Mediocre Fred's Mediocre Blog
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" by Harry Caray

PLAYOFF TIME!

Greetings, all! Today is the first day of the Major League Baseball playoffs, which gives me yet another reason to be cheerful (The Smart Lady, of course, being the primary reason). As a service to you, The Reader, I've assembled the playoff preview to end all playoff previews. If you want hard-hitting, in-depth analysis; if you want breakdowns and head-to-head matchups; if you want the authoritative word on who will beat whom, and why.... you can probably find that somewhere else. Here, you'll find supposition, hearsay, and random picks pulled out of my hindquarters. The way I figure it, the market is seriously oversaturated with in-depth analyses and "expert" commentary. What we really need is the meaningless rambling of someone who isn't an expert, but is someone who would gladly sell a kidney for a playoff ticket to Wrigley Field. That's where I come in. I make all my picks on gut instinct. My theory is: "The more statistics I read, the more confusing it gets." So this preview is a stat-free experience. You're welcome.

There are those who, seeing that I'm planning to stay away from objective statistics, will accuse me of bias in my picks. To this I say: Pish tosh. Not because I know what it means, but because it is fun to say, and it sounds like the sort of thing you should say to answer charges like that. To begin with, I don't have any particular rooting interest, since my team of choice, the Milwaukee Brewers, narrowly missed the playoffs for the 21st consecutive year with a 68-94 record. And my family and friends are more or less evenly divided among the playoff teams. My good friend the Young American once threatened to wear a Marlins-teal tuxedo to his wedding. (He is not, as of this writing, married, for which we can probably thank the indifferent gods.) My other good friend the Mad Prophet is a diehard Red Sox fan. He claims to have patented the Red Sox Fan's Crown of Thorns. One of my cousins has always rooted for the Cubs. My front-running sister roots for the Braves. She learned her front-running behavior from my Yankee-fan dad. One of my co-workers is a big-time Giants rooter. I once dated a Twins fan. And while I don't know any Athletics fans, I am kind of fond of their uniforms. So rest assured that, no matter who I pick to win, I'm bound to alienate someone I care about. That's your guarantee of impartiality.

Enough prologue. Let's get down to business!

* * * * *

Mediocre Fred's Exclusive MLB Playoff Preview

(Why is it exclusive? Well, it's strictly available to Mediocre Fred readers, and since that's about five people, I'd consider that exclusive.

DIVISION SERIES

National League

Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves

Those overpaid fat-cat "experts" will probably tell you that this series will come down to the Cubs' hot pitching duo of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood against the Braves' impressive batting lineup, but they're wrong. Sure, Prior and Wood are swell, but the Cubs have so little starting depth that they're looking at exhuming the corpse of Three-Finger Brown to start Game 3. And the Braves are saddled with the Vinny Castilla Factor. Namely, any team that starts Vinny Castilla at third base is doomed, because Castilla is an overpaid slacker and I hate him. In the end, though, this matchup is going to come down to the fans. Wrigley Field will be packed to the rafters with long-suffering fans screaming their lungs out and lighting up several city blocks with their raw rooting energy. Turner Field will have about 6,000 scattered fans on cellphones who will be too busy yawning and asking each other, "Is it the World Series yet?" to do the Racist Tomahawk Chop with their usual enthusiasm.

PICK: Cubs in 5

Florida Marlins vs. San Francisco Giants

Ordinarily, I'd pick the Marlins to buck the experts and make the Young American happy, but there are circumstances here. Specifically, my childhood hero, Benito Santiago, is catching for the Giants. Still. Santiago is almost 40. Catching is the most physically demanding position in baseball. Most quality catchers are finished by their mid-30s. And most catchers haven't been in life-threatening automobile accidents which nearly left them unable to walk, as Santiago did in 1998. But not only is Santiago still walking, and still catching, he's one of the better catchers in the game. Still. He was the NLCS MVP last year. He hit .279 with 11 homers and 56 RBI in 108 games this season. And he's still capable of throwing out base stealers from his knees. And to think he became my hero as a kid just because I liked the sound of his name.

PICK: Giants in 4

American League

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees

The Yankees suffer a hugely stunning upset. Giambi, Soriano and Jeter go 0-for-the-series. The pitching staff falls apart like an old jalopy. After the series, George Steinbrenner is so disgusted that he sells the team for the $10 million he purchased it for in 1973. After Steinbrenner sells, Commissioner Selig bans him from any future involvement with the game for "conduct detrimental to the game." The Yankees auction off all their good players and enter into a 50-year Series-less odyssey of mediocrity.

PICK: Twins in 3

Sorry, had to get that out of my system. But it was fun, wasn't it? I really want to pick the Twins here. I'd love to. And the Twins have been the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star Break. But the Yankees rolled to a 101-61 season despite having looking thoroughly unimpressive all year. (Or so claims my dad.)

PICK: Sigh. Yankees in 5. Dammit.

Oakland A's vs. Boston Red Sox

Okay, it's time to go against the grain. All the so-called experts are picking the Red Sox to win this one. Well, I'm not. Why not? Because pitching is the key in a short series, and the A's are loaded for bear, even if Mark Mulder doesn't come back. Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Rich Harden are a formidable trio. Meanwhile, the Red Sox counter with fragile diva Pedro Martinez and a bunch of #3 starters. The Sawx have got plenty of hitting, but good pitching stops good hitting. Have I used enough cliches yet? Probably not. Boston fans will be madder than a wet hen if they lose this one. Look on the bright side, though, fans: if you win this, you're just going to get mulched by the Yankees next round. Why go to the trouble? And to all you opposing general managers who think A's GM Billy Beane is an egotistical jerk, just imagine how much more egotistical he'll be if he actually wins a playoff series.

PICK: A's in 5

LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

National League

Chicago Cubs vs. San Francisco Giants

Also known as Dusty Baker's Old Home Week. Personally, I loved it last year when Dusty invited all the players to let their kids hang out in the dugout during the playoffs. The killjoys at MLB squashed the plan for the future on safety grounds, but who didn't love seeing all those little kids running around and cheering for their dads? It was cute. Oh, am I supposed to be making a pick here? This is a tough call. It's Dusty's toothpick vs. the Santiago Mojo. Prior and Wood vs. Bonds. Chicago Dogs vs. sushi. Best old park vs. best new park. But Barry's dad just died, so let's give it to him.

PICK: Giants in 7.

American League

Oakland A's vs. New York Yankees

Also known as The Same Series That Happens Every Year. And every year, the Yankees win. Which ticks me off. Not just because I hate the Yankees, but because if I pick them, that means I'm picking a Yankees-Giants World Series like everybody else. Arrrrggghhh. Is there anything good about the Yanks winning? Other than Karim Garcia finally capturing that elusive Series ring? Or Luis Sojo getting a Series title and an AARP membership card at the same time? I'm torn.

PICK: A's... no... Yankees... augh.... A... Yan... grr. Yankees in 7. I hate myself.

WORLD SERIES

New York Yankees vs. San Francisco Giants

A series with a classic feel, and not just going back to the old days when the Giants called the Polo Grounds home. This would be a replay of the 1962 World Series, a 7-game classic won by the Yankees, leading to the famous Charlie Brown lament, "WHY COULDN'T MCCOVEY HAVE HIT THE BALL JUST THREE FEET HIGHER?" This series should go 7, as well. These teams are well-matched, and both are ready to win. The Giants are hoping to erase the bitter memories of last year's collapse, while the Yankees have to win or Joe Torre and Don Zimmer will be cleaning the Slurpee machines at a 7-11 in Brooklyn this time next year. Don't forget that the Santiago Mojo is still in effect, and that Bonds is playing this season in memory of his dad. The head still says the Yankees take it, but why pick with your head? If the Yankees lose, they can go home and fondle their other World Series rings. It means more to the Giants. Manager Felipe Alou had his best Series chance ripped away by the '94 strike (his Expos had the best record in the National League at the time). Bonds is arguably the greatest player of our time, and he's never won a championship. I know he has a reputation as a grump, but anyone who could root for him to fail this year is a ghoul. And, of course, there's my hero, Santiago. He's never won a championship either. Please let this happen.

PICK: Giants in 7

Disclaimer: If these picks are not absolutely, positively 100% correct, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. And if you attempt to use these picks as the basis for any sort of cash wager, you deserve what you get.

* * * * *

Well, I'd go ahead and throw a couple links in at this point, but who cares? It's playoff time! Go watch the games! And let me know what's going on in the late games... I'll be at an event downtown tonight at the behest of The Smart Lady. Stay healthy, and I'll see you tomorrow. 
Monday, September 29, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Hello Again" by the Cars

IT'S A BEAUTIFUL MORNING

Hello, all! I hope everyone had a great weekend. I'm a little tired out, but I'm feeling okay. The pain in my muscles is subsiding, and I'm grinning to beat the band. (Why? More on this anon.) Since it's Monday, that must mean it's time for Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, our romantic-advice columnists.

Today's column is postmarked from Chicago, where they are apparently helping the city celebrate the Cubs' division championship. There are two notes on the back of the envelope. One is in Uncle Millie's handwriting, and it says "Cubs win! Cubs win! Come join the party!" The other note, which appears to be from Aunt Beatrice, says, "Save me. Spare me this madhouse. We've spent the entire weekend on Rush Street. The madness must end." Sounds like a wild time. I almost wish I was there. That said, take it away, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice!

- - - - -

Ignorance Is (Wedded) Bliss, by Uncle Millie (with Aunt Beatrice)

UM: Hello, lads, and top of the morning from the Windy City! It's a nonstop party here, and it has been since my Cubs clinched themselves their first division title since 1989. This is the year! I can feel it!

AB: I can feel my head pounding.

UM: Well, let's get straightaway to the letters, shall we?

AB: Do we have to do this in the bar? I can't hear myself think. Can't we go back to the hotel?

UM: And pay minibar prices? You must be mad! On with the letters.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I'm 25, living in a tiny little apartment and saving my money whenever I can. I want to get out on the dating scene, but it's so expensive. You have to buy fancy clothes, pay to get into clubs, buy women drinks, pay for them on dates, and on and on. I'm not made of money -- even my dinky little apartment is outrageously expensive, and I'm not making much with my job. Do you have any suggestions for cheap dates?

Penny-Savin' Pete in San Francisco


UM: Cheap dates? Why, sure, I know a few in your area. Why don't you try Melanie? Her number is (415)-

AB: No, dear, he means cheap date ideas.

UM: Oh. Well. The way I look at it, the whole dating game is basically a giant scam to get your money, so I don't see how you can avoid paying up. If they don't get you up front, they'll get you in the end. You might as well get used to ponying up, lad.

AB: You're being ridiculous. There are plenty of ways you can reduce the cost of dates. Rather than going to those expensive clubs, why not go to a coffee house that plays music too? Instead of taking her out to dinner, start with lunch. And there are any number of free events for people who know where to look.

UM: Oh, sure, free events. You can go down to the bus station and listen to the homeless guy play "Uncle John's Band" on the harmonica. Trust me, lad, dating is an investment. You get out what you put in.

AB: That's not true. It's not the money that counts, it's the thought you put into them. A well-planned cheap date will go over a lot better than just throwing money at her.

UM: Aww, that's sweet. Isn't she charming, folks? Isn't it delightful how innocent she is? Even at the age of-

AB: Watch it, buster.

UM: No matter. She's a feisty one, isn't she? That's why I love her.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I've got a problem. I'm 27, been dating my girlfriend for three weeks, and now she's mad at me. I can't figure out why.

It started last weekend, when we went out dancing. Ballroom dancing, if you can believe it. Crapola, I know, but I like to humor her. Well, in between dances this creep comes up to her and starts trying to make her. So, naturally, I punched him in the face. Next thing you know, we're all out on our asses, and now she won't speak to me.

She seems to think what I did was "inappropriate." So I said, "Well, that jackass trying to put his mitts on my best girl was acting pretty damn inappropriate." And so she says, "That was my brother!" Yeah, right. Ain't no brother come on to his sister like that, outside of West Virginia, anyway. She claims he was asking if she'd gotten over her cold. Uh-huh. I know a player when I see one.

To top it all off, we're banned from the dance studio now. This suits me fine -- I'd be happy to never waltz again -- but now she won't do any horizontal dancing either, if you catch my drift. How can I convince her that she's being a hard-headed bitch about all this?

Lou in East Stroudsburg


AB: Lou, you have an anger-management problem. You can't go around slugging people on a whim. That's not a healthy way to live.

UM: Whoa, whoa, back up the stagecoach. A man has to protect his woman from unwanted advances.

AB: There wasn't any unwanted advance. He got himself worked into a jealous rage over something perfectly innocent.

UM: Are you saying you wouldn't want me to protect you if some slobbering Casanova started pawing your knockers?

AB: That's a lovely image.

UM: You're avoiding the question.

AB: Well, I wouldn't want you punching my brother if he was asking about my health.

UM: You don't have a brother.

AB: You're missing my point.

UM: Apparently.

AB: Lou, you've got a problem, and you should seek counseling for it. Now, before you wind up in jail or dead.

UM: Ignore her, lad. Your anger isn't the problem. The problem is that your wife is two-timing you.

AB: What?!

UM: Look at the signs. She's receiving the attentions of other men. She gets mad at him for putting the intruder in his place. And now she's withholding sex. Sounds like she's got a little sideshow going on.

AB: I'm speechless.

UM: Amazed how quickly I figured it out, are you?

AB: I'm amazed, all right.

Dear Aunt Beatrice,

I'm a 26-year-old woman, and I have a question for you. Why did you marry Uncle Millie? What do you see in him? As best as I can tell, he's a disgusting slob, a raging alocoholic, a chauvinist pig, an egomaniacal jerk, and a remorseless womanizer. You seem like a bright, charming and capable woman. Couldn't you, you know, do better?

Erica in Manassas


AB: Well, Erica, Uncle Millie certainly has his flaws.

UM: You've got the right of that, my dear. I'm not God. No matter how many times you scream "Oh God" when we're in bed and I-

AB: Hush up. I have the floor.

UM: Yes, dear.

AB: As I was saying, Uncle Millie has his flaws. But his bark is worse than his bite. And he has compensating virtues. He's very charming, if you get to know him.

UM: That I am.

AB: Despite his reputation, he treats me very well.

UM: I always greet her with open arms and open wallet.

AB: Didn't I tell you to hush?

UM: Sorry.

AB: He does treat me well. And, well, you can't explain love. I do love him, and that's all there is to it.

UM: Also, I'm hung like Mister Ed.

AB: Millie! I'm blushing!

UM: I know. It looks lovely on you.

AB: That is an inappropriate subject for discussion.

UM: All right, fine. I'm sorry.

AB: Besides, you are not.

UM: Hey!

- - - - -

Well, um, thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. That was... enlightening. I'm sure we're all looking forward to next week's column.

Well, I have some bad news for all you readers. Just when you thought the saccharine sighing was over and done with, it's making a comeback. That's right... The Smart Lady and I are back together. How does it feel? Well, I'll let you know when my feet touch the ground again. Every once in a while, if you're lucky, life hands you a second chance. So I'm grateful, to say the least. Who wouldn't be? My worst day with The Smart Lady is better than the best day I ever had without her. How did it happen? Well, we both realized that, in the end, what we wanted more than anything was to be together. Pretty simple, I suppose. Anyhow, prepare for a return to fawning. I hope it makes Hammerin' Hank sick to his stomach.

ESPN's Jim Caple barbecues the Tigers' lousy season in his Off Base column. Definitely worth a look, and a laugh.

Finally, a moment of silence for song-and-dance man Donald O'Connor, women's tennis pioneer Althea Gibson, and director Elia Kazan, all of whom passed away last weekend, in fragrant defiance of my moratorium on celebrity deaths, announced last week. I was busy this weekend memorializing Gordon Jump with the help of TV Land, which showed blocks of "WKRP in Cincinnati" in the wee hours Saturday and Sunday morning. What a brilliant show. It deserves a slot in the regular TV Land lineup.

Anyway, I'm done for today. Back to floating on air. Tuesday will bring my baseball playoff preview. See you then. 
Friday, September 26, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Can't Explain" by The Who

PASS THE TYLENOL, PLEASE

Greetings, friends. Back now from the company picnic, where a good time was had by all, thanks in no small part to the malt beverages available. After lunch, the gathering took on a sort of grade-school quality as we retired to the athletic fields for spirited matches of tug-o-war, dodgeball and kickball. (I kid you not.) I was the winning pitcher in dodgeball, surviving shaky alcohol-slowed fielding to gut out a solid 5 1/3 innings, kind of like a shorter and much slower Randy Johnson. I was not carried off the field on the shoulders of my grateful teammates, but I did receive several high-fives. The fond memories of my teammates' gratitude is almost enough to make up for the fact that every single muscle in my body hurts, including several muscles I didn't know I had. But such is life when you combine a non-existent fitness regimen with a laughable need for overexertion at any competitive sporting event. Ah, well, I'll be all right. One of these weeks.

The pain is keeping me from focusing on any particular subject, which means it must be time for another "potpourri" column. You have my apologies in advance.

I didn't have the chance to watch the whole California gubernatorial debate, so I don't know if it was really the food-fight free-for-all that the clips made it appear, or the high-spirited exchange of ideas that some commenators insisted it was. I do think that Cruz Bustamante's apparent strategy of being "Mr. Competent" is probably not the best approach to take in a recall election that's been a three-ring circus since Day One. On the other hand, I'm not sure what other approach he can take, since he appears to have all the charm and charisma of an automatic teller machine.

I also wanted to take a minute to defend the moderator of the debate, Stan Statham, who was blasted roundly for letting the candidates ramble on, talk over each other and throw verbal rabbit punches with alarming frequency. While I agree that Statham did not come of as a strong disciplinary force, I can still sympathize with him, for I have been in his shoes. I participated in a political discussion group in high school, for which I served as moderator. This was a group of perhaps 20 members, and there was no keeping them on any sort of track. I'd throw out a topic, such as abortion rights, and someone would raise his or her hand. I'd call on him or her, and he or she would begin to make an eloquent, impassioned argument for one side or the other. Unfortunately, he or she would be cut off after 10 seconds by someone else, who thought the first speaker was either a godless baby-killer or an upright religious wack job. Before I could shut the interrupter up, someone else would chime in that, "Who cares about abortion when the country is being run by thieves?" Shortly thereafter, 10 or 15 people would be embroiled in a fierce discussion about just how much of the goverment was actually run by thieves, at which point I would usually turn to the club president for help. Except that he was invariably involved in a side discussion with someone else. And then the miscreants in the back of the room, who only used the group as an excuse to cut class, would start dancing on the tables or playing with bullwhips or some other miscreant sort of activity. There were perhaps 5 people in the room who seemed sane and reasonable and had actually spent some time thinking about their political philosophy, and whenever these people put their hands up I'd call on them immediately, my eyes lighting up with near-worshipful gratitude. Unfortunately, all these people were too polite to demand the floor when one of the other idiots snatched it away. It added up to one long tension headache. Watching the clips of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington snarling at each other brought back memories for me. Having been where Statham was, I don't blame him a bit.

I also saw some of the Democratic presidential debate in New York. Apparently Howard Dean showed flashes of temper, which was a real shocker. In other news, Osama bin Laden hates the United States, the sun rose in the east, and Dennis Kucinich made some wacky left-wing statement that no electable candidate could get away with. What really struck me about the debate, though, was Wesley Clark. (I know it's starting to look like I have a Wesley Clark fixation, but what can I say? He's news at the moment.) I don't really have any idea what Clark actually said, but I happened to be looking down when Clark started speaking, and I wondered briefly, "Why is George W. Bush being permitted to speak at this debate?" Then I looked up... and it was Clark! He sounds almost exactly like President Bush. The same pitch and timbre, the same modestly-down-home Southern accent, the same habit of swallowing certain words. If Clark captures the nomination, and the two of them debate, and you're listening on the radio, how will you be able to tell them apart? Someone should think about this, before it's too late.

South Dakota Rep. Bill Janklow was in court today, pleading innocent to second-degree manslaughter in the fatal accident he caused by driving well over the speed limit and striking a motorcyclist at an intersection. Janklow said he was very sorry, and I'm sure he is. But you really have to have a pair on you to plead innocent here, in my opinion. I don't think he can credibly claim that someone else struck the motorcyclist, inasmuch as they found the guy's motorcycle in the side of Janklow's car. The reason Janklow pled innocent, I suspect, is that your voting privileges on the House floor are suspended if you plead guilty to a felony. Still, though, Janklow has to know he's only delaying the inevitable. He'd look a lot better if he just resigned.

E.J. Dionne of the Post weighs in with a pretty good editorial that the California debate, wild and raucous as it was, was actually a good thing. Something about the Candidates Unplugged feeling of it all, the fact that they got off their scripted sound bites in order to fire unscripted potshots at each other. Personally, I'm not certain this is progress, but Dionne makes a good case.

The Smart Lady had a couple nice posts today. Her post on terrorism is one of the smartest things I've read on the subject in some time. And her item on the official government poverty formula is well-argued, plus it gave me a warm and fuzzy glow, since she and I used to sit next to each other in that Economics of Welfare Reform class. Sigh.

Finally, a moment of silence for two high-profile deaths. (Again.) One wasn't a huge surprise, that being the renowned if underrated man of letters George Plimpton, who died at age 76. I very much enjoyed his essay "Out of My League," in which he worked out with a major-league baseball team, as well as his legendary April Fool's article in Sports Illustrated about the supposed great pitching prospect Sidd Finch, who used Buddhist principles to throw a 168-MPH fastball. A more shocking death was that of rock singer Robert Palmer, who passed away at age 54 from a heart attack. I admit I was not a big Robert Palmer fan -- he wasn't a great singer and his songs relied to heavily on overheated guitar rhythms -- but the man had style, and no one deserves to die so young. Can we have a moratorium on celebrity deaths for a while? This has been a bad month.

But at least it's almost over. Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice (who were, at last report, still married) will be back on Monday, so I hope to see you all then. Enjoy your weekend. 
Thursday, September 25, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Freeze Frame" by J. Geils Band

GRAPPLING WITH THE DEEPER ISSUES

Greetings, all. I must admit to feeling a significant degree of consternation today. It started, as so many philosophical quandaries do, while making a list for the grocery store. I was trying to decide what cookies to put on the list, and I was overwhelmed by a desire for Oreos. I openly admit an addiction to those blessed little sandwich cookies. It's a simple formula -- two choclate cookies with a smattering of cream between -- but it's often said that simple pleasures are the best kind. I've never eaten my way through a whole package at one sitting, but I have on occasion been tempted. Online funnyman Lore Sjoberg said it best: "When I don't have them I want them the way a lab monkey wants heroin." And like heroin, the real thing is all that will do: knockoffs like Hydrox, or store-brand imitations, are false idols. I've often wondered if Big Tobacco, sensing that the cigarette industry had no future, started slipping nicotine into Oreos.

But I'm not here today to chronicle my unsettling Oreo obsession. No, I'm here to decry the practices of the Nabisco Company, manufacturer of the Oreo, for its appalling Oreo-related corporate practices. You'd think that having a nation full of Oreo junkies would be enough for Nabisco, but no, they're after our very souls. I refer, of course, to their two-fold strategy for world hegemony: the Oreo commercials, and the ever-expanding product line.

I'm sure some of you see this as proof positive that I have finally and irretrievably lost it. "The crusade against the new Five Flavor Life Savers was one thing," you probably think, "but Oreos as an instrument of world domination? Is the local mental-health facility taking reservations?" Fine, go ahead and scoff. But as I will demonstrate, the innocuous-seeming Oreo is threatening to redefine the world order as we know. Ignore my warning at your peril.

Let's begin with the commercials. Those of you with any experience with American television have probably seen them: A cheerful older person attempts to instruct an apple-cheeked younger person in the art of consuming an Oreo properly, a move which entails twisting off one cookie, licking out the filling, then dunking the cookie in milk. The younger person makes a fumbling attempt at imitating, then the two smile winsomely. The familial warmth is so thick you could cut it with a chainsaw. On the surface, this just seems like an attempt at a vague sort of nostalgia: "Oreo is a carefully-guarded family tradition." (Personally, I'd like to see commercials for certain other family traditions, such as the heartwarming moment when Dad buys little Johnny his first pint of Jack Daniels. But I dgress.) Looking deeper, though, the Oreo commercial is exposed as little more than a totalitarian training video.

For starters, since when is there a right way to eat an Oreo? I find the method they demonstrate highly suspicious. For one thing, it's counterintuitive. Sandwich cookies are clearly designed to be eaten like... sandwiches. Hold it horizontally, and bite, bite, bite and so forth until your finished. Have you ever tried to eat your PB&J by pulling it apart, licking out the filling and dunking the bread in your drink? Makes no sense. Also, it looks kind of disgusting. Furthermore, why do they bother carefully calibrating the cream-to-cookie ratio if you're not supposed to eat them at the same time? The lick-and-dunk method is an abomination. But what really gets me is the fact that all the older people demonstrating the "right" way to eat an Oreo use exactly the same method. Does the Nabisco Corporation expect us to believe that a whole generation of Americans simultaneously decided to eat their Oreos in the same counterintuitive manner? Of course not. Rather, Nabisco is beaming subconscious messages to our nation's youth: "There is only one way to eat an Oreo. Let us show you The Way. Ignore those who try to convince you otherwise. We, and we alone, know The Way." Once they've managed to brainwash the next generation into the stupid lick-and-dunk, they probably figure (with some justification) that they can convince them of anything, including backing a Nabisco-controlled stooge as Supreme World Dictator when the time comes. Not that the fuzzy nostalgia-oriented ads mention this.

Nabisco is now resorting to bribes to convince young people to see things their way. They now have a contest wherein certain Oreo packages contain special cookies that could win you a good deal of money. How can you tell if you have a winner? Because it turns your milk blue when you dunk it. I never dunk my cookies. They go all soggy and mushy, and I hate that. So how will I know if I've won? I won't! Hmmmm.

Clearly, Nabisco is using Oreo ads, in conjunction with the addictive power of the cookie, to create an army of foot soldiers willing to do its demonic bidding. But what if (horror of horrors) the Oreo formula just doesn't do it for you? No problem, Nabisco has this covered. Basically, they're subtly but unrelentingly expanding the line of "Oreo" products to the point that "Oreo" is more of a general benediction than a reference to any specific product.

When I was a kid, Oreo life was simple. You had the original formula, which came in the blue package, and the Double Stuf, which had twice the cream of the regular and came in a pinkish-purple package. Like a lot of children, my food pyramid was planted on a foundation of sugar, so I constantly agitated for the Double Stuf. My mother wouldn't get them, though, since Dad didn't like the cream, and would actually scrape it out before eating. (Can you imagine?) Eventually, I worked out a deal wherein Dad would scrape out the cream from his cookies and give it to me, and I'd make my own version of the Double Stuf. Domestic harmony was thus restored (except when I had a few Oreos too many and started running around like a gerbil on a cocaine high).

Nowadays, though, the Oreo line is a bloated leviathan, threatening to swallow the entire cookie industry in its gaping maw. According to the Oreo Web site, there are now the following versions:

Original Oreo
Mini Oreo
Chocolate Creme Oreo
Chocolate Creme Mini Oreo
Reduced Fat Oreo
Oreo Double Stuf
Fudge Covered Oreo
Fudge Mint Covered Oreo
Double Delight Oreo Peanut Butter & Chocolate
Double Delight Oreo Mint 'n Creme
Football Oreo

On their own, any of these may seem like a fairly innocent extension of the Oreo line. As a group, though, they send a clear message: the good old days of Oreo purity are gone. If we can dream it up, we'll call it an Oreo.

By way of proof, consider the above-mentioned Mini Oreos, which I once consumed. During the consumption process, I was struck by the fact that Mini Oreos don't taste like regular Oreos at all. They taste more like midly chocolate-flavored dog biscuits. Their only resemblance to Oreos is in shape, and half of them were missing a cookie, leacing these beastly little open-face creations that tended to stick to the inside of the bag. If those were Oreos, then I can become President of the United States by legally changing my first name to "President."

By this time, I'd realized that, by Nabisco's lights, anything consisting of cream between two chocolate cookies was liable to be called "Oreo." Then even that definition went out the window. One day I was in my neighborhood grocery store and spotted a display featuring "Uh Oh! Oreos." What is this? Upon further inspection, I discovered that these were vanilla cookies with chocolate filling. Nabisco attempted to make it a joke, claiming that the factory mistakenly got the filling and cookies reversed, but I realized then, with sinking stomach, that they were firing a shot across the bow. The Oreo is no longer sacred. At this point, it could mean any kind of cookie.

But why stop there? I think Nabisco will carry this brand-extension strategy still farther. Keep an eye out for Oreo peanut butter, Oreo salad dressing and Oreo spaghetti sauce. A few months down the road, perhaps they'll try Oreo steaks. Then they'll branch out beyond the whole food category and give us Oreo cars and Oreo clothing. And once they've gotten that far, they'll have us convinced that "Oreo" is a term without any specific meaning, but that anything with the Oreo name is good. Once they've done that, then it's only a short step to rolling out Supreme World Dictator Oreo. The man who will be some day be branded Oreo and sent out to rule the planet may already be walking among us. (My guess is Wesley Clark.) Once he appears on the scene, legions of commercially-brainwashed zombies, in a Pavolvian reaction to the Oreo name, will be ready to do his bidding. Then all Nabisco has to do is unveil a new series of commercials featuring an older person showing an apple-cheeked younger person "the right way" to install a one-world government, followed by the young person fumbling with the safety on his sub-machine gun, followed by winsome laughs and familial warmth. Next thing you know, the addicted Oreo brigades will be spilling into the street chanting "Oreo is good... Oreo is good..." Bada-bing, bada-boom, Nabisco rules the planet. Once explained, the strategy seems so obvious it's chilling.

Now, some people may call this far-fetched. Some people may say that I'll have a different perspective on matters once my cold medication wears off. But I don't think so. I feel at once enlightened and burdened by my new knowledge. That is why I felt compelled to share it with you, The Reader, now. As soon as I figured it out. Even before the fever broke. Being the civic-minded individual that you no doubt are, you must have one question in mind: "What can we do to stop it?"

Friends, there's only one solution. We have to stop buying Oreo cookies. It's the secret narcotic ingredient that they slip in the cookies that makes their mind control possible. So tell your friends and neighbors not to buy any more of the demon cookies. For those of you who still have some around the house, you're probably thinking that finishing the package wouldn't hurt. Well, you're wrong! Even one more cookie could send you spiraling out of control into the grips of Oreo addiction.

So instead, perhaps you're thinking you'll throw them away. Wrong again! What if squirrels get into your garbage? Then they'll become Oreo addicts, and once Nabisco can figure out a way to market to squirrels (and I'm sure they will), they'll have a fresh army to back up their Supreme World Dictator. And then we're right back where we started.

No, there's only one solution. Send all your leftover Oreos to me. I'll see to it that they are disposed of in the proper manner. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make to ensure the safety of our planet. If I can't accomplish anything else with this blog, at least I can make the world a slightly better place. You're welcome.

Well, the Marlins survived a late Phillies rally to post a 6-5 win, putting themselves 3 games ahead with 4 to go. Put out the lights at the Vet. I'll roll out my playoff preview sometime in the next few days.

I saw something mildly intriguing on the Food Network last night: Sara Moulton was doing a show on bread, and she invited a Catholic brother over to share his bread-baking tips. The show didn't strike me as particularly riveting, so I was pretty much tuning it out until I happened to look up... and realized that the gentleman was missing his right arm from the elbow down. Talk about a surprise. The missing limb didn't slow down his baking, though. I found it fascinating to watch him work. When he was doing something like kneading or mixing the bread, he folded his right arm behind his back. But when he talked, he gestured with both arms, as if his right forearm was still there. I wonder if it's a reflex, or if he lost his arm later in life. At one point, Sara Moulton was kneading alongside him, and she unconciously began kneading with one hand, tucking her (perfectly functional) right arm behind her just as he did. He noticed this, and gently reminded her, "Sara, it's okay for you to use both hands." Overall, though, Sara did an admirable job not drawing attention to his disability, save for one memorable flub. At one point, the gentleman was explaining that disabled people needed certain accomodations to cook, such as lower countertops. Sara, who is not handicapped but is very short, burst out, "Well, I'm disabled! I demanded a lower countertop just for me." This slip of the tongue is pretty much par for the course for Sara, who's always been prone to verbal gaffes. It's why I like watching her show.

That's all for today. I promise to aim for more coherence tomorrow. Company picnic tomorrow (weather permitting), so my post will probably be later than usual. See you tomorrow.
 
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen

THE SPECTER OF HILLARY

Good day, all. I've decided to pick up a thread that Hammerin' Hank hit on in yesterday's idiocy, specifically the looming suspicion that Hillary Clinton is trying to find a way to insert herself in the 2004 presidential race. Primarily, those suspicions have swirled around the assumption that Wesley Clark is Hillary's stand-in for the primaries, and that at some point Clark would find a way to withdraw and throw his support to the junior senator from New York. (Notwithstanding the fact that he probably couldn't do this, and he certainly couldn't give her his campaign war chest, as some have suggested.) Senator Clinton has repeatedly denied any interest in running in 2004, as well as the suggestion that she's pulling the strings of the Clark campaign. I believe her denials, as it happens, but that's not my main area of interest here. My question is simple enough: why all the Hillary buzz? Why has she become such a fascination? I have a theory, and not one that's gotten a lot of play in the press. Simply put, love her or hate her, Hillary Clinton is a glimpse into our political future.

Most of the usual theories about the Hillary fascination have, in my opinion, logical holes. Let's look at a few of them, before exploring my contention.

One common argument posits that the groundswell for Hillary (and, to a degree, for Clark) reflects a dissatisfaction with the current field of candidates. I don't really buy this, especially given that five Democratic candidates (including Clark) are polling about even with President Bush in hypothetical matchups. Is John Kerry any worse a candidate than Bob Dole? Is Howard Dean a worse choice than Bill Clinton, or Jimmy Carter, or George W. Bush during their first campaigns? I don't really think most Americans are fixed enough on the campaign yet to be truly dissatisfied with the candidate pool. Which means the real complainers are the political journalists, who wish for Hillary to give them better storylines.

Slate's Timothy Noah contends that the Hillary boomlet is a Republican creation, designed to scare the GOP rank and file into supporting the president and ponying up contributions. Now, I don't doubt that the Republicans are hoping to use the Clintons as bogeymen, but I don't think Republicans are the only ones dreaming of a Hillary candidacy, as Noah suggests. After all, these polls that demonstrate Hillary's popularity relative to the rest of the Democratic field aren't coming out of thin air. Unless there's a concerted Republican effort to lie to pollsters, some form of support for Hillary exists.

Finally, some have suggested that Senator Clinton's support stems from the fact that she has star power, which the other candidates lack. There's definitely somerthing to this: Hillary has received much more national press than Dean or Kerry or Lieberman over the past decade, so she is a familiar face to the average voter. But there's a problem with this theory. Al Gore is similarly well-recognized, another Clinton-era face, and there was some rumbling about getting him to run in '04. But no one is suggesting that Clark would pull out and throw his support to Gore. Everyone believes Gore when he says he won't run. Why is Hillary different?

This gets to the heart of my theory: Hillary Clinton is the wave of the future in American politics. Some day, we will have a female president. It's only a matter of time. And Senator Clinton has all the key elements to be the first female president. People know this, subconsciously, and whether they like it or don't, they sense that Hillary is a potentially historic figure. That's why she's so fascinating... she could be the real thing.

So what attributes will the first female president have? For one thing, she'll have to be very well-known. That's one reason why Carol Moseley Braun has no shot: she's a fairly obscure one-term senator from Illinois. The mainstream media isn't going to take female candidates seriously unless they have reason to do so. And given her fame and name recognition, no one could dismiss a Hillary candidacy out of hand. Her reputation allows her to clear the first, and biggest, hurdle of legitimacy.

In addition, she'll have to be tough enough to deal with the swarm of media attention surrounding her. Call it the Jackie Robinson Factor. She has to be able to bear the crown of being the first. If she seems to wilt under the pressure, or (heaven forbid) cries in public, she's finished. And say what you will about Hillary, but no one has ever accused her of not being tough. Also, she's accustomed to media attention, including negative media attention, so she's not likely to suffer a meltdown.

The first female president will also need to be able to prove that she can play with the old boys' club in Washington, and is strong enough not to be used or manipulated by the power brokers. Hillary had ample oportunity to see the system at work during her disastrous tenure at the head of the health-care task force. (Yes, she failed at that, but often we learn more from failures than from successes.) Her term in the Senate has won praise so far from fellow legislators. She has proven she's capable of dealing with the political system, and wouldn't crumble at the first sign of resistance from a recalcitrant Congress.

In short, Hillary has the necessities to be the first female president. Her campaign wouldn't just be a sideshow. And whether Dean or Kerry would be a good president, neither one would be a historic figure, as Hillary would. That's the source of the fascination. Whether or not she'd be a good president, we don't yet know. But she seems capable, and certainly capable enough to win.

Of course, the Clark-as-stalking-horse scenario has more than a touch of condescension, if you ask me. Why would Hillary need Clark to stand in for her? She could run just fine on her own. The theory that Clark is really running for Hillary carries the unpleasant undertone that a woman couldn't win the nomination in her own right, and needs back-stage trickery in order to pull it off. As I said above, it's notable that no one ever suggests that Clark is standing in for Al Gore.

Some day, America will have a female president. And attitudes are shifting enough that "some day" could be soon. And arguably, Hillary Clinton is the woman best positioned to make a credible run for the White House. And at some level, beneath the talk of a "Clinton dynasty" or of Clark as a Clinton cat's paw, people recognize that fact. Who wouldn't want to see history in the making?

As regards Clark's candidacy: I think he's made the mistake of believing his own press. The media always have their "dream candidates," like Mario Cuomo and Colin Powell, but most such fellows were shrewd enough to realize that the canonization was a chimera. Once they actually entered the race, they'd descend from the pantheon into the regular-candidate fray, where gaffes and missteps are chronicled mercilessly. Clark will find this out in due time. He should have stayed out of it, collected his laurels, maybe gone on a speaking tour. "Undeclared dream candidate" can be a real gravy train if you play your cards right. Bad move, General.

Well, Round 1 of the NL Wild Card showdown goes to the Marlins, who rallied to beat the Phillies 5-4 last night. I'm grumpy, because I'm pulling for the Phils, but it should make my friend the Young American happy. He's been, as Dave Barry once joked, "a diehard Marlins fan since birth." (The Marlins came into existence in 1993. The Young American is a good deal older.)

Finally, a moment of silence for Gordon Jump, who died yesterday at age 71. Jump played Mr. Carlson, the station manager, on the great "WKRP in Cincinnati," as well as portraying the Maytag repairman for a number of years. If nothing else, Jump should be remembered as a great American for giving us this line (from WKRP): "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

That's all for now. This week seems to be running long. It's only Wednesday? Sigh. See you tomorrow. 
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Just What I Needed" by the Cars

WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN? ANYONE?

Greetings again, friends. I'm whistling a happy tune today, generally feeling in good spirits, much more invigorated than yesterday. The sun is shining through the clouds a little, and that's just peachy keen. I'm almost too cheerful to write, but write I shall. It's my duty to you, The Reader. So let me go get a soda and I'll come right back and get started.

Hey, gang, Hammerin' Hank here. I know you've missed me. I'm hijacking Freddy's computer... I just know he's in one of those syrupy-sweet moods that's a total pain in the ass to read. "Hi guys blah blah blah I'm so happy blah blah blah the world would be a better place if everyone could be as happy as me blah blah blah." Oh, stuff a cork in it. Screw the happy talk. I'm mad, and I'll tell you why.

Seems everyone's gone ga-ga over this Wesley Clark. "Ooooh, Wesley Clark! He's a general! And a Democrat! Oooooh! Call Ripley's Believe It or Not!" No sooner does he throw his hat in the ring than he rockets to the top of the Democratic field. He's so smart, so strong, and he has nice hair, they say. Well, I say bullshit. This guy's rep is way overinflated, and the sooner America wises up, the better.

To start with, so he's a general. Big deal. Do you remember him giving press conferences during Vietham? No? How about the Gulf War? Me either. Apparently, his big claim to fame is that he commanded the United States to victory in... Bosnia. Bosnia? We didn't fight a real war over there. We just dropped a few bombs and called it a day. I don't even know where Bosnia is. How can it be a real war if we don't even know where the country is? I know where Vietnam is. It's way the hell on the other side of the planet. And I know where the Gulf is. It's right next to Iraq, which is in the Middle East, or just south of New Orleans. Are we even sure there is such a place as "Bosnia"? Or did Clark make the country up, to pretend like he'd done something besides being a desk jockey his whole career? I think Fox News should investigate this, immediately.

Not only that, but all the papers keep saying he was "Supreme Commander of NATO." What a load of crap. I've never heard of this "NATO"; I bet he made it up again. But the title is a dead giveaway. It sounds like the dictator of a banana republic, or a title you might make up to impress a woman in a bar:

"Hey, baby, wanna sleep with a military man?"
"Military, huh? What's your rank?"
"I'm.... Supreme Commander."
"Well, hel-lo, sailor!"

So already it's obvious the guy is a congenital liar. Now he's trying to convince us that he's against the war in Iraq! And he calls himself a general. Everyone knows that a real military officer is basically a walking testosterone bomb, and given any opportunity to blow stuff up and kill people, they'll take it. So, "General," you're against a war in Iraq, huh? Some military man you are. I think he's less of real General than General Motors.

If you're looking for real military experience, look no farther than our incumbent President. George W. Bush never served in the regular military, no, but he was in the National Guard, more or less, and that counts for something. Also, you saw him strutting around on the deck of that aircraft carrier. This guy's military through and through! He had no problem filling out his flight suit, either, if you know what I mean. I'd like to see "General" Clark try that.

So, to sum up, (a) Wesley Clark lies about everything, (2) he probably wasn't even in the military, and (iii) even if he was, he's not a real military man like George W. Bush. And the Democrats actually expect people to vote for this guy? I'll bet his name isn't even "Wesley." It's probably something stupid, like "Marion" or "Francis." The truth will out.

You know what I think the real deal is with "General" Clark? I think he's not even a real person. I think he's a carefully constructed mask, underneath which is Hillary Rodham Clinton. I'm sure you've heard the rumors about Clark running as a surrogate for Hillary, then throwing his delegates to her at the convention. But I think they're taking it one step further. Clark won't even have to throw his votes to Hillary if... he really is Hillary! See how clever it is? It's just like those Clintons to come up with a diabolical plan like that. Did you know that the Clintons are actually ax murderers and they killed people for drugs and stored their bodies in the basement of the White House until the end of their term, when they started pardoning everybody to create a smokescreen so they could take the bodies out and-


Hank! What are you doing at my computer?

Giving the people what they want. A real man with real opinions.

What have you been writing? Let me see that... Hank, this is awful! Nothing in here is true. You're basically making up stories to smear Clark, about whom you probably know nothing.

You think I'm making this up, huh? Well, keep telling yourself that, pansy.

Huh?

The truth is out there. It will be revealed.

Get out of my chair and stay away from my blog, okay?

You're just jealous because your readers like me better than you.

They do not. Those letters were a fluke. I'll bet you wrote them.

What's that I smell? Could it be the aroma of sour grapes?

Oh, shut up, Hank.

Whatever. Sorry, folks, but Freddy's back. Back to your regularly scheduled snooze-a-thon.

Sorry about that. I should have known better than to leave the blog open while I was away. Now I don't have time to go back and write something else. My apologies.

The Dizzy Izzy cleanup continues apace. Almost all the schools are open again, buses and Metro are running back on a regular schedule, and the flood waters have largely receded. Of course, it did rain again last night, but now it seems like we've got a dry week ahead. Maybe. I hope. Please?

The Phillies and Marlins meet for a three-game series starting tonight. The Marlins hold the NL wild-card lead by one game. If one or the other sweeps, it's pretty much over. If the Marlins take two of three, they're definitely in the catbird seat. If the Phils take two of three, we're all even. That's the outcome I'm rooting for. I'm not ready for the fun to be over yet.

The MLB pennant races aren't the only ones going on in my world. The fantasy baseball league I created some years back is in the process of holding its championship series now. I'd fill you in on the details (and it's been a great series so far), but it would be meaningless unless you understood the background of the league. I'll explain all about it in a future post.

That's all for now. Pray for clear skies for the mid-Atlantic; we're tired of bailing the water out of our canoe. See you tomorrow. 
Monday, September 22, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Sleep Walk" by Santo and Johnny

BACK ON TRACK

Hello again, everyone. The flood waters are receding around the Fedroplex, power is slowly being restored, the federal government is back on the job, and so am I. I'm tanned (or at least as tan as I get, which isn't very), unrested (rough night sleeping... don't ask), and ready for another week. This being Monday, it's time for Uncle Millie. As promised, Uncle Millie is now co-writing his column with his new wife, Aunt Beatrice. Uncle Millie mailed in his column from what he calls an "undisclosed secret location," also known as his new homestead. He has asked me to inform readers who wish to send wedding gifts that they already have plenty of the usual housewares, and therefore readers should send along either cash or alcoholic beverages. I personally sent along a lovely flower arrangement, which I understand Uncle Millie attempted to swap for a pint of Jamison's Irish whiskey. Anyhow. Here are the newlyweds!

- - - - -

Introducing the Woman With Whom I Go Together Like Scotch and Soda, by Uncle Millie (with Aunt Beatrice)

Greetings, lads! I'm back from my honeymoon, settled into my new dwelling, and ready to present the lovely Aunt Beatrice, my eighth wife. Say hello to my vast and devoted readership, my dear.

AB: Hi. I'm Aunt Beatrice, and I'm here to bring a feminine perspective to this advice column. I've read the previous issues, and I've noticed a certain something missing from Uncle Millie's advice. Specifically, what we might call "the other side of the coin." Even though Uncle Millie's correspondents are usually male, I still feel they might benefit from a female point of view. There are certain finer points of relationship advice which Uncle Millie just isn't quite aware of. Such as the fact that one traditionally spends one's honeymoon with one's spouse, rather than, say, playing in the County Cork darts championship down at the pub.

UM: I said I was sorry. I happened to be walking by, and some hooligans dragged me in, plied me with whiskey and forced me to play against my will.

AB: For three straight days?

UM: They take darts very seriously in County Cork.

AB: As far as I could tell, the only thing they were taking seriously was the drinking.

UM: Can we move along?

AB: If you wish. Dear.

UM: Terrific! Let's go to our first question.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I'm 23, graduated from college last year, and starting out on my own here in the city. I've got a good job, a decent apartment, and I get out most every weekend. The problem is, I can't seem to meet anyone. Women here are so stuck up -- if you're not making six figures or working for some high-powered firm, they won't even give you the time of day. How do I get women's attention if I'm not a Wall Street wizard?

Walter in NYC


UM: Well, lad, this is a standard query for young men in your situation. The dating world is very competitive, and you've got to be prepared to make an impression. These women, when they go out to a club or similar venue, are shopping for a package. They want to land a real catch, a man with prospects, and you've got to demonstrate your prospects. It's all about image. Invest in a fancy Italian suit, the kind that says, "I'm going places," and wear that suit to the club every weekend. (Make sure to get it dry-cleaned occasionally.) Consider renting a high-end car, such as a Jaguar or a Rolls Royce, for arrivals. Before big dates, withdraw a wad of cash from your ATM, and stuff your pockets with $100 bills, the better to "grease the palm" of a recalcitrant bouncer, or for writing your phone number on. Have a friend call you on your cell phone, and pretend to be transacting major international business affairs right there on the dance floor. Subtle cues as these should be sufficient to convince women that you're the right kind of man for them. You'll be beating them off with a stick in no time.

AB: That's terrible advice. You don't want to get involved with women under false pretenses.

UM: You don't?

AB: Of course not! The kind of women who see a man as a wallet with legs aren't the kind of women who can really make you happy.

UM: They aren't?

AB: No. Forget about trying to make yourself out to be someone you're not. If the clubs in Manhattan are filled with social climbers, find someplace else to go. The theater, perhaps, or a poetry reading.

UM: You don't want the women at poetry readings. They wear earth tones all the time and don't shave their legs.

AB: That is not true. In fact, I'm offended by the stereotype. I go to poetry readings.

UM: Uh, well, yes. But you're the exception that proves the rule. Now that you're hitched to me, all the quality women at poetry readings are taken.

AB: Mm-hmm. Anyhow, Walter, ignore Uncle Millie. Don't go out of your way to impress women with flashy things. Win them over with your personality instead.

UM: Awful idea. Who has time for that? Stick with my advice, lad, and dazzle them with the facade.

AB: Women are not that shallow. They'll see through the con eventually.

UM: Yes, but probably not until after you've slept with them.

AB: You're disgusting. Remind me again why I married you.

UM: Because of my unique roguish charm.

AB: Oh. Right.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I'm 15, a sophomore in high school, and I've met a girl who I really like and who seems to like me. We eat lunch together and hang out after class, and we always have fun. The problem is, she smokes. I think smoking is gross... her breath stinks and her clothes smell like smoke all the time. And now she wants me to start smoking. I said I wouldn't, and she said, "I thought you were a real man." I really enjoy her company, except for the smoking. What should I do?

Mike in Schenectady


AB: Hi there, Mike. I think it's great that you don't wnat to start smoking. Uncle Millie and I both smoke, but I don't think either of us would recommend it to young people, especially those as young as yourself. It's a nasty habit, and very hard to stop once you've started.

UM: Enough with the preaching. This isn't the Holy Roller Bible Hour.

AB: All right. My point is, whether you smoke or not, that's not the real issue here. The point is that she doesn't respect your preferences. Trying to force you to smoke, and insulting your manhood, is not the behavior of someone who really cares about you. If she loved you for you, she'd respect your decision about smoking and not try to manipulate you out of it.

UM: Horse hockey. I mean, sure, sure, you don't want a woman who's going to try to manipulate you. God forbid you should marry a woman who's going to be nagging at you all the time. But in my experience, women who smoke are usually the most interesting kind. Take my beloved here.

AB: Well, thank you. But I'm not interesting because I smoke. I'm interesting because I've lived a varied and interesting life, and because I'm not afraid to speak my mind.

UM: Oh, boy, that's for sure.

AB: Anyhow.

UM: Yes. Women who smoke also are more likely to put out on the first date. Take my beloved-

AB: You keep that up, you're going to find out what it's like to be a monk for the rest of your life.

UM: Well. At any rate, you clearly think she's something special despite her smoking, yes? And clearly, she sees something in you, too. So why not try it once? It's not like it will kill you.

AB: Actually, it very well could. Don't you read the papers?

UM: You mean besides the sports section?

AB: Sigh.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I'm 38, married for 13 years, and my wife and I are in the midst of a real Cold War. She has a real shopping habit, so bad that it's threatening to affect our ability to pay the bills. I mentioned to her that I'd like her to cut back on the spending, and she just snapped. She said that if I paid as much attention to her as I should have, instead of spending every weekend at the sports bars, she wouldn't need to drown her sorrows in shopping. I tried to reason with her, but she wouldn't listen, and kept accusing me of being uncaring. So I threw her out of the house. That was three weeks ago. Now she indicates that she wants to patch things up, but I'm not sure I want to. Things have been a lot more fun without her around. Should I let her move back in?

Rick in Boonsboro


UM: Well, you had the right of it, lad. If she insists on being stubborn and refusing to have a productive discussion, sometimes drastic measures are necessary. Should you take her back? Well, if you think she's really seen the error of her ways and is ready to live within the budget and listen to what you say, then I'd say go for it. But be careful. She might just be saying what you want to hear to get you back.

AB: Well, wait a minute. What about him? Isn't it possible that she had a point, that he really isn't spending enough time with her, and that he threw her out of the house rather than having to face up to his own behavior? I think she might well be right.

UM: Sure, take her side. Obviously, you've never had to pay off credit-card bills compiled by a vengeful spouse who's getting even in the time-honored fashion, by spending you to the poorhouse.

AB: Well, I'm not saying she doesn't have a problem, if she's spending beyond their means. But I think he might need to examine his own behavior, rather than just focusing on what she may have done.

UM: Well, suppose he is tuning her out. Wouldn't you? If she's always nagging and telling him what a lousy husband he is, I'd say the sports bar would start looking pretty fine.

AB: You're one to talk. The bar looks fine to you all the time.

UM: For the last time, I said I was sorry about the darts.

AB: It's not just the darts. I think you're an alcoholic.

UM: I can hold my liquor.

AB: That doesn't have anything to do with it. You drink far too much. You're drinking right now.

UM: This is fuel for my creative fires, my dear! Just like last night. You remember.

AB: Well, yes.

UM: I don't recall you complaining about the results of my drinking last night.

AB: Well, no.

UM: So your disdain for drinking goes out the window when it comes to lovemaking, yes?

AB: Do we have to discuss this publicly?

UM: I'd rather discuss it privately.

AB: All right. You wrap up the column, and I'll light the candles.

UM: Well, lads, I must be off. Aunt Beatrice is a fine, fine woman, and I must take care of her needs. See you next week. Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, for that... graphic depiction of the gender gap. So to speak. Let's just move on.

Yesterday I spent a good deal of time hauling branches out of yards, in an attempt to assist with cleanup from Dizzy Izzy. As menial chores go, hauling branches is one of the better ones. You can see your task in front of you as you work, it provides a real sense of accomplishment when you're done, and there's a nice manly thrill in lugging chunks of fallen tree that you don't get from, say, vacuuming the rug. Almost enough to make me wish for another storm.

One thing I did not do, though, was watch the Emmy. I can't stand awards shows... as far as I'm concerned, it's just a chance for the television industry to gather around and pat itself on the back. So I don't have the slightest idea who wore what, or who won what, and I don't care. For those of you who do, however, I highly recommend The Smart Lady's alcohol-soaked running diary, which is a hoot and a half.

While ignoring the Emmys, I flipped through the channels and landed on one of those televangelists who preach in churches the size of the Rose Bowl. This particular one appeared to be based in Houston. His name is Joel Osteen, and he seems like a very nice man, the kind of guy I'd like to have for a neighbor. You just know he'd always clean up after his dog and not play his stereo too loud after dark. On this day, Reverend Joel was preaching about triumphing over your fleshly desires, which is always a gimcracking good topic for a sermon. What caught my eye, however, was that in the midst of running down the fleshly impulses we should avoid, he said, "And if you feel the urge to go on a shopping spree, resist it! Are you listening, Victoria?" He looked down into the audience at Victoria, his wife, a very pretty blond Stepford-wife-looking woman. She gave him a bland, "leave me out of this" smile. I wonder how things are going in the Osteen household since that sermon.

Pastor Joel represents one attitude toward religion. Then there's this one, courtesy of the late great Warren Zevon:

I like to think I've earned my reputation
For rushing in where angels fear to tread
I'll take you home to meet the congregation
We'll all get together in my tent

I make a dirty little religion out of lovin'
I'll make a dirty little convert out of you
I make a dirty little religion out of lovin'
I'll make a dirty little convert out of you

(For the complete lyics, click here.)

A big tip of the hat to the fine folks at Open Source Politics for selecting my posts on Deion Sanders and minor-league baseball as among the Best of the Web. Also, thanks to the fine folks who've left comments on the blog recently. I'd much rather read what you folks think than listen to myself go on and on. (And on.)

That's all for now. Cuddle up with the ones you love and enjoy the decent weather. See you tomorrow. 
Friday, September 19, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: A twofer! "Storm Front" by Billy Joel and "Dizzy" by Tommy Roe

DISPATCHES FROM AFTER THE STORM

Greetings, everybody. Dizzy Izzy blew out of town this morning and, other than a band of rain that passed through around tea time, we're in clean-up mode here in the Fedroplex. Over a million people are without power in the area, roughly a quarter of local residents. (The Smart Lady and Hammerin' Hank are powerless; my parents and I are not.) The water-treatment plants in my county are down, and so we have to boil our water before we do anything with it. (I have a pot on now.) I've still got power, phone and cable, though, not to mention still having a house, so I consider myself lucky. The feds were closed again, so a lot of local workers are in the midst of a four-day weekend. I took a walk around town this afternoon to assess the damage... a few downed trees and a lot of leaves and branches, but no major property damage, thank goodness. The local clean-up crews have done an excellent job clearing streets and walkways of debris. I spent most of my day clearing branches off the walking paths and watching local news coverage. A couple things that caught my attention:

Channel 4 (whose newscasts I watched) sent a bunch of reporters up and down the East Coast to locate scenes of destruction and misery, as local newscasts are wont to do. Their reports were fine, but one in particular caught my attention. I.J. Hudson was doing a report on how local residents were attempting to get back to normal, but apparently Channel 4 ran out of regular microphones, so I.J. was wearing one of those little clip-on microphones on his shirt. This meant that, whenever he was interviewing someone, he actually had to take the microphone off his shirt and hold it up in front of whomever he was interviewing. It looked absurd, like I was watching the $1.98 Newscast. Channel 4 might do well to invest in a few extra microphones, in case something like this happens again.

Also, during the weekly football pick-off, George Michael and Sonny Jurgenson both seemed off their game. George staggered through his analyses of the games and called the Seattle Seahawks the "Supersonics" without correcting himself. As for Sonny, he broke down the Denver-Oakland game this way: "Denver can win this game only if they keep the ball out of [Rich] Gannon's hands." Gannon is Oakland's quarterback. How can Denver possibly keep the ball out of his hands? Block the snaps? Trip Gannon in the parking lot? I imagine I'm being picky, but George and Sonny can surely do better.

And I come by my pickiness honestly. My mother and I were watching Governor Warner give an address updating Virginians on the extent of the damage and the progress of the cleanup efforts. As Governor Warner fiished giving totals of the number of Virginians without power and water, Mom said, "Someone needs to tell him to change his shirt. Black isn't his color." Other people might just be glad that the governor is safe and trying to reassure people during an emergency, but Mom is worried about whether his shirt matches his eyes. So Governor Warner, if you're reading this, change your shirt. Mom suggests a light blue.

Speaking of governors, Maryland's effervescent Bobby Ehrlich is setting new standards for gubernatorial pissiness. A little background: Ehrlich was elected governor last year, promising to set Maryland's finances in order. He planned to do so by legalizing slot-machine gambling in the state and raking in the proceeds. Upon his election, Ehrlich discovered that the General Assembly didn't think much of his plan, and refused to authorize it. Ever since, Ehrlich has behaved like a spoiled child whose favorite toy had been taken away. He announced that the impending budget shortfall would require huge cuts, unless the Assembly would permit slots. The Assembly stood firm. So Ehrlich, true to his word, called for a budget with huge funding cuts, particularly in education. Donald Langenburg, former chancellor of the University of Maryland and still a researcher in the system, wrote a letter to the Baltimore Sun denouncing the cuts. And now Ehrlich, backed by Comptroller and former governor William Donald Schaefer, has demaned that Landenburg be fired, "saying [Landenburg] has no business collecting a six-figure state salary while criticizing their policies."

Well. I understand Schaefer's position; he's had a career-long love affair with the sound of his own voice, and would pretty much say anything to get himself in the papers. But if Governor Ehrlich is really this thin-skinned, he has no business in politics, where debate and compromise are part of the territory. (This isn't an isolated incident, either; the chairman of the Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus wrote a letter to Ehrlich asking him to hire more Latinos, and the state GOP replied by cutting all ties with the caucus.) Ehrlich needs to understand that hissy fits like this only make him look bad. And state GOP leaders should have a talk with Ehrlich and try to rein him in. Maryland is a heavily Democratic state, and Republicans can't afford to waste their rare shots at the governorship with vengeful bullies like Ehrlich.

Well, if you'll excuse me, I'll be shoving along for now. A&E is showing a Biography of Janis Joplin, on whom I've always had an enormous crush, so I'm going to watch it. Have a fine weekend, and I'll see you Monday. 
Thursday, September 18, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Rock You Like a Hurricane," by the Scorpions

ISABEL IS COMING! ISABEL IS COMING!

I think. It seems to be. Sooner or later. Right? At the moment, the Fedroplex is bracing itself for the arrival of Dizzy Izzy. Our hatches our battened. We are stocked up on toilet paper. We've had steady rain for the last couple hours, and occasional gusts of wind, but so far nothing special. The Weather Channel is forecasting 4-8 inches of rain for our area, which is a lot, but thus far it's just been a regular September storm. As the hurricane approaches, I've noticed at least two species of idiotic weather-related behavior.

The first weather-related idiocy is that the Fedroplex shut itself down completely. Metro started it, by announcing last night that it would shut down its system entirely at 11 AM today. This pretty much forced the federal government to shut down, and many private downtown businesses (including mine) followed suit -- a lot of downtown workers rely on Metro to get into work, and no one wanted to get stranded in the city. All this is well and good... except that, as of 11 AM this morning, it wasn't even raining. So, courtesy of the overreactive hissy fit by Metro, I got a free day off work. Thanks, Metro! Marc Fisher correctly called the overreaction in this morning's column in the Post. And since the bulk of Dizzy Izzy's rain and wind will actually be showing up tonight and tomorrow morning, they'll surely have to shut everything down again tomorrow. Four-day weekend! I live in the wimpiest weather city in America.

On the other end of the idiocy scale, there's the morons on the Outer Banks of North Carolina who refused to evacuate, vowing to stick out the storm. One story I read this morning said that those who were staying behind were stocking up on booze, and that "Outer Banks residents generally think that hurricanes are best observed through the bottom of a beer bottle." That's a great idea! Not only do they refuse to leave the danger zone, they vow to face the storm loaded to the gills on Miller Lite. I hope and pray that none of these people is seriously hurt, but if they are... you did it to yourselves.

I know Outer Banks residents pride themselves on laughing in the face of hurricane doom. My family used to vacation down there, and I recall one T-shirt shop carrying shirts with the slogans "Fooled by Felix!" and "Goofy Gordon," in honor of two hurricanes which had been forecast to smash the Outer Banks, but wound up taking unexpected swings and blowing back out to sea. I know hurricanes aren't always everything they're cracked up to be. But the weather experts were unanimous in saying that Dizzy Izzy was the real deal. Sticking this one out was a mistake.

Further up the coast, they moved the starting time of today's Orioles-Yanks game in Baltimore from 7 PM to 12:35, in order to try to beat the storm. Didn't work; they got rained out after 5 innings in a 1-1 tie before a vigorous crowd of perhaps 200 fans. Incidentally, the Woe-rioles should have won the game; their leadoff hitter in the bottom of the fifth smacked a double. But they managed to dumb themselves out of victory when the next batter blew a bunt, and the aforementioned leadoff runner got himself hung up in a rundown on a single to left because the third-base coach didn't tell him whether to stop or go. I hope Peter Antichrist was watching the game.

So, Wesley Clark is in the Democratic presidential race now (I managed to catch that headline in between Dizzy Izzy panic-attack updates.) Optimistic Democrats say he's the candidate with the dream resume: military background, former four-star general, a political outsider, Rhodes Scholar, from a southern state. The people will love him! Except that, by many accounts, no one who's met him actually seems to like him. Resumes don't win elections; these days, they're pretty much decided on personality. So Clark will have to demonstrate that he has one, if he's to win.

Thomas Boswell weighed in this morning with a fine column in the Post praising old-school baseball managers Larry Bowa and Jack McKeon. "Old-school" here is defined as "cranky and disinclined to take crap from players." Boswell's column warmed my little curmudgeonly heart, I tell you.

ESPN's Jim Caple wrote a column a couple days ago arguing that the University of Mississippi's mascot, Colonel Reb, has to go. I agree with him, out of consistency with my stands against other distasteful mascots, like the Washington Redskin and Cleveland's Chief Wahoo. Colonel Reb is a southern gentleman with white hair and a beard... who looks like he's looking for his bullwhip so he can go punish his field hands for not picking cotton fast enough. Caple also points out that tradition does not sanctify Colonel Reb; he debuted in the 1970s. Colonel Reb must go. But I'll make a deal with the good ol' boys who want to keep him: you can keep the mascot if you change the school fight song to Tom Lehrer's "I Wanna Go Back to Dixie." Sample lyrics:

I wanna go back to Dixie,
Take me back to dear ol' Dixie,
That's the only li'l ol' place for li'l ol' me.
Ol' times there are not forgotten,
Whuppin' slaves and sellin' cotton,
And waitin' for the Robert E. Lee.
(It was never there on time.)

I'll go back to the Swanee,
Where pellagra makes you scrawny,
And the jasmine and the tear gas smell just fine
I really am a-fixin'
To go home where there's no mixin'
Down below that Mason-Dixon line.

(You can find more Lehrer lyrics, including a later version of the above song, here. If you've never heard his work before, you should check it out. He's brilliant.)

That's all from this end for now. I hope to be posting tomorrow, but I don't know if I'll be working, or if I'll have power, or what. So don't panic if there's no post tomorrow. I'll do my best. Stay dry and safe, everyone. See you tomorrow. I hope. 
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Sax and Violins" by the Talking Heads

OLD HOME DAY

Hello, friends and readers. As Hurricane Isabel (or "Dizzy Izzy," as I fondly call her) continues to bear down on the mid-Atlantic, I've been pondering a little bit about my hometown, where I live now and have lived most of my life. (Geographically speaking, anyhow; the town I live in bears little actual resemblance to the town I grew up in. But that's another story for another day. Today I want to take on homeowner's associations, as I promised I would. Thank you to the poster who suggested this. (I know who you are, but since you appear to want to remain anonymous, I won't tell.)

Apparently, there's been a mini-flap in blogland regarding these association, after one such group made a Florida man take down a flag in his front yard (against association rules), then sued when he wouldn't comply, and is now threatening to foreclose on the man's home in order to recoup their legal expenses. This is quite a leap from the homeowners' association I grew up with, which couldn't do much more than shake its fist if someone planted a flag or painted his shutters an unapproved color. I think in this particular case, both sides are being ridiculously inflexible. The homeowner's association probably shouldn't have taken the matter to court in the first place, and taking a man's house because he won't color between the lines strikes me as cruel. On the other hand, why is this fellow being so stubborn? He's willing to risk losing his home in order to defend his right to... fly a flag in the yard? This is not the stuff of heroism. If he really felt this strongly about the flag, he should have read the association rules before he moved in. What this case really needs is a judge to smack both parties upside the head, but our criminal-justice system sadly prohibits this avenue of conflict resolution.

Some of the discussion in blogland centers around the idea that libertarians who defend the homeowners' association are being hypocritical, because if the association was an official government entity, said libertarians would be fighting for the flag-flyer tooth and nail. This may be true, may not be true, but I don't care. Anyone who can turn a story like this into a debate over the intellectual inconsistencies of libertarian principles is someone too dorky even for me to want to hang out with. People this far into the realm of the theoretical are clearly over-educated, and need to be yanked out of their post-graduate studies immediately and forced to get real jobs.

No, what interests me here is the heart of the matter, at least to me. Namely, are communities better off if everyone's hedges are coordinated?

When you get right down to it, that's the fundamental assertion of homeowner's association rules: that everyone's better off if the houses look more or less the same. Thus, rules about color palettes, or restrictions on the types of flowers you can plant, or bans on flagpoles in the yard. Defenders of such rules say that the communities look classier if no one's allowed to paint his house hot pink, or let the grass grow a foot high, or hoist the Jolly Roger. Rule opponents say it squelches individual expression. I think both sides have a point.

The purest anti-rules argument goes something like: I bought this house, it's mine, I can do whatever I want. But it's not as simple as that. The rest of us have to look at your house, at least the outside of it, and we have a right to set standards regarding what we have to look at. Would you anti-rulers consider it okay for someone to fly the Nazi flag on the front lawn? Obviously, painting your house neon pink is not in the same category as flying the Nazi flag, but it would be plenty offensive to the eyes in some neighborhoods, and I'm sympathetic to the idea that neighborhoods should be able to prevent that sort of atrocity.

On the other hand, these things can be carried too far. My grandmother lives in a neighborhood whose association bans residents from planting perennial flowers in the garden. My grandmother is 78, and has very poor mobility. The idea of planting fresh flowers every year is a definite hardship to her. I think that rule is stupid. Pro-rulers would protest, "If she doesn't like it, she can always not plant flowers, or she could move somewhere else." Which is true. But that doesn't make the rule less stupid. How exactly is the neighborhood harmed if they allow perennial flowers? There is no good reasons. Rules like that give homeowners' associations a bad name.

As I said, I'm pretty ambivalent about the whole homowner's association concept, but I'm much more sympathetic to the idea in neighborhoods with real historical significance. If a certain neighborhood was built in, say, 1927, that's a piece of our history, and homeowners shouldn't just be able to do what they damn well please with their property. (But then, isn't that what historical-preservation laws are for?) But if the development in question was built, say, last year, I cast a dimmer eye on restrictive rules. In a newer development, I'd say that any restrictions should be limited to preventing only the truly offensive and obnoxious. What constitutes "truly offensive and obnoxious"? Well, there's the rub. Your definition is probably different from mine, as mine is from my grandmother's, or the president's, or the Florida flag-flyer's. On balance, I think homeowner's associations do some good. But how much power should they be permitted? That's a tough question. Depends on how important you think coordinating hedges are.

Another home-related note: Have you ever had it happen that something which should have been obvious to you, and everyone else knew to be obvious, finally occurs to you? You know that sort of "Duhhhh" feeling you get? Well, that happened to me yesterday, when I finally realized that two of my childhood neighbors were gay. Thse neighbors (let's call them "Patty" and "Marcie") lived together for at least as long as I can remember, and my mother had always told me they were "good friends." And for the longest time, I thought that was all they were. Last night, I was having dinner with my mother, who told me that Patty was going back to her home country. (She worked at the embassy.) She said, "I don't know how they'll work it, though. Patty doesn't have clearance to stay in the country now that her job is up, and Marcie doesn't want to live over there, so they'll have to work something out." In all innocence, I said, "But why are they worried about it? Isn't Marcie going to stay here and get a new roommate?" My mother just looked at me. And suddenly, it hit me: two women, living together for decades, never married, never dated... I couldn't believe this had never occurred to me. I kind of shrank down in my seat for the rest of the meal. It doesn't bother me that Patty and Marcie are gay, it just bothers me that I managed to get this far without ever realizing it. Duhhh.

The Smart Lady wrote a post I really liked yesterday, about how she feels that the Fedroplex has no adequate substitute for "y'all." She's right. Personally, "y'all" sets my teeth on edge whenever I hear it, but there is no comfortable way of addressing a group of people collectively. "You guys" is clunky and raises the gender issue; "you folks" is even clunkier, and "youse" make you sound like you're from Jersey. I think we need to work on this, immediately, and come up with a good Yankee alternative to "y'all." There should be a presidential task force, if necessary.

James Lileks wrote a funny column indicating his dislike for the song "American Pie," including an analysis of the chorus. Very clever. I'm sure he didn't steal the "whiskey and rye" joke from me.

Dizzy Izzy update: here's the latest projected path. Looks like it's scheduled to hit the shore around midday tomorrow, likely in the vicinity of the Outer Banks. If the projections hold, it'll be passing over the Fedroplex tomorrow night and Friday morning. Hatch-battening should be complete by now, for those in the path of the storm. Food, water, radio and batteries. And gas in the car. Stay safe, gang; I still can't afford to lose any readers.

That's all for now. I'll close with a bit of dialogue from one of my all-time favorite TV shows, "WKRP in Cincinnati." (The fact that it is not on TV Land is a crime against humanity, in my opinion.)

Bailey: Look Herb, did you know that it's against the law to discriminate on the basis of sex?
Herb: I do... everything... on the basis of sex.
Venus: Wooo, Mr. Macho!
Herb: You know Venus, I'm not real sure I know exactly what "macho" is, but whatever it is... I'm it.

I couldn't agree more. See you tomorrow. 
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Drivin' My Life Away" by Eddie Rabbitt

FOR LOVE OF THE GAME

Hello, all. Isabel continues to creep closer... current projections have the storm passing over the Fedroplex late Thursday night into Friday morning, after making landfall in North Carolina earlier Thursday. (For the curious, the projected track is here.) It's been a while since we had serious hurricane remnants passing our way; the last I remember was Hurricane Hugo back in '89. No one's quite sure what to expect from Isabel yet, but everyone seems to agree that it's a big one. I noticed that folks are really battening down the hatches out on the coast, down toward Norfolk and the Outer Banks. I was never much of a hatch-battener, so I'll just sit tight and see what happens.

With fall in full force, I found myself looking back to the summer, and the things I enjoyed most within it. One was spending time with The Smart Lady, but you've already heard plenty in that regard. The other highlight was having the opportunity to spend lots of time in baseball parks. I hit Baltimore's Camden Yards on multiple occasions, root-root-rooting for the visiting team every time, and took a trip with an old friend to visit Wrigley Field in Chicago and Miller Park in Milwaukee, a trip I highly recommend to anyone even remotely interested in the game. But for the most part, it meant visiting the local minor-league parks: Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, VA; Pringe George's Stadium in Bowie, MD; and best of all, Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, MD. Going to major-league park is and will always be a treat, but if I had to choose, I'd sooner give up the major-league "experience" than surrender the opportunity to hang out in minor-league parks. The game is rawer and closer to the bone in the minors, and that's the secret of its charm.

First, and most obviously, it's a lot easier to get a close seat in a minor-league park than your typical big-league pleasure palace. In the minors, $10 buys you a seat so close you can hear the batter cursing the umpire's vision under his breath. In the majors, $10 buys you a seat that, if you're lucky, you can get to without a Sherpa. Even if you're willing to pony up for the expensive seats at the big-league park (and if those tickets are available), chances are you'll be swimming in a sea of cell-phoning professionals trying to get the folks at home to look for them on television. In the minors, there's no TV cameras to look for, no spotlight to grab. No one goes to a minor-league game to be seen, and that's a point in the minors' favor. Also, it's a lot more fun rubbing elbows with 5,000 other people than with 50,000. In fact, some of the most fun I've had came after lengthy rain delays in minor-league parks, when a drenched but upbeat knot of 50 or 100 people hung around, chanting and clapping and defiantly riding out the storm. In the minors, the crowds are small enough to make you feel like family. In the majors, the effect is more of huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

In addition to being more intimate, the minors are more casual, less self-conscious, not afraid to come off goofy or corny. In Baltimore, by long-standing tradition, the fans sing "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" during the seventh-inning stretch. It looks ridiculous and forced. Most of the crowd looks like it's never even seen the country. Few seem to know the words. Everyone claps half-heartedly and sits down. I'll bet some people don't even realize what they were supposedly singing about. By contrast, the Frederick Keys have a seventh-inning tradition of singing the team's theme song, "We're the Frederick Keys." It's a country-accented tune penned by a local duo named Holly and Lou. It's not a brilliant song. But everyone gets up and sings along, smiling, waving their keys in time with the music. Silly-looking? Sure. Dorky? Perhaps. But no one cares. They're having a fine time, and they don't give a damn how it looks.

The same spirit applies to the giveaways and between-innings games at the minor-league parks. In Frederick, a lucky fan rolls three giant dice from the dugout roof. If they come up right, the fan wins a big-screen TV. Yeah, it looks goofy, and I've yet to see anyone win. But it's part of the package... it's almost defiantly uncool. And who could resist the cut-rate, carny-con charm of this game in Bowie: a fan stands 100 feet away from a Honda Civic, and is given a soft ball and challenged to throw the ball into the car. Through the side window? No, through the sunroof. It's insanely difficult, bordering on impossible. And should the lucky fan somehow achieve the impossible, he wins... the car? No, a 3-year lease on the car. Given the setup of the game, it's hard not to cheer for the visiting Altoona players who doused the car with water when it drove past their bullpen one night. But the minors make up for their stacked-odds games with generous giveaways. One night in Woodbridge, the Potomac Cannons' mascot, Big Shot, stood atop the Cannons' dugout and heaved bagged hot dogs into the crowd. Only one problem: some bright light forgot to seal the bags shut. The hot dogs promptly came out of the bags and landed on the hardly-pristine bleachers. After a brief pause, and a few uncertain glances, the fans figured out what to do with the soiled wieners: They hurled them back at the mascot. Ah, good times.

I think, though, that my favorite baseball experience of the summer came during a night when there was no game at all. We came to Bowie that night, despite the forecasts all calling for strong storms, drawn by the replica Homestead Grays caps the Baysox were giving away. (It was Negro League Tribute night.) About 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the game, the clouds turned ominously dark and began swirling overhead. If you've ever watched storm clouds swirl, you can imagine how concerning this was. About 10 minutes later it began to rain, hard. I confidently predicted it would blow over, which goes to show why I am not employed as a weathercaster. It let up after about 15 minutes, then returned with a vengeance shortly thereafter. It was raining so hard it was difficult to see the scoreboard from our seats, which is just as well because the only thing the scoreboard said was "Rain Delay." Water cascaded down the concrete steps in sheets, collecting in an ankle-deep puddle in front of us. The renewed storms slacked off after about 20 minutes, long enough for an enterprising young concessioneer to descend into the seating bowl and start hawking frozen Cokes. As he passed our seats, I stared at him and said, "You have got to be kidding." He just shrugged and laughed. A few minutes later, the storms resumed, harder still, and it was even clear to diehards like us that the game wasn't happening. Even so, we held our seats until the official announcement of the game's postponement. Behind us, two teenage girls in ponchos were running up and down the stands, laughing, throwing cups of water at each other. We cheered them on. The Baysox pulled the plug about 8:30, and we all started to file out. A few visiting Akron players ran out onto the tarp and started pantomiming a game for the fans' amusement, until the cheerless Bowie staff chased them off the field. We laughed and clapped, and noticed in passing that it had rained so hard that the dugout were nearly full to the brim with water. As we exited to our car, soaked to the skin but grinning like idiots, I paused to reflect on the night. Ordinarily, sitting in a soaking rain was right up there on my list of priorities with dropping a hammer on my foot, or contracting the flu. But on this night I reveled in the rain, like a little kid skipping through puddles. Many baseball fans say the game is a link to their childhood, and that night in Bowie I got to experience that firsthand. I'm not a kid anymore, and am not unhappy about that fact. But it's nice to be able to revisit that feeling every once in a while.

Hey, look, John Edwards is running for president! Despite his low standing in the polls, Edwards is rolling the dice, taking the gamble, raising the stakes. This is the kind of bold, risking-it-all move that causes campaigns to take off. Or careers to go down in flames. Not that there's any pressure or anything.

Some readers may recall that a couple weeks back I congratulated the Washington Freedom on their championship, then struggled to figure out what, exactly, they were champions of. Now I know: the WUSA, a pro women's soccer league! Huzzah! How do I know this? Because the league abruptly ceased operation yesterday. Oh.

That's all for today. Tomorrow I'll probably tackle the homeowners' association issue. Should be something. See you tomorrow. 
Valium for the soul. Don't worry, none of those pesky strong opinions here. All are welcome. No shirt, no shoes, no service.

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