with NBC's obsession with the major sports (basketball, gymnastics, swimming, figure skating, etc.). And that might be true, except that I don't watch the sports I like either (such as hockey and basketball). And like Oliver Willis, I don't care for NBC's Olympic coverage, particularly the noxiously syrupy soft-focus features. But it's more than that. Part of it, perhaps, has to do with the fact that I'm too young to appreciate the Cold War America-against-the-world aspect of it. I certainly never felt jingoistic enough to feel any special thrill when the Americans one. If anything, I think I wound up rooting against the Americans more often than not. (My contrarian streak at work.)

And I did watch the Olympics once upon a time. I enjoyed the Olympics at Calgary and Seoul. I wrote about Albertville for my school paper (no, I didn't go there). But the wheels came off after that. Why? It has to do with something that happened at the '92 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

My romance with the Olympics was already fading by the time Barcelona rolled around. I was tired of NBC's crappy coverage, tired of American arrogance, tired of being force-fed the same tired selection of events. But one evening during Barcelona, I went bike riding with my dad. There's a nice trail on an old railroad right-of-way that runs behind the house, and we took advantage of the long summer evening to get in a few miles before dark. On the way back, the sun was sinking low and my energy was ebbing. I pressed on, trying to beat the setting sun and my dad back home. And I felt a kinship with the Olympic athletes, pushing myself to the limit, seeing what I was capable of. I said to myself, "When I get home, I'm going to watch the Olympics." I felt my romance starting to rekindle. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!

So when I got home, I immediately turned on NBC. As it happens, men's volleyball was on. The Americans were playing (of course). And the entire team had shaved their heads. Why? I assumed this was some sort of team solidarity gesture and/or superstitious ritual, and I was down with that. About five minutes later, though, I found out the real reason: In the previous game, the Americans lost due to what they felt was a bad call by the officials. In protest, they respond by shaving their heads. And that was it. I clicked off the TV, and the Barcelona Olympics, permanently. (When I later read about the American basketball players covering up the Reebok logo on their jackets because they had deals with Nike, my non-viewing policy was confirmed.)

After that, I watched a little bit of the '94 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, but the media-commercial orgy surrounding the '96 Summer Games in Atlanta so turned me off that I didn't watch a minute. Nor did I watch Nagano in '98, Sydney in 2000, or Salt Lake City in '02. And I haven't watched a minute of the Games in Athens.

And I don't regret it. I may be a bit less water-cooler-conversant for my no-Olympics policy, but I don't miss it. I still hate the syrupy profiles. American manners haven't improved. And I still can't stand to watch figure skating. All the headlines any more are about scandals, doping and judging, and if the actual events matter it's due to the failures of high-profile American athletes (see also: the Creamed Team).

So what would get me interested in the Olympics again? Well, I suppose that axing the soft-focus features, showing the minor events and not being so Americo-centric would help. But truth be told, my best shot for rekindling the dead flame has already come and gone. It came, probably unsurprisingly, in the form of a woman.

In high school, I was friends with a terrific long-distance runner named Jackie Kerr. Jackie and I met in middle school, and we rode the same bus in high school. In addition to being a great runner, Jackie was upbeat, likeable and funny. We were good friends, but we never dated. Never, that is, until prom came around. It just seemed natural to ask Jackie; neither of us was seeing anyone, and we felt comfortable with each other. So I asked, and she said yes.

Was it magic? Not particularly. We did the prom thing, danced and ate and took pictures, but we didn't have any great romantic moments. Nor did it lead to anything afterward; I went to UVA, she went to William and Mary, then transferred to Stanford. We haven't spoken in some time.

But for a while, she had legitimate Olympic potential. She was the state mile champion in high school. (I was, surprisingly, a pretty good runner myself; she kept trying to get me to go out for the team, and I kept demurring. Then I got fat and lazy.) She was legendary for a while; people said she had Olympic potential, and they meant it. But injuries got in the way; she kept getting hurt, and the injuries wound up derailing her running career. She wound up graduating from Stanford with a degree in Slavic studies, I hear through the grapevine. I'm sure she's doing great in whatever she's up to now; she was always very bright.

Call me selfish and parochial if you want. But if Jackie -- my Jackie -- had been running in Sydney or Athens, you can damn well better believe I'd have been tuning in. Without her, though, I'd just as soon skip it. (I'll show you how parochial I am: there's a runner from my home town who's in the Olympics this year, and I barely care. I didn't know him.)

For more on the Olympics, I highly recommend this exchange of letters between ESPN's Bill Simmons and pop-culture writer Chuck Klosterman. They bring a quirky, offbeat take on Olympic basketball and American culture that I really like. Check it out.

And that's all for today. Something else tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 05:18 PM | Comments (1)

August 16, 2004

Calling All Romantics

Today's Musical Selection: "Never Can Say Goodbye" by the Jackson 5

Hello, friends and readers! I hope you all had a fine weekend. Mine was fine, though a little rainy thanks to the edges of Hurricane "Chuck" blowing through the Fedroplex. Today, I offer you the latest romantic stylings of Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, coming to us today from Buffalo, New York, where Aunt Beatrice was born and raised. I'm sure Aunt Beatrice is enjoying old home week, but how is Uncle Millie enjoying life in upstate New York? I'm sure we'll find out in today's dispatch. Take it away, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice!

- - - - -

When a Man Loves a Woman, a Good Time Is Had By All, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

AB: Hi, everybody! Uncle Millie and I are in my hometown, Buffalo, sitting at Carlos O'Reilly's. I'm so happy to be home again. I've really enjoyed seeing my family!


AB: Uncle Millie is having a little trouble talking today.


AB: Actually, he hasn't said a word since yesterday evening. It's been awfully nice.


AB: See, last night we went to the world-famous Anchor Bar, where Buffalo wings were invented. As soon as we walked in, Uncle Millie discovered a few guys sitting at the bar competing to see how many shots they could drink. Naturally, he couldn't resist joining in.


AB: After all, nobody drinks Uncle Millie under the table. Right, my dear?


AB: It wasn't until after the contest had begun that Uncle Millie discovered that they weren't doing shots of alcohol, but shots of hot sauce. This is another proud Buffalo tradition, but one with which Uncle Millie was sadly unfamiliar. At least until now.


AB: Uncle Millie downed 11 shots of hot sauce, which was good enough for third place. However, in the aftermath of the event, he began signaling for emergency assistance. He attempted to still the fire in his mouth and throat with whiskey, unfortunately not realizing that alcohol is completely ineffective at combatting pepper poisoning.


AB: We visited the doctor this morning, and he said that Uncle Millie should regain his voice in a couple days. However, we had this column due, so we worked out a system. He'll write down his thoughts, and I'll read them out loud. Uncle Millie, do you have any words of welcome for our readers?

UM: (scribbling)

AB: Uncle Millie says... I can't read this. I'd forgotten how awful his handwriting is. So I'll just have to sort of guess. I imagine Uncle Millie says, "Hello, lads! Greetings from beautiful Buffalo, New York, where my beloved and I have repaired to see her lovely family."


AB: Uncle Millie is nodding. I must have captured his thoughts reasonably well. I think this will work! Let's take a look at our first letter.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm 27, and about six months ago I broke up with my girlfriend, "Lisa." It didn't end well. A lot of nasty words were said, things that were hard for us to forgive. Anyway, neither of us has seen anyone since then. Recently, we bumped into each other at a club, and we got to talking. We're not interested in getting back together again, but Lisa approached me with an intriguing offer: sex without commitment. It seems she's gotten awfully "lonely" lately, and she'd rather sleep with someone "safe," someone she already knows, rather than picking up a one-night stand. Now, I'm "lonely" too, but if this is going to lead down the road to us getting back together, I'm not interested. Should I say yes?

Ronnie in Daytona Beach

AB: Hi, Ronnie. I can understand why you'd be interested in that offer, but I'd advise you to steer clear of it. For one thing, I don't think sex without love is ever a good idea. I applaud Lisa for wanting to avoid the one-night stand, but what she's proposing is essentially a one-night stand with you, isn't it? For another, I'm not entirely sure I believe her that this is all about sex for her. Maybe she knows that you don't want to try again, so she's trying to find another way back to your heart. I wouldn't fool with that, if I were you.

Do you have anything to say, Uncle Millie?

UM: (scribbling)

AB: More nonsense. I imagine, however, that he's thinking something like, "Have you taken leave of your senses, lad? A woman is offering you sex without commitment, and you're thinking of turning her down?! I worry about you, lad. If you're not interested in this lady's generous offer, kindly forward her number to Uncle Millie, so that I can give her what she deserves." Have I got it pretty well down, dear?


AB: He's nodding. Well, my dear, as usual you've got a disgusting, one-track mind. But really, if you didn't, I wouldn't recognize you. Who would you be if you weren't you, my dear?


AB: He's shrugging. I'm not surprised. Let's move on.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm 31, and I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever find a woman. I have no problem getting dates. My problem is turning those dates into relationships. They all seem to follow the same pattern: a few good dates, then slowly trailing off into nothing. I can't figure out why it keeps going wrong. I dress well, maintain good personal hygiene, I make a decent living, and I'm reasonably charming in conversation. Yet none of my relationships last longer than a month. What am I doing wrong?

Glenn in Scarborough

AB: Hi, Glenn. Well, I guess the first question I'd ask is whether you've ever had a relationship that lasted longer than a month. If you haven't, chances are you aren't experienced in the sorts of things that make for long-term relationship success. Having a successful long-term relationship is an entirely different animal from having a few good dates. And you might even be sending out unconcious signals that you're only interested in short-term relationships.


AB: I just paused naturally there, expecting Uncle Millie to cut in with some sarcastic or boorish remark. It's so unusual to have the floor to myself! I don't think I've ever been able to talk this long without being interrupted before. This is rather nice. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, Glenn: I think your best bet is to talk to your female friends, and see if you say or do things that subconciously turn women off. No one has a better eye for what impresses women than other women, and they're liable to notice things that your male friends wouldn't, such as that you brag too much, or monopolize the talking time. These are exactly the kind of things that might be costing you relationships without your even knowing it.

Now let's see what Uncle Millie might have to say about this.

UM: (scribbling)

AB: Now, let's see.... "Bringle lotmrshky drvltay?"

UM: (scribbling)

AB: Let's see... something here about "women," "marriage" and "evil." I believe I know what he's getting at. "Lad, a great many women your age are desperately seeking marriage. These women are evil, and must be avoided."


AB: He's nodding. I must have figured it out. "Now, lad, I'm sure that, like me, you are trapped in a state of perpetual adolescence and believe that being in a faithful, monogamous relationship will give you cooties. If you're like me, the mere thought of settling down with just one woman causes you to break out into hives. And like me, you probably have at best a primitve reptilian sense of morality."


AB: What's that? You're shaking your head. Did I not get you right there? Let me try again: "Lad, long-term relationships with honest, caring, STD-free women are more trouble than they're worth. Better to enjoy casual, meaningless sex for the rest of your life. Better to avoid anything resembling a responsible adult existence as long as possible. I should know. Of course, I chose this course in no small part because I don't really know how to satisfy a woman." Have I pretty much got the essence of it, dear?

UM: Mmpf....

AB: Now, dear, you remember what the doctor said. Don't try to talk. It will only make things work. There, that's better.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

Far be it from me to criticize someone else's personal life, but I can't help but wonder: Is anyone with a marriage like yours really qualified to write a romantic advice column? In every column, the two of you wind up fighting, saying nasty things about each other, and generally acting as though you can't stand one another. If you can't run your own marriage any better than that, why should we listen to what you have to say about our relationships? It's like taking morality advice from John Dillinger. What do you have to say for yourselves?

Chuck in San Antonio

AB: Hi, Chuck, and thanks for writing in. I'm sure you're not the only person who wonders about this question. And no, Chuck, Uncle Millie and I do not have the "perfect marriage," if there is such a thing. But really, our marriage is not as bad as it might appear in this column. We do argue a fair bit, but it's almost always in a loving spirit. Besides, I'd argue that those best qualified to give advice are those who've experienced a few bumps. How do you know how to fix something that's gone wrong if nothing ever goes wrong for you? By that standard, Uncle Millie and I might be the most qualified advice-giving couple in history.


AB: He's nodding. Do you have anything you'd like to say to Chuck, dear?

UM: (scribbling)

AB: Let's see... "Yes, lad, it's true that my beloved and I occasionally have our ups and downs, but in the end we have a basic understanding about our relationship. And our understanding is that everything that goes wrong is my fault. My philandering, lying and general shiftlessness are the root cause of all our marital disturbances."


AB: Why are you shaking your head, dear? This is very nice. Let's see what else there is: "Truth be told, I'm not sure how my beloved puts up with me at all. I'm a completely unfit husband, a broken-down cheating alcoholic, and I'm especially unworthy of someone so special as my dear Beatrice. She's a saint for putting up with me."

UM: Mmpf...

AB: "In fact, I'm so deeply sorry for what I've done to her over the course of our marriage that I'm going to give up drinking for good, effective immediately." Oh, Millie! That's so sweet of you!

UM: Mmpf!

AB: Your vocal cords, dear, your vocal cords. If you have something to say, write it.

UM: (scribbling)

AB: Oh, now, dear, you know you can't say that. You promised Fred you wouldn't use those words. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.


AB: So he's not saying anything. Ah, well. Goodbye, everybody! See you next time. And on behalf of Uncle Millie, "Happy hunting!"

UM: (scribbling)

AB: No, dear, you can't say that either. And it's not anatomically possible anyhow.

UM: (scribbling)

AB: No, I would not like to see how it could be.

- - - - -

Well, that was certainly a change from the typical column! Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Millie, I hope your voice comes back soon. Look for them again in their regularly scheduled slot a week from tomorrow.

Well, I'm sure you've all heard by now about the mauling that the USA men's basketball team endured at the hands of Puerto Rico on the weekend. On Saturday evening, Papa Shaft and I were out driving, and we heard something about "U.S. men's basketball" and "Puerto Rico" on the radio. Papa said, "Why is the U.S. men's basketball team playing in Puerto Rico? Shouldn't they be in Greece?" I made the requisite joke about having to find alternate facilities because the Greek basketball stadium wasn't finished yet, then said, "I don't believe the U.S. men's team is playing in Puerto Rico. I believe they're playing against Puerto Rico." Papa nodded, but after a pause asked: "Wait, why would Puerto Rico have its own team? Aren't they part of the United States?" This was a good point, and as I did not have a good answer we let the matter drop.

Well, as we all know now, Puerto Rico does have its own team, and I believe the reason why is that they quite sensibly decided that they wished to avoid the embarrassment of being associated with our men's basketball team. Also, they don't have any votes in Congress.

In the aftermath of the game, I have two thoughts:

- Washington D.C. should field its own Olympic team next time. I mean, hell, if Puerto Rico can do it, why not us? We don't have any votes in Congress either. We're not a state either. And fielding a separate squad means that Fedroplexers too could avoid the humiliation of being associated with Team Jersey Sales, a.k.a. Allen Iverson's Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings. I think we should look into this at once.

- had a great and beautiful headline in the wake of the loss on its Olympics main page. The hed read "Dazed and Confused," and it was directly above a picture of Larry Brown and Greg Popovich looking for all the world like the living embodiment of the words in the headline. Absolutely magnificent. I wish I'd printed out a copy for my wall.

Finally, I'm a bit late in announcing this, but everyone should go congratulate The Smart Lady for being accepted to Columbia Law School. I, of course, believed she could get in from the first, and it's about damn time that the admissions officials over there recognized her brilliance. Take a bite out of the Big Apple, Smart Lady.

And that's all for today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 05:30 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2004

Back From the Great Beyond

Today's Musical Selection: "Vacation" by the Go-Gos

Hello, all! As promised, I've returned from my out-of-town engagement. And I was going to post the latst Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice column as promised, but then Governor McGreevey of New Jersey had his press conference, and I made a decision on the fly to wait on our romantic-advice column until next week.

For those who somehow managed to miss it, yesterday Governor McGreevey unexpectedly resigned from office and announced that he was gay and had had an affair with a man while in office. McGreevey had been in trouble for a while, with accusations of fundraising improprieties swirling around him in recent months, so the resignation in and of itself was not an enormous surprise. However, the revelation of his homosexuality, and the affair, was a great surprise. McGreevey's sexuality had reportedly been the subject of some scuttlebutt around the political grapevine, but no observers expected anything like this.

Here's the problem for me. In general, I'm always happy to see someone come out of the closet, because I think it's a good thing when you can be open and honest about your sexuality, or in fact your life in general. The fewer things you have to hide, the better. The problem is that McGreevey's revelation is tangled up in all the other issues swirling around him, and in some ways raises more questions than it answers.

The cynic's view of McGreevey's resignation is well-expressed by Bill McCabe over at Leaning Toward the Dark Side. Bill argues that McGreevey did not admit his homosexuality because he truly decided it was time to come clean, or because he didn't want to hurt his family, but because he got caught. The man with whom McGreevey had an affair, who McGreevey put on the state payroll as his top anti-terrorism aide, is preparing a sexual-harassment lawsuit. Odds are that McGreevey was about to be outed anyway, so, Bill concludes, by making a big public splash McGreevey hoped to gain points for being forthcoming and not encourage a hard look at the facts of the case, or the facts of the other corruption scandals in which he was implicated. McGreevey chose to go this route because it was the most graceful exit available to him, and continuing in office would only have meant that these facts came out in a harsher, more negative light. (Also, Bill notes, had McGreevey's resignation been effective immediately, a special election would have been held to fill the seat. But by waiting until November 15th, the Democratic lieutenant governor will serve out the remainder of the term.)

I don't share Bill's level of cynicism. But it's also hard to argue, given the situation McGreevey faced, that his decision to out himself was merely for his family and his own peace of mind.

But that part is only midly interesting to me. Unlike Bill, I don't have any interest in ripping McGreevey personally or trying to drive him from office immediately, the better for the Republicans to have a shot at capturing the seat in the special election. What concerns me more is the precedent it sets for other politicians who may be thinking of coming out of the closet.

Let's suppose our old hypothetical politician friend, Senator Blutarsky, is weighing whether or not to come out of the closet. (I'm sure Senator Blutarsky does not enjoy this hypothetical, but he should have thought of that before he said all those nasty things to me at the Blogiversary Bash.) And we'll further assume that Senator Blutarsky is from a reasonably liberal state, one where he would not automatically assume that admitting homosexuality is a political death wish. So he's weighing if now might be the right time. Suppose he looks at McGreevey's case. Will it encourage or discourage him from admitting the truth about himself?

On one level, he might find it encouraging that in the aftermath of the revelation, very few people are saying, "My God! How could New Jersey have had a gay governor? Just horrifying!" On the other hand, when McGreevey announced his resignation, he suggested that his affair made him unfit for office, since it made him vulnerable to "false allegations and threats of disclosure." This is all well and good, and he's probably right that he could have been subject to blackmail had he continued to keep his secret. But by resigning, he makes it seem as though those threats would have been valid. Had he said that he was outing himself to avoid blackmail and then stayed on, he would have shown that blackmail threats based on sexual preference are only powerful because the closeted politician is desperate to keep it quiet. But by resigning, he implies that the threats are powerful because they are personally damaging. He implies that admitting homosexuality, and homosexual affairs, is not something that a politician can survive. And that's likely to have a chilling effect on poor Senator Blutarsky. He'll conclude that he had damn well better keep it quiet, lest he suffer McGreevey's fate. After all, if a non-conservative state like New Jersey isn't a safe place to be a governor and be out, where is?

Melissa Etheridge wrote a song on this theme:

Mothers tell your children
Be quick, you must be strong
Life is full of wonder
Love is never wrong
Remember how they taught you
How much of it was fear
Refuse to hand it down
The legacy stops here

I fear that McGreevey's disclosure may actually preserve the "silent legacy" rather than helping to demolish it. Gay groups are reportedly celebrating his outing, but I wonder if they realize the degree to which it may encourage other politicians not to follow in his footsteps.

The surest way to gauge this is to imagine whether the same thing would have happened if McGreevey's affair had been with a woman. What if every other particular of the story had been the same, except that McGreevey had taken a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend? And I think we can all answer that: Plenty of politicians have been caught with girlfriends, and a number have kept their girlfriends on the payroll, and most of them survived. The most recent example is Maryland governor Parris Glendening, who survived putting his girlfriend on the state payroll at a six-figure salary, and survived it despite a vigorous fanning of the political flames by his old nemesis William Donald Schaefer. And of course we all know about Bill Clinton's Oval Office adventures, which he survived. The odds that this story alone would have driven McGreevey from office had he not been involved with a woman instead of a man are fairly slim. It was the homosexuality that pushed it over the edge. Still happy with McGreevey, gay activists?

So what to do? It's not as though it would be a good idea for those activists to attack McGreevey for coming out of the closet. But it would probably be a good idea to make it clear that McGreevey was primarily trying to help himself, inasmuch as he decided that "McGreevey resigned because he was gay" was better than "McGreevey resigned because Option B was being dragged away from office in handcuffs." And to the degree that he used homosexuality as a smoke screen, gay activists should not be afraid to criticize him for it. If they try to hold up McGreevey as a shining example, they'll wind up getting burned. I might be wrong, but I don't believe that he'll wind up being a great asset to the cause. I believe that there's a growing tolerance today for homosexuality in our public officials, but McGreevey is absolutely not proof of it. He was a man who needed an out, and coming out was it.

A moment of silence, please, for Julia Child, who died today at age 91. What can I say about Julia that hasn't already been said? The thing I loved most about her show is that she was very serious about cooking, but very unserious about herself. She had that high-flying joie de vivre and down-to-earth personality that made her a breed apart from the old paradigm of icy, pompous, snooty chefs in those tall white hats treating cooking as something for the initiated only. Julia Child is the godmother of modern American cooking, and the Food Network and its chefs. All us amateur home chefs owe you a debt of gratitude, Julia. We'll miss you very much.

And that's all for today. See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2004

A Mediocre Fred Exclusive Interview

Today's Musical Selection: "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Hi, everybody! Today I have a special treat for you. As you have probably heard, yesterday Alan Keyes formally accepted the Republican nomination for the Illinois Senate race. I was unable to reach Keyes for an interview, but I did learn something that I'll bet you didn't know: one of the "short list" candidates for the nomination was our old friend, Coach Beauregard "Bum" Bolbridge! The venerable head football coach of Southwestern Mississippi Agricultural and Technical State University was sounded out quietly by Illinois GOP officials, but he declined the offer, citing his commitment to the Fightin' Farmhands. I reached Coach Bolbridge by phone in Bugbear, Mississippi, where he was kind enough to take time away from his busy training-camp schedule to grant me an interview. A transcript follows.

(Editor's note: As always with Coach Bolbridge, the transcript is approximate. I conducted the interview in English, and Coach Bolbridge replied in whatever language it is that he speaks. It's thicker than molasses and as clear as Mississippi mud. No translator was available, so the coach's replies represent my best attempt at translating his remarks into English.)

MF: Hello, Coach Bolbridge. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

BB: Well, hell, it's my pleasure, son. I like you. You're a pretty good fella for a Yankee.

MF: Thank you very much. So, it's true that you were asked to run for the Senate in Illinois as a Republican.

BB: That's right, son. After Coach Ditka turned 'em down, I guess that they was looking for someone else with football experience. Naturally, they thought of me.

MF: Actually, that's something I was wondering about. Although you're justly legendary throughout much of southern Mississippi for your 38 seasons at the helm of SWMATS, I was not aware that your fame had extended as far as Illinois. Frankly, I'm not even sure it's extended as far as northern Mississippi. How do you suppose they decided to contact you?

BB: Well, they was castin' a pretty wide net. Look at that boy they got.

MF: Alan Keyes?

BB: Yeah, him. You think he was one of the top ten choices? Or even the top thousand? They was pretty desperate, scraping the bottom of the barrel like that.

MF: Noted. But do you think there was anything in particular about you that caused them to seek you out, Coach?

BB: Well, I suppose. I'm sure they figure they're gonna lose this one. And ain't too many folks on God's green earth got more experience with losin' than yours truly. I been losin' longer than some folks been alive. I'm sort of a expert at it by now.

MF: Interesting. But despite your obvious qualifications, you turned them down. Why?

BB: Well, I got a job to do. SWMATS has been good to me over the years, defending me through the losing seasons and the attacks in the press and the angry fans storming the stadium with torches, so I figure as I owe 'em something. Maybe even a victory or two one of these years. Besides, my boys are countin' on me.

MF: Your players are counting on you to provide leadership and football wisdom?

BB: Nah. They countin' on me to get 'em the senior discount at the local titty bar.

MF: I see. Now, you're certainly not a resident of Illinois. Have you ever lived in Illinois?

BB: No, sir. I've lived all my life in Mississippi, and I don't intend to change that.

MF: Well, despite the fairly liberal residency requirements, you would have been required to establish residency in Illinois before Election Day. Wouldn't that have been a problem?

BB: Well, I asked 'em about that, and they said if I had a long layover at O'Hare Airport, that'd probably count.

MF: Interesting. Do you have any regrets about turning the nomination down?

BB: Well, not for myself. I'm happy doin' what I do, and I ain't never been to anxious to see Washington anyhow. But I am a little sorry for the people of Illinois.

MF: Why is that?

BB: Well, now look what's happened. They got two colored boys standin' for election.

MF: Um.

BB: Havin' to choose between two colored boys. What's this world comin' to, anyhow?

MF: Why don't we move on?

BB: I mean, the one's a half-breed, but-

MF: Moving on!

BB: Sheesh. All you Yankees always in a hurry to get movin'. You don't appreciate nothin'.

MF: On the contrary, I appreciate what continuing that line of thought was going to do to my readership statistics.

BB: Whatever. But I mean, just look at this fella the Democrats have put up, Iraq Osama. What the hell is this? I mean, hell, you got the two biggest enemies of America right there!

MF: Coach-

BB: You vote for a guy like that, you oughta just hang a "I HATE AMERICA" sign around your neck and be done with it.

MF: Coach-

BB: I mean, would the Democrats put up a guy named Hitler Stalin in the '40s? Old Joe McCarthy is rollin' over in his grave, I tell you.

MF: Coach! The Democratic candidate's name is not Iraq Osama. It's Barack Obama.

BB: Huh?

MF: Barack Obama. It's an African name.

BB: Still. We already know he's a colored guy. Why he wanna flaunt it with a colored name like that? He oughta get hisself a white name, like "Joe Smith." At least make it easier on people.

MF: That's, um, interesting. Tell me: if you had chosen to run, did you know what your platform was going to be?

BB: Hell yes! I've always known my beliefs for damn certain. I know where I stand.

MF: Well, what are your beliefs on foreign policy?

BB: You gotta treat the rest of the world like I treat my boys: like a buncha damn candy-ass fools who don't know a damn thing but what you tell 'em. You gotta tell 'em what to do and make 'em do it, then check and make sure they done it. And if they get out of line, smack 'em. A few bombing raids'll get 'em in line right quick. It's like bein' a football coach, only with bombs. I wish I had bombs to use on some of these fat-asses I got who won't run they damn drills.

MF: I take it you're not a strong believer in the power of diplomacy.

BB: Diplomacy, hell! Ain't no use doin' diplomacy on them fools out there. They don't understand nothin'. If your dog craps on the rug, do you try to "reason" with him? Hell no! You kick him and rub his nose in it. That's what we oughta do with them other countries.

MF: Interesting analogy. And how do you feel about domestic policy?

BB: I tell ya, welfare is ruining this country. All this mollycoddling has made our country weak. I seen it with my boys. They ain't half the men that they used to be when I started coachin'. We raisin' a generations of pantywaists. I say, if you want this country to support you when you fail, tough titties.

MF: Pardon?

BB: My family was dirt poor growin' up. We didn't have no meat, and we couldn't even afford a gun to go huntin' with. If I wanted iron, I had to eat nails. And if it was good enough for me, it's good enough for poor folks today. Don't come cryin' to me. I paid my dues.

MF: You ate nails, Coach?

BB: Yessir. That's why I got such a magnetic personality.

MF: Oh, gosh, look at the time. Thank you for the interview, Coach.

BB: I 'pologize to the people of Illinois for what I done to 'em. Two colored people. Can you imagine?

MF: Goodbye, Coach.

There you have it. I think it's safe to say that Illinois dodged a bullet. Alan Keyes is looking better all the time, isn't he?

Speaking to Coach Bum puts me in mind of a bumper sticker I saw aboard a Chevy pickup in my neighborhood yesterday. The bumper sticker read "FIGHTING TERRORISM SINCE 1861." Next to this slogan was a Confederate flag. That's a really, um, strong message. I was tempted to leave the fellow a note reminding him who won that "war on terror" in 1861, and that he might wish to rethink the message behind it. But I chose not to, because I'm certain the fellow was packing heat, and I was afraid he might be able to track me.

Programming note: I'm headed out of town for a couple days, so look for me to return to this space Thursday or Friday. The Uncle Millie/Aunt Beatrice column scheduled to run tomorrow will appear upon my return. See you when I get back!

Posted by Fred at 05:40 PM | Comments (1)

August 08, 2004

Mediocre Fred is All Right

Today's Musical Selection: "A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action" by Elvis Presley

Howdy, folks! I hope no one was unduly concerned about my absence on Friday. I tried to post something, but technical difficulties prevented me from accessing Blogger. (Surprise, surprise, right?) And yesterday I was busy getting my tail kicked by Papa Shaft at baseball. So today I offer you the musings I missed putting up on Friday. I'm sure you didn't miss them.

Let's start with a couple very intriguing tidbits posted by my man Frinklin. First up is his dissection of the prospective Barack Obama/Alan Keyes Senate race in Illinois. Frinklin's looking forward to the debate:

What does excite me is the idea that we could have a race between two
well-spoken, intelligent, rational men who occupy the polar opposites on most
issues. This possibility, the chance for reasonable and interesting political
discussion, especially during a Presidential campaign where it will be severely
lacking, is something this country would benefit from.

I agree with Frinklin on this, with a caveat. I agree that Keyes is intelligent and well-spoken, and seeing the very liberal Obama and the very conservative Keyes in debate should be worth box-seat prices to see. My only reservation about Keyes is that he's been known to be a little, well, flaky. Anyone remember the hunger strike he pulled to try to get in the debates during the '96 presidential primaries? Anyone remember the graphic abortion videos he used at his campaign stops, so graphic that even anti-abortion types were horrified? I was actually impressed by Keyes when I heard him speak: he made his points forcefully, thoughtfully and eloquently. But all the sideshow elements of his campaign eroded my respect for him. Now, if a demagogue like Al Sharpton can redeem his public perception by running a clean campaign once, then surely Keyes can do the same. But I'll always feel a bit uncomfortable about Keyes, just as I'll always feel uncomfortable about Sharpton.

About the carpetbagger element: Frinklin doesn't like it, and neither do I. I don't like that big names from other states can breeze in and stand for an available race. I didn't like it when Hillary did it (it felt like she was determined to get a Senate seat, and she was shopping for the best opportunity), and I don't like Keyes doing it. But it is permitted by the Constitution, and there's not much we can do about that. I do think it would be worth looking into an amendment.

Also via Frinklin, I learned of this petition, which I enthusiastically support. In fact, I think that anyone who refuses to sign this petition ought to be deported. It is that vital to the mission of our country. Sign it now! (It is not, incidentally, a tribute to the late Rick James. The petition was started before Mr. James' untimely demise. Also, the song referenced within it is by Parliament.)

Some random notes I've collected over the past few days:

- I watched both Kerry and Bush speak before the Unity minority journalists conference, and both of them were better than they have at times been. Kerry in particular is a lot better speaker than he has been previously. He's learning how to be warmer and more personal, being forceful without sounding arrogant. Granted, he was speaking before a reasonably sympathetic audience, but his previous style had a way of straining the sympathy of even sympathetic audiences. Now, he looks less stiff and more like he wants to be there. Very nice.

My only complaint is with his hand motions. He appears to have decided that whenever his lips are moving, his hands have to be too. Now, the motions themselves are fine: rounded and inclusive when appropriate, and strong when appropriate. But the constant gestures border on self-parody. It's as if he was mocking an advisor who told him to use his hands more. "Here, this enough for you?" Other than that, Kerry acquitted himself well.

Bush, too, I found less grating than I have in the past. The difference, I think, is that Bush knew the room wasn't with him, and he did a very poor job concealing his irritation with that fact. Ray Suarez asked Bush a question about Iraq, and the crowd applauded the question before Bush could even speak, which he hated. Suarez asked Bush for a specific timetable on leaving Iraq, a question which Bush was not likely to answer. He didn't, but before he didn't he launched into a lengthy complaint against journalists who badgered him for a date, then pummeled him when the date was not met. It was not an invalid complaint, but it sounded particularly soreheaded up there on the dais. And once he failed to provide a date, he turned to Suarez and smirked, "Nice try, Ray," which was just obnoxious. The great thing about being Bush, apparently, is that your base is so put out with journalists that you can taunt and sneer at them and not suffer any repercussions.

There was also the following sentence, which beggars belief:

We actually misnamed the war on terror. It ought to be the struggle against
ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies who happen to use
terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.

This is an actual quote. I double-checked it here. He proceeded to explain that the difference between America and the terroists is that we have a conscience and they don't. Which might be true, but it doesn't explain why people of conscience in the Muslim world might feel at least a bit of fellow-feeling with the terrorists, and it doesn't explain where incidents like Abu Ghraib fit in our conception of conscience. (Remember Abu Ghraib?)

Another journalist named Roland Martin asked Bush whether he supported affirmative action. Bush replied as follows:

I support colleges affirmatively taking action to get more minorities in their

Remind me again why Kerry is the one with the reputation for giving long-winded answers to simple questions.

- I also give Kerry credit for hitting Bush's foreign policy for lacking discipline and maturity. I like this line of attack, because it matches Bush strength for strength, and adds wisdom to strength. This appeal blunts the force of Bush's machismo, and makes it harder for Bush to pit this as a contest of strong vs. weak. He can still try, but he runs the risk of looking irresponsible.

- I was watching the History Channel the other day, and I saw a program on the history of gas stations in America. I was amazed by how much better gas stations used to be. Full service, free maps, certified clean restrooms, and beautiful architecture. (Seriously. Famous designers like Frank Lloyd Wright and Raymond Loewy were called on to design gas stations back in the day.) The difference is that, back then, gas stations felt they could attract customers by offering a better experience and better service. Now, of course, they compete strictly on price. And I think, as a country, we're poorer for it. Oddly enough, the richer we've become, the more obsessed with money we are.

I shared these thoughts with Papa Shaft, and he suggested something I hadn't thought of. He pointed out that all that fancy service doesn't just cost money, it also takes time. "When I've got places to go, I don't want to waste valuable minutes hanging out at the gas station," he said. He's got an excellent point. We've fetishized time efficiency as much as saving money. And inevitably, efficiency and economy crowd out beauty and service. I, for one, am entirely sick of it.

- I saw a commercial for a Toyota pickup truck. Perhaps you've seen this series of commercials, in which Toyota pickups compete against human athletes in events like the long jump and the 100-meter dash. In this particular commercial, the Toyota pickup was playing baseball. The two teams were from El Camino and San Pedro, both of which are cities in California. The pickup in question was leading off first base for San Pedro. I was all set to change the channel when I saw the name of El Camino's pitcher, Matt Whisenant. Matt Whisenant?! Do they mean this Matt Whisenant? Ay caramba.

At any rate, enough rambling. See you... uh... tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 05:46 PM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2004

Taking a Day Off

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

I'm still recovering from the Blogiversary Bash, so I'm going to have to skip it today. In the highly likely event that the bash confused you, all my guests have appeared in the blog at least once in the past year. It was a wild time that definitely will not be repeated.

In the meantime, if you're looking for something to read during my day off, I recommend Frinklin's preview of the Big 12 football season and The Smart Lady's post on blog crushes, as well as her brilliant piece in which she makes economics simple enough for even Christopher Hitchens to understand. All three pieces are definitely worth your time and attention.

Meantime, I'll be back tomorrow with my usual Friday slop. See you then!

Posted by Fred at 05:51 PM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2004

It's Blogiversary Time!

Today's Musical Selection: "Birthday" by the Beatles

Howdy, folks! Guess what... it's my blogiversary! Actually, to be totally technically accurate, it was my blogiversary last week, but my social secretary neglected to inform me at the time, possibly because I don't have a social secretary. But no matter. In honor of this grand occasion, I threw a Blogiversary Bash here in my penthouse apartment on the South Face of Dot-Com Canyon. (Okay, so my apartment is actually on the second floor. Second floor, penthouse, what's the difference?) It was an invitation-only celebration, and the guest list was indeed star-studded. Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice were there, jetting in from an undiclosed Caribbean location. Senator Blutarsky dropped by, taking time out from his busy schedule of interviewing interns to put in an appearance. Mayor McCheese came in off the campaign trail long enough to hoist a few in my honor. Coach Beauregard "Bum" Bolbridge of Southwestern Mississippi Agricultural and Technological State University came all the way up from Bugbear, Mississippi to say hello. And Hammerin' Hank showed up too, despite not being invited. I don't know how he got past the guards.

At any rate, a good time was had by all, and I have a transcript of the event for your amusement here:

MF: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Mediocre Fred's First Annual Blogiversary Bash.

HH: Yeah, first and only!

MF: Hank, do you mind? I was kind enough not to throw you out for crashing this party. So let me talk, all right?

HH: My invitation must have got lost in the mail. I mean, after all, I've been carrying your ass for-

MF: Enough, Hank! At any rate, thank you all for coming. Even you, Hank. It's been quite a year, and each of you has helped make the year special.

HH: Especially me!

MF: Hank! Please! At any rate, I just wanted to thank you all for your help, and feel free to mingle and enjoy the festivities!

HH: Hey, where's the Smart Chick? Ain't she coming?

MF: I'm afraid that she was unable to make it due to prior commitments.

HH: Aw, man, that sucks. I wanted to check her out, if you know what I mean.

MF: Of course I know what you mean. A 3-year-old would know what you mean. Dead people would know what you mean.

HH: Well, where the hell are all the chicks? You call this a party?

UM: I did notice the relative lack of representatives of the fairer sex at this little shindig. Quite the shame, that.

SB: If you'd given me advance notice on the lack of women, Fred, I surely could have supplied-

MF: Um, thank you, Senator. Would anyone care for shrimp cocktail?

AB: Oh, yes, thank you. That would be lovely.

HH: Sure, I'll- Hey, wait a minute. If this is a cocktail, where's the booze? What a gyp!

UM: No, lad, there is no alcohol in shrimp cocktail. Alas. Fortunately, I always come prepared. Care to join me in a conference call with my associates Jamison and Bushmill?

HH: Why would I want to listen to you talk to your lawyers?

UM: No, lad, Jamison and Bushmill are brands of Irish whiskey. I'm inviting you to get drunk with me.

HH: Now you're talking! Hell, yeah!

AB: Thanks for having us here, Fred. It's really nice of you to have us all here.

MF: Thanks, Aunt Beatrice. I figured it's the least I could do.

AB: Say, who's that man over in the corner with the whistle?

MF: Come on over, I'll introduce you. Aunt Beatrice, this is Coach Bum Bolbridge. Coach, this is Aunt Beatrice, the romantic advice columnist.

AB: Nice to meet you, Mr. Bolbridge.

BB: Delighted to make your acquaintance, ma'am.

AB: So, do you coach football, Mr. Bolbridge?

BB: Ma'am, I am more than just a football coach. I'm a maker of men. I take little high-school wimps, and mold them into real men.

AB: I see. How do you do this... molding?

BB: With my fists, usually, ma'am.

MF: I'll just leave you two to get acquainted. Mayor McCheese! Welcome!

MM: How do you do, Fred? Good to see you again. Say, thank you for writing that article about me last year. It really helped to boost my standing in the polls.

MF: Well, I always like to offer help to my fellow mayors.

MM: Ah, yes. How are things going in your town?

MF: Very well, thanks. And in McDonaldland?

MM: Rebounding nicely. We've pulled out of the recession, Officer Big Mac has been staying off the Secret Sauce and we've jailed the Hamburglar on suspected terrorist activity for hanging around City McHall.

MF: Very good! And how's the urban-renewal project going in the McRib District?

MM: Well, we're still waiting for final funding authorization. I'm looking forward to seeing the work start, though. That whole area is one big grease trap, if you ask me.

SB: Is this where the political talk is going on, gentlemen? You don't mind if I cut in, do you?

MF: Certainly not, Senator. How are things in Washington?

SB: Going well. I have a whole batch of prospective interns coming in for interviews this week. It's going to be one hot summer in the city, I tell you!

MF: How's you re-election campaign going? Are the polls running your way?

SB: Well, I don't really know.

MF: How could you not know?

SB: Because I'm a theoretical example. You trot me out whenever you need a generic politician. So I won't know whether I'm even up for re-election until you say I am.

MF: Point well-taken. Will you excuse me? I need to check on the other guests. Help yourself to the refreshments.

SB: These Swedish meatballs are delicious! Care to try one, Mr. Mayor?

MM: (coldly) I'm no cannibal, Senator.

HH: So, Uncle Millie, how do you get all the chicks?

UM: Well, I tell you, lad, it's more challenging than it appears. My raffish charm and good looks definitely help a great deal. But perhaps my greatest asset is my knowledge of poetry. Women really go for a man who knows poetry.

HH: Hey, I know poetry. "There once was a man from Nantucket-"

UM: Not that sort of poetry, lad. Women do not appreciate dirty limericks. Even the particularly witty ones.

HH: Well, bullshit on that, then. Hey, thanks for the booze, man! This is some good crap!

UM: Well, I always keep it with me, lad. You never know when you might yourself in need of it.

HH: Seriously, where's the drinks at? Freddy's holding out on us!

UM: I'm not sure he has any about.

HH: What? A party without booze? What the hell is that?! F*** that!

UM: I'm sure it was an oversight on his part.

HH: Naw, he probably didn't want us getting drunk and puking all over his house. Just like the pansy that he is. What's his deal, anyway? Do you think he's a fruitcake?

UM: Oh, no, lad. I believe he enjoys the company of the ladies as much as you or I. I just think he's got an odd obsession with monogamy.

MF: Gentlemen! Can I get you anything?

HH: Booze and broads!

UM: Actually, we were wondering if you'd thought to supply any alcoholic beverages for this event.

MF: Oh, shoot, I didn't. There's juice and soda in the refrigerator, but no alcohol. Sorry about that!

UM: Never fear, lad! I have matters well in hand.

MF: Thank you, Uncle Millie.

HH: This party blows. I'm outta here.

MF: That's a pretty bold statement from someone who wasn't invited.

HH: Well, if I'd have known it would be this lame, I woldn't have bothered to crash it.

UM: Relax, lad. Come with me, won't you?

MF: Coach Bolbridge, Aunt Beatrice, how's it going?

BB: Now, the next part of the drill is what I call "Hell Time." That's when I walk on their chest with cleats on. It really toughens 'em up for-

AB: Oh, hi, Fred. That's really a fascinating, um, motivational approach, Mr. Bolbridge. I'm afraid I must circulate around and meet the other guests.

BB: But I ain't even got to the part where I make 'em castrate a bull and chew on the-

AB: Really, I must be going, Mr. Bolbridge. Fred, would you mind taking me around?

MF: Not at all. Coach, why don't you join Senator Blutarsky and Mayor McCheese over there? I'm sure the three of you could exchange thoughts on leadership styles.

BB: I believe I'll do you. Charmed to speak with you, ma'am.

AB: Likewise, I'm sure. Fred, could you show me to the kitchen?

MF: Certainly, Aunt Beatrice.

AB: Mr. Bolbridge is certainly, um, interesting.

MF: And by "interesting" you mean he's a racist, sexist, ignorant autocrat?

AB: Essentially. He certainly brings Uncle Millie's positive qualities into sharp relief.

MF: It's always nice to feel grateful that you married the right person.

AB: Well, I wouldn't go that far. It's always nice to know that you could have done worse.

MF: I suppose. Besides, you'll notice that you're the only woman here. Certainly takes away some of the anxiety, doesn't it?

AB: Well, I do appreciate that. Although I was less grateful for that when the Senator groped me on his way over to the hors d'oeuvres table.

MF: I'm sorry. I can speak to him if you'd like.

AB: That won't be necessary. My knee has already spoken to him sharply on the subject.

MF: I see. I thought his voice sounded a little higher than usual.

AB: Where is that husband of mine, by the way? I'd actually be grateful for his company about now.

MF: Well- you know, that's a good question. I left him right here with Hammerin' Hank a while ago. I don't see him.

AB: It's all right. I'll find him. Thank you for rescuing me from Coach Bull Connor over there.

MF: You're quite welcome, Aunt Beatrice. Will you excuse me? Attention, everyone! Attention, please! I wanted to take a moment and open the gifts you were all kind enough to bring me. Let's see... the first one is from Mayor McCheese. Let's see... it's a Hot Wheels Happy Meal and a "RE-ELECT McCHEESE '06" button. All right! Thank you, Mayor! You know I love the Hot Wheels.

MM: Certainly, Fred. You're quite welcome.

MF: And my next gift is from.... Hammerin' Hank! Nice of him to buy me something if he was going to crash the party. And... say, where is Hank, anyhow?

SB: He and Uncle Millie left to buy drinks.

MF: I wish they'd have told me. I'd have gladly paid for them.

SB: You did. Hank took fifty dollars out of your wallet on the way out.

MF: Really. Well, let's lay his gift aside for the end, shall we? Let's take this one instead, from you, Senator Blutarsky.

SB: I hope you enjoy it. It's the most valuable thing I could think of to give you.

MF: Really, Senator, you didn't have to do anything extravagant. Certainly nothing as fancy as... an autographed picture of yourself.

SB: You're welcome.

MF: I'm speechless.

SB: Read the inscription.

MF: "To Mediocre Fred -- Fictionally yours, Senator Blutarsky."

SB: I'd have included my first name, but you haven't given me one. Perhaps we can work on that next year, hm?

MF: Hey, Senator, you'd better get back to your district. You just developed a challenger, and he's beating you by 20 points.

SB: That's not fair!

MF: You're my creation. I can do anything that I want to. Keep talking and I'll have you caught in bed with a sheep before Election Day.

SB: All right, fine.

MF: And my next gift is from Coach Bolbridge. It's a.... bullwhip?

BB: That's right, son. Great way to keep folks in line. 'Specially the colored ones. I find they react to it more. Probably 'cause it's in their genes.

SB: I think Mayor McCheese might take exception to that.

AB: Is he black?

BB: Looks like a half-breed to me.

MM: I'm just well-tanned, all right? Besides, both my parents were fast-food sandwiches. I'm not half-anything.

MF: Could we calm down, everyone? I-

HH: We're baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

MF: I see that. It's a minor miracle. Very minor. Did you get the alcohol?

UM: Aye, that we did, lad.

MF: Then perhaps you could pour some for everyone else.

UM: Well, that might be a bit of a problem, lad.

MF: Why?

UM: It was a long car ride back, lad.

MF: The liquor store is only five minutes away!

HH: Less if you cut through the woods.

MF: You- but- who was driving?

UM: I was, lad. I'm a more experienced drunk driver.

MF: I can believe it. Well, at least you made it back. Have a seat.

AB: I hope you didn't wreck the rental car, Millie. You know they won't give us the collision-damage waiver anymore.

UM: There's not a scratch on our car, my love.

AB: Thank goodness for that! How did you pull that off?

HH: We took Fred's car.

MF: You what?!

HH: Well, your car keys were on your dresser next to your wallet, so I figured...

UM: Don't worry, though, lad. We managed to flee the scene before the police could arrive.

MF: Ay caramba. Well, let me open my next gift, from Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. This had better be good.

AB: There are two gifts inside. One from each of us.

MF: How nice! Let's see... the first one is a hand-stiched baseball-themed wallhanging! It's beautiful.

AB: That one's from me, of course. I stitched it myself.

MF: Thank you so much, Aunt Beatrice! And the next gift is... a pint of whiskey.

UM: That was my contribution, of course. I didn't brew it myself, but I did select it from the duty-free shop myself.

MF: And it's empty.

UM: Well, it was a long ride in from the airport, lad.

MF: Gee, thanks. And that means the last gift is from Hammerin' Hank. I'm sure it's too much to hope that it might be a new car.

HH: Open it up, Freddy. You'll like it.

MF: Let's see... it's a gift certificate for a "Deluxe" Massage from the "Humpty Hump Massage Parlor."

HH: Haw haw! See, Freddy, it's perfect for you! Let the girls over there make a real man out of you!

BB: I'll show you how to make a real man outta somebody. Lemme grab that bullwhip-

MF: That's enough! Everybody out!

SB: Some host you are. It's not even 10 o'clock yet.

HH: Yeah, you suck, Freddy!

MF: Says the man who stole my money and my car to go buy booze, and drank it all before he got back.

HH: Hey, if you want that alcohol back, I think it's coming back up right now...

MF: Not on the couch!

BB: You call yourself a man?! Cain't even hold your liquor. I tell you, you ain't ever gonna play for no team of mine, boy.

SB: To hell with this, I'm gonna go get some whores. Who's with me?

BB: I'm in!

HH: Me too!

BB: Shut up, boy! It's Hell Time for your candy ass! I'll make a man of you if it's the last thing I do.

AB: Let's go, Millie.

UM: I think I'm going to follow the Senator.

AB: You would. I'll help you clean up, Fred.

MF: You don't need to, Beatrice. I'll be fine. I think you'd better corral your husband.

AB: Oh, I'm not worried about him. While he was sleeping last night, I fitted him with a chastity belt. I don't think he's going to get very far. I think I'll get back to the hotel and get some rest, though. Need a lift, Mayor?

MM: No, ma'am, my McLimo is right around the corner. But thank you for the offer. Goodbye, Fred! You deserve a break today!

MF: You can say that again.

So there you have the results of the First Annual Blogiversary Bash. For my second blogiversary, I think I'll try disappearing to a remote island instead. Also, if anyone has any couch-cleaning tips, please send them to mediocrefred1979 -at- yahoo -dot- com.

I think I need to go lie down for a while. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2004

Let's Get Small

Today's Musical Selection: "Walk Like a Man" by the Four Seasons

Hello, everyone! Today I was having trouble finding something to write about, and I wound up finding something interesting over at Wonkette's site. I admit that Wonkette is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. I was discussing her the other day with The Smart Lady, who doesn't care for Wonkette. And I'll grant that Wonkette focuses on the shallow and trivial, and that she's unnecessarily crude a lot of the time. But shallowness, triviality and crudity are all par for the course with much of pop culture these days, and to Wonkette's credit, she does write very well. And you can't be serious about everything all the time. Wonkette is useful as an occasional diversion. She's like cotton candy: light, fluffy, and tasty in small doses, but nauseating if you have too much of it.

Anyhow. Today Wonkette delves into the fascinating topic of which candidate looks more like a girl playing football. The incriminating Bush photo is here, the incriminating Kerry photo here. Bush is shown finishing a pass at Browns training camp, with a limp wrist that evokes certain homosexual stereotypes. Kerry is shown catching a pass awkwardly, with a squint-eyed grimace that makes it appear that he's afraid of being hit by the ball. Both photos are, indeed, pretty damned incriminating. And how can we trust a man in the White House if he doesn't know how to throw and/or catch a football? We might as well skip the intermediate steps and toss the keys right over to bin Laden. So this is of course a crucial issue.

I've studied both photos extremely closely for hours now, using the most sophisticated technology I have at my disposal, and I have concluded that neither picture is an indicator of poor football ability. All they prove is how difficult it is to avoid looking stupid occasionally when a camera is following your every move. Which is a shame, because if one of them really did play like a girl, we could safely declare this election effectively over, thus saving ourselves valuable time and attention that could be spent watching "Who Wants to Marry My Dad?".

Let's start with a disclaimer and definition. Claiming that someone plays "like a girl" is an outmoded sexist stereotype, of course. I know plenty of women who can throw and catch normally. For the purposes of our experiment, though, it's important to know what the charge means. Throwing like a girl is defined as throwing with a stiff arm, bent tightly at the elbow, as opposed to a looser, straighter-armed toss. Someone who throws "like a girl" tends to throw the football as if it were a shotput, pushing it away rather than throwing it. Catching like a girl is define as showing a discomfort or fear of a ball coming in your direction. Reactions that betray discomfort and fear can range from squinching up your face as Kerry did to covering your head and whimpering. Whatever the reaction, it indicates unfamiliarity with balls hurtling toward you, which as we all know is extremely girly.

Let's start with the Bush toss. Defenders of the president claim that his finish is actually a sign of good form, limp wrist notwithstanding. I decided that there was only one way to figure it out. Being a red-blooded American male, I of course know how to throw a football the right way. So I set up an experiment. I stood in my dining room and tossed the ball at my couch, which is about 10 feet away. First I did several tosses normally, and noted my finishing position. Then I threw several tosses "like a girl," and noted the finishing position. (It probably would have been more scientific for someone else to observe my finishing position, but I could not figure out a way to ask someone to "come watch me throw my ball around" without making it sound like an indecent proposal.) Scientific note: President Bush is right-handed and I am left-handed. I do not believe this affects our relative throwing form, but it is a potential variable to note.

And after repeated experiments, I can report with relief that President Bush's limp wrist is indeed a sign of good throwing form. I may not be the president's biggest fan, but our partisan differences are insignificant when compared to the horrifying thought that our country might be governed by someone who throws like a girl. Can you imagine the ramifications for our national security?

The key here is to remember that President Bush was not trying to hit a receiver in coverage on the sideline 30 yards upfield. Rather, he was clearly throwing to someone a short distance away, standing just beyond the camera. This was, after all, a photo op, not a tryout. See, if you're trying to get to a reciever a long distance away, you'd stand perpendicular to the target and follow through, winding up with your hand down around your waist. But if you're throwing to someone a few feet away, you stand facing the target, take a short step, and don't follow through nearly so much. In short, you finish the same way the president did in the picture: throwing shoulder slightly forward, arm extended, wrist limp. If he really had thrown like a girl, his throwing shoulder would have been farther forward and his arm would have been closer to his body and bent at the elbow. So rest easy, America: the president throws like a man.

Now, let's consider Kerry. That is a pretty damning photograph. Kerry's catching the ball in the crook of his elbows, not his hands, as only a rank amateur would do. Worse still is that face; it just screams, "Please don't hurt me!" Elections may primarily be a referendum on the incumbent, but the challenger has to prove he's up to the job, and the Kerry we see in this picture just confirms all the Bush campaign's worst insinuations about his indecisive unmanliness. What gives?

Sadly, I could not conduct controlled experiment for this picture as I did for the Bush one. But fortunately, I don't need to. Kerry's expression has nothing to do with fear of the ball, but rather with the fact that he's clearly looking into the sun. Take a look at the same picture, only larger. Note carefully the angle of the light. The sheen on Kerry's cheeks is the biggest giveaway. He's obviously facing the sun, and given that it's neither high noon or twilight, it's probable that the sun is in Kerry's line of vision. Further evidence is offered by the person standing behind Kerry, who does appear to be paying attention, but doesn't have his eyes on the ball. The most likely explanation for this is that the sun is coming from the same direction as the ball, and the man behind Kerry doesn't want to burn his retinas watching it.

Now, as the aforementioned red-blooded American male that I am, I've spent plenty of time catching balls. And I can tell you that there's nothing worse than trying to follow the path of a descending ball as it crosses in front of the sun. The ball just disappears into the glare, and by the time you pick it out again, it might be hurtling directly toward your head. Never mind making a stylish catch, you're just grateful if you can get away without being killed. The problem is particularly acute when you're not wearing sunglasses, as Kerry isn't here.

With that crucial piece of information, suddenly it all makes sense. Kerry's eyes are closed because he's facing the sun, and he's grimacing because he's trying to catch a ball he can't see. As a result of his sun-blindness, naturally the ball might land awkwardly, because he can't make the necessary adjustments. (You'll notice that his hands are in the proper football-catching position, further suggesting that he does know how to catch correctly.) If you doubt me, go get a football and play catch with someone in the mid-afternoon. Make sure you're facing the sun. Ask your friend to throw a high, arcing pass in the direction of the sun. Then have the friend report how you looked trying to catch it. My guess is that you won't look like Lynn Swann either.

Therefore, I can safely close this case and report to Americans with confidence that both candidates have passed the all-important football primary. Next week, perhaps we can have both candidates play a game of Beer Pong, or see how much of the alphabet they can belch out, or some other equally vital test of their fitness as leaders. And thank God, Wonkette will be there to fill us in on every last detail. Bless her heart.

Well, my man Frinklin appears to have enjoyed my trading-deadline breakdown, and he took my ribbing on the Mariners in good humor. Just so you know, Frinklin, I'd be equally willing to mock the Brew Crew, but they didn't do anything mockworthy this time around. I'll just have to mock them for something else, like the fact that they can't beat the sorry Pirates.

I'm also 100% behind Frinklin's call for National Picnic Day. I think it would be great if we all took time away from our business to go picnicking for a day or two. I would, however, humbly submit that we schedule National Picnic Day for sometime other than August. The seasons may all be the same down there in San Diego, but back East here, August is the Month From Hell, weather-wise. It's hot and sticky and miserable. Not ideal picnic weather at all. More like ideal heatstroke weather. How about we put Picnic Day in May? What say you, Frinklin? If we've got a go on that, we can start rounding up the petitions.

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

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

August 02, 2004

Trading Deadline Breakdown

Today's Musical Selection: "Sold" by John Michael Montgomery

Howdy, folks! Well, it looks like the baseball owners complied with my request for more trading action, and therefore I do indeed have some trades to break down in my inimitable style. For those of you who weren't reading me last year (which is almost all of you), be advised that I'm not one for the traditional analysis you find from so many other sources. The way I figure it, if you want to read the usual surface-level analysis, you can get that a lot of places. With me, on the other hand, you can expect a closer look at what the deal really means. This is the kind of exclusive analysis you can only get from Mediocre Fred. So sit back and prepare to be enlightened as you have never been enlightened before, unless you used to hang out with Dock Ellis.

Four-way deal: BOSTON receives SS Orlando Cabrera and 1B Doug Mientkiewicz;
CHICAGO (NL) receives SS Nomar Garciaparra, minor-league OF Matt Murtin and some filthy lucre;
MINNESOTA recieves minor-league P Justin Jones;
MONTREAL receives SS Alex Gonzalez, minor-league P Francis Beltran, minor-league IF Brendan Harris, three Chicago dogs and a gallon of New England clam chowder

Now, most all of the commentators are focusing on how Nomar will improve the Cubs, or how the Sawx's chemistry will be affected by swapping out half the infield at the trading deadline. And as usual, these commentators will have missed the key issue, which is how the deal affects Montreal. This is all that matters to me, since this is the team I might be rooting for next year.

So how did the Expos do? Well, they parted with Orlando Cabrera, a fine shortstop having a bit of a down year. He's hitting .246 with little power on the year, and he's making $6 million, so you can imagine why Montreal might be interested in unloading him.

And what did they receive in exchange? Well, for one thing, they received Alex Gonzalez. (There is more than one Alex Gonzalez in the league, so to be clear, this is the Cubs' Alex Gonzalez, not to be confused with the Marlins' Alex Gonzalez, who is also a shortstop, or the Rangers' Alex Gonzalez, whose first name is actually Adrian, or the Cardinals' Alex Gonzalez, who is Tony Womack.) Gonzalez is a shortstop who's having a bit of a down career. You may remember him as the guy who butchered the ground ball that really cost the Cubs a shot at the World Series last year, Bartman aside. His career numbers are worse than Cabrera's down-year numbers. And he's two years older than Cabrera. But at least he's cheaper; Gonzalez only makes $5.75 million, a whopping $250,000 savings over Cabrera's hefty price tag. Um.

Perhaps Expos GM Omar Minaya got confused and thought he was actually acquiring the Marlins' Alex Gonzalez, who also can't hit but is four years younger, or the Rangers' Alex Gonzalez, who actually can hit, or the Cardinals' Alex Gonzalez, who as we all recall is Tony Womack. Perhaps he thought he was acquiring Speedy Gonzalez, the Warner Brothers cartoon mouse, who is at least a useful pinch runner. Any of them would have been a better choice than the Alex Gonzalez the Expos actually acquired.

As for the minor leaguers, they're both such hot prospects that I've never even heard of them. Oh goody.

In his defense, Minaya had this to say about the deal: "I think (Cabrera) expressed that he wanted to move on and explore the free-agent market. We just felt that it was best for us to go out there and try to at least not get nothing for him." And they succeeded. They did not get nothing for Cabrera. They did, however, get as close to nothing as it is statistically possible to get without actually getting nothing. If this is what we Washington fans have to look forward to, Las Vegas can have the Expos. Pass the Alka-Seltzer, please.

LOS ANGELES receives OF Steve Finley and C Brent Mayne from ARIZONA in exchange for minor-leaguers C Koyie Hill, OF Reggie Abercrombie and P Bill Murphy...

which occurred after LOS ANGELES received P Brad Penny, 1B Hee Seop Choi and minor-league P Murphy from FLORIDA for C Paul LoDuca, RP Guillermo Mota and OF Juan Encarnacion

Most commentators are talking about this deal in terms of what is does for LA's and Florida's respective pennant chances, and as always they miss the real story, which is what this series of trades was not, which was a deal to acquire Randy Johnson and Charles Johnson (no relation, as far as I know, inasmuch as they belong to different races, but who can be sure?).

See, when LA swung its deal with Florida, everyone assumed that they were going to turn around and use those pieces to acquire Randy Johnson from Arizona. It was a fine idea, and it all went off without a hitch, except for one tiny, insignificant detail: Arizona did not actually want the pieces that LA had acquired. This was a bit of a problem for the Dodgers, as they had dealt away one of the league's best catchers, a quality young reliever, and a top bench bat to get these pieces that, as it turns out, Arizona didn't want. Thus chastened, the Dodgers hustled back to Florida and attempted to return the pieces they'd paid so dearly for, but alas, they'd neglected to save the receipt, and the Marlins regretfully informed them that all sales are final without a receipt, and walked away laughing.

Now the Dodgers needed a catcher, and since they were already in the market for guys named Johnson, they decided to acquire Charles from the Rockies. Alas, Charles Johnson decided that the warm Southern California weather and pennant-race excitement was not something he'd care for, and vetoed the deal, choosing to remain with fourth-place Colorado. The thin air must have gone to his head.

Meanwhile, along came Arizona again. Perhaps you can't quite afford the Big Unit, the D'backs said, but perhaps we can interest you in a slightly used Steve Finley? And if it's a catcher you're in the market for, perhaps we can get you into the Brent Mayne? A classic bait-and-switch. And by this point, the Dodgers were pretty much ready to say yes to anything, so they took the deal. All of which goes to show, you need to know what you can afford before you start picking up players left and right. A useful lesson to all of us as the holiday shopping season approaches.

A key subplot in this deal involves Koyie Hill. If the overpopulation crisis has gotten so severe that parents feel the need to make their kids stand out by giving them obviously made-up names like "Koyie," clearly we have a problem on our hands. Please breed carefully, people. And if you know anyone inclined to name his or her child something like "Koyie," please have this person spayed or neutered. Thank you.

NEW YORK (AL) receives P Esteban Loaiza from CHICAGO (AL) for P Jose Contreras and cold, hard cash

As usual, the commentators are focusing on whether Loaiza has what it takes to pitch in the Big Apple, and whether Contreras can turn it around with the ChiSox, and once again they miss the key issue, which is this deal's impact on my dad. As loyal readers will know, my dad is a big Yankee fan, and he despises Contreras with a fairly startling passion. Despite the fact that Contreras has never harmed him personally, he has wished ill on Contreras that he would not wish on his mortal enemies. So, naturally, this trade is a godsend for him.

I had lunch with my mom yesterday, and I aked her about Dad's reaction to the Contreras trade. "Oh, he was extremely happy," Mom said. "Very excited. There was dancing involved." So I'm happy for him. I'm also looking forward to his reaction when he realizes that Esteban Loaiza does not constitute an improvement. In his entire maddening and disappointing career, Loaiza has had one truly impressive season, which was last year. This year, his ERA is around 5.50, and he's shown the exact same inconsistency that so infuriated Dad in Contreras. So I'm expecting to hear a great many unpleasant things about Loaiza from him soon. I'm going to buy earplugs for Mom.

NEW YORK (NL) acquires SP Kris Benson and minor-league IF Jeff Keppinger from PITTSBURGH for 3B Ty Wigginton, IF Jose Bautista and minor-league P Matt Peterson

NEW YORK (NL) acquires SP Victor Zambrano and RP Bartolome Fortunato from TAMPA BAY for minor-league Ps Scott Kazmir and Jose Diaz

I'm considering these trades together because they prove the same point. Looking at these trades, both of which involve trading young players for established starters, you would think that the Mets are in a pennant race. You would not think that the Mets were, say, fourth in the NL East, 9 games back. Because a team in that position making these deals, trading the future for the present, would be really, really stupid.

And yet, you discover, this is exactly what happened. Not only that, the man making these deals was not fired. Nor was he denounced as an impostor sent by a rival team to destroy the Mets' future. Nor was he subjected to a random drug test. What gives?

In order to understand this trade, you have to understand New York. And what you have to understand about New York is that New York is a town for winners. New York doesn't have time for losers. They back winners, and winners only. So if you operate a New York team, and you're not a winner, you'd damned well better pretend you are one, or perceptive New York fans will notice and your team will not draw flies the rest of the decade. (Ask the Islanders for details.) So I believe Mets GM Steve Phillips knew these trades were a dumb idea. In his heart, he realized that the Mets were not contenders. But he also knew he had to pretend, or pay the price, which is loserdom, a fate worse than death in New York.

I wonder if Phillips, Scott Layden, Isiah Thomas, Glen Sather and Ernie Accorsi ever get together for drinks at the "New York Delusional General Managers Club."

(Side note: Tampa Bay will rue the day they traded Bartolome Fortunato. Not because of his talent, because of his name. Teams like Tampa Bay don't have a lot going for them, and a Bartolome Fortunato is a rare gift from the baseball gods. Squander it, and ye shall suffer vengeance. If Kazmir blows out his arm in two years, you'll know why. Bad karma.)

PHILADELPHIA sends OF Ricky Ledee and minor-league P Alfredo Simon to SAN FRANCISCO for RP Felix Rodriguez

PHILADELPHIA sends minor-leaguers P Josh Hancock and IF Anderson Machado to CINCINNATI for RP Todd Jones and minor-league OF Brad Correll

Another pair of trades, and again they illustrate the same point. The key for Philadelphia is not the deals that did happen, but the one that didn't, the one that would have guaranteed the Phillies the pennant:

PHILADELPHIA sends manager Larry Bowa to THE UNEMPLOYMENT LINE for any other sentient human being

(Note to any Philly fans that are reading this: I repeat, the above deal did not happen. I aplogize for getting your hopes up.)

Actually, that may be casting the net too narrowly. The guy from "Weekend at Bernie's" could probably manage the Phillies to the pennant. When will Philadelphia management grasp this simple point?

Truth be told, most managers don't affect the standings that much. Really great managers might pick up a couple extra games, but by and large your choice of manager is unlikely to win you the pennant. In a few cases, however, your manager can absolutely lose you the pennant, and Bowa is one such case. He's too volatile, too insecure, too willing to offend his stars to lead a pennant winner. He can turn a cellar-dweller into a respectable club (in fact, he did just that with the Phillies a few years back), but he's not emotionally equipped to lead a team to a pennant. The fact that he's on the road to yet another 80-85 win season with the talent on that team is criminal. I know he's a local icon and all, but enough is enough. The Phillies need a calmer, steadier hand. I hear Cito Gaston is available.

(Actual baseball note: Keep an eye on Brad Correll. I saw him play in Potomac, and he was one of the few Cannons who appeared to know what he was doing. Recently, the Reds promoted him to AA. In a couple years, he could be doing great things for the Phillies. We now return you to your regularly schedule pseudo-analytical nonsense.)

FLORIDA acquires SP Ismael Valdez from SAN DIEGO for minor-league P Travis Chick

The commentators have made relatively little of this deal, even though I think it could prove to be crucial. The reason for that, which the commentators have of course ignored, is that someone in this deal is a moron.

Valdez has produced a 9-6 record, which must involve an incredible amount of run support given his 5.53 ERA. He's a replacement-level pitcher at best. But both San Diego and Florida are, at least theoretically, in the pennant race. If Valdez isn't good enough to pitch for pennant-contending San Diego, why is he good enough to pitch for pennant-contending Florida? Either the Marlins gave up a prospect for a useless player, or the Padres dealt away a guy they'll later wish they had. As I said, someone's a moron in this deal. Given Valdez's ERA, I'm guessing it's Florida. But we shall see.

TEXAS picks up SP Scott Erickson and cash from NEW YORK (NL) for a player to be named later

Another trade that's been little noticed, but it is absolutely essential. Why? Because any team that thinks Scott Erickson is an improvement cannot possibly make the playoffs. Know where Erickson lead the Orioles all those years he was anchoring their staff? Straight down the commode. And if you don't think Erickson was to blame for Baltimore's ineptitude, I give you this. Does this look like the pedigree of an ace to you? Erickson is very handsome, the ladies love him, and he has a high-quality wife (Lisa Guerrero). But his impression of a major-league pitcher is growing increasingly pathetic. I know Texas is desperate for pitching, but geez, how desperate can you be? Anyone who believed that the Rangers could win the division, your reality check has arrived.

FLORIDA acquires RP Rudy Seanez from Kansas City for OF Abraham Nunez

Here's another trade that the commentariat has ignored, and they shouldn't be. This is another crucial deal, because... oh, wait, this deal doesn't matter at all. Never mind. Sorry. Moving on.

SEATTLE trades Nobody to NOWHERE in exchange for Nothing

Hey, Mariners fans! Remember all those years that you were in contention, and Pat Gillick didn't make any deals to help the club, no matter how badly they were needed? Well, you can rest easy: Now that the Mariners have a new GM (Bill Bavasi), are out of contention and the team is burdened with an aging, expensive roster and could desperately stand to unload a few veterans. And the Mariners still aren't making any deals. So kudos to them for standing firm on principle.

Still, I think the M's need to take a good hard look at this. After all, one of the key portions of the general manager's job description is trading, and Bavasi, like Gillick before him, doesn't really appear to go for that. Perhaps trading is against Bavasi's religion. Perhpas he has very high standards for deals, like the guy who refues to date women who are not pageant-quality. Perhaps his cell-phone plan has killer roaming charges. Perhaps the M's send their GM on vacation in the Himalayas every July. I don't know. But it's time for Seattle to insist that their GM give this "trading" thing a try, and if he continues to resist, they should replace him with someone who will. Enough is enough.

(Hey, Frinklin, I hope you don't mind my busting on the M's. Deep down in your heart, you know it's true.)

On a quick boxing note, I don't know what's sadder: Mike Tyson's flame-out against that hand-picked tomato can, or the fact that this almost certainly isn't the end of his career. I shudder to think.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 06:13 PM | Comments (0)