Mediocre Fred's Mediocre Blog
Saturday, August 30, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "All Night Long" by Joe Walsh

WHY HOCKEY IS DOOMED

Hello again, all. The Fedroplex is a little empty at the moment; everyone's taking off for their final summer trips over the Labor Day weekend. (This includes The Smart Lady, who is in Philadelphia this weekend, much to my chagrin.) Mediocre Fred, though, remains in town, plugging away at this little blog, cheerfully attempting to entertain you, The Reader. Unfortunately, though, there's very little going on that warrants mention. The government is largely on vacation, so there's precious little political news. (Even the California recall election has hit a bit of a lull, as the major candidates have sorted themselves out and are waiting patiently for momentum to show up.) Baseball's pennant races are only beginning to stir, football's not quite going, and basketball and hockey remain dormant. And apart from the sad news in Iraq, there's not much going on in the world scene. In short, it's a great time for a long weekend. However, this column stands between me and my weekend, and I have to write about something, I suppose. This could definitely pose a problem.

However, I was rescued, as I so often am, by The Smart Lady, who apparently recommended me to someone as a hockey fan, which I am. However, those who have come here in hopes of seeing a hockey-related post have been thus far disappointed. Largely this is because it is not hockey season, but hey, I live to serve here. And given the fact that not much else is going on, I figured now is as good a time as any to satisfy the hockey consituency out there. So puckheads, gather 'round, because today's your day. I wish I brought better news.

For non-hockey fans out there, let me set the scene. The labor agreement between National Hockey League players and owners is due to expire at the end of next season, and thus far there has been precious little movement toward a new contract. Talk is swirling that the entire 2004-05 season may be lost to a strike. Further rumors suggest that some older European stars, if a season or more is lost to labor strife, may not come back to America at all, choosing instead to play in their home countries. In short, the NHL faces a serious risk of implosion if matters are not settled. It may even lose its tenuous hold as one of the Big Four American sports (along with football, baseball and basketball) and fall down to the second-tier position occupied by sports like soccer and lacrosse, which have never captured the American imagination. A couple more hits and it will be down around curling and archery.

Sad to say, if there is some sort of convulsive labor-related meltdown, it may be better for the game in the long term. Hockey has been headed in the wrong direction for at least a decade, and maybe apocalypse is the only thing that will save the sport. What's wrong with hockey? A lot. Here is a partial list of the key factors to the NHL's downward spiral in recent years:

1. They made the mistake of trying to hang with the Big Three. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who took over in the early '90s, is generally well-regarded in league circles. He has devoted most of his term to trying to make hockey a truly major sport in America, on the level of baseball, basketball and football. In the process, he's made quite a bit of money for a number of people, which has endeared him to ownership. But in the process, he's set the sport up for a big fall.

Let's face it: Hockey is something of a niche sport. It's never going to have the wide appeal in America that football or baseball do. A smart hockey league would recognize this, focus on its key markets (more on this below), emphasize key rivalries and work on building passionate, devoted fan bases. Gary Bettman, however, felt that there was a bonanza awaiting the league in television revenue if he could successfully nationalize the sport. Well, he has succeeded in doing so. And I imagine profits have gone up, at least for now.

But in the cash grab, Bettman and company have sold the league's soul. Once you switch over from being an attendance-based sport to a TV-based sport (in the sense that more of your revenues come from TV rights contract than from actual ticket buyers), you can't go back. Now you have to follow the demands of the networks that carry you. You have to go into markets that seem like a poor fit. You start placing the interests of the casual semi-fan over the hardcore devotee. In the NHL's case, you break up rivalries of long standing and scrap division names in honor of hockey pioneers, and throw everyone into a geographically-based arrangement whose primary virtue is that it looks nice in the paper. (For instance, my Washington Capitals were removed from a the Patrick Division, which used to offer great rivals like New York, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and unceremoniously dumped into the Southeast Division, where we find ourselves competing with stalwart hockey towns like Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Carolina. I imagine some day I'll stop screaming.) You encourage owners in small but devoted hockey towns to decamp for half-empty arenas in charmless but trendy new cities. In short, you shoot the traditional fan the big fat bird and tell him, "Hey, what do you want? At leat we kept the Stanley Cup. So what if we gave it to a team in Dallas? Shut up and buy more merchandise."

Oh, and there's another little side effect no one seems to have noticed. Seems the players have also noticed the increase in revenue, and they want their cut. Unfortunately for NHL owners, when you're trying to compete with the big boys, your talent will want big-boy salaries. Which the league's can't actually afford. Which is why the Showdown at the OK Corral looms in a year or so.

2. The league has expanded into market that don't, on closer inspection, actually appear to like hockey. As mentioned above, you can't claim to be a national sport if all your teams are in one region. So Bettman has moved agressively to bring teams into the South and West, in keeping with the shifting demographics of America. While this is an attractive idea in theory, in practice it has produced a league that's barely recognizable to the traditional fan.

I happen to know exactly when it happened. 1990-91 was the last sane NHL season. Here was the divisional alignment at that time:

NORRIS
Chicago
Detroit
Minnesota
St. Louis
Toronto

SMYTHE
Calgary
Edmonton
Los Angeles
Vancouver
Winnipeg

ADAMS
Boston
Buffalo
Hartford
Montreal
Quebec

PATRICK
New Jersey
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Washington

This is a nice, tight arrangement. It's mostly geographical, but not rigorously so. And with the exception of Los Angeles (which you can't reasonably ignore in any sport), all the teams are in or appreciably near the northern half of the United States. (St. Louis and Washington are sometimes dubbed Southern, but both cities have usually supported their teams well.) As it happens, this was around the time that I was becoming a true hockey fan. Little did I know that the cohesive league I loved so much was about to blow itself to bits.

The following year, the NHL placed an expansion team in San Jose, California. It was called the Sharks, and the jersey were teal and silver. This was quite a departure for the league, but it seemed harmless enough at the time. I nearly bought a Sharks jersey by myself. Little did I know that the novelty was about to become the norm.

In the years since 1990-91, the NHL has expanded from 21 teams to 30, and has abandoned solid hockey cities Minnesota, Hartford, Quebec and Winnipeg. (Minnesota has since gotten a team back.) In order to fill the void, the league has gone to Anaheim, Atlanta, Dallas, Miami, Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh (NC), San Jose, and Tampa Bay. Any sense of distinctive identity the league had is now gone. In recent years, Dallas, Raleigh, Anaheim and Miami have played in the championship, which has been quite an adjustment for the traditionalist fan. I myself could keep my dinners down during those series.

Now, if the new teams were wildly successful, I could at least grit my teeth and say it's for the good of the league. But by and large, the new wave of soutern teams has flopped. I actually did a little research on this. I took the attendance figures for the last three seasons, and assigned points in inverse order to their finish. (First place got 30 points, second place got 29 points, etc.) I assigned a cutoff of 30 total, which means that a team scoring below that averaged attendance in the bottom third of the league. And the results were staggering. Of the nine new southern teams, six fell below the cutoff, and one (Tampa Bay) barely beat it, finishing with 32 points thanks to a middle-of-the-pack attendance figure this year, a season in which they won their division. The only two genuine successes were Dallas, which has been a top-flight team for several years, and San Jose, which has those snappy uniforms. So the league has sold out for... a bunch of bottom-feeding teams with poor futures. Nice job, Gary.

Hockey is a sport which you have to grow up with to appreciate. Ideally, you'd grow up skating around a frozen pond in December and January, wearing a Maple Leafs or Red Wings sweater with the number of your favorite player and working on your shot. Alternatively, if frozen ponds are not nearby, you can do what I did, catch the games after bedtime via a transistor radio concealed under the pillow. (Yes, I really did this, and yes, I'm sure I was the last kid to do this.) If you don't grow up with the game, you can't appreciate it. Like soccer, if you don't understand what's going on, hockey looks like a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Sticking teams in hockey-illiterate markets like Atlanta and Tampa Bay was doomed to failure from the start.

3. The league keeps dancing around the violence issue. This has kind of slipped out of the spotlight lately, but it's a major problem. American hockey has a long and inglorious history of bloodbaths, missing teeth and fisticuffs. "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out," as the old joke goes. Now, American and Canadians diehards are pretty well used to the violent tradition. Many of them cherish it. But a modern, telegenic league can't be seen as condoning violence. It looks bad on TV if some helmet-head conducts a post-game with someone with a black eye, no teeth or a huge gash on his cheek. So the league has made a big show of cracking down on the violence. But cutting the violence out completely would risk further alienating the hardcore base, which is already disgusted over the prospect of a Phoenix-Carolina Stanley Cup final. So the league sort of winks at the occasional brawl, provided it doesn't occur on National Hockey Night or during the playoffs.

Personally, I dislike the violence and prefer a cleaner game. But I can certainly understand a Philly fan, who grew up on the Broad Street Bullies of the '80s, disagreeing with me. The league tries to placate everyone and winds up with a weird amalgam, with the casual fan still feeling hockey is a sport for ruffians, and the hardcore fan feeling the passion has gone out of the game. And no one could possibly enjoy the newly-favored style of non-violent defense, the infamous "neutral-zone trap" practiced so well by Stanley Cup champion New Jersey, which tends to generate a lot of 1-1 games that feel about as exciting as a trip to the dentist's office for a routine cleaning. Feh.

I could point to other problems, such as the lack of star power in the league, but I think my point is made. I'll revisit the issue next week and unveil my solution to the NHL's woes. For now, though, bed beckons and I must away. Enjoy your weekend, everyone. Labor Day may be a holiday, but Uncle Millie will have his latest column on Monday. Peace. 
Thursday, August 28, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Talkin' 'Bout My Generation" by The Who

THE INFORMATION GENERATION

Hi there, folks. Today is one of those days where a bunch of threads have come together in my head all at once. My mind tends to work that way; it will quietly accumulate and file information without telling me what's going on, then without warning it will suddenly pop out with An Idea. It's kind of like the process wherein you throw a bunch of grapes or grains into a barrel, leave it sit awhile, and all of a sudden one day you have Thunderbird, or Ripple. In this case, the Idea catapulted forward when I read a Washington Post article on the music industry's struggle to combat music piracy on college campuses. In and of itself, it's an interesting issue, but in my mind it combined with a couple other tidbits from the last couple weeks, such as popular Post columnist Bob Levey having to cut back his online discussions from twice weekly to once weekly for financial reasons, and the Post's new free daily Express (which you may have heard something about somewhere). What do they all have in common? All three stories rech the heart of the modern dilemma over communication and information technology. And all three stories share what I consider to be the defining characteristic of my generation: the belief that information is and ought to be fast, free and always accessible. This belief, which has really cropped up within the last decade, threatens to change our understanding of the media, of communication, and many other related issues. At the moment, the evidence indicates that we're not yet ready for this new paradigm. But how we choose to deal with the problem will define a new era, and we can only hope we'll realize this before it's too late.

"All right," I hear you saying, "I've had just about enough of this. This is exactly the kind of grandiose bloviating crap I can get on a thousand other blogs. I was told there would be none of this. I came for a little chuckle, and here I am getting a graduate thesis. So hop off the serious pills, Funny Boy. Make fun of George Steinbrenner's haircut or something." I understand your concern. I try to keep it light around here, and I like it that way. You're certainly not required to read this post. (Although, given that I'm addressing an audience of perhaps four people right now, perhaps I should not be so cavalier about turning people off.) Besides, you may not realize this, but the standard weblog user agreement requires me to pontificate on Web-related issues at least once a month. (I believe it's called the "Navel-Gazing Clause.") I don't like it any better than you do. So just bear with me. You may even learn something, though I make no promises. Fix a cocktail and sit back.

Increasingly, we live in a world where information is always close at hand. Once upon a time, books and newspapers were the only ways of obtaining information about the world at large. Then came radio, which brought Herbert Hoover into living rooms across the country. (A disconcerting thought, perhaps, but so it is.) Then came television, which allowed Richard Nixon to look right into our eyes (downright creepy, but still) and lie to us in living color from the comfort of our own couches. Television changed media remarkably: it gave us images of riots and inaugurations and moon landings as they happened. Even so, it only sped up the news cycle modestly at first, giving us at 6 and 11 PM, for instance, what we might not have read about until tomorrow morning in the paper. Then came CNN, which promised an all-news-all-the-time policy (provided you're willing to interpret the concept of "news" somewhat liberally). This sped things up a little more, allowed news to travel more quickly, demanded that the news cycle speed up to keep pace.

The Internet, though, has revolutionized the way information is disseminated. For one thing, it's instant. If Senator Blutarsky makes an unfortunate remark about homeless people, it can be on 50 Web sites within the hour. (Poor Senator Blutarsky.) Not only does the Net allow news to spread faster, it democratizes information providing. Now you don't need to own a printing press, or a broadcasting tower, or a television studio. All you need is a computer with Web access, which a majority of people (especially young people) now have. The barrier to being a news source has fallen dramatically. Pactically anyone can be a news source now. Hell, I could be considered a news source (though I hope and trust that none of you are relying on me for news). As a result, things that might in an earlier era have passed unobserved now catch the keen eyes of webloggers and online news purveyors, hungry for fresh material to feed the beast. When Trent Lott had his Senator Blutarsky moment at Strom Thurmond's birthday party, the mainstream media played it down or ignored the remark entirely. It was primarily the webloggers (people a lot like myself, only taller and with a greater sense of outrage) who refused to let the story die, stomping and fuming until the other media were forced to take notice. And it's not just news, either; if you need to know the capital of Tajikistan on the spot, now you can figure it out without taking a side trip to the library, tracking down a Tajikistani, or writing a letter to Marilyn Vos Savant. (It's Dushanbe, by the way. You're welcome. Now pay attention.)

My point here is that, so long as you're near a computer, information is always accessible. And now, with wireless hotspots at Starbucks and cellphones with Internet capabilities, you don't even need to be at home. This expectation has quickly become ingrained in our culture, and now we're upset if our Internet connection is down and we have to wait 5 minutes for the Pirates-Dodgers score on ESPN. Instant access, instant gratification, is part of Internet life, and as such part of our lives.

And not only is this information instantly available, it's practically free. Pay an access fee to your Internet service provider, and scads of information is available to you at no additional charge. (And if you work at an Internet-enabled office or go to pretty much any college, you don't even have to pay for access.) You can research papers, play games, talk to your friends, listen to music, catch up on the news and the scores, participate in a public debate, all for free. Suddenly, for the first time in history, information is practically free.

(Side note to those detractors who are planning to write me and explain the concept of public libraries: I know. But it's not the same thing, because of what economists call opportunity cost. Economists and economics majors, feel free to skip this note. The basic concept here is that everything we do, even if it's supposedly free, has a cost attached. Let's say you go to a two-hour free concert on the Mall. It's not really free. You could, for instance, have been working for those two hours. Whatever the worth of the highest-value alternative use you could have made of your time is, that's the opportunity cost. In the case of the concert, let's say you could have made $15 an hour working. So the concert "cost" you $30, even though it's theoretically free. Here's how the concept applies to libraries and the Internet: Let's say you wanted to know the capital of Tajikistan, as in the example above. If you went to the library to find it out, the trip there plus the time to find what you need might be, say, thirty minutes. Add to that the cost of whatever transportation you use to get there, and suddenly you might well think you don't really need to know the capital of Tajikistan. But if you have a Web-capable computer, you can hop on Google as I did and have your answer in five seconds. The opportunity cost is much lower. See? That didn't even hurt, did it?)

The problem arises in that, while the consumption of information is for all intents and purposes free, the production of it is not. Reporters, editors and Web-site designers all need to be paid. So do the people who put together online reference sources. And yes, recording-industry tycoons, so do the people who produce music. This is, after all, their living. I'm sure you, The Reader, wouldn't like it if your company expected you to work for free. (And no, downloading music is not like turning on the radio. Radio stations pay licensing fees for the songs they play on the air. You do not.) Given the gap between the cost of consumption and the cost of production, the money has to come from somewhere. The initial hope was that advertising would fill the gap, as it does for television, which now shows 45 minutes of commercials per hour so that you can enjoy "According to Jim" free of charge. You're welcome. But, unlike TV advertisers, who can only throw their ads out there and guess how many people are responding, Internet advertisers have a direct way of knowing how effective their ads are: by the number of clicks their ads receive. And the numbers aren't adding up; advertising dollars have plummeted, as a lot of companies have decided it's not worth the trouble. (And now with the software that blocks pop-up ads, sort of an Internet TiVo, the ad revenue's only going to keep declining.) And with the corresponding decline in Daddy Warbucks venture capitalists writing out checks for the sake of staying "ahead of the curve," the Internet business model doesn't make much sense right now.

Especially if the Web site cuts into sales of your real product. I'm thinking here of newspaper Web sites, such as the Washington Post's. Now, as a paper, the Post is a terrific bargain. It's packed full of well-written stories, timely information, and quality analysis for only 35 cents. A terrific deal! Except... you can get pretty much all the same information on washingtonpost.com for free. If there was no washingtonpost.com, I'd probably buy the paper. As it stands, I don't. I'm sure I'm not the only one. People like me are killing the Post, and papers all over the country.

There's the problem in a nutshell: my generation basically expects information to be free. Every time someone tries to make us pay for it, we roll our eyes and find another free site. When the recording industry attempts to prevent us from stealing other people's work, we react as though Stalin himself was in charge of RIAA. Basically, our worldview is not sufficiently profitable. Employ all the libertarian arguments you want in favor of file-swapping, but if there's no money to be made in music recording, there won't be any songs to download. If we drive the newspapers out of business, there won't be any washingtonpost.com. Clearly, there needs to be a sea change in attitude.

How is it going to happen? In my opinion, this is the perfect role for government. Someone needs to figure out who should pay for information, who should be paid, and how much money should change hands, at the macro-level. The Internet is an industry in need of regulation, which is precisely what government was designed to do. (Though this may be difficult for some to understand.) Thus far, we've stuck exclusively to market-based solutions to the problems at hand. I've already looked at the failures of advertising and venture capitalists. Let's examine the solutions on the table in the articles I mentioned at the top of the piece.

The RIAA is taking a two-pronged approach to fighting music downloading. First, they've been offering orientation programs on college campuses, designed to discourage incoming freshmen from downloading songs. It's not a bad idea, but it strikes me as not particularly effective. A free-information mindset isn't going to be erased by listening to someone talk for an hour about the evils of file-sharing. The RIAA has also starting suing major song-downloaders for damages. This approach is off in the opposite direction. This is like dealing with a neighbor's yapping dog by sending Rambo over to blow Fido to kingdom come. The recording industry has enough of an image prblem as it is; behaving like jackbooted thugs isn't going to improve relations with anybody. I'm sure the RIAA would say it's only doing what it can, and I'm sure that's true, but the weapons at its disposal aren't the right ones.

As for Express, I'm not sure what the Post thinks it's going to help. On its own, assuming they keep it free, Express isn't going to be a significant moneymaker for the Post. And if it's supposed to be a bridge from the Web site to the real paper, it fails at that, too. There's no Post content in Express, and no encouragement to go read the paper itself (though there is encouragement to go to the Web site). Unless the Post has some sort of master plan that's not currently clear, Express isn't going to be the answer to their circulation woes.

Of the three, Bob Levey is probably closest to the right track. When readers wrote in to protest the cancellation of his second discussion, he explained the economics and said that this was the future of Web sites like the Post's... unless they started charging. A nickel or a dime a visit, for instance. Someone wondered how the Post thought it would be able to get away with charging. Levey replied that it would have to be an industry-wide change: if everyone started charging at the same time, it would work. I happen to think he's right. But I don't think it will happen on its own. And if it happens piecemeal, it will fail. The only way to make sure it happens uniformly, with a minimal customer backlash, is through the government. After all, what's called for here borders on collusion. And the government is the best instrument for making sure the change happens smoothly, and educating the public on why it needs to happen. I'm well-aware of the American suspicion toward the idea of positive government, but on the bright side, it would be almost impossible for a government initiative to be more poorly received than the RIAA suing everybody. The government is large and powerful enough to guide the transition in thinking. This seems like the type of job that should fall to the Department of Commerce, but perhaps a special presidential commission would give the issue the visibility it deserves.

One way or another, someday we will look back on this era with some astonishment: all this information just lying around, everywhere, for free! It will feel a bit like the Wild West, or the Industrial Revolution, perhaps. "All this technology developing, and no rules. How did they survive it?" Hopefully, we'll be able to tell our children, "It was a wild time, for sure, but it couldn't last. Thank God cooler heads prevailed and we figured out a way to make it all work." The Internet isn't going to go away. The question we have to face is, who will write the rules, and to whose benefit? A lot rests on the answers to those questions.

Whew! My head hurts from all that thinking. I don't even have the energy to go find new links. I probably should have stuck to something flippant, like how silly the term "music pirates" is and how Kazaa users should have to go around wearing eye patches and carrying parrots on their shoulders. Tomorrow, I promise, it's back to trivial foolishness. So, until then, I bid you peace. 
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Tuff Enuff" by the Fabulous Thunderbirds

YOU ASKED FOR IT

Hi there, everyone. I'm feeling sort of up and down today. On the upside, The Smart Lady is back into the daily swing of things, and that makes me happy. Ordinarily, this would be a good day simply on that basis. And it was, until I started reading my mail.

I give you credit. You came together and spoke as one voice. Various visitors and all three regular reader alike, you sent the message, and I received it. Oh, did I ever receive it. You've taken a good look at my stuff, and you simply can't get enough... of Hammerin' Hank.

I must admit, I'm a little disappointed in you people. I strain and ponder for as much as 10 minutes at a stretch coming up with fresh, entertaining, interesting material for you, The Reader, and my idiot coworker sits down here and spews this ridiculous drivel about Asian oysters, and all of a sudden he's The People's Choice. What did I ever do to you? Did I offend you in some way? Why are you doing this to me? Hank is a filthy, alcoholic, ignorant buffoon whom I've just realized is standing over my shoulder reading this, so I'd better stop now.

Let it never be said that I do not respond to the people. If it's Hammerin' Hank you want, then Hammerin' Hank you shall have. I've magnanimously agreed to turn over the keyboard to this... friend of yours for another column. Meantime, I'll go heat up some sesame chicken and chew in silence, unloved and unappreciated, while Hank has his way with my blog. I hope you're happy. That said, Mediocre Fred dubiously presents... Hammerin' Hank. Enjoy. Hmpf.

* * * * *

Hi, kids, Hammerin' Hank is back! I'm here to rescue you from another Mediocre Fred snoozefest. You can thank me later. Really, can you believe that guy? "Hi I'm Mediocre Fred blah blah blah I have nothing to say but I'm going to talk anyway blah blah blah I wonder if it's actually possible to bore someone to death hey let's find out blah blah blah I'm a gutless pansy blah blah blah hey have I swooned over The Smart Lady yet today?" Are you all as sick of the Smart Chick as I am? I swear, you'd think he was a lovesick puppy or something. Friends, I tell you, that boy is smitten. If you think it's annoying when he writes about it, try working with him. "Smart Lady this blah blah blah Smart Lady that blah blah blah she's the greatest thing since oxygen blah blah blah." Gag me. I don't give a crap about the Samrt Chick, unless she's going to set up a Web cam so we can watch her-

Hank! Please!

What?

Just because I'm letting you write another column doesn't mean you have free reign to use me as your personal pinata.

Kiss my ass. Who's the most popular writer on this site, you or me?

Touche.

Bless you.

Well. At least leave The Smart Lady out of it. I'll not have you leering all over like that.

She told you to say that, didn't she? You're whipped, boy.

Get on with it.

All right, all right, fine. Today I want to talk about the California governor's race. Now, I'm sure you're probably sick of hearing about it by now. God knows I am. But I think there's an important issue here, in that the top two candidates are foreigners with funny names. Isn't that a kick? This country's going to hell. Seriously, how are you supposed to vote for someone whose name you can't even spell? That's what I like about the Republicans. When it comes to picking presidents, they always go for nice, easy names. That's a party I can respect. I mean, look at the people they've named, starting with the current President and going back: Bush, Dole, Bush, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, Goldwater, and Nixon again. Nice, easy names, and as American as a 16-ounce T-bone. I mean, the last guy with a funny name they picked was that general dude, what's his name-

Dwight Eisenhower.

Yeah, him. And even then, they gave him a nice short nickname, "Ike." It's a simple thing. Why didn't anyone tell this to the people in California? They went out and got themselves a couple weirdos. The Democrats got this guy, Cruz Somebody, I can't even remember his name, let's call him Cruz Control. Allegedly, he's the lieutenant governor, which I don't think is even a real position. It sounds made-up, like in that Gilbert and Sullivan play, the one about the major-general-

The Pirates of Penzance.

Nuh-uh. That's that movie with Johnny Depp in it that just came out. You don't know nothin'.

I don't know why I bother.

Whatever. Anyway, there's that guy, and then the Republicans got this Arnold Swartzenheimer, or whatever. Another weird name! What's up with that? Don't they get it? Right now, the governor's some guy named Gray Davis. How do you think he won? Because people liked him? Of course not! It's because he had an easy name. I mean, duh.

Anyway, ordinarily I'd be sick of both candidates and telling people to write in Pat Buchanan or Fonzie or someone. But I have a definite favorite here. It's Swartzenhoffer. Because he's the Terminator. And the more Terminators we have in office, the better.

See, I think the Terminator is just right to handle the issues in California today. After all, what's the most important issue in California today? Right: It's the damn Mexicans sneaking over the border. Not that I blame them. We've got it all over the Mexicans. We've got better houses, better cars, better land. We've even got better Mexican food than they do! Have you tried the new Grilled Stuft Burrito at Taco Bell? Let's see you match that, Pedro. Obviously, we have no reason to want to go to Mexicana.


Mexico!

What?

It's not Mexicana, it's Mexico, you ignoramus.

No way. Wouldn't they be called "Mexicoans"?

No, it's - oh, I give up.

Good. Anyway, any time we Americans want that Mexican experience, we can go visit South of the Border. But I can imagine why the Mexicans want to come here. Like I say, I don't blame them. But they can't come here. It's the American Dream, not the Mexican-American Dream. They come here with their weird Mexican diseases and cheap electronics, and the next thing you know, California's a cesspool. Plus, they come here and steal our migrant-fruit-picking and busboy jobs. In an economy like this, those are exactly the sort of "entry-level jobs" that should be reserved for real, taxpaying Americans. I'm sure you can see the problem.

So, with the Terminator in charge, California's Mexican problem will be over! You know how, in the movie, the Terminator was sent back into the past to kill the lady before she could have her son who would change the future? They could work it like that. Send him back into the past to vaporize all the immigrants before they could come over and start reproducing. Problem solved! There's no way Cruz Control could do anything like that. He doesn't have the power to go back in time like the Terminator. And anyway, I think he might be Mexican too. You think one of them is going to try to get rid of their own?

And the Terminator can take on more than just the Mexican issue. I understand there's also some big budget deficit in California. It's probably the Mexicans' fault, but even if it isn't, who would you rather have fixing the deficit than the Terminator? Whoever has the money, the Terminator will find him and make him give it back.


Hank. There's not a budget deficit because someone stole the money. There's a deficit because expenditures are exceeding revenues.

Huh?

The government's spending more money than they take in.

Oh. Well, no problem, the Terminator's got that covered, too. Put it this way: If he came to your door, pointed his gun at you and said the state needed more money to pay the bills, you'd be reaching for that wallet pretty damn quick, wouldn't you? So, once again, the Terminator's the man!

To recap, vote for the Terminator in this election, because (a) he can go back in time and get rid of the Mexicans, (2) he can go around and threaten people until they pay to fix the budget, and (III) he's the Terminator, man! He rocks! As for old Cruz Control, he's probably not a bad guy. I'd be willing to let him pick my fruit if he wanted. Got to be a better job than Lieutenant Governor, whatever that is. I still think he made it up.

So, California, get out there and vote on... whatever day the vote is on. Grab your ballot, look for the Terminator, and punch his name with pride! God bless America.


* * * * *

Hammerin' Hank, everyone. Really, people, this is what you want? You'd rather read that than me? You actually prefer the mouth-breathing rants of Hank to my cogent, thoughtful essays?

Uh, yeah, seems they do. Scoreboard, Freddy.

Arrrggghhh. Well, just for that I shouldn't give you any links today. But I will nonetheless. Because I'm a nice guy. For whatever that's worth.

If you haven't looked in the night sky for Mars yet, act fast. It's reaching its closest approach to the earth in 60,000 years right now. The Smart Lady and I looked at it last night, and it was quite bright and easily visible, even through the lights of Dot-Com Canyon. We enjoyed it.

Mike Wilbon made a great case for shortening the NFL preseason in his column yesterday, with the help of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. I have to admit, Wilbon's column showed me a side of Lewis I'd never seen before. Previously I'd always thought of Lewis as a gifted player, but an obnoxious, self-centered and thuggish individual. But the Lewis in Wilbon's column is highly intelligent, thoughtful, wise and farsighted. Absolutely worth a look. Ray, I apologize for underestimating you previously.

I really enjoyed Miss Manners' column today. My favorite sentence came in her reply to a man who was deciding whether or not to approach his girlfriend about the fact that she keeps picking up his books before she's finished with them: "Miss Manners suggests that you address the lady before you find yourself addressing a courtroom to explain why you had to dispatch her." Definitely worth a read. Miss Manners has a wonderfully dry sense of humor.

Finally, The Smart Lady returns to healthy blogging today, and she's firing on all cylinders. And I don't care what Hammerin' Hank thinks... I'm going to keep praising her in this space. The Smart Lady is the sun, moon and stars, and everyone should know it.

Oh, blow it out your ass, you pussy.

I'd better go address Hammerin' Hank before I find myself addressing a courtroom about why I had to dispatch him. See you tomorrow, if I'm not in jail then. 
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Talkin' Baseball" by Terry Cashman

NOW BATTING: THE ANTI-DC-BASEBALL CAMPAIGN

Hello, all. As I mentioned yesterday, Charles Pierce wrote a screed slamming DC baseball in yesterday's Slate. If you didn't borther to read it, good for you! But in case you're interested, here it is again. My first impulse was to ignore it entirely, since the article is simple-minded and illogical. But then it occurred to me: Is this what's keeping us from getting a team? Do arguments like Pierce's actually hold sway with the powers that be? If so, that would be a tragedy. It's bad enough not to have a team, but if we lose one to ignorance, we have only ourselves to blame. On that basis, I decided to run through Pierce's rant and demolish it, point by point. Strap in, folks, because it's going to be a bumpy ride. I will put Pierce's quotes in italics, with my responses in standard font.

I beg Major League Baseball not to lose what's left of its senses and give Washington another team for the city to ignore. The endless flocks of lightweight Beltway harpies that would descend on the team—"Hey, Bob, let's go down in the stands and talk to George Stephanopoulos"—in short order would render that team the most insufferable sports experience not involving George Will. Except that it likely would involve George Will.

Cheap shot. Nowhere in his article does Pierce attack the "lightweight Hollywood harpies" who flock to Dodgers games, for instance. He does go after his own team on this score, saying: "Up here in Boston, our poor snakebitten Red Sox are regularly beset by enough Harvard professors to start a small Southeast Asian war." Fair enough. I'm not sure if he's implying he'd rather spend games in the company of English soccer hooligans or drunken brawling Yankees fans, but he's entitled to his opinion. But his slap at George Will is a cheap attempt to stir up populist anger. What his argument conveniently ignores is that no one forces you to read George Will's columns. A Washington team would not be broadcasting Will's commentary over the public-address system. Just as Red Sox fans can choose not to read Doris Kearns Goodwin or Steven Jay Gould, Washington fans can choose to ignore Will. Personally, I like Will's baseball commentary. But I guess Pierce wouldn't want to sit next to me either.

A bit of history: Our nation's capital is not merely a lousy baseball town; it is a staggeringly lousy baseball town. The first Washington Senators stunk at their beginnings and stunk when they blew town for Minneapolis in 1961.

And they won the World Series in 1924 and captured AL pennants in '25 and '33, but that's not the point here. The point is that it's ridiculous to blame Washington for the fact that the Senators stunk on toast. In fact, it's something of a testament to the city that they managed to support a typically-awful team for 60 years. Oh, and Charles: The Twins (as the Senators called themselves after moving to Minneapolis) seem to be doing better these days. How's the box office there? So great that Twins owner Carl Pohlad tried to get his team contracted in 2001. Minneapolis must be a terrific baseball town, though, right? The team's winning!

In between, they were owned by the Griffiths, Clark père and Calvin fils. Calvin managed the not-inconsiderable feat of making his old man look good. He eventually came to blame his bad team's bad attendance on the fact that Washington's largely African-American fan base declined to patronize his ball club, even though those same fans turned out in droves to watch the Negro Leagues play at Griffith's Griffith Stadium.

Okay, let me see if I have this straight: The Senators were a bad team most of the time, and they were operated by a pair of tightwad racist morons, and the team still survived for 60 years? Boy, yeah, Washington baseball fans sure must be lousy. It's not as though Washington picked the Griffiths to own the team by some sort of popular referendum. If we could have replaced them with someone better, believe me, we would have.

Almost unbelievably, Major League Baseball awarded Washington another franchise immediately upon Griffith's departure for the more Caucasian heartland. Senators, Part Deux, played in Washington for 10 years, never got closer than within 15 games of a pennant, had Ted Freaking Williams for a manager for its last three seasons, and failed so resoundingly that, in 1971, after drawing only 7.3 million fans over its entire decade in the District, the team decamped to Texas, where it became known as the Rangers.

Well, gosh, Washington couldn't have gotten another team because MLB thought it was a good baseball town, could it? Once again, Pierce cites the lousy play of the team and pretends that it's the city's fault. And about those attendance figures: Pierce fails to note that attendance took a huge step forward in 1969, jumping to 11,335 a game from 6,749 the year before. (11,335 may not sound impressive, but it was good for 6th in a 12-team league then.) Not coincidentally, the Senators posted a surprising 86-76 record in '69 (managed by the aforementioned Mr. Freaking Williams). Like every other sports town, DC fans turned out when the team was good. And don't even get me started on the Texas move; suffice it to say, the owner of the Senators at the time, a Mr. Bob Short (or $hort, as I fondly call him) had no actual interest in keeping the team in DC from the moment he bought it. These are the kind of things you'd know, Mr. Pierce, if you did what I like to call "research." Try it sometime.

The arguments that Washington deserves a third chance to fail as a baseball town come down to the facts that a) the city's been played for suckers by MLB several times over the past 30 years and b) our Nation's Capital must and shall be represented in our National Pastime. These are, of course, absurd. Major League Baseball plays every city without a franchise for a sucker. It's one of the major pleasures of having an exemption from the nation's antitrust laws. As to the second, well, Washington already is represented in our National Pastime. It has the Redskins.

I'm just going to ignore that football remark, as it has no place in a dignified argument. And it's worth noting that Pierce's reductionist representation of the pro-DC argument ignores the actual reasons for putting a team here, such as a metropolian population of 5 million (double that of chief rival suitor Portland) and some of the highest per-capita incomes in the country. But no, of course DC baseball boosters never use facts. Not in Pierce's world. The point about being played for suckers by MLB in the past is the primary reason we don't have stadium funding in place right now, so (a) is invalid. And as for (b), it's a slogan, idiot. That's like slamming "I Like Ike" because it doesn't articulate a coherent foreign policy. It's a nifty rallying cry, but no one here believes we deserve a team just because we're the capital. After all, if we don't deserve Congressional representation, why should we deserve a baseball team? But that's another argument.

The Montreal Expos...likely will be moving, and there's a call to move them to Washington or, at least, to Northern Virginia. This latter is a dead giveaway. A move to Northern Virginia—which hasn't been the capital of anything since Lee surrendered—is all about sweetheart stadium deals and pacifying Peter Angelos, the obstreperous incompetent who owns the Baltimore Orioles and who is said to be opposed to any new baseball team in Washington itself.

Allow me to take a moment to whack Pierce on the knuckles for his brain-dead throwaway line that Northern Virginia "hasn't been the capital of anything since Lee surrendered." Chuckie, buddy, Northern Virginia wasn't the capital of anything before Lee surrendered either. The capital of the Confederacy in its later stages was Richmond, which (despite what Peter Antichrist might be telling you) isn't in Northern Virginia. It's in southern Virginia. Two different worlds. As for the meat of his assertion... uh, yeah, it is about placating Angelos. Your point? You've got to work with the territory. And if you think there are any "sweetheart stadium deals" to be had in Northern Virginia, you've got another think coming.

Not only that, but a team in Northern Virginia is a tacit acknowledgement of Calvin Griffith's odious notion that black Washington either cannot or will not support a Major League Baseball team.

No, it isn't. This is race-baiting, pure and simple. If the team lands in Northern Virginia (and, for what it's worth, I'd rather have it downtown), it will be because (a) Northern Virginia is the population center of the area, and (b) because Angelos made us do it. There's enough racial mistrust in the country today without you bringing these half-baked nonsense assumption in here. For shame.

Moreover, please God, any team but the Expos. They are a geographically diverse team, and now they play—largely unnoticed, granted—in a delightfully cosmopolitan city...Why take this wonderful mosaic of a team and drop it into a provincial swamp like Washington—a place where Sally Quinn is an arbiter of style, Tim Russert an arbiter of wisdom, and in which Larry King and Don Imus are considered wits.

First of all, it takes a real set of cojones for someone from Boston to call Washington a "provincial swamp." When Pierce refers to the Expos playing in a "delightfully cosmopolitan city," which one does he mean: Montreal or San Juan? Assuming he means Montreal, I agree with him. But no one's coming to the games! I don't care how terrific it is to visit; professional player demand to be paid in dollars, and the Expos aren't pulling enough as is. As for Washington, Pierce went for the easy, cheap caricature, but the Washington I know is a delightfully diverse international city. Granted, we have our share of greying white guys in blue suits, but New York and Boston don't? We've got a mosaic of cultures here, and not just in the city, either. Northern Virginia has vibrant Hispanic and Asian communities. In Annandale, where I went to high school, there are nearly as many signs in Korean as there are in English. The stereotype of Washington as sleepy Southern backwater is 50 years old. Time to give it up.

I could go on, but I think my point is made. If this is the best DC bashers can do, I'd say we ought to have a team all sewn up. (For what it's worth, Rob Neyer makes a thoughtful, balanced case for Portland. I still think DC's a better place for a team, but Portland deserves a shot.) Tell you what, Charles: You let us have the Expos, and I'll get you a pair of earplugs so you can protect yourself should you wind up sitting next to George Will or Doris Kearns Goodwin. Is it a deal?

For you DC baseball boosters, here's a good blog that's keeping an eye on the effort. I recommend it.

This morning on my way into work, there was a gentleman playing his bagpipes outside the Metro. I know it's fashionable to make fun of the bagpipes, but as far as I'm concerned, nothing clears the head on a foggy morning like a good shot of the bagpipes. But then, I'm biased in favor of street musicians in general. In the last couple of weeks, I've heard a pretty good sax blower, a guy on electric guitar singing "Grandma's Hands," a terrific violin players, and a guy doing an a cappella rendition of "Lean on Me." These acts make me grateful I work downtown; they don't do that kind of thing in Dot-Com Canyon, I assure you.

I have nothing but the highest respect for the Washington Post's Bob Levey. I think he's a talented writer, and he's had his finger on the pulse of the city for 20 years. Also, he does a lot of good charitable work. But every once in a while, he uncorks a column that makes me wonder if he's off his medication. This is one of them. Here, Bob imagines a conversation with former Senators pitcher Walter Johnson in his (Bob's) bedroom late at night. The thrust of Bob's (or, rather, "Walter's") argument is that the new Senators should recruit the highest-character guys it can find, and sell itself on that basis. Now, I'm as much in favor of high-character guys as the next fellow. But your typical sports fan is not going to pay $25 a pop to see the Pope go 0-for-4 and drop 3 fly balls. Fans want to see winning baseball. If they want character, they'll turn on the Little League World Series. Nice idea, Bob, but well... (In Bob's defense, it's not easy to write a daily column. I've been at theis gig for all of a month, and I've already had moments when I was tempted to sift through my pockets and write about what I found therein. Even the greats -- and Levey is one -- are entitled to the occasional clunker.)

That's all from this end for now. I don't know what I'll be writing about tomorrow, but the pocket inventory is looking pretty good about now. Take care, and see you tomorrow.

 
Monday, August 25, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell

GATHER ROUND, YOUNG LOVERS

Hi there, everyone. I hope you all had a good weekend. I certainly did; more on this anon. As promised, today Mediocre Fred brings you the second installment of Uncle Millie's unique romantic advice. This week's column was mailed to me on the back of a postcard from the Miller brewery, where Uncle Millie has apparently been touring. Actually, to be precise, his column was mailed on the back of several postcards. Apparently, you get to mail one free postcard for each tour you take, and he sent me a total of.... let's see... 37 postcards over a two-day period. The last few postcards are a little sloppy, but I think I can make out the words. I'm not sure why he switched over to German halfway through, but I located a translator. Oh, and if any of our Milwaukee-area readers happen to bump into Uncle Millie on the street, please take away his car keys. Thank you.
Enough preamble. Here's Uncle Millie!

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Advice on Mainting a Healthy and Successful Romantic Life, by Uncle Millie

Lads, I bid you welcome. Last week, if I recall correctly, Uncle Millie acquainted you with his illustrious romantic career. Having established my credentials as a romantic without equal, I shall now endeavor to offer you the basic secrets to my success. You may wish to print this out, highlight the important parts and review them before big dates. It's not every day, after all, that a master of love reveals his secrets so openly. So take good care and commit this advice to memory, would you? Good lad. Now, I'll admit that you may not possess Uncle Millie's charm and boyish good looks, which may make it difficult to replicate my level of success with women. But that's quite all right; you needn't measure yourself by my standards. I promise you that, by heeding my advice and following it rigrously, you'll see a dramatic change in your romantic fortunes. So chin up, lad, and pay attention. And remember: Love may seem like hard work, but in the end the rewards can be enormous. Just ask any of my ex-wives.

So, to the advice. Right after a brief pause to sample this fine beverage they've placed in front of me. It's an Icehouse, I'm told. It's not bad, not bad at all. Smooth finish. I recommend it. Anyhow, off we go:

1. The first nugget of advice is perhaps the most important of the gold mine I'll be laying before you: Never put all your eggs in one basket. Now, I know there are those (mostly female thoses) who believe in the notion of "going steady" and "monogamy" and so forth. Poppycock, I say! When placed at an all-you-can-eat buffet, only a dullard confines himself to one dish. And after all, your "steady" girlfriend may leave you tomorrow, and then where are you? You're nowhere, lad: without a girl, without love, without someone to borrow money from. This has even happened to Uncle Millie. There have been low moments, moments when I have found myself without a woman for days at a time. Days! Hard to believe, isn't it? Of course, I've learned from the adversity. I've now got it to the point where, when my seventh wife left me at 2 AM in a motel in a city which I'd never been to before, I had another woman at my side within the hour. Within the hour! Ah, memories...

2. On the art of staring at other girls. Now, as far as I'm concerned, ogling pretty girls is a man's God-given right. After all, why would He have given women curves and men eyes, if He did not intend for us to look? Therefore, you should not let your relationship stop you from exercising your rights. The trick is not to let your girlfriend catch you at it. For example, if you have chosen to wine and dine your beloved at a posh restaurant (which, incidentally, I recommend, unless your woman eats like horse), you should try your level best not to leer at the waitress, and under no circumstances should you hit on her (unless your girlfriend is using the ladies' room and the waitress is really coming on to you). Remember, lad, discretion is the better part of maintaining a relationship.

3. About the matter of paying for dates. In the olden days, when Uncle Millie was a young scamp, the man was required to finance the relationship. There was some alleged reason for this economic blackmail, but I could never figure it out. Remember, lad, we're in a new century! We live in a more enlightened time now. "Go dutch," or better yet, have her pay for everything! Now these arrangments may strike you as somehow ungentlemanly, but trust me, lad: Whatever you save now, you'll pay out in alimony later. This is merely an attempt to even the scales.

4. This next is a common trap that has snared many a young man over the year. Sadly, Uncle Millie has fallen for it. Some devious girls will attempt to pry from you some sort of commitment about the depth of your love for her, future prospects for marriage, names of future children, etc. You must resist. Remember: Commitment is evil. Never reveal such deeply felt sentiment to your beloved. It is a game you cannot win. Suppose your lady love asks you how much you love her. There are two possible outcomes: Her love for you is deeper than yours for her, or vice versa. In my experience, the first scenario is far more likely. Of course, if this is the case, then you'll get the sort of weepy emotional scene you should always strive to avoid: She'll start sniveling about how you don't really care about her, then she'll throw her arms around you and start crying. This is a terribly messy situation. After all, if she's a real tearbucket (and I've known a few), she'll probably wilt the starch in your collar, and if she clings hard enough, she might even ruin the press of your suit. If you think that's bad, consider the alternative. If you truly do you love her sincerely and deeply, this is even worse. Now she has a trump card over you. The next time you get into a fight, you can just bet she'll say something like, "I thought you said you really loved me!" And what kind of comeback can you find for that? You mant to keep her as completely in the dark about your thoughts and feelings as possible. Ideally, she won't even know when you plan to go out with her. She'll sit at home, you will just show up at some point, and she'll feel compelled to go along. If you really and truly feel the need to express deep and heartfelt sentiments, talk to someone you can trust, such as your bartender.

5. Believe it or not, despite your best attempts to keep your girlfriend from knowing your thoughts and feelings, she may, if she's one of those intellectual types (who, incidentally, you should probably avoid), discover some of your "extracurricular activities," if you catch my drift. This will probably lead to some sort of ugly confrontation, not unlike the Spanish Inquisition, wherein your girl will demand some sort of explanation. In this situation, lad, there is only one option available to you: Lie. Lie about everything. Lie without compunction. Because if you don't, lad, it is all over for you. Trust me.

Now, I can easily anticipate your next question. "But, Uncle Millie, what if I can't come up with a good lie on the spot?" That's a perfectly valid query, lad. I happen to be blessed with the ability to "think on my feet," but not all of us can be so blessed. So for you, lad, I would suggest that you prepare yourself in advance. Sit down for a few hours on some rainy night (I myself have used this activity as a filler between marriages) and concoct a list of plausible explanations for situations that you may find yourself in. For example, if you have lipstick on your collar, you could say, "I was assaulted by a disgruntled Mary Kay saleswoman." If you're four hours late for a date: "I got caught behind the Presidential motorcade." Forgot a date entirely: "I had to donate blood (or a kidney, whichever seems more likely)." Caught kissing another girl: "Gee, she looked just like you from here. I guessed I need to get glasses (or get a stronger prescription, if you're wearing glasses already)." Practice these fibs when you can. Work on a natural delivery. When the time comes, you'll be reasy. And if she doesn't believe your excuses, why, you'll just have to dump her. After all, lad, what sort of relationship do you have if she doesn't trust you?

6. Speaking of fibbing, some girls will tell you that they love you for you, and that they just want you to act natural and not change a thing. These girls are lying. This bit about "being true to yourself" is a pile of horse manure. No girl alive can honestly say she wouldn't change a thing about her boyfriend. Who wouldn't rather have a richer, taller, or more attractive man? Therefore, the trick is to determine just what it is your beloved finds appealing in a man, and then tailor yourself to her preferences. For example, if she loves an intellectual man, wear glasses. If she prefers a European fellow, tell her you were born in, say, France. (If you go this route, it might be helpful to carry around a travel guide to your new "hometown" and refer to it on the sly from time to time, so that you may casually toss out charming facts about your birthplace, such as its population density and annual rainfall.) She won't suspect a thing. After all, what can she do, check your birth certificate? (If she actually does this, though, your problems are far larger than your little fabrication.) If she is attracted to athletes, invest in some sports equipment and "accidentally" bring it along on dates. "Whoops," you might say suavely, "I forgot to leave my hockey stick back at the rink, where I am the leading scorer on my team." As you become a bit older, you might be able to invent a modest professional career for yourself. I once convinced a woman that I was the starting first baseman for the Boston Red Sox. I had her going for weeks until she discovered that the Red Sox' starting first baseman was Mo Vaughn, who does not quite resemble me in that his eyes are hazel and he weighs 280 pounds and he is black. Ideally, you want to impersonate a player who is roughly your own race and physical shape. The key here is that you are not lying about yourself, exactly, you are "repackaging" yourself. This is much like the sort of "resume enhancement" wherein you claim to have been manager of a local bank, when in fact the closest you have been to the position of bank manager is the time you were questioned by security guards in the manager's office after attempting to assault an automatic teller machine. In short, everyone "Enhances" his life at some time or another. Trust me, lad, it's a competitive world out there. What odds of success do you think you'll have if you act like yourself?

7. Learn French. Chicks dig it. Trust me. I used to be a French teacher.

8. One final piece of advice, and this is important: At some point, if everything is going well, your beloved may ask you to marry her, or will begin dropping subtle hints that she'd like you to pop the big question. Lad, if you take nothing else away from this adivce, I urge you to listen to this: Never, under any circumstances, allow yourself to be married. I speak from vast experience. The first three or four marriages may seem pleasant, even fun. But believe me, once the alimony bills and the child support begin to add up, the thrill will be gone. A wise man, possibly Shakespeare, once said, "Marriage isn't a word; it's a sentence." Listen to this wise man. Believe me, lad, if you don't, you will come to regret it for the rest of your increasingly miserable and destitute life.

So there's my advice to you. Go forth and multiply! Early and often! If you have any other questions, I'm here to help; I'll be answering your question every week in this space. Now, Uncle Millie has a favor to ask of you. I have an alimony payment coming up, and I'm a bit short, so if you could send your contributions to-

(Editor's Note: At this point Uncle Millie's writing descends into gibberish, followed by what appears to be several verses of the "Too Fat Polka." Therefore, the column does not have a proper end. I apologize to you, The Reader, for this omission.)

- - - - -

And we're back! As I said, I had a good weekend. I spent much of it taking care of The Smart Lady, though we did make time on Saturday evening to attend the Redskins' preseason game. The Smart Lady's office owns a suite, so we were living in high style in the rich man's seats throughout the meaningless exhibition. Just sitting in the suite, I felt the urge to lay somebody off. The Smart Lady appears to be emerging from her illness, which makes me quite happy. Thanks to those of you who sent along your good-health vibes.

An appalling story in the Washington Post: a politician shows backbone! The politician in question is Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch, who has looks at the huge forthcoming budget deficit and concluded, sensibly, that closing the gap will in fact require tax hikes. Naturally, he's being fried to a crisp by swing-district Democrats, who are petrified that the voters won't react kindly to honesty. Sadly, they're probably right. But kudos to Busch for saying what must be said.

A big week for sports championships. Tokyo, Japan won this year's Little League World Series over Boynton Beach, Florida. The Long Island Lizards won the Major League Lacrosse championship. And the Washington Freedom won the Founders' Cup! Woohoo! A champion here in the Fedroplex! The Freedom topped the Atlanta Beat, 2-1. I'd be celebrating this title even more vociferously, except that I don't know what sport the Freedom supposedly play. I've never heard of them. And the Atlanta Beat? Methinks some sports desk somewhere made all this up, in order to have some fun at our expense. Shame on them.

For a dissenting view on the DC baseball drive, check out this piece by Charles Pierce in Slate. I, of course, think he's a moron, and plan to spend most of tomorrow's post destroying his argument. But in the interests of equal time, feel free to see what the gentleman has to say.

And with that, I ride into the sunset for another day. I'll be back tomorrow, as always. Try not to miss me too much. See you tomorrow. 
Sunday, August 24, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner

ANGRY OLD MAN

Rooting for a bad baseball team is hard. As a man who follows a team currently hurtling toward its 11th consecutive losing season, I should know. To be sure, rooting for a perennial loser in any sport is difficult, but there's something about baseball, with its 162-game season that amounts to a form of Chinese water torture when your team is in the cellar. If, for instance, you root for a bad football team, at least the bad news only comes once a week. You need only gird yourself for 16 days of misery per season, which is certainly doable. In baseball, though, there's no escaping the daily drumbeat of bad news. The late-inning blown leads, courtesy of a closer who seems to be laying heavy bets on the other side. The nights when your offense decides to stop all the hitting and give peace a chance. The nights when you do get the hits, but can't score any runs. Worst of all, the merciless throttlings at the hands of teams who are clearly and flagrantly displaying superior talent. Maybe if you're lucky, your team will occasionally be featured on Sportscenter, if they hit into a triple play, or if your starter gives up back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs, or if an opposing player decides that it's "Maim the Mascot Day" at the ballpark. If you're really lucky, perhaps your team will get to play "spoiler," scoring and unlikely win and ruining the chances of an opponent with something to play for. But for most of us cellar-dwelling fans, the pleasures are few and the pain is more or less constant, like a dull throbbing toothache that won't go away, not without a root canal or something similarly painful and expensive, like a new stadium.

But there are the few fortnate bad teams, those that have a focal point, something positive to hang your hat on. Perhaps a team with a lone but likeable superstar, or a promising left-hander, or a center fielder with a knack for spectacular, electrifying catches. Or perhaps a really colorful manager. The sort of manager who gives interesting (if not always printable) quotes. The sort of manager who turns home-plate rhubarbs into a sort of guerrilla performance art, in which the old skipper punctuates his appeal to the umps with creative cursing, kicking of dirt, tossing of bases, and other such theatrics. The kind of manager whose native language appears to be foul. A manager, in short, like Lou Piniella.

For those readers who are not baseball fans, Piniella is the manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a franchise that's been confined to baseball purgatory since its founding in 1998. In the five years (to date) of their existence, the Rays have yet to post a winning season, or even to win 70 games in a year. By comparison, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were founded the same year, won the World Series in 2001. The team plays in an awful, outdated stadium (a domed stadium with turf, no less... in a climate like Tampa's!) in the wrong part of town (St. Petersburg, which is a good 20- to 30-minute drive from Tampa, where most of the population is) with bad uniforms (although the current look, inaugurated last year, isn't half bad). The crowds are regularly among the worst in baseball (averaging around 10,000; the major-league average is 26,000). The team wouldn't even exist if the city of Tampa, which built the aforementioned stadium/mausoleum in 1991 to attract a team that never came, hadn't threatened to sue Major League Baseball for damages. The threat of relocation or contraction hangs over the team's head like carrion flies over the carcass of a dead possum. Were it not for the absurd 30-year lease the Rays signed on the above-named mausoleum, they might be gone already. Two of their brightest prospects were Nick Bierbrodt, who was shot in the arm at a fast-food drive-through (he's fine now), and Greg "Toe" Nash, who was finally released by the team after being sent to jail for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. In short, this was a team that desperately needed something for its fans to believe in.

Enter Piniella. Known as "Sweet Lou" to his friends, Piniella had a long-time reputation as a hothead, dating back to his days as a minor-league player in the '60s, when he became enraged over a bad day at the plate and kicked an outfield fence, which toppled over on him. Piniella's temper is a bit more under control these days, but only a bit. He raged through managerial tenures with the Yankees (twice), Reds (World Series championship in 1990) and Mariners (guiding the team to its first-ever playoff appearance and winning 116 games in 2001), earning a reputation as a good manager with a bad temper. After the 2002 season, Piniella decided he wanted out of Seattle, so he started running his mouth to reporters about his (low) opinion of management. Then he quit, leaving himself free to seek employment elsewhere. Only there was one catch. Since his contract with the Mariners technically had one year left to run, which meant Seattle was free to seek compensation for Piniella before he could go elsewhere. Piniella, a Tampa native, told reporters that he wanted to move "closer to his family." Translation: he wanted to manage the New York Mets, a big-budget team coming off a hugely disappointing 2002 season. But Seattle GM Pat Gillick, being a warm-hearted and family-oriented soul, insisted that Lou should be even closer to his family. Gillick spurned all compensation offers from the Mets, thereby offering Lou the exciting choice of managing the Devil Dogs or spending the year as Seattle's hostage. Faced with that choice, Lou packed his bags for Florida. He took one look around the Rays organization and declared that he was going to bring a New Attitude to a despondent, moribund club.

The Rays got a taste of the New Attitude in spring training, after they blew a late lead in an exhibition game. Quoth Piniella: "No wonder you f***ing guys lost one-hundred-f***ing-five motherf***ing games last year." And he's been raging ever since. After one loss in Yankee Stadium, he ripped off his trousers during the postgame interview. He covered home plate with dirt during a fight with an umpire. He kicked his cap into the stands after being ejected from a game. In a reprise of an old favorite, he ripped first base from its moorings and heaved it into the outfield. (He'd previously done this in Cincinnati back in 1991). And he's very publicly blasted his players if he perceived a lack of effort. Outfielder Ben Grieve and catcher Toby Hall have felt the sting of Piniella's lash most strongly, but one has to admire the economy of expression in this scene, when Piniella went out to pay a visit to struggling starter Victor Zambrano:

PINIELLA: So, how are you doing?
ZAMBRANO: I'm okay.
PINIELLA: Well, I'm not!!

This is a perfect example of the different standard to which managers and coaches are held, as compared to normal civilized society. For instance, imagine a president who dealt with political opponents in this fashion:

PRESIDENT: So, how goes the budget bill? Any progress?
SENATOR: Well, it's stalled in committee. I think these projections are questionable, and frankly I-
PRESIDENT: Well, frankly I think you can go f*** yourself. I've got a f***ing country to run, and you f***ing motherf***ers are sitting around playing with yourselves and not passing my budget?! Kiss my ass in hell, f***ers!
SENATOR: Well, Mr. President, with all due respect, we've got a problem here, and-
PRESIDENT: The only f***ing problem is that the Congress is run by f***ing incompetents. Now get your candy ass out of here before I-
AIDE: Excuse me, Mr. President, but the Canadian Prime Minister is here to see you.
PRESIDENT: Tell the Prime Minister to bite me.

Now, this president would not in all likelihood be praised as a leader and motivator. Terms like "maniac" and "dangerously unstable" might be more common. But a manager can behave this way, and so long as he wins, everyone will pat him on the head. Piniella is no exception in this regard. No one seems willing to suggest that raw young players with presumably fragile psyches might not necessarily benefit most strongly from Piniella's unique brand of red-ass rage. No, Piniella is just what this team needs, we're told. His "winning background" and "professional work ethic" will make this team into something great some day. Perhaps this is true. Time will tell.

But even if Piniella's act isn't what his team needs, it's definitely what the fans need. The Devil Rays need to prove to Tampa-area fans that the team has a pulse, and what better way to do so than show them Piniella, veins bulging, questioning some umpire's ancestry? By way of contrast, my team of choice (the Milwaukee Brewers) is managed by Ned Yost, a nice man who seems to be a decent manager. But does this get us any play in the press? No. What gets you play is Mount Piniella, ready to erupt. And whether or not it generates results, maybe that's what could help the Devil Rays the most at the moment. For better or worse, the team has a real personality now. The fact that said personality seems liable to split someone's head open with a bat at any moment is even better, as far as the team is concerned.

In the long term, of course, they'll need to show some life. If they keep languishing in last place, no amount of Piniella tantrums will save them, or him. For now, though, the team is young, the payroll is low, the wins are not forthcoming. So the fans at least deserve a show. And for now, that may be enough. Lou Piniella probably never imagined he'd wind up in Tampa this year. But he may wind up being what keeps the Rays in Tampa, for years to come.

That's all for now. Back on the regular schedule Monday, with our friend Uncle Millie making his triumphant return. See you tomorrow. 
Friday, August 22, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "I Wish It Would Rain" by the Temptations

IN PRAISE OF THUNDERSTORMS

Hi there, all. It's beastly hot in Washington today... 95 degrees with enough humidity to make it feel like 105. (Note to those readers from the Southwest who are planning to write me and tell me what hot really feels like: Sure, sure, whatever. Doesn't make it any less hot here. Besides, you don't have to deal with the humidity.) It's times like this that really make me wish for a good cracking summer storm, the kind where the sky turns almost black and the advancing clouds seem to be humming the Funeral March as they swirl over your head and the rain comes in sheets, not drops, as if Niagara Falls had suddenly been diverted over my house. And, of course, thunder and lightning and lots of it.

People tend to fall into one of two camps on thunderstorms. Either they run and hide at the first thunderclap, or they flock to the window to watch the light show unfloding over their heads. I've always been in the latter camp. Give me bolts streaking and winking in the distance, give me brilliant flashes that light up the clouds and then fade away, even give me the big crashers right overhead that pop like flash bulbs and give way to those stunning crashes so loud you think the earth's going to split open and swallow you whole. Doesn't matter. I'll be transfixed no matter what. If I was ever to be struck by lightning, I imagine I'd pick myself up off the ground, wipe the charred eyebrow hairs off my face, wave off the nice people who assumed I'd want to go to the hospital and say, "Not until it's finished." I don't go out deliberately chasing after storm; I'm not quite that crazy. But if one happens to come my way, well, I'll just sit back, relax and enjoy it.

Why am I so enthralled by thunderstorms? I think it's a lot of things. For one thing, I'm a big fan of light shows. As a kid, I used to love taking road trips at night. I'd peer out my car windows as we rumbled along the interstates, squinting into the distance, trying to differentiate those smudges of light and color that drifted by as we passed. To me, a small town full of colorful lights was a sign of industry, a sign of contented inhabitants staking their claim to a patch of the universe, filling it full of those man-made colors, the neons, the vibrant pinks and greens and reds that nature never quite matched, even when the sun was bright as could be. I always found those neon-splashed byways and main drag warm and welcoming, as if the town was putting on a show for you. During the day, those same towns often looked sleepy, drab, a little decrepit and down at the heels. Urban decay is painfully obvious when the sun is out. But at night... ah, the night and the lights hide a multitude of sins. They inject life and vigor, whether or not it's really there. Especially nights in the late fall and early winter, when the air is clear and crisp and your breath rises in a gentle meandering haze, mingling with the lights and blurring the picture a little bit. Better still, when a light snow is falling and frosts everything just so, and the light catches the snow and everything is like a picture postcard somehow. I could never harbor an ill thought about a city I met at night in November in a light snow, no matter how leprous it may be in reality. Thunderstorms are the closest summer equivalent to that moment. Those random flashes, a sudden light briefly blinking out of the darkness, are a lot like those little towns rushing by on the interstate. I like light, and I like randomness, as the thunderstorm is a sweet marriage of both.

Also, there's something impressive about the heavens in full fury. Many of you probably had some sort of parentally-proffered heavenly explanation for thunderstorms. My mom told me the angels were bowling. If so, it must be that so-called "cosmic bowling," because at my bowling alley I never see explosions of light in the unlikely event that I hit something other than the gutter, or the ball return if I'm having a particularly tough outing. No matter... there's definitely something awe-inspiring about watching the clash of the atmospheric titans, forces so much bigger than I creating such havoc. It's a welcome antidote to the self-privileging culture we live in these days, the idea that the individual is king or queen of his or her domain, and that everything is or should be within his or her control. Big booming storms remind us that, try as we might to manage and conquer our planet, some things are just out of our control. No matter how much we stomp and shot and shake our fists, we aren't going to stop the storms. And that's a good thing. They may be momentarily inconvenient, but they do the earth good in the main. And what's so important that we can't sit and watch for a few minutes? Summer storms never last long. I can spare the time, especially to be reminded of my place in the larger scheme of things.

Last, and perhaps best, is when you get to share the storm with someone you care about. Independence and self-reliance is a wonderful thing, yes, but there's something nice about someone curling up next to you and leaning against you for protection, if only for a moment during the biggest boomers. There's somthing a little primal about those big storms, and it's nice to be able to play protector for a little while, whether it be for a significant others, children or pets. I used to ride out childhood storms with my elderly lady cat, Nicky. As soon as the winds started kicking up, she found my lap (she, of course, knew instinctively in which chair at which window I'd be sitting) and let me stroke her back while the angels bowled. Much of the time, she played the aloof role felines are apparently instructed to play in the womb, but during thunderstorms she wanted comfort. My comfort. And how can you not like that?

The weird Washington weather this summer has given me quite a few opportunities for enjoyment so far, but the summer squall season is drawing to a close. But I'm hoping the sky has a couple more shows in store. If it does, you know where I'll be. I'll be in my chair, watching the lights and feeling like a kid again, hearing the angels bowl and waiting for Nicky to find my lap and let me keep her safe.

A bit of a surprising and sad story in the Post today, concerning South Dakota Rep. Bill Janklow. Apparently, Janklow's always had a bit of a lead foot, and last week it cost him. He was driving 20 MPH over the legal limit, ran a stop sign and struck and killed a 55-year-old motorcyclist. Even though Janklow is hugely popular in his state, having served several terms as governor before going to the House last year, it looks like his political career is over. It seems a shame, in a way, until you think about the other guy. He lost a lot more than a career. I know I'm going to drive slower in the future. I hope you, The Reader, will do likewise.

Side note to Portland baseball fans: Oops. Looks like your State Senate voted down funding for a baseball stadium. Sorry about that. But hey, I hear Amway pays pretty well these days. Commissioner, what are you waiting for? Call D.C.! You can even call collect; we promise to accept the charages.

I'm watching "Sweet Dreams" on the Food Network at present. It stars a sweet middle-aged woman named Gale Gand, who shows you how to make quality desserts from the comfort of her warm, homey fake kitchen. What always strikes me about the show is that Gale Gand always has this sorrowful look on her face, like no one invited her to the big dance and now she's stuck at home on a Saturday night babysitting her little sister and showing her how to make apple crostata. She really looks like she needs a hug. So, Gale, if you're out there, consider yourself hugged.

Finally, The Smart Lady is still under the weather, so I'll be by her side with apple-cinnamon tea tonight. Please send along all your good, healthy vibes, so she'll heal as fast as possible. I worry, you know.

As promised, I'll have something this weekend. Remains to be seen what "something" will be, but I'm sure it will come to me. It usually does. Stay cool and see you later. 
Thursday, August 21, 2003
  SORRY, FOLKS

No post today. The Smart Lady's feeling sick, and I'm going to go take care of her. I'll make it up to you, The Reader, sometime this weekend with an extra post. See you tomorrow. 
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Dazed and Confused" by Led Zeppelin

ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE REPRESENTATIVE MORON

This morning I re-read my post on the California governor's race, which has met a certain favorable reaction, and I was chuckling to myself the whole way through. Not at my scathingly witty remarks, but at the process which brought all these wonderful people into the media spotlight. "Ha ha!" I said to myself. "What a stupid system they have in California. They deserve all the ridicule that Gallagher and Larry Flynt can give them." Then I pondered a little more, and a sobering thought crossed my mind. "Who am I," I said to myself, "to criticize the results of this process?" (At this point, Hammerin' Hank told me to shut up and stop talking to myself, so the rest of this is internal monologue.) "After all, those wacky Californians may come out of this with a bad governor, but my district just sent Jim Moran to Congress again, and we can't even blame a recall." This awful realization spread over me like a virus, and I had to take a long water break before I could sit down to write about how the hell Moran happened.

For those who aren't familiar with Rep. Moran and his, uh, unique career, allow me to acquaint you. Moran began his political career as a councilman in the city of Alexandria, where he was elected mayor in 1985. He was elected to Congress in 1990, where he's remained, like a bad case of mold spores, ever since. And to be fair, Moran has his good qualities. He's a real charmer when he wants to be, warm and well-spoken, with a knack for shaking hands and making eye contact. He's a fairly impressive-looking figure, with a craggy Irish face and thick silver hair. His issue positions seem to be in sync with his heavily Democratic district. And he's a master at constituent service; if one of his voters wants something, ask and it shall be delivered. Kind of like Santa Claus.

Unfortunately, there's another side to the distinguished Representative. Actually, his flaws can be broken down into two categories. The first is that he's corrupt in the old-fashioned, scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours sort of way. This is the kind of thing that bothers good-government types, which my district contains in some quantity, but on the other hand, it's so rare to see this kind of corruption carried off with such style in this day and age. It could almost be said that Moran is reviving a lost art.

Unfortunately, the second category of gaffes isn't so amusing. On many occasions, in a wide variety of ways, Moran has demonstrated a complete and utter lack of self-control. Never mind whether politicians should be held to a higher standard; Moran's odious behavior would be unacceptable in a next-door neighbor. It seems that every wacky little thought or impulse that enters his head is translated immediately into words or action, without any of the filters that we expect a typical civilized person to have. This, more than anything, is his main problem as a Congressman. Corruption is unbecoming in a politician, sure, but it's hardly unique, not the kind of thing that makes the out-of-state papers. But his outrageous statements and behavior have stirred up a national hubbub, and this will not do. Speaking as an Eighth District voter, I'm tired of being embarrassed by my Congressman.

As a public service, I've delved back into history in order to provide you, The Reader, with a tour of Congressman Moran's colorful career in politics. This has been made possible by the wonderful site MorAntics, which provides a lot of useful information in this regard. (It is run by the Virginia Republican Party, but it's really more of a public resource than a political tool, in my opnion.) So buckle in, kids, and let's watch Jim Moran as he rises through the ranks, shall we?

As I mentioned above, Moran launched his political career in the Alexandria City Council. Trouble arose, however, in 1984 when he was accused of having a business relationship with a bidder for a city contract, and financed a foreign trip for said partner with city money. This sort of garden-variety, low-level corruption seems laughably quaint now, but the City Council was evidently not amused, and Moran was forced to resign his seat.

Lesser disgraced politicians might have retired to private life at this point, but not our Jim. He bravely told reporters after his resignation, "I've asked myself if I have the courage to get back into public office, but I don't have any doubts at this point. It's too important to me. I miss it already." Detractors may well have pointed out that Moran's ethics, not his courage, were at issue here, but Moran didn't have time for these niggling concerns. He was on a mission. And, in a frankly stunning display of cojones, he immediately stood for election as mayor of Alexandria later than year. And he won! I imagine his courage and charm carried the day. And what's a little graft between friends?

Moran was by all accounts a popular mayor, and his term proceeded without incident. Unless, of course, you count the time he was forced to return campaign contributions from developers who had business with the city. Again, this is sort of a minor-league scandal, but you can't move up to big-time scandals unless you're in the big time. Or so Moran evidently figured, because in 1990 he decided it was time to run for Congress!

Moran's opponent was incumbent Republican Rep. Stan Parris, a man who shared the Moran penchant for verbal rabbit-punching but was utterly devoid of the Moran charisma. Referring to the Mayor's opposition to U.S. intervention in Iraq, Parris charmingly asserted: "The only three people I know who support Saddam Hussein's position are Moammar Gadhafi, Yasser Arafat, and Jim Moran." Moran responded by cheerfully labelling Parris "a deceitful, fatuous jerk" and winningly adding, "I want to break his nose." Eighth District voters turned out, held their noses and elected Moran by a comfortable margin. (This would be good practice for the '94 Virginia Senate race between accused coke-snorting party animal Chuck Robb and accused lying document-shredder Ollie North, which one humorist described as "the first election in which all voting booths were equipped with barf bags.") So the popular hero Moran had done it. He was going to Washington!

Moran's first couple Congressional terms passed quietly, at least until the 1995 altercation with Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham of California. Cunningham attempted to have some Moran comments on Bosnia stricken from the record. Moran, apparently forgetting that he was in fact on the floor of Congress and not in a spaghetti Western, invited Cunningham to step outside. Cunningham agreed, whereupon Moran pushed him through a door. On the other side of the door was noted peacemaker Bob Dornan (R-CA), who politely invited Moran to "get your Irish ass out of here." Everyone apologized after that incident, and things were hunky-dory, at lesat until later that year, when Moran tried to pick a fight with Republican Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana. Moran was ahead on all cards when the scuffle was stopped, but ringside observers felt Moran was carrying his left a little low, which probably would have hurt him in the later rounds.

Moran burnished his reputation for customer service in 1998 and 1999, when he finally had a chance to enter the big-time scandal world. Moran found himself in financial difficulties, which is unfortunate, but thankfully MBNA saved the day with a special low-rate mortgage. Moran said thank you in the best way he knew how: he sponsored a bankruptcy bill that coincidentally worked much to the benefit of companies like MBNA. The following year, Moran's finances were apparently is disrepair again, but -- isn't it wonderful to have friends? -- drug-lobbyist Terry Lierman stepped up and helped out his friend Moran with a low-interest personal loan. In another touching display of gratitude, Moran sponsored a bill that coincidentally worked to the benefit of the drug companies Lierman happened to represent. Later that year, after Moran's wife filed for divorce, the Congressman needed a place to live. Wouldn't you know it? One of his lobbyist friends came through again, renting Moran a house in Arlington. And Moran, Mr. Consituent Service himself, once again demonstrated his appreciation by helping to get a federal fund increase for the industries the lobbyist represented. Let it never be said that Jim Moran does not know how to say "thank you."

Unfortunately, a couple of his consituents weren't saying "thank you" after a bizarre 2000 incident in which Moran grabbed an 8-year-old black child by the throat and cursed him out after the child approached Moran near his car. The child claimed he was admiring Moran's car. Moran claimed that child said he had a gun and tried to carjack the Congressman. The Congressman later expressed regret in a very curious speech in which he said, "I just wanted to hug him. I wish I could adopt a child just like him." (Can't Moran tell the difference between a hug and a choke? Had he been hanging out with Bobby Knight?) No charges resulted from the incident, although it caused a minor headache for Moran when Republican opponent Demaris Miller pointed out that the car Moran was driving that day was leased with campaign funds. Nonetheless, Moran scored an easy victory over Miller and secured a sixth term.

After surviving a tough campaign like that, anyone could use a break. So Moran decided to relax, kick back, and have a nice quiet birthday celebration with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, his other girlfriend decided to show up and surprise him. (I hate when that happens.) Well, there were surprises all around, apparently, and the Congressman's two girlfriends wound up getting into a screaming match on his lawn, bad enough that the police were ultimately summoned. Just another day in the life, I suppose.

Moran's next spot of trouble came courtesy of his mouth, when he told the American Muslim Council that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was "probably seeking a warrant from President Bush to kill at will with weapons we have paid for." Moran has been a longtime Palestinian supporter, which is all well and good, but Jewish groups were for some reason upset by this remark, and Moran was forced to apologize, telling the Washington Post, "Probably more than anything else, it's what embarrasses me the most -- when I pander to an audience, and I've done it too often." Was the Congressman learning his lesson? Time will tell. Keep reading.

Up until this point, Moran was for me an amusement, a troubled Congressman to be sure, but not my problem. Well, the Virginia legislature thoughtfully decided to make him my problem. In a rare incidence of bipartisan cooperation, the legislature agreed to redraw the Congressional districts to protect as many incumbents as possible. Up until this point, I had been in the 11th District, represented by moderate Republican Tom Davis, who scored an easy victory in 2000, much like Moran. However, the legislature evidently decided their respective margins of victory weren't wide enough, so they carved out a heavily liberal sliver of Davis' district (where I live) and handed it to Moran. Great! Now I could experience Moran's unique brand of charm and personal service. I could hardly wait.

Holding up their end of the crooked bargain, the Republicans obediently located a nobody, Scott Tate, and threw him up to challenge Moran in '02. Apart from the fact that his name looked good on his campaign signs, I never found out a damn thing about the man, and I'm a political junkie. Despite Tate's nonentity status, the Washington Post was so fed up with Moran that it actually endorsed Tate for election. Meanwhile, up in Maryland, liberal Republican Rep. Connie Morella, a wonderful and scandal-free woman by all accounts, was in a tough re-election battle with Chris Van Hollen, a battle she ultimately lost. So Maryland's Eighth District had a choice between two quality, well-liked candidates, while Virginia's Eighth District was stuck with the Nowhere Man against an incumbent who at this point was doing his best impression of the Rascal King. Moran won re-election. It wasn't close. Everyone went home and tried to forget about it.

But no! Moran wouldn't let us forget. He spoke at an anti-war forum in Reston in March 2003, and was rolling along, soaking up the good vibrations and winning the crowd over, right up until (as always) he put his foot in it. He told the assembled crowd, "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this." Um. Well. It seemed to me it was the President's strong support for war with Iraq that carried the day. Also, it wasn't really clear what Moran meant by "this." Critics claimed he meant the war. Moran claimed he meant the forum. Reasonable people can disagree, I suppose. Except Moran later went on to say that he believed a pro-Israel PAc was out to defeat him and was going to run the campaign of one of his opponents in order to do so. Oh. Virginia governor Mark Warner probably said it best when he issued a statement saying, "Perhaps Congressman Moran should remember that the first thing you do when you find yourself in a hole is you quit digging."

So there you have the Moran record in a nutshell. I skipped over a number of smaller incidents, I assure you. How does this man still have a job, you may well ask? Well, as I said, he is charming. Plus he has the advantages of long-term incumbency. Also, he's in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. And it's reported that he doesn't take kindly to being tangled with. Taken together, this would explain his string of fairly easy victories.

But that can change. After years of no Democratic opposition and barely more of a fight from the Republicans, Moran faces a stiff primary challenge in 2004. His primary Democratic challenger is Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chair Kate Hanley, a woman with a solid record of experience and not a taint of scandal in her history. State Senator Leslie Byrne and attorney Jeremy Bash are also thinking of entering the primary. So, if you live in the Eighth District, it's time to circle the wagons. Whether you're a Republican or Democrat, you must realize that the best shot at picking off Moran is in the primary. The district is so Democratic that a Republican win would be nearly impossible, no matter what Moran does next. Even if you're not thrilled with Hanley, at least the humiliation will be over. The Moran Circus will be shut down. And it's about time.

In the wake of his war remarks, which resulted in his losing the position of minority whip, Moran told Fox News, "I may wear a tie, but I'm probably not meant to be in the Congress." If Moran himself admits this, I think it's time we agree with him.

If you missed it yesterday, Paul Newman wrote a terrific editorial in the New York Times skewering the Fox News lawsuit against Al Franken. It's hilarious, practically a must-read. I also understand Paul Newman used to be some sort of actor.

Apparently Rob Neyer was as distressed by the Cubs' acquisition of Tony Womack as I was. This column barbecues the Cubs for the Womack signing, along with other recent moves. I laughed almost the whole way through. Neyer's often brilliant, and this column is right up there.

Finally, I noticed a mini-explosion in site visits yesterday, thanks almost entirely to the dedicated work of The Smart Lady, who cannot be thanked enough. So, if you're here for the first time, welcome! I hope you find something here to enjoy. Drop me a line if you've got something to say. Also, Site Meter suggests that I may actually have a couple regular readers, which frankly stuns me. So, if you're a regular reader, e-mail me! I want to know who's out there, and what you think of the Mediocre Experience so far. I look forward to hearing from you.

And that's it for today. I'll be on the road the next couple days, so we'll see how that affects my posting schedule. I'll get you one a day, promise, but I'm not sure when. So, hang in there and I'll 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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