January 31, 2005

Mini-Thought of the Day

Okay, so I'm watching television, and I see a commercial for Mercedes. The commercial features a series of shots of couples leaving Mercedes coupes, starting in about the '20s and moving forward. The last shot features four people entering a Mercedes, and the voiceover says, "Introducing the first four-door coupe."

Okay. Now, maybe I'm just a simple boy from the Fedroplex, but where I come from, a four-door coupe is called a "sedan." And they've been making those for quite some time. Now, I'll grant that Mercedes' "four-door coupe" has a somewhat rakish roofline. This would make it... a sedan with a rakish roofline. They've made those before, too.

Now, for some reason I'd always figured that Mercedes was above this sort of marketing chicanery. I always figured that particular product sold itself. But it shows what I know, I guess.

(Sorry I'm not writing at greater length... I'm still very busy. At what? I'll fill in the details later this week.)

Thanks to everyone who wished me a Happy Birthday! I appreciate it.

Posted by Fred at 09:07 PM | Comments (3)

January 27, 2005

I'm Still Alive

Just very, very busy. I'll be back next week, probably. Thanks to everyone who's commented on my recent pieces... a lot of interesting thoughts that I can't wait to discuss.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to me. I turned 26 on Tuesday, for what it's worth.

Back to the old salt mine...

Posted by Fred at 06:26 PM | Comments (3)

January 22, 2005

Nothing But A Smile

Today's Musical Selection: "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" by Edison Lighthouse

Hi, folks! Today I want to talk about love. Not great flowering romance or sex (that's Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice's department), but just everyday love, the kind that greases the wheels of our daily lives. You're familiar with the phrase "love makes the world go 'round"? Most people who hear that phrase think of grand passions firing them up and giving them the energy to pursue tremendous goals, but I don't think of it that way. I think of the small affections, which often pass unnoticed to the outside eye, that make daily life worth living. (Which is not to say I don't believe in grand passion; I certainly do. And it can move mountains. But it's the daily kind of love that keeps the earth in rotation, I think.)

What is this daily love? In some ways it can be a function of friendship, but it doesn't have to be. I'm thinking of those little day-brighteners, things that throw a little sunshine on the daily slog and bring a smile to your face. Kindnesses from strangers to strangers -- the guy who lets you ahead of him in line when you've got a couple things and he's got a full cart, the woman who lets you have the last book off the shelf -- certainly fall into that category.But those aren't really what I'm thinking of.

I'm thinking of those little mini love affairs, those two-minute crushes that put a little extra spring in your step. That person who makes you heart beat a little quicker, the barrista or the cashier or the woman (or man, if that's your pleasure) passing you by on the street. The romance isn't destined to go anywhere, but that isn't the point. It's the brief flash that matters, that little uptick in the pulse rate, that warm-all-over feeling that makes you feel cheerier and taller and better-looking. A little harmless fantasy, with no downside or disappointment factor. You don't have to worry about whether or not she'll call, or whether she's got a crazy family, or whether she shares your interest in yodeling. Just a little stimulation, a reminder that you're vital and alive and a member in good standing of the human race.

And it doesn't matter if you're married or in a relationship. Mini-crushes are no threat to a serious relationship, and can even enhance it. After all, that little self-confidence boost makes for a happier outlook on life, and a happy partner is a loving partner. Truly, there is no downside. Love is not a zero-sum game.

It seems like we should have a pithy little term for them, because they're so common, but as far as I know we don't. We have a fair number of descriptions in literature and song, though. The pithiest version I know comes from the old Dead Milkmen song "Laundromat":

There's a girl washing her clothes

I'm in love but nobody knows

She looks sixteen or seventeen

My mind gets dirty while my clothes get clean

My favorite longer-form description of this phenomenon comes from one of Kurt Vonnegut's later and regrettably unheralded novels, "Timequake":

I go one block south to the Postal Convenience Center, where I am secretly in love with a woman behind the counter. I have already put my pages in the manila envelope. I address it, and then I take my place at the end of another long line. What I need now is postage! Yum, yum, yum!

The woman I love there does not know I love her. You want to talk about poker faces? When her eyes meet mine, she might as well be looking at a cantaloupe!

Because she works sitting down, and because of the counter and the smock she wears, all I have ever seen of her is from the neck up. That's enough! From the neck up she is like a Thanksgiving dinner! I don't mean she looks like a plateful of turkey and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. I mean she makes me feel like that is what has just been set before me. Dig in! Dig in!

Unadorned, I believe, her neck and face and ears and hair would still be Thanksgiving dinner. Every day, though, she hangs new dingle-dangles from her ears and around her neck. Sometimes her hair is up, sometimes it's down. Sometimes it's frizzy, sometimes it's straight. What she can't do with just her eyes and lips! One day I'm buying a stamp from Count Dracula's daughter! The next day she's the Virgin Mary.

This time she's Ingrid Bergman in Stromboli. But she is a long way off still. There are many addled old poops, no good at counting money any more, and immigrants talking gibberish, maddeningly imagining it to be English, in line ahead of me...

I at last have my envelope weighed and stamped by the only woman in the whole wide world who could make me sincerely happy. With her I wouldn't have to fake it.

I go home. I have had one heck of a good itme. Listen: We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different!

See what I mean? It's a harmless little pleasure, and the older I get, the more I realize that harmless little pleasures should be taken at every opportunity and savored.

Naturally, I have my own mini-crush.

In the town where I work, there's a Mexican restuarant I make a point of visiting a couple times a week. The food is good, but in and of itself not worth a twice-weekly visit. No, what makes it such a frequent destination is the young woman who works the cash register. I secretly harbor a mad crush on her.

What makes her stand out is her smile. If you saw "Love Actually," remember the Portuquese woman who fell for Colin Firth? Remember how she looked plain and unremarkable... until she smiled and you realized she was beautiful. That's how it is with my crush. She wouldn't stand out in a crowd when she's got a straight face on. But that smile... oh, my! She's got a gold-capped tooth that I think she's self-conscious about, so she tends to go more for half-smiles. But when she lets loose with the full smile... incredible! And those big brown eyes that dance when she smiles... I was smitten from the first time I saw her smile. And who wouldn't be? It's a sweep-you-off-your-feet kind of smile. You can almost see the songbirds twirling around her head, a la Cinderella.

And I'm in a better spot than Vonnegut, because my crush recognizes me. She always favors me with that dazzling smile every time I come to the register, and she smiles wider for me than for other people. (I know, I've watched. Got to do something to kill time in line, and I'd much rather stare at her than the "art" on the walls.) The combination of the loud music and poor sound insulation makes civilized conversation impossible -- and what could you say in fifteen seconds anyway? -- but she always asks how I'm doing, and I ask back, and I promise to return in a few days, which of course I do. Sometimes, if she's feeling particularly upbeat, she gives me free guacamole, which I can't get enough of. (It may not be universally true that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but it sure as hell is true of me.) And away I go, take-out bag in hand. A tiny fraction of a day, but often as not, it makes my whole afternoon.

We don't know each others' names. I know nothing about her other than that her smile makes me weak in the knees, and she knows nothing about me other than that I sure like Mexican food a lot. But it doesn't matter. For the price of a taco platter, I get affirmation, a little thrill, sunshine to go. Is there any better value out there than that?

These mini-affairs don't even have to be romantic and/or lustful in nature.

The other day, I stopped in to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner and I wound up in the interminable lines that always occur at that time of day. I found myself stuck behind a frazzled young mother who was trying to keep two of her kids off the candy rack and had the other one, a little girl who looked about a year old, slung over her shoulder.

The little girl, as little people are wont to do, was sweeping her eyes around the place, taking in all the unfamiliar sights. (And it's all unfamiliar at that age, no?) Eventually, her eyes alighted on me, so I took the opportunity to flirt shamelessly. It's a skill I have. (I have a near-hypnotic charm over women, provided that they are under age 5 or over age 60. Anything in between and my appeal dips sharply.) I winked and smiled and wiggled my eyebrows and made silly faces. And the little girl was entranced! She locked in and did not take her eyes off me thereafter. So I kept mugging and vamping, and she kept on looking raptly. Eventually, she entended her tiny little hand and I extended my finger, which she promptly latched onto.

It was at this point that the mother looked up from her other children grasping at the Snickers and noticed me. She did not at first appear particularly thrilled that her daughter had glommed onto a strange man, but once she realized I meant no harm she softened a bit. I told her her child was beautiful, which she was. And I tried to disengage my finger so the family could go, but the little girl was having none of that. She knew what she wanted. I offered to let her keep the finger (it was on my right hand and I wasn't really using it), but eventually the mother gently loosened her daughter's grip and took off. A welcome slice of life for a guy on his way to cook chicken soup in his empty apartment. It certainly brightened my evening.

In today's atomized, fast-paced world, we feel (despite record population levels) alone more often than not. All the digital cable channels and Web chats in the world can't combat the isolation that comes from living in our own bubbles. The old back-fence chats are gone. Block parties are dying out. And town parades and picnics are going the way of the dodo. We may be statistically closer to more people than ever before, but in plenty of ways our circles of acquiantance have gotten ever smaller. Given that, mini-crushes are more than ever the affirmative water of life. In that little spark is a connection. And in today's world, where we're so often imprisoned in fiber-optic cages, every connection counts.

And besides all that, the heart is a muscle like any other and benefits from regular exercise. A little harmless pitter-patting around an attractive member of the opposite sex... it's good for your body and soul. It makes you a better person in every conceivable way. More upbeat, more engaged, more alive. It's a good way to get the blood pumping, and a hell of a lot safer than bungee jumping.

I don't know if I agree with Vonnegut that we were put here to fart around, but I certainly think it's an experience we'd be fools to miss out on. And mini-crushes are one of my favorite ways to put spice in life. (As opposed to the chicken soup, for which I prefer garlic and tarragon and a dash of cayenne. But perhaps I reveal too much.)

At any rate, have a good weekend, all! And if you're in the Fedroplex, please stay of the roads unless you know what you're doing. Thank you.

Posted by Fred at 03:03 AM | Comments (2)

January 20, 2005

A Quick Thought

If I go to Heaven when I die, I want the angels to look like the women in the Philadelphia cream cheese commercials.

I imagine this is the Godless Capitalist's version of the Muslim's 72 virgins.

(What's with the short posts, you asked? Whatever happened to the real Mediocre Fred, the pedantic gasbag you all knew and tolerated? Well, I'm busy. Some day I'll back to my usual logorrheic posting. Maybe. We'll see.)

Posted by Fred at 10:51 PM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2005

Red and Blue in Living Color

Today's Musical Selection: "Hooray for Hazel" by Tommy Roe

Hello, everybody! I'm now officially returned from my sabbatical, not tanned, moderately rested and dubiously ready. And today, to commemorate my return, I'd like to tell you a story and see what you think. Much like my story about the curious late-night encounter with my neighbor from back in September, I encourage you to weigh in with your thoughts, and tell me how you'd have handled the situation.

Last weekend, I finally submitted to a haircut. Much like Frinklin, I tend to go as long between haircuts as possible. Usually, when three or four people have made Cousin It jokes, I know it's time to go. I racked up Snide Joke No. 3 the middle of last week, and so on Saturday I stopped in to see my barber.

A note about the barber shop I frequent: Despite living in in the uber-sophisticated Fedroplex, I get my hair cut at what is for all intents and purposes a country barber shop. Tucked away in a nondescript shopping center in Dot-Com Canyon, the shop is a sort of time warp. Upper-middle-aged men in old-fashioned barber's coats shave and trim underneath mounted animal heads (fake, as far as I know) and pictures of sports teams and soldiers. And the barbers are definitely hillbillies. (They hired an Asian guy one time, and thety managed to find an Asian hillbilly. First one I'd ever met.) They talk about hunting and fishing and sports with religious fervor. The environment is quite different than that which I encounter in my normal daily life, but that's part of the reason why I like the place. The other parts are that it's cheap, they do a good job cutting hair, and I have a visceral aversion to the words "stylist" and "salon." I've gone to this place for almost every haircut I've ever had. We go back a long time, the barber shop and I.

On this particular occasion I was attended to by Curtis, which made me happy. Curtis has worked at the shop almost as long as I can remember, and I've had my hair cut by him many times over the years. He cuts a distinctive figure: shaved head to conceal his steadily progressing baldness, Coke-bottle-thick aviator glasses and have his teeth gone. He almost always start with the same joke. As soon as I sit down he says, "So, you want it cut like mine, right?" I say no, and he says, "Well, one day I'll get somebody with that."

On this day, though, he's in conversation with another barber and misses the usual joke, going instead for a simple, "Reg'lar cut?" I said sure. He fastened the cape around my neck and started trimming my sideburns.

"Hey, did you hear what I was tellin' Mike there?" he said.

"No," I said. I hadn't been paying attention; usually the side chatter between the barbers just flows past my head like a lazy river.

"Them Orientals. Have you seen the weird shit they eat?"

I've seen a fair bit of it, but I didn't feel like Curtis was looking for a debate on the merits of shark-fin soup, so I made a noncommittal mumble.

"It's some crazy stuff. Hundred-year-old eggs and half-born ducks. How can they stomach that shit?"

"I don't know," I said. To myself I thought, You ought to get out more, Curtis. But as I didn't feel like irritating a man who was holding a pair of scissors over my head, I kept my mouth shut.

"There's some crazy shit out there. You seen about them A-rabs that have themselves a hundred wives?" He pronounced "A-rab" in the old-school manner, as if it rhymed with "Ahab."

"Yeah, I think I heard that."

"Can you believe that shit? A hundred wives? One's enough. What you gonna do with a hundred? How do you keep up?"

"It'd keep you busy, for sure." I forced a laugh, but I had a distinct sense I didn't like the way this conversation was heading.

"Think he's gotta fuck 'em all every night? That'll wear a man out."

"For sure." I started to squirm in my chair. He kept on clipping. I don't think he noticed; he was telling a story.

"Crazy shit that goes on. You see where, in one of them Oriental countries, Japan or China or somewhere, they'll favor a boy over a girl? Some of 'em, if they get a girl, will kill 'er to get a boy instead."

"It's sad." And it is, indeed, one of the tragedies of the Third World, the treatment of girls, the families who will abandon or kill baby girls because they'd rather have boys. Somehow, though, I didn't think Curtis was about to encourage me to join Amnesty International.

"In one of them countries over there, did you know that if a fimaly wants to have more than one kid, they gotta get permission from the government?"

"It's in China," I said. "Because they have so many people. Over a billion."

"They're fuckin' worse than rabbits." My head started ringing. Curtis obliviously went on cutitng.

"That's not the worst, though," he continued. "I read where some of these Mexican girls, their families sell them into slavery over here. You've got 12-year-old girls becoming prostitutes. Their families sell them into that sot hey can come to this country. Ain't that some sick shit?"

"Sure is," I said. "They must want over here awful bad."

"And it works the other way, too. American girls get shanghaied off to other contries to be prostitutes. Other countries, like China and wherever, there's nothing they like more than a blond-haired white girl, you know what I mean?"

I said nothing.

"But I'll tell ya, the way girls dress now, it's like they all wanna be prostitutes anyhow. I see some of 'em up on the corner, with the high heels and all the make up and shit and the teased-up hair and skirts up to here, they look like street walkers. They look old enough, but you know what I call them?"

"What?"

"Ten to twenty."

I laughed, hollowly.

"We got guys in here who would, though. Mike over there'll fuck a snake if someone'll hold it for him."

Another hollow laugh from me.

"You know, we got a Scotsman who comes in here sometimes. He's really crazy." I wondered to myself about the sort of man that Curtis would think of as crazy. "And I asked him one time, 'Scotty, what the fuck is it with these kilts? You know, you got men wearing skirts.' And he says, 'Cause the sheep can hear a zipper a mile away."

At this point, I was staring hard at the television and wishing he'd hurry up and be done.

"You know how a Scotsman likes a sheep? In the tall grass is mighty fine."

I think I laughed for politeness' sake.

"Hey, you remember Jimmy? Guy used to cut hair in here a while ago?"

I did, in fact, remember Jimmy. He used to cut my hair when I was a kid. I always liked Jimmy.

"He was a great guy, Jimmy. Always said what was on his mind, and didn't give a shit what other people thought."

Oh no, I thought. If I have to hear that Jimmy used to make jokes about "jungle bunnnies" or something, I'll scream.

"Well, one time we'd just hired a new woman barber named Mary. And one of the guys decided to give Jimmy a hard time. He says, 'Hey, Jimmy, you made Mary yet?' Jimmy was about 72 or 73 at the time. And I'll never forget it. He said, 'Boys, I can still plow just as deep, I just can't stay in the field as long.'"

This time I laughed for real. Crude joke, sure, but a good one. And now that I'd stopped cringing, I noticed that Curtis had a way with a yarn. He had a good storyteller's voice, he had an excellent sense of timing, and he knew exactly when to shut the electric razor off so I could hear the important information.

Meanwhile, Curtis went on about Jimmy. "Now, Saturday, that was when Jimmy liked to go coon huntin'. He loved coon huntin'. Well, on this one Saturday night, he went out huntin', but he wasn't out huntin' for no coon. He come back home in his good clothes, good shoes and everything, and there's his wife waitin' at the door. 'Where the hell you been, Jimmy?' she said. 'I know you ain't been doin' no coon huntin' in those clothes.' So Jimmy figures, well, I'm busted anyway, might as well tell the truth. So he says, 'I was out gettin' some.' His wife looks at him hard and she says, 'You're lyin'. Get into bed.' So see, sometimes honesty is the best policy."

I laughed hard as that one. A good story well told. And just after he hit the punchline, Curtis was done with my hair. I paid and left feeling... well, uneasy. Sure, Curtis was a good storyteller, but his loose-minded racial remarks were pretty damned repugnant. I felt queasy with myself for not saying anything to him. And why did he choose to share these thoughts with me? Did he assume he had a sympathetic ear because we're both white? (Despite being a hillbilly-ish place, the shop has a sizable black and Hispanic clientele, due to the composition of the neighborhood surrounding it.)

So here's my question for the audience: What would you have done in my shoes? Would you have complained? Would you have found a way to subtly signal your displeaure with the racial remarks? Would you have disagreed loudly? Would you have walked out? Would you never go back? Or would you have just sat there, like me, and not registered any complaint? And if, like me, you'd choose the last option, do you think maybe that ought to bother us? Is it true that the worst sin is not decrying prejudice when you see it? Or was it not worth picking a fight with someone who's no doubt set in his ignorant ways? And was the fact that he was a great storyteller any sort of mitigating factor? I honestly don't know how I feel about this, so I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

(Now that I'm done writing this, it occurs to me that it would have been a great topic for discussion on Martin Luther King Day yesterday. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to writing it then. So if you'd be kind enough to pretend that I was clever and wrote it yesterday, I'd appreciate it.)

I poked my head up briefly last week to write that synopsis of the state of Ukrainian politics, which I alone apparently found amusing. (You'd be surprised how often this happens. Or maybe you wouldn't.) Loyal reader Tripp was bummed that I didn't address another hot topic:

Aw, Fred, I'm very disappointed that you didn't comment on the Randy Moss faux mooning scandal. It has been all the rage up here in the frozen north. The night of the game our local Fox news lead off the newscasts with the following:

Here is footage of Randy Moss disgracing himself and the Vikings. Look at it again. That is probably the most vulgar display you will ever see on TV. Did you miss it? Let's watch it again a few more times. Tut tut, just terrible. One last look. Later we will get the reaction from Green Bay fans.

In other news, some soldiers died in Iraq today . . .

Well, if you don't mind me discussing it now, long after everyone except maybe Michael Powell has moved on, I'll say a few words.

When I first saw it on TV, my reaction was roughly the same as Joe Buck's (and that of my dad, who was watching it with me). In my defense, there were two key misconceptions I labored under:

(1) When Moss dropped the football on the ground in order to do his faux moon, I thought he was miming something else. I think we can all agree that if he'd done that, it would have been considerably more appalling.

(2) I was unaware of the Green Bay tradition of mooning the opposing team's bus after Packer victory. With that information in mind, suddenly Moss' maneuver went from juvenile to clever.

That said, the reaction of the commentariat to this incident is exactly why I didn't go into sports journalism. It's all so predictable: the old sportswriting guard (mostly older, almost all white) fuss and fume and proclaim the end of civilization as we know it. My personal favorite hissy-fit came from Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who wrote, "Simulation-mooning Lambeau is like mooning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir." The old guard will rage on for a day or two, then the contrarians (largely younger and more diverse) will step in, defending the "outrageous" act and saying that old guard writers are the ones with the problem, implying heavily that anyone who objects to an egotistical jerk showing up is out of touch, fascist and probably racist and then throwing bouquets to themselves for being "down" with urban culture.

Neither side seems to realize just how insufferable their worldview is. You're stuck between harrumphing self-righteousness on one side and smug self-congratulation on the other. The traditionalists don't realize the degree to which they make a selfish, immature punk like Moss into a sympathetic figure. As for the new-schoolers, whom I'm convinced would praise Osama bin Laden if enough old-school sportswriters attacked him... they like to say, "Hey, give me a player of Moss' talent and I'll gladly take the personality." Oh you would, would you? Care to tell me how many championship rings Moss has? Care to tell me about the long list of championship teams structured around the whims of a moody, self-centered jackass superstar with impulse control issues?

So that's why I didn't write about Moss, Tripp. Because the whole debate makes me sick. What he did was hardly the end of the world. The people calling for him to be suspended were off their rocker. On the other hand, I'm loath to defend anything Moss does. I wouldn't want him on my team at any price, despite his obvious talent (when he cares to deploy it). The only think that interests me about Moss is his hair. The Afro makes him a dead ringer for Nat X. Other than that, I didn't really have anything to say. And I didn't think the Nat X thing was worth a whole column.

And with that, I'm off for the day. (Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, by the way, will be back next week, assuming we wrap up the ocntract negotiations then.) Stay tuned for more tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 04:57 PM | Comments (2)

January 15, 2005

My Shortest Post Ever!

Just wondering...

Who is Finola Hughes and when did she take over my television?

Posted by Fred at 12:02 AM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2005

We Bring You This Brief Interruption...

Today's Musical Selection: "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" by Warren Zevon

Hi, everybody! I'm not officially back from sabbatical, but I wanted to point out the latest example of Fun With the Electoral System. This edition comes to us from our wacky comrades over in the Ukraine.

A brief recap for those who head straight for the sports section when they pick up the paper: a little while back, the Ukraine held an election for president, or tried to. One candidate was the incumbent Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovich. This is a hard name to spell, so we'll call him "Big Vic." Big Vic had the backing of Moscow and Russian president Josef Stalin. Whoops! I meant Vladimir Putin. Getting hard to tell those two apart sometimes, except one's dead. I'm pretty sure it's Stalin. But anyway. The other candidate was a reformer named Viktor Yushchenko. This is also a hard name to spell, so we'll call him "Lumpy." Lumpy ran a strong campaign, and people seemed ready for a change, and so they went to the polls and made him president.

That's what everyone thought, anyway. But lo and behold, once the vote totals were revealed, Big Vic was discovered to have won. So Big Vic and Putin slapped their knees and had a good chuckle. "Boy, those exit polls are really something, aren't they?" they said. Then they ordered another round of potato vodkas, or whatever it is Russians do when they celebrate things.

But Lumpy's supporters charged election fraud. It seemed awfully fishy to them that their guy was presumed to be the landslide winner, and suddenly the vote total showed that he lost. The new "Dieboldovich" electronic voting machines used in some precincts were heavily cricized. And they were particularly suspicious when they saw someone who looked an awful lot like Katherine Harris counting the ballots. Also, Lumpy's friends noticed that he didn't seem himself. He looked kind of blotchy and out of it. Big Vic suggested that his opponent was probably just tired from the grueling campaign and offered to send him on a nice vacation in sunny Siberia. But Lumpy suspected he'd been poisoned. Everyone had a good laugh over this. "Poisoned! Ho ho ho! Don't be silly, Lumpy. Who would do something crazy like that?" Only he went to a doctor and it turned out that, well, he had been poisoned. Big Vic shook his head and said, "Boy, poisoned, huh? Tough break, kid. Got to stay away from that bathtub vodka... it'll get you every time."

In light of all the suspicious goings-on, the Ukrainians went ahead and held themselves a second election. (Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, the seed of an idea planted itself in Dino Rossi's mind.) In this second election, Lumpy won handily. Imagine that. So he and his friends, who call themselves the Orange Revolution (which has nothing to do, so far as I know, with DC Councilman Vincent Orange, Agent Orange, Orange County, The Los Angeles Angels of California in Anaheim or the Nearby Vicinity, or the Denver Broncos) began whooping it up and making plans for their inauguration.

Big Vic, statesman that he is, took his loss in stride. He congratulated Lumpy and said that he was committed to obeying the will of the people. So committed to obeying the will of the people, in fact, that he refused to leave office until he was absolutely sure that the people really wanted him to go. After all, he mused, is a man who's been poisoned really fit to hold office?

Now, Lumpy was certified the winner back on Monday. But due to a wacky clause in Ukrainian electoral law, the result is not official until it's published in an official newspaper. (And you thought the Electoral College was strange.) The newspaper, apparently, is holding back until Big Vic has a chance to appeal the result in court, since as we know from America's example, no election is final until everybody's up to their eyeballs in legal bills. And twice now Big Vic has sworn up and down that he's ready to get on with the filing of the appeal, and twice his legal firm, Dewey, Cheatham and Howe, has discovered at the end of the day that they left a split infinitive in the pleading, or something, and they they have to go back and write the whole thing over, which takes a long time, because apparently they write all their appeals on sheepskin with a quill pen. Big Vic swears that they'll have that appeal filed this time tomorrow for sure, although there are already rumblings from his legal team that there are some dangling modifiers in there, and that won't do.

Meanwhile, Lumpy and his friends are itchy to get on with the governing. They accuse Big Vic of trying to thwart the will of the people, and they're accusing Big Vic's staff of taking the opportunity to steal as much as possible from the governing palace. (Hey, since when did Big Vic hire staffers from the Clinton Administration?)

Big Vic insists that he's not trying to thwart anything, and that he knows he lost. Yes, he knows. He is "only trying to protect Ukrainians' rights." (Hey, he and Dino Rossi are reading from the same hymnal! Wonder when Big Vic will insist on "making sure every vote is counted"?)

Anyway, Big Vic has until Monday to get his appeal in, and after that it doesn't matter if the dog ate his torts, he's toast. Presumably. I'll bet wily old Big Vic has a couple tricks up his sleeve. He still has his friend Putin, and ol' Vladdie is known to carry a big stick, besides which he's not too picky about pesky nuances like civil liberties. So I predict more fun and excitement yet to come.

Those crazy Ukrainians. They should take a tip from us. Look at Washington State... they had a close, disputed election, and yet they were still able to seat the presumed winner, Christine Gregoire, yesterday. Of course, polls show that a majority of Washington voters want a new election. And there's always the possibility that Rossi will win a court case somewhere up the line, and Gregoire could be unceremoniously yanked out of office in a couple months. But those are the risks you run in a democracy.

My point, I guess, is this: when it comes to arguing over close elections, we Americans have got it down to a science. Those bumbling amateurs in the Ukraine should take a lesson from us, the shining beacon of democracy. Don't you think?

Anyway, back to my fishing hole. I plan to resurface sometime next week. See you then!

Posted by Fred at 11:05 PM | Comments (1)

January 03, 2005

One Other Thing...

I guess I don't have this sabbatical thing quite down, do I? But I wanted to point out something I found amusing. Salon is running an article today offering its humorous predictions for the Web in 2005. Among the chestnuts: Google is junking its virtual library project in favor of a virtual term-paper library due to demand from college students; a series of Enron-like scandals will plague the role-playing game world (not the companies that make the games, the companies inside the game); and that Dick Cheney, moved by that "Sorry Everybody" site, posts his own apology to the world for voting for himself. It was a great humorous read.

One item concerned a blog purportedly written by Ohio congressman-cum-erstwhile-presidential-candidate-cum-lawn-gnome Dennis Kucinich, which the article predicts will sweep Kucinich to political stardom. It's a funny idea, and the site itself is a pretty nifty and well-done spoof. Here's where it gets interesting, though... a number of readers apparently thought that it really was Kucinich's blog, and were leaving comments encouraging Dennis to keep up the good work.

Admittedly, it's an impressive parody. But one might think that a discerning reader might have been able to spot the fact that it was a phony. Such as the fact that a fifty-something public official is using phrases like, "Hola, compatriots! It's DeeJAYKay! My first post, just testin' the tires on this thing, will rap wit ya lates!" Or the fact that "Dennis" claims to have no children when the real Kucinich has a daughter. Or the fact that he's posting on Blogspot instead of, say, his own Web site. Or the fact that it's planted in the middle of a bunch of other obviously fake items. Nonetheless, a number of real people (I presume they haven't been going to the length of faking comments too) have presumed that Dennis Kucinich is really sharing his thoughts on this site. Some people even took the trouble of e-mailing Kucinich to check.

Now, the readership of Salon is, I'd wager, more educated and politically aware than the public at large. You'd figure that they would get the joke. Instead, we prove once again that unless humorous pieces have the words "THIS IS A JOKE" stamped across the top of them, there are people who will take them as real. Even smart people.

This could spell trouble for me, since I like to joke a lot. I'd always assumed that everyone was getting my jokes, but perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe I need to run a disclaimer. Something to think about.

After the sabbatical, though. Now I'm really going. Really. Seriously.

Posted by Fred at 09:36 PM | Comments (3)

On Sabbatical

Today's Musical Selection: "School's Out" by Alice Cooper

That's right, I'm following through on my vague promise from Friday to take some time off. I'll probably be gone for about two weeks. Try not to miss me too much. If you're dying to talk to me about something, leave me a comment (I'll be reading them periodically) or e-mail me at mediocrefred1979 -at- yahoo -dot- com.

I wanted to take a moment to direct everyone to the comments on Friday's post, where loyal readers PG and Tripp have both posted some interesting thoughts that are definitely worth reading. I encourage all of you to continue the conversation in my absence. And if anyone wants to try their hand at guest blogging for a couple weeks, let me know and I'll arrange it.

I also wanted to take a moment to point out that, despite it being a New Year and despite the turmoil and suffering going on around the world, there are still some people who are focusing on what really matters in life:

Seattle's Shaun Alexander, upset after finishing 1 yard behind Curtis Martin for the NFL rushing title, questioned why coach Mike Holmgren called a quarterback sneak in a big win over Atlanta.

"We were going to win anyway," Alexander said after Sunday's game. "We were on the freakin' goal line, and I got stabbed in the back."...

The Seahawks went ahead 28-20 with 4:28 remaining when quarterback Matt Hasselbeck scored on a 1-yard sneak on second-and-goal.

Alexander, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, blamed that call for costing him a share of the rushing title. He finished with 80 yards on 19 attempts against Atlanta.

Now, I'm not really going to chide Alexander for being absorbed by his own stats at a time when Asia and Africa are struggling to rebuild from a devastating tsunami. Athletes as a group have never, to be honest, been noted for their broad worldviews. But even within the narrow view of professional sports, Alexander is a dick. Let me get this straight: The Seahawks were struggling to win a division-clinching game on the last week of the season, and they were supposed to be focusing on making sure Alexander get his rushing title? Right now, the Seahawks have plenty of things they could be thinking about, like the fact that barely won a crucial game against a Falcons team that was mailing it in so bad they should have been wearing Postal Service uniforms, or the fact that their first-round playoff game is against that has beaten them twice already this season, or the fact that Matt Hasselbeck is the 12th-rated quarterback in the league, or the fact that Mike Holmgren seems to be making his strategic decisions with a Magic 8-Ball. Instead, they're focusing on why this jackass didn't get his yards. Way to bring the team together at a crucial time! If you have money to wager, put it on the Rams against the Seahawks next week.

Oh, and by the way, fans of good government will be happy to know that the Republicans have, somewhat inexplicably, come to their senses:

House Republicans suddenly reversed course Monday, deciding to retain a tough standard for lawmaker discipline and reinstate a rule that would force Majority Leader Tom DeLay to step aside if indicted by a Texas grand jury.

The surprise dual decisions were made by Speaker Dennis Hastert and by DeLay who asked GOP colleagues to undo the extreme act of loyalty they handed him in November. Then, Republicans changed a party rule so DeLay could retain his leadership post if indicted by the grand jury in Austin that charged three of the Texas Republican's associates.

When Republicans began their closed-door meeting Monday night, leaders were considering a rules change that would have made it tougher to rebuke a House member for misconduct. The proposal would have required a more specific finding of ethical violations.

So it appears that the Republicans are capable of feeling embarrassment (or at least voter outrage) after all. It still appears, however, that Joel Hefley is being ditched as Ethics Committee chair. So this situation does bear obversation.

Anyway, time to start hiatusing. See you in a couple weeks!

Posted by Fred at 08:43 PM | Comments (2)