Mediocre Fred's Mediocre Blog
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Turkey in the Straw"


Greetings, everyone. If you're not currently stuck in traffic somewhere, my guess is you're probably at work marking time until the end of the day. I'm in that latter group; I'll be departing to join my family and hoist the turkey tomorrow morning. In the meantime, enjoy the best half-hearted disjointed ramblings my addled mind can come up with. (My cold is clearing up fine, thanks; it's just pre-holiday malaise that's gripping me.)

Programming note: Due to my impending vacation, I probably won't be posting anything tomorrow or Friday. Try not to miss me too much, loyal readers. I recommend that you follow my lead and stuff yourself to bursting, with periodic power-napping intermissions as necessary. It's the American way!

Interesting analysis in today's Post by David von Drehle covering the Democrats' reaction to the strong-arm Republican victory on the prescription-drug bill. His description isn't pretty:

In politics, there's nothing like having the other side steamroll your party -- using your own steamroller -- to jangle the emotions.

Democrats have owned the Medicare issue for nearly 40 years. But this week, the Republicans climbed into the driver's seat and mashed the gas pedal. In closed-door sessions that excluded nearly all Democrats, through rule-bending roll calls, dishing out goodies to friends and twisting arms of the recalcitrant, the Republicans passed $400 billion worth of changes. Democrats spent the day picking carpet fibers out of their hairdos and sorting out their reactions.

Worse yet, from a Democratic perspective, those who don't see this as a complete fiasco for the party are generally pinning their hopes on the idea that Republicans have finally gone too far, that the public will resent their bullying tactics and lock-step agenda and revolt. This is a nice theory... if only the Democrats had a consistent alternative to offer. Whatever your opinion of the Republican program, at least it can't be denied that they have a program. And they're dedicated to seeing it through, no matter who they have to bulldoze to get there.

The Democrats, in contrast, are a chorus of disjointed voices, squabbling with each other and meeting the opposition by swinging back and forth between craven submission and impotent rage. The party has done a poor job taking the lead on issues, usually waiting for the Republicans to propose a policy and gauging the public reaction before deciding whether to support or oppose it.

Those who are hoping that the Democrats will surge on a tidal wave of anti-Republican anger are forgetting that majorities are not made through flashes of ire. Rather, they're made through solid, consistent programs that are laid out clearly for voters to grab onto. Trying to win on a platform of "Bush is evil!" is a sure loser; most mainstream voters don't believe that Bush is evil. They may disagree with his policies; that's something else again. But in that case, it would be helpful if the Democrats had alternative policies to present, giving the voter a realistic choice. Given a choice between a party with a plan and a party with no plan, voters will usually pick the party with a plan, even if they don't necessarily agree with all of it. At least the party with a plan is likely to do something.

Continuing on the political theme, David Broder's editorial this morning had to do with partisan divisions. Broder paints a picture of a country deeply divided, with both sides eager to ram through its partisan goals given half the chance. It's a fairly gloomy piece, particularly this sobering passage:

I do not know what it will take to resolve the underlying social divisions that continue to produce such narrowly based governmental actions. It is clear in retrospect that even the worst terrorist attacks ever on American soil were not enough to unite the nation.

I'm not sure I buy the claim he's implicitly making here. Granted, we haven't seen American unity even on matters of national security, but did Broder really expect that, say, wrangling over health care would stop because of September 11th? If anything, I think we should be glad that the spirit of partisan difference was not stifled by the attacks. (Although the Republican attempts to brand Democrats as "terrorist sympathizers" is the kind of rhetoric we could do without.) I doubt Broder would be pleased if America reverted back to the Red Scare era, despite the fact that we were "united" against a common foe.

I think Broder's primary concern is that political civility is dying, and that's a worthwhile concern. It is possible to disagree politely, without resorting to the win-at-all-costs tactics we've seen of late. I think we should be aiming for a more thoughtful and polite discourse, rather than hoping for the eradication of partisan divisions.

Although Broder's column is pessimistic, I do like his ending note:

The bonds that unite Americans -- the belief that our common aspirations outweigh our momentary differences -- have been forged over the decades. Be thankful this Thanksgiving they are still there. But never take them for granted.

For those of you who may be staunch partisans, put down your cudgels for a day and give thanks for the loyal oppositions, without whom our democracy could not exist.

I gave somewhat short shrift to Warren Spahn's passing yesterday, so let me direct you to two great columns: Rob Neyer on ESPN covering the left-hander's career on a statistical basis, and Thomas Boswell in the Post on Spahn's legacy. I highly recommend both columns.

That's all for today. A little skimpy, but hey, I work with what I have. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, and see you back on Monday with the return of Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Gobble gobble! 
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Thick As a Brick" by Jethro Tull


Greetings, everybody. For the third day in a row, I'm going to have to push my promised post on party disintegration back. The reason: I'm sick. I have a cold. It's only thanks to massive doses of horse pills and caffeinated beverages that I'm able to stay awake long enough to type this. I can't think straight enough to write anything thoughtful. I can't follow any argument that's longer than two paragraphs. And The Smart Lady is currently winging her way back to Texas for Thanksgiving, so I don't even have anyone to take care of me. Therefore, I beg your forbearance as I ramble my way through today. I'll probably end up saving my party-disintegration post for Open Source Politics (yes, after a lengthy communication delay, I will be writing for those fine folks, beginning soon) and spinning out less-ambitious posts for the remainder of the week.

Might as well start with a response to loyal reader Tripp, who commented on yesterday's column on Governor Warner's Virginia tax plan:

Being a non-smoker, I'm in favor of that cigarette tax, especially if it brings the state in line with surrounding states. In general I'm in favor of 'regulate and tax' for vices instead of outlaw. If the taxes are too high you encourage smuggling, of course, but if this increase simply brings your state in line with others you don't have that worry.

Right, that's the key issue, I think. While states should feel free to set "sin taxes" at whatever level they please, if one state is extraordinarily higher or lower than nearby states, it invites illegal activity. Especially if the item in question is easily transportable. Huge variations in the gasoline tax, for instance, won't encourage smuggling, since it's not really practical to make a killing selling gasoline on the black market. (Although it would be amusing to walk the streets of, say, Chicago and find a smuggler concealing gallon cans of gas under his trench coat.)

Critics of the cigarette tax will say that Virginia has long made a significant portion of its revenue from tobacco farming. Which is true, or at least used to be (the bulk of Virginia's revenue these days comes from Northern Virginia, which does not have any significant tobacco farms that I am aware of). But even if it were still true, the proposed hike really isn't that shocking, on a national level. Warner's plan would increase the cigarette tax from 2.5 cents per pack to a quarter per pack. The national average is a dollar per pack. It's not as though this hike is going to turn Virginia into New York or Massachusetts.

The other concern is that this is a one-time deal. Realistically you can only raise this tax this one time. So if spending continues to be out of line with taxes, you can't do this same thing next year.

Well, as I mentioned above, there's plenty of room for Virginia to increase this tax before it hits the national average, but as a political matter you're correct. It's going to be difficult enough to get the Assembly to pass one tax hike; to come back and ask for it again in a couple years would be political suicide.

So yes, if legislators treat this revenue as a license to go out and spend wildly on new programs, the tax hike isn't going to fix the bedget gap long-term. But this is Virginia, Tripp. You're probably not aware of the political culture in this state. In other states, legislators look to find innovative new solutions to modern problems. They experiment, spend money when they have it, try to stay ahead of the curve. In Virginia, the legislators' primary regret is that it's no longer 1930. There's an old joke in Virginia:

Q: How many people does it take to change a light bulb in the General Assembly?
A: Ten. One to change the bulb, one to pour the whiskey sours, and eight to bemoan the fact that "they don't make light bulbs like they used to."

So there's very little risk of the new revenue being thrown at new programs. It's enough trouble to get the Assembly to fund the programs we already have.

Incidentally, the Post came out with an editorial this morning praising the Warner plan as "a good start" toward addressing the long-term revenue crisis. Warner also wrote an editorial boosting his own plan. I find Warner's editorial particularly interesting because he criticizes the car-tax repeal as an "ill-advised" plan which is crippling the state's revenue stream, and yet his own plan calls for completing the repeal. As I mentioned yesterday, Warner knows the political scene in the state, and I'm sure he knows what re-imposing the car tax would get him, even if it is sound fiscal policy.

A Post article on the plan reveals another bright spot: "Republican lawmakers, who control both chambers of Virginia's legislature, did not declare the plan dead on arrival." Granted, it's ridiculous and saddening that it should be considered "good news" that a state facing a crushing budget deficit isn't immediately ruling out a plan that might actually close the gap, but after all, this is Virginia.

Also, no thanks whatsoever to one politician who should just shut the hell up:

"This is an unvarnished tax increase," said former governor James S. Gilmore III, a Republican. "This is an astounding, outrageous development, and it's bad for the people of Virginia."

Who let this guy out of his cage? For those who may not be familiar, Gilmore served as governor of this state from 1998-2002, riding the wave of his simple-minded slogan, "NO CAR TAX," to victory. Once installed in Richmond, he proceeded with the repeal plan, despite budget projections which clearly indicated that Virginia couldn't afford it. He was so stubborn and pig-headed in office that he actually managed to alienate his own party in the General Assembly for his single-minded refusal to do anything to keep the state's books from imploding in a fiscal nightmare right after he left office. He also managed to get into a pissing match with equally unlikeable Maryland governor Parris Glendenning, which reached a level of such animosity that the two states weren't able to negotiate an agreement on rebuilding the Wilson Bridge, a major connection between the states, until engineers pointed out that the existing bridge was on the verge of crumbling into the river.

Upon leaving office, the Bush Administration had a nice, cozy chair prepared for him with the national party, only to yank it away upon discovering that his entire home state couldn't stand him. His political prospects have essentially evaporated. And now he's taking time out from whatever cushy consulting post he managed to land in order to opine that actually having a balanced budget is "astounding" and "outrageous"? Dammit, Gilmore, we thought you were done ruining the state when you left office. But much like Jason from the "Friday the 13th" movies, he just won't... go... away. Sigh.

Special update for Redskins fans: Coach Spurrier says: "The playoffs are very, very unrealistic right now." Thanks for the tip, Steve! Some of us may have thought that the playoffs were very, very unrealistic when we somehow failed to beat a Dallas team that committed five turnovers, or when we somehow managed only 169 total yards in an embarrassing loss to Buffalo. But thanks to the Ol' Ball Coach, it's official: We suck!

In baseball news, Curt Schilling is going to Boston! Maybe. And Richie Sexson is going to Arizona! Maybe. It all depends on whether or not Schilling waives his no-trade clause, which he has until Friday to do. He's reportedly seeking a contract extension before he agrees to the deal. Here's my favorite note from the story:

The five-time All-Star announced the tentative trade Monday to reporters outside his house as his children and dogs played in the yard. During the impromptu news conference, teammate Randy Johnson drove by in a pickup truck and yelled to reporters playfully, "You're blocking the street!"

I love Randy Johnson. Even if he did singlehandedly submarine my fantasy team this year.

A moment of silence, please, for Hall of Fame lefty Warren Spahn, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82. Spahn was one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all time, a great competitor and a fine pitcher. He will be missed.

That's all for today. I'm hoping I'll be healthy enough to do better tomorrow. See you then! Send medicine. 
Monday, November 24, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Good Day Sunshine" by the Beatles


Good day, everyone! Today I'd originally planned to write about the future of our political parties, and I did bring the necessary book this time. But it's been a while since I read the book, and I want to skim it over again before I write this piece. Therefore, look for that piece tomorrow. Today, I'll be writing about a news item from my home state, Virginia.

The big news in the Old Dominion today is Governor Warner's tax reform plan, which he announced this morning. Warner claims the plan will add $500 billion to the state's coffers while lowering the tax burden on 65% of Virginians. This sounds suspiciously like fiscal chicanery, but Warner's plan, at least in outline (full details not yet available), looks like a sound revenue-raising plan that shouldn't cause too much squawking. The plan is relatively friendly to the middle-class families that both parties court, which could provide a badly-needed boost to the Democrats in Virginia, or perhaps to the Governor's own fortunes should he decide to run for another office.

On the income-tax front, the Warner plan increases the standard deductions for everyone, while holding rates constant with the exception of a new, higher bracket for those making over $100,000. (The rate for those in the new bracket will increase from 5.75% to 6.25%.) Also, the deduction for seniors will now be means-tested on a sliding scale. Currently, seniors get a flat decduction regardless of income. Under the new plan, the deduction will decrease for individuals making over $50,000 or couples making over $75,000. The overall effect of this program will be an income-tax decrease for lower- and middle-class families, and a modest increase for upper-income taxpayers, especially seniors.

The overall sales tax under the Warner plan would increase from 4.5% to 5.5%, with the exception of the sales tax on food, which would eventually drop to 2.5%. Sales tax increases are somewhat unfortunate, since they tend to hit those who could most use the money. However, they're relatively easier politically, since the consumer pays them in dribs and drabs, rather than writing out a big fat check once a year. It is worth pointing out two notes: First, Virginia's sales tax is one of the lower rates in the nation, and the proposed increase would only place Virginia in the middle of the pack. Second, it's good to see that the food tax, which is the most regressive portion of the sales tax (no matter how much or how little you make, everyone has to eat), will be decreasing. Given that the sales tax probably has to rise in order to close the budget gap, Warner's plan makes the best of a bad situation.

In other good news for individual taxpayers, the plan completes the much-anticipated phaseout of the dreaded "car tax" (the whole phaseout was a bad idea in the first place, but the issue has become a political football and Warner probably had little choice here). Also, the Warner plan increases the estate-tax exemption from $1.5 million to $10 million (again, not the best idea but politically sound) and eliminates the tax entirely for family businesses and working farms (not a bad idea). These two tax cuts may not be the soundest policy, but they are good politics. For Warner, whose current reputation is that of a well-meaning but politically ineffective executive, these elements of the plan demonstrate that he's learning how the game is played.

The Warner plan closes a couple corporate loopholes. I will do my best to summarize these briefly. First, the "intangible holding companies loophole" currently allows companies to dodge Virginia income taxes by making transactions with shell companies elsewhere, unless the state can prove that the corporation is doing it. The Warner plan simply removes these transactions from the income tax calculation. The "nowhere income" loophole allows companies to avoid paying taxes on goods shipped from Virginia to other states, thus providing the company with tax-free profit. Under the proposed "sales throwback" rule, any interstate sale that isn't taxed in the receiving state will be considered a Virginia sale. Finally, the "pass-through entity" loophole concerns certain types of companies, whose owners are supposed to be taxed for company profits. The problem is that most such companies aren't required to file information with Virginia saying who the owners are, thus allowing for a potential dodge. Warner's plan would require all of these companies to file ownership information with the state for tax purposes. It sounds arcane and complicated, but the net effect is that companies will not be able to dodge taxes that they should be paying. It's not raising corporate taxes; it's reducing opportunities for cheating. It raises revenue without being "business-unfriendly."

The big bombshell in the plan is the cigarette tax hike. Currently, cigarettes are taxed at 2.5 cents per pack in Virginia, the lowest rate in the nation. The rate is so low that smugglers have actually made a cottage industry of buying cigarettes in bulk in Virginia, shipping them to places with high tax rates (like New York), and selling them on the black market. Warner's plan would raise the rate to 25 cents per pack, which would make Virginia more competitive with other states. Better still, the plan will allow counties to impose local cigarette taxes up to 50 cents per pack. As you know if you happened to read my previous column on the Pro-Fairfax organization, Virginia's tax system is bizarre: incorporated cities and towns are allowed to impose local taxes, but unicoporated areas and counties are not. The Warner plan allows counties to impose the cigarette tax, a long-overdue and very welcome reform that may finally give counties a fighting chance to generate some revenue on their own. Three cheers for Governor Warner on this part of the plan.

Overall, in terms of structure and balance, the plan is a very good one. It raises revenue without placing undue burdens on working-class taxpayers. It allows the state to close its gaping budget hole without sacrificing its reputation as a business-friendly, low-to-moderate-tax state. It doesn't rely on short-term gimmicks or one-time "magic bullet" fixes. On its merits, the plan's a definite winner.

But will it win politically? That's the $64,000 question, isn't it? It's an easy sell for Democratic lawmakers: they can back up their governor, go home and tell their constituents that they voted for a tough but fair plan that doesn't result in huge tax hikes, but does allow the state to stave off huge and painful budget cuts. It's a vote for fiscal responsibility and protection of key services. In short, it's win-win.

The calculus for Republicans, though, is very different. A vote for Warner's plan would hand a major victory to an opposition governor whom they've generally kept in check so far. Also, it would require voting for tax increases, which is anathema for Virginia Republicans. This is the problem with ideological hard lines. Mouthing simple phrases like "NO TAX HIKE" works great on Election Day, but what happens when you're faced with a situation like this? Vote yes and you're a liar. Vote no and you have to find some way to make the budget balance. Probably at the expense of programs that matter to your constituents.

In fact, the massive deficit (projected at $1.2 billion over the next two years) is the biggest weapon that Warner can hold to the Assembly's collective head. While the Congress is free to spend itself into massive deficits, Virginia's books have to balance on a two-year cycle, by law. And a deficit this size isn't going to be erased with mild spending cuts. Either spending has to be slashed dramatically, or taxes need to go up. And Warner's plan is probably the most painless tax-increase program at hand. The Republicans in the Assembly face a tough choice: support Warner's plan, or be forced to vote for a level of services on par with states like Mississippi. Perhaps the Republicans think that tax hikes will cause Virginians to flee the state left and right, but won't huge service cuts have the same effect? (The third option, of course, is for the Republicans to come up with a competing tax plan. But they'll be hard pressed to develop a plan that raises the needed revenue and is as attractive as Warner's.)

My own prediction is that it will be a hard fight. The sales and cigarette tax increases figure to be very controversial. Republicans will stonewall the plan as long as they can, maybe even force reduction in the above-mentioned increases. In the end, though, some version of the plan will pass. It has to. The state needs the money.

But will enough of it pass for Warner to claim victory? The Governor has a lot riding on this plan. It's his first major initiative (unless you count the transportation tax hike, which went down in flames), and given the budget constraints, probably his only major initiative. If it passes, Warner can carry his reputation as "the man who brought Virginia into the 21st century" into a race for a Senate seat, a Vice-Presidential nod, or perhaps even a run for President. If the plan loses, Warner probably goes down as the last Democratic governor in Virginia for a good long while, and his own political career has probably reached its peak. Warner needs the plan to pass, in its entirety or nearly so, in order to have a touchstone to help the Democrats and himself in future years. Does Governor Warner have the base and the political skill to pull this off? A lot rides on the answer to that question.

A big thank you to the Old Hag for her kind words about my piece on the blogging in-crowd. To the legions of visitors directed here by the Old Hag: Welcome! Feel free to poke around and see if there's anything else to interest you. Hope to see you again!

You have to love Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who has identified the problems with his last-place team: "We can't score goals, we can't stop goals, we aren't hitting, we can't play on special teams. No one should be pointing fingers at anyone on this team -- we all stink." He went on to add, "We have to stop pointing fingers at everybody and join together in a band," which makes it sound like Leonsis is a Who fan. The Caps may stink, but at least we've got a good owner who shares our frustrations. Now, if only the Brewers could say the same...

Speaking of hockey, if you are a hockey fan, you look at the picture on this page and your first, immediate thought is, "God, I wish I'd been there." If you do not have this reaction, you are not a hockey fan. A hearty chorus of boos to American television, which elected not to allow us to see this happen. Instead of this, I spent my Saturday evening watching some meaningless college-football game. Thanks, Powers That Be.

That's all for today. Tomorrow, the party-realignment article, I promise. See you then! 
Friday, November 21, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Blinded By the Light" by Manfred Mann's Earth Band


Greetings, all! As promised, since yesterday's column wound up being a potpourri, today's column will be the sort of coherent piece you, The Reader, would typically expect on Monday through Thursday. Originally I'd planned to write a lengthy, ponderous treatise on why the American part system is about to experience a seismic shift, as I said I would last week. However, that column relies on my having a copy of a particular book, which I neglected to bring. As usual, any column that requires actual research is problematic.

However, I came up with another idea. Lately, there's been a lot of talk in the college football world about the Bowl Championship Series, whether or not it's unfair to smaller schools, and whether or not college sports are due for major academic reform. And fortunately, I happen to know a man who is an expert on college football, a man who's seen a lot of changes come and go over the course of his life, and today I bring you a Mediocre Fred exclusive interview with this great man.

Coach Beauregard "Bum" Bolbridge has been the head football coach at Southwestern Mississippi Agricultural and Technological State (SWMATS) for the last 38 years. SWMATS has the distinction of being the smallest college in Division I-A. While SWMATS has never gone to a bowl game during Coach Bolbridge's tenure, he has led the Fightin' Farmhands to several plus-.500 seasons, including a couple in my lifetime. For his long and storied career, as well as his legendary training methods, Coach Bolbridge was recently honored with the Tough-As-Nails College Coaching Award, sponsored by Pemmican beef jerky. When I first conducted the interview, I thought that Coach Bolbridge was chewing on some of the aforementioned jerky while he was talking, but he later assured me that he always talks that way. Therefore, I should warn you in advance that my transcript represents my best guess as to what Coach Bolbridge might have said.

Enough preamble. On to the transcript!

MF: Mr. Bolbridge, I want to thank you for granting me this interview.

BB: Call me Coach, son. That's what everybody else does.

MF: All right, Coach.

BB: And I surely do appreciate your taking the time to interview myself. A lotta reporters, especially the Yankees, they don't wanna talk to me. Say I'm hard to understand.

MF: I can't imagine why.

BB: Me neither. I talk American like everybody else. And I don't use them fancy big words like some of your big-time coaches do. Putting on airs and whatnot. We just run a little down-home school here. Yes sir.

MF: And that's exactly why I wanted to speak to you today. As a coach at the smallest school at Division I-, I imagine you have a strong opinion on the plan to distribute more BCS revenue to smaller schools like yours.

BB: The BC-what?

MF: BCS. Bowl Championship Series. The collection of national-championship bowls. Surely you've heard of that?

BB: Well, no. I don't much concern myself with matters as related to bowls, seeing as how we ain't bever been to one.

MF: Actually, that's been quite a subject of debate over at SWMATS, from what I understand. I hear that some fans are starting to call for your removal.

BB: They just mad 'cause we're having a tough season.

MF: Actually, it's more than a tough season. Critics point to the fact that SWMATS hasn't had a winning season in 17 years.

BB: Bulldookie. Why, that's just a dadblamed lie. We had a winning season as recently as three years ago.

MF: According to my research, three years ago you were... 2-9.

BB: See there. We won, didn't we? Twice, even!

MF: Well, that's not what most people think of as a winning season-

BB: Well, it is one, so folks oughta just calm down. Everybody gets so dang itchy to see victories. But there's more to football than winning. We're developing young men's character here.

MF: Funny. When SWMATS went 11-0 in 1969, you were quoted as saying, "There's winning and ain't nothin' else. You win or you die."

BB: Well, that was my attitude as a young man. As you get older, you learn better about such things.

MF: I see.

BB: Besides, it was an easier time then. Everybody listened to the coach, rather than strutting around with their big-shot attitudes. And we weren't getting run over by the big boys and their fancy scholarship programs.

MF: And that gets us back to the original topic. How do you feel about the idea of smaller schools getting a greater share of college football revenue?

BB: Why, that surely is a fine idea. We got to level the playing field. It just ain't fair that we ain't got the resources to compete with the big boys.

MF: You mean well-equipped training facilities, a state-of-the-art stadium, that sort of thing.

BB: No, boy. I mean bribes! Your big schools, they get their players fancy cars, steak dinners and hundred-dollar whores. I'm lucky if I can buy my boys a cup of coffee at Howard Johnson and a night out at the local titty bar if they have a good game.

MF: Uh, Coach, you do realize that offering players under-the-table incentives like that is illegal.

BB: Who gives a rat's patoot? Hell, everybody does it! The big boys just do it better, 'cause they got more money. Why, just last season, I gave a referee a color TV to call 'em our way, and I had to pay for it out of my own pocket! I bet they don't do it that way at the University of Miami.

MF: Well, no, but-

BB: And to make it worse, that rat didn't even call 'em our way. He screwed me over! Is there any honor left in the game?

MF: Enjoy that NCAA investigation, Coach. Let me ask you: Is there anythng besides money that's keeping schools like your from being more competitive?

BB: Sure enough. Look at Title IX.

MF: The rule madating equal participation in men's and women's sports?

BB: Yeah. It just ain't fair. Everybody knows that real women don't come to college to play sports. They come to find husbands.

MF: Well, wait a sec-

BB: So now what we gotta do? We gotta bring in a bunch of hairy-leg dykes who play sports. Which means that my boys don't have any good-looking sorority girls to pork after the game. Which makes my recruiting job all the tougher, especially given the financial constraints I spoke of.

MF: I don't know what to say. But I thought I remembered reading that you were at the forefront of one of the movements to amend Title IX.

BB: That's right. My idea was to have table-dancing declared a sport.

MF: Oh.

BB: But it ain't just the dykes. Look at this boy who wanted to go to the pros early. What's his name?

MF: Maurice Clarett of Ohio State.

BB: Yeah, that's him. Skipping out on a free education just to make a grab for the big bucks before he's ready. That just goes to show what's wrong with the whole shebang.

MF: That colleges are so eager to win that they're bringing in athletes who have no interest in education? That it's unfair to college players to be unpaid for their work? That our national priorities are out of whack?

BB: No. It just goes to show what happens when your colored boys get too big for their britches.

MF: I beg your pardon?

BB: That's the problem with your coloreds today. Now, I got nothing against them. They're fine athletes, like you'd expect -- their ancestors was bred that way. They got those good strong slave genes. But too many of them is into mouthing off and celebrating themselves. Now they got the white boys doing it. It makes a coach's job tough, I tell you.

MF: Why don't we move on to something else?

BB: I ain't finished. Colored boys used to be my favorites... they were humble and polite, doing what they was told, never complaining. But now they come in with their pants around their knees, listening to this rap crap, and they all mouth off. If I was a colored man, I'd be ashamed for what has happened to the race.

MF: Let's move on to something else. Please.

BB: All right, what else you got?

MF: I'm afraid to say. But my last question for you, Coach, is this: How do you feel about the movement to put more emphasis on academics in college sports?

BB: Aw, academics schmacademics. These boys work hard out there. Football's hard work. Especially football Bum Bolbridge style. I tell you, son, if you can survive my four-a-days, you can truly call yourself a man.

MF: Four-a-days? Don't you mean two-a-days?

BB: Two-a-days are for pantywaists, son. It's four-a-days where I come from.

MF: I see. But doesn't it occur to you that people who are in college probably ought to, you know, study?

BB: Aw, I been hearing that horse manure for years. Who comes to college to study? You only gotta study if you can't play sports.

MF: I see. This anti-education attitude wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that you yourself don't have a high-school diploma, would it?

BB: Well, I, ah... well, I, ah ah... No comment.

MF: Well, Coach Bolbridge, what can SWMATS fans look forward to the rest of the season?

BB: We got one game left, but it's the big one. We playing Cadwallader State on Saturday.

MF: Ah, yes, the coveted rivalry game. If I recall correctly, the winner of the game gets some sort of trophy, right?

BB: That's right. The Ole Moonshine Jug.

MF: Wow! I imagine your team is fired up to win it back, then.

BB: Yes sir! Cadwallader's been holding on to our rightful jug for too long now.

MF: Just out of curiosity, how long has it been in Cadwallader State's possession?

BB: Since 1974.

MF: Oh.

BB: We been in a slump. But we're overdue for a comeback!

MF: I'll say. Well, thank you for your time, Coach Bolbridge.

BB: Well, thank you for calling. And like we always used to say on my grandfather's farm: [Here Coach Bolbridge said something entirely unintelligible, perhaps in a foreign language. It sounded like "When raymun alrag alla bota, sookle mo dawray hog nuts bo fawlla."] Know what I mean?

MF: I think we all do, Coach.

So there you have it, college sports from an insider's perspective. I apologize to anyone who was offended (which should be just about everyone, except possibly Trent Lott), and I promise not to forget my book next time.

That's all for this week. Tune in Monday, where (if I remember) I'll bring my book and do the political-realignment column I was planning on. Have a great weekend! 
Thursday, November 20, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Dirty Water" by the Standells


No! But we're having a luncheon at work today, which cuts severely into my blogging time. Therefore, I'm flipping the usual order of things: Today, I'm bringing you the rambling, disjointed potpourri you'd usually expect for Friday. Tomorrow, I'll actually bring you a column involving some thought. I know this is a seismic shift for my loyal readers, but do try to bear with me.

First, we'll start with a little quick reaction from Tripp to yesterday's piece.

Summing up, competition is great as long as it is the other folks doing the competing. I like the cheap prices, but I don't like competing for jobs.

In a nutshell, that's the attitude of your average American toward the globalization debate. So long as Joe Consumer is able to enjoy the benefits of global competition (cheap, readily available goods) without suffering its costs (losing jobs to global outsourcing), then it's all jake as far as Joe is concerned. It's only when Joe, or Joe's family or close friends, are threatened with job losses or stagnant wages that the other side of the debate starts to hit home.

It would be great if Americans had a broader worldview and were able to look at things on a grand societal level. But most people don't have the time or inclination to worry about issues that don't seem likely to affect them directly, unless someone is able to convince them that somehow, it does. (I think of the abortion debate this way: It's an issue that affects a relatively small percentage of Americans, but politicians and interest groups have expended so much heated rhetoric that a lot of people seem to have decided that it's a crucial issue.) But for now, this debate seems distant and dull to a lot of average Americans.

If globalization is going to work then we'll need to see a global increase in standard of living. Otherwise we will *not* get new markets for our goods, which will tend to move up the technology ladder as we lose low technology jobs.

Fair point. People making 15 cents an hour stitching Nikes in Indonesia aren't then able to turn around and afford Air Jordans. But (free-traders would argue) bringing employment to Third World nations is the only way these people will ever be able to afford to purchase our goods. It's not as though we're pulling people out of $20-an-hour jobs and forcing them to work in the sweatshops. This does represent a step up, in terms of economic opportunity, as sad as that is.

But I feel like I'm not answering your assertion. Of course you're correct; if people in other countries can't afford our goods, then we're just exploiting their labor and reaping no benefit in terms of new markets. The challenge, then, as you suggest, is to figure out a way to improve the standard of living elsewhere. Free-traders tend to suggest that increased industrialization will do that work for us, that markets work when allowed to operate freely, and they'd point to America's development as an example. Critics of free trade would argue that America's example worked both because we'r eblessed with abundant natural resources and because the profits of our ventures remained within our borders, which isn't the case for countries with sweatshops. They'd argue that industrialization will only benefit these countries if our companies approach it carefully, with an eye toward lifting up Third World citizens, rather than just exploiting them.

But this is difficult, because we (Americans and our government) have little control over the actions of multinational corporations or Third World governments, whose decisions tend to determine the success or failure of our attempts to improve the lot of foreign workers.

One thing I wish you would discuss is the affect of multinational corporations on the world. It seems that markets and trading have become more important than they used to be, and so the purveyors of these markets have also gotten more power.

Oh, yes, this is indisputably true. American corporations were powerful, but in the end they could be called to heel by the government (witness Teddy Roosevelt's "trust-busting," for instance). The government had the power to slap mandates on American business, for the protection of the societal good from unrestrained market forces.

But the opening up of global markets diminishes the government's power. You won't let us pay workers $2 an hour or make them work 14-hour shifts? Fine, we'll move our plant to Mexico or Bangladesh, where we not only are allowed to do those things, but the workers will be grateful for the jobs. You want to slap us with stiff corporate income taxes? Fine, we'll move our headquarters to Bermuda and dodge them. Corporations can do these things out of reach of our government, and because there's no effective world government to stop them, the corporations get away with it.

Are the corporations "wrong" for doing this? Economically speaking, no. They're just acting rationally to hold down costs. (One of the sticky wickets with economics -- and one reason that a lot of people don't like it -- is that it refuses to make value judgments. It's an amoral system.) But from a human-rights or societal perspective, it stinks, doesn't it? It feels like they're cheating.

But short of instituting a one-world government (which would be a disaster for a variety of other reasons), what can we do? Multinational corporations are essentially able to write their own ticket now. Arguably, a company like Coca-Cola has more influence on world affairs than all but a handful of national governments. If you were counseling a bright and ambitious young person who wanted to make the biggest possible impact on the world, which would you tell him or her to aim for: becoming president of the United States, or CEO of a huge corporation? I'd say the latter.

Unfortunately, corporations aren't designed to consider the public good or to do the greatest good for the greatest number. They're designed to make the greatest profit for those within its family. And yet, because of the development of the global economy, they're now in a position to make decision that they're ill-equipped to make, decisions about societal well-being, the fate of Third World countries, the course of development in the world at large.

I liken it to turn-of-the-century America when the railroads were laying down their tracks. A lot of small towns throughout the country were made or broken by where the railroad decided to lay its tracks. Having a station in your town meant commerce, importance, prestige, and opportunity. Not having a station, in a lot of cases, meant eventual extinction. Now, if you'd put it to a vote as to whether, say, the Burlington Northern or the Illinois Central should have the right to decide which towns lived or died, I'm sure the measure would have been overwhelmingly defeated. But that's simply how it worked out; the railroads had that much power over commerce in those days. All the government could do was ensure that railroads made those decisions ethically.

Now, we're on the horns of the same dilemma, only with even less power to control the coporations than before. What can we do to change that? That's the central dilemma. Suggestions are welcome.

Powerful column in this morning's Post by Marc Fisher, pointing out how the jury-selection process in death-penalty cases is stacked in favor of execution. The Muhammad case is sort of an acid test for death-penalty opponents, since he's clearly guilty. (Although you can't take that case and extrapolate it over all death-penalty cases, of course.) This case gets you right to the heart of the matter, which is: Do we have the right, as human beings, to determine whether another human being lives or dies? Personally, it's not a decision I'd feel comfortable making. And, as Fisher points out, that's precisely why I wouldn't be on the Muhammad jury.

For those of you who are wondering if I might be perhaps mildly ticked off about my Milwaukee Brewers' decision to cut their payroll to the point where it might be the game's lowest... yes, I am ticked off. I am also ticked off that this short-sighted, stupid decision chased off team president Ulice Payne, a class act who was not hired to preside over the cheapest operation in baseball. In case you were wondering, it is indeed possible to have a dread of the 2004 season before 2004 even starts. This is different from the usual bad-team routine, where you go in knowing you'll lose at least 85 games, maybe more. This is contemplating if you can actually out-suck the Tigers next year. This is wondering if 120 losses is within range. Argh. (Fellow sufferers will want to check out Dale Hofmann's slashing tribute to Payne in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.)

I don't mean to make light of the terrible story about Browns running back William Green, who seems to be experiencing some sort of meltdown. But a note to Green's fiancee: If you're going to stab someone and then claim that he "cut himself," you should probably aim somewhere other than behind his left shoulder blade. (Same goes for Green himself, whose excuse that he "fell going up a flight of stairs" doesn't really wash.) Strange, sad story.

That's all for today. Tune in for an actual coherent column tomorrow! See you then. 
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)" by The Hombres


Hello again, everyone. Today I want to pick up the thread of the Wal-Mart conversation, which I've previously discussed twice (check out Part One and Part Two). This re-visit is inspired by some thoughtful remarks from loyal reader Tripp, who has been getting a lot of airtime lately. Which goes to prove a basic blog verity: If you're the only one commenting, you're going to get all the attention. Thanks, Tripp, for your input. You get a gold star.

As per usual practice, Tripp's remarks will be in italics, with my thoughts in regular font.

It sounds like you and Papa have a handle on things.

One thought that occured in my muddled head is that, as globalization continues, there will probably be a flattening of resources. By that I mean as the standard of living rises in the third world, there will be a proportional fall elsewhere.

I know that global resources are not a zero-sum game, so there could be the 'high tide lifting all ships' thing, but I still think, to some degree, Americans standard of living fall some.

This is the heart of the debate, isn't it, Tripp? One of the fundamental arguments that free-traders like to make is that globalization opens new markets, which means that America's standard of living doesn't have to fall; improved competition will improve the quality of goods produced while reducing prices, meaning we'll all have the advantage of better and cheaper goods, and our position as global economic leader means that we'll still enjoy the relative opulence we live in today. And there is some merit to that argument.

But it's an argument that's a lot easier to make when you're standing at the top of the ladder. Since they haven't, as yet, figured out a way to outsource CEO jobs, those who are poised to ride the wave of globalization have nothing to worry about. But try telling your average blue-collar worker in a former factory town about how globalization improves all of our lives. It's a simple economic fact that, in industries where it's possible, labor demand will be transferred to those countries that can fulfill it most cheaply. So, while a globalized economy looks pretty darn sweet to someone with a graduate degree with a high-paying job in a non-threatened industry, it looks a lot less cheerful to the person with the high-school diploma who sees his or her employment prospects dimming by the hour.

Eventually, if globalization proceeds apace, we're likely to see a sorting out into countries that primarily produce and countries that primarily consume. America seems well on its way to being a consuming country, which is fine if we all have mountains of inherited wealth or are educated well enough to take the top-of-the-food-chain jobs that are available. But what about those that aren't in that enviable position? What do we, as a society, owe to them? What can, or should, we do to help them? That's the key debate here.

So to answer your assertion directly: it's not so easy to say whether our standard of living would rise or fall. So much depends on the shape the new economy takes.

Looked at one way, as globalization continues, it is as if the US labor market is getting an influx of cheap labor, execept it is the jobs going to labor and not the other way around.

This is an excellent way to look at it, and very well said. In fairness to the free-traders, I'd point out that in addition to getting an influx of cheap labor, we're also getting an influx of new demand for our goods, in the form of new markets in countries with which we now trade. Which, in and of itself, is an expectable trade-off. It would be unrealistic to expect the rest of the world to roll over and buy our goods without giving them the chance to get in the market themselves.

As manufacturing and white collar jobs move offshore, the wages for non-moved jobs such as nurses (with telemedicine coming along, how safe will Doctors be?) and construction will have to fall as well.

Well, yes and no. Jobs that are unmoveable (such as, say, new home construction) have a wage cushion built in. Increasing globalization will not touch wages in these fields, since the increased labor pool isn't getting any larger for these positions. For instance, let's say that a particular construction worker demands $20 an hour for his services. He can't reasonably told, "There's a guy in Argentina who will do the same job for $7 an hour," because you can't ship buildings in from Argentina. Similarly, it doesn't matter if your plumber charges you three times as much as someone in China would, because you can't get someone in from Beijing to unclog your drain.

Where it does pinch, however, is in increasing the domestic labor pool for those sorts of jobs, allowing companies to be more selective in who they hire. Your typical high-school grad of, say, fifty years ago had options. He could take a factory job, go work in the mines, get a decent-paying job as a store clerk, or learn a trade. Now that the factories are fleeing, the mining industry has collapsed, and retail jobs don't allow you to earn a decent living, the trades are the way to go. So companies can be more choosy: demand certifications, require employees to pass training courses, look for experienced hands rather than training someone up. So although position wages may not be falling, the jobs are harder to get now than they were. That's the gravest concern for those at the bottom of the ladder.

Personally, I'm not too worried, because like the guy running from the tiger, I don't have be faster than the tiger, just faster than someone else. But the US people near the bottom of their fields are going to be hurting. Retraining helps a little, but even the local jobs will get flooded.

Yes, exactly; see my example above. And I don't mean to knock you, Tripp, because I know you didn't mean it this way, but the tiger analogy is the problem in convincing a lot of Americans to deal seriously with this issue. For a college-educated American, with steady employment and no concerns about where the next meal might be coming from, it's tempting to look at the plight of the Wal-Mart cashier and say, "Not my problem." As long as it doesn't hurt me or someone I care about, how can globalization be bad? It means we get cheaper batteries!

The debate over globalization can seem like an exercise in intellectual masturbation to someone whose job isn't threatened by it. But it's not just a theoretical argument, a battle of high-flown principles. It's a debate over the kind of society we're going to live in going forward. I'd like to think that should matter to everyone.

What is the key? Maybe become an agent for foreign labor. Hmmmm, the manager of them? A local liason.

No, the key is to become a CEO of a corporation that can benefit from cheap labor to boost its profit margins, take an early buyout and retire to a remote tropical island with plenty of liquor and Britney Spears as your consort, if that happens to float your boat.

Seriously, the key as a society is to recognize our leading position in the emerging global economy, with its attendant perils and opportunities. We control enough of the market to be able to control its terms, if we so choose. But we have to realize that, competition being what it is, we won't be on top forever if we squander our chances.

We should realize that even having the opportunity to debate this is a luxury afforded by our position in the world. In countries where they're struggling for survival, there's not much time for debate over human-rights protections. One stark fact that we should realize is that, as miserable as sweatshop jobs seem to us, they're not looked on so poorly in some places. Sadly, a lot of countries are in such bad shape that 14-hour days at 10 cents an hour seems like a step up.

As a country, we do have some experience with this. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, we had huge influxes of immigrants who were all too happy to take jobs an awful lot like the sweatshops we see today. They believed that these jobs afforded them an opportunity for a better life. Eventually, we instituted labor laws limiting the workweek, establishing a minimum wage and mandating working-safety standards.

But we were safe in doing so, because we didn't have to worry about being undercut by imported goods. These days, if a Third World country even thought to impose workers' rights legislation, it would probably be afraid to do so out of fear. If, say, Pakistan imposes a minimum wage, what's to stop a multinational corporation from moving its operations to, say, India or Bangladesh? Cheap labor is cheap labor. Struggling nations are literally at the mercy of corporations over whom they can exert no control, a problem America did not have during the Progressive Era.

What, then, is the solution? It has to come on a worldwide level, and America has to lead the way. Our recent record of shunning international cooperation does not bode well in this regard. It's one thing to say that you should lead the way in making world decisions; America, being as large and powerful as it is, certainly should. But to ignore the objections of other nations as weak or meaningless is perilous. There's a fine line between being a strong leader and being a bully, and right now we're stepping over it. In the long run, this is a decision we may well come to regret.

Those of you who happened to notice today's musical selection are probably pondering over it. "Let It All Hang Out" is a song that has slipped away into the mists of time. But it happened to come up in the course of a discussion The Smart Lady and I were having over dinner, and I did a little research and found out that the story behind this song is actually rather intriguing.

I was inspired to research after I mentioned the title of the song, and The Smart Lady naturally wondered, "Let all what hang out?" So I sang the verse I could remember, which didn't help. I then looked up the lyrics, which also didn't help. I then did a little research into the band itself, and that's where it got interesting.

The Hombres, the group responsible for the song, began life as a touring version of Ronnie and the Daytonas, who performed the hit "Little GTO," of which you might have heard. (A note about '60s rock, and a useful corrective to paleolithic cranks like me who decry the commercial influence on today's music: A fair number of "bands" responsible for popular '60s hits did not, in fact, exist. They were a collection of studio musicians with a frontman, who "existed" only long enough to put together a hit record. When the "band" was to go on tour, the producers selected an entirely different group of people to go out and perform the hits in question. Ronny and the Daytonas were just such a faux band -- the backups were all studio guys, and their lead singer, Bucky Wilkin, either couldn't or wouldn't tour.) After a while, this bunch decided they wanted to record their own hits, rather than mouth someone else's. So they got themselves some studio time and started penning songs.

Those who have actually heard or read the lyrics to "Let It All Hang Out" might have noticed that, well, they make no sense. But they weren't supposed to! Get this: the band apparently listened to Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and felt that it was... garbage. Meaningless, pointless garbage. What's more, they thought Dylan knew it was garbage, and was laughing all the way to the bank. Having made this discovery, they had the natural reaction: "We gotta get us some of that." So they strung together a bunch of meaningless lyrics, laid down a catchy if nondescript guitar track, and spoke-sang the whole shebang in one take. Sadly, this formula did not prove to be the rock on which long-lasting success could be founded, and after one LP The Hombres passed into the great beyond.

For those who find this interesting, I highly recommend this interview with band member Gary McEwen. It's long and rambling (the interviewer didn't even cut the greeting out of the transcript!), but a real hoot. My favorite part is McEwen's account of the band's rection to "Subterranean Homesick Blues":

It was just a bunch of crap! And I knew it was crap, and he knew it was crap, but he was making all kinds of money on it. And so really, at that particular time, we just wrote “Let It All Hang Out� because we were pissed! We just did it to basically out-Dylan Dylan. Can you imagine that? You know, ‘cuz people’d say, “Why don’t you come up with something different?� And I thought, “Well, if DYLAN can get away with that crap, WE’LL do it. And it’ll be so nonsensical, NOBODY will be able to figure it out!�

I also want to thank Greg at Begging to Differ for
noting my Wisconsin allegiance in his list. I even enjoyed his snide postscript, "Whether he [meaning me] also enjoys watching paint dry or grass grow is yet to be determined." Good one, Greg! I'll think of a retort right after football season's over. You know about football, right? Do you have a football team at Duke? Oh, yes, you must; I seem to recall hearing that you fired your coach. Well, enjoy your bowl game in... oh, wait, that's right -- you guys haven't won a bowl game since the Kennedy administration. But you did go to a bowl as recently as 1995. The Outback Bowl, where you lost to... oh, go ahead, guess. (Look at the above link if you give up.)

Also on the Begging to Differ site, I highly recommend Vance's piece on the new Gilded Age. Well-argued, and ties somewhat into the above discussion.

That's all for today. Tomorrow, something else. As usual. See you then! 
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Communication Breakdown" by Led Zeppelin


Greetings, everybody. For those of you who might have been without electricity for the last few days, the big story roiling Blogland has been Jennifer Howard's opinion piece in the Sunday Post accusing the blogosphere of becoming an incestuous, self-congratulatory insider's club. As she points out, this is somewhat ironic, given that the whole purpose of blogging is to provide an independent, outsider's view of the world. Rather predictably, most bloggers who have commented on this piece have flamed Ms. Howard to a well-done crisp.

Not me, though. I think her fundamental point is correct... an awful lot of blogs play the back-scratching game. And reading "gee, Blogger Joe is a genius" over and over can get tiresome. I think Ms. Howard's analysis misses a couple key points, though. First, links and kind mentions are the currency of the realm. Second, not all mentions are just blatant backslapping. The self-referential nature of the blogosphere is a more complex phenomenon that Ms. Howard's article suggests.

She does mention, briefly, the fact that links are the key to blogging prominence: "In a Google universe, success is defined by hits: the number of visits a Web page gets. The more blogs link to each other, the more hits they all get; enough hits and a cyberstar is born." But that's not all. That analysis makes linking sound like high school, and the bloggers a clique of friends trying desperately to win seats at the cool kids' table. But the fact is, links are vital to the success of a blog, because the blogosphere lacks the hierarchy of traditional media.

Let me explain this by example. Let's assume that Michelle is a cub reporter for the Picayune Intelligence, a local biweekly paper in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. She's writing for an audience of perhaps 50 people, all of whom know better than to expect Pulitzer Prize-level writing in a local paper. But let's say Michelle's a really good writer. Odds are, she's not going to be at the Picayune Intelligence for long. Maybe there's a weekly over in a bigger town that notices her writing and makes her an offer. Now she's writing for an audience of, say, 300 over at the Gopherville Gazette. After a while there, the Northland Herald, a daily, notices Michelle's work and hires her on. Maybe she writes a searing expose of corruption in Northland Town Hall and the editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press sees her and offers her a slot on the city desk. After a while she graduates to longer features, maybe a column, and if all goes well she gets a big fat salary to ditch the Midwest and come write for the Washington Post or the New York Times. Now she's writing for an audience of over a million, read worldwide, and we can safely assume she must be pretty darned good. Maybe she wins a Pulitzer, has her series on the dark side of chain restaurants turned into a made-for-TV movie or gets her columns collected in a book, and eventually she retires to a big mansion on Hilton Head to write her memoirs and enjoy her grandkids. Whatever makes Michelle happy.

The point of this story is that the level of the publication offers the reader some assurance as to the quality of the writing. Your typical article in the New York Times is going to be much better-written than your typical article in the Picayune Intelligence. (Feel free to insert snarky comments about your least-favorite Times writer here.) Reporters do not wind up at major newspapers or magazines if they cannot write a compelling and coherent story. The vetting process has been done for you, the media consumer, by editors and management at these various publications.

The blogosphere, as we know, has no restrictions. We've heard a lot of chest-thumping about how democratic the Web is, how anyone with a computer and the ability to type can have his or her views thrown out for all the world to see, without the censoring voice of an editor. Three cheers for the democratizing effects of technology.

Unfortunately, there is a downside. Not having an editor means the blogger has no one to tell him or her that a particular post is garbage. Not having an editor means that a blogger cannot be fired for lack of talent. Not having an editor means that the reader has no assurance that the blogger's output is cogent, thoughtful or entertaining. The blogger is truly free to write whatever he or she wants, even if that's, say, a list of names from the local phone books, or 500 repetitions of "Rush Limbaugh sucks," or a mindless and inane bogus analysis of old song lyrics. The reader has no way of telling, at first glance, whether a blogger is any good.

On the flip side, the old-media hierarchy is useful for writers, too. If Michelle's writing for the New York Times, she's got a reader base of millions, and a significant percentage of those will probably check her work out at least once. Writing for a major publication gives the writer a major platform. On the other hand, if Michelle wrote a blog, she could be churning out Pulitzer-worthy material daily and no one would know it. I'm certainly not up for any Pulitzers here at Mediocre Fred, but I think my work is no worse than most of the stuff out there. And yet I have a loyal reader base of perhaps five people. It's the nature of the game.

How do you get out of this trap? Through links! If I can attract the attention of someone whose blog is more popular than mine, and he or she says a kind word and links to me, my traffic jumps significantly. Similarly, if a blogger that the reader knows and trusts recommends someone else, the reader can safely assume that the piece in question is at least worth reading once. The linking phenomenon is not only good, it's necessary. It's the only way that quality writing stands any chance of being recognized.

And not all mentions are just horn-tooting. There are plenty of bloggers who have interblog disputes on issues, who link to each other in order to give the reader a full sense of the conversation. And if a blogger happens to see a really well-written post that he or she wants to share with the reader base, that's quite a bit different that the mindless self-congratulation that Ms. Howard cites. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to link to other blogs, and to imply that it's all part of an in-crowd circle is unfair.

Is the practice of linking subject to abuse? Of course. Plenty of bloggers don't bother to go out and scan the wider world for thoughtful and insightful posts, but rather just promote things written by their friends. (Some might argue that I do this with The Smart Lady, but I only link to her when I think she's written something particularly thoughtful or engaging.) And there are surely bloggers who link to other in hopes of getting a return link, which they often get. And if a circle of bloggers really does congratulate itself as often as the one Ms. Howard visits, that's not useful to anyone.

But is there a way to break the cycle? The blogosphere is so wide that no one can read everybody. Of course most bloggers will hit the big sites (Instapundit, Atrios, Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus &c.) and those of their friends. I tend to think, though, that the references are a self-limiting phenomenon. If bloggers resort to constant self-congratulation and incessant use of insider lingo and acronyms, then new readers won't feel welcome. And if they don't feel they can penetrate the thicket of clubbiness, they won't start reading. And without readers, the blogger is the functional equivalent of the crazy people shouting about government conspiracies on street corners. So, if for no other reason than self-preservation, the reference game has its limits.

I do think Ms. Howard's article is useful, though, as a warning sign. Thoughtful bloggers will do well to heed her message and examine their own work, see if it's first-timer-friendly enough. Rather than condemning her, the blogosphere might owe Ms. Howard a word of thanks.

Speaking of references, loyal reader Tripp is apparently having some luck in his quest to attract the attention of Britney Spears:

Thank you so much for the mention, and the heads up for the google search.

I've been contacted by Britney's people, and it looks like she wants to give me a free vacation! They mentioned something about sending me away for a good long while, so I have that to look forward to.

You're quite welcome, Tripp! If nothing else, I believe in helping people, and I'm glad I was able to assist you. I hope you enjoy your vacation, and make sure that they send you someplace with Internet access, so you can keep us updated on your pursuit! Mediocre Fred is rooting for you.

Tripp also referred Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice to the Web site Married to Mommy. I passed along your note to them. Uncle Millie thanks you, saying, "Before, I was a lost man, wandering the woods without the slightest idea what had happened. Now, though, I have all the answers. In fact, I believe at least four of my marriages dissolved for precisely this reason. It all makes sense now! Perhaps there is a pattern." Aunt Beatrice says, "Tell Tripp to try being married to this man. Married to Mommy? I don't feel like a mommy; I feel like a parole officer." She is also somewhat upset that you called her "Bernice," but I think it was an honest mistake, and she has been pretty touchy lately.

Spent most of the day on the road, so sorry to those who were expecting this earlier. I will probably be on time tomorrow. Whatever "on time" means. See you tomorrow! 
Monday, November 17, 2003

I see where the folks at Begging to Differ are asking us bloggers to declare our college basketball allegiances, the better to taunt us all later (for the record, they're Duke fans). I'm not a huge college basketball fan, but I do keep up somewhat. And although I went to UVA, I never went to any games while I was there, and I never developed a rooting interest for them. Rather, my team of choice has always been the University of Wisconsin (I'm a Big Ten guy at heart). The Big Ten is going to be a tough conference this year, but I think we've got a good shot to make some noise. Go Badgers! 
  Today's Musical Selection: "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)" by Fleetwood Mac


Greetings, all. Hope you had yourself a nice weekend. It's Monday again, and once again it's time for Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. But before we get to them, I wanted to announce a little schedule change.

As you may have noticed last week, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are experiencing... technical difficulties. They are in the midst of a fairly significant spat, so much so that their Fred-and-Ginger-like partnership on this column is in peril. In fact, Aunt Beatrice attempted to quit the column after last week. However, I gently reminded her that she had signed a contract, and though I would find it most regrettable if I had to enforce the contract via legal action, that I would do so if need be. Aunt Beatrice muttered something about injustice and cruelty, but in the end she accepted my position.

However, we did strike an agreement wherein the column would run only every other week, rather than every week. Therefore, starting today, look for our favorite estranged couple to appear every two weeks in this space.

Meantime, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are coming to us today from Springfield. Uncle Millie is in Springfield, Illinois, and Aunt Beatrice is in Springfield, Massachusetts. Take it away, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice!

- - - - -

Love Stinks, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Good day, lads! Here's hoping you're all prepared for another bracing dose of my 100-proof romantic prescriptions. And a special hello to my wonderful wife, who has seen fit to join me in the advice-giving business once again.

AB: My complete lack of joy at talking with you is exceeded only by my disgust at the wicked and unfair contract that I was forced to sign.

UM: Now, now, there was no force involved. You asked to be included in the advice column. Bringing to it the female perspective, remember?

AB: Little did I know then just how much you valued the female perspective. The perspective of many, many females, in fact.

UM: Well, uh... I was simply doing research for my columns.

AB: You were doing something, but research wasn't it. Haven't you done enough "research" over the course of your romantic career?

UM: I must keep abreast of the latest tactics out there in the field. I must stay on the cutting edge.

AB: I've got a cutting edge with your name on it.

UM: Let's just move on to the letters, shall we?

AB: Fine.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I'm 26, and I'm in my first serious relationship. We've been together for four years, living together for a year and a half. Lately, though, I've gotten the sense that "Jennifer" and I might be having a falling-out. It started about three months ago, when we had an argument. When I tried to come back to the house after work that day, I'd forgotten my key and couldn't get in. After a few days, I remembered the spare key in my car. Unfortunately, it no longer seemed to work. I knocked and knocked, but she never answered. After about two hours, though, the police came and arrested me. After I got out of jail, I tried to call her for an explanation, but she'd changed the answering machine message to, "Hi, this is Jennifer and Lars. Leave a message after the tone." My name is not Lars. Do you think she's trying to tell me something?

Bryan in Montgomery

AB: Hi, Bryan. Well, she's definitely decided she's done with you. You're going to have to make arrangements to get your things back and find another place to live.

UM: Yes, she's definitely thrown you out. That much is not in dispute.

AB: What I'm curious about, and what you don't mention in your letter, is why she threw you out. Most ordinary lover's quarrels don't lead to this sort of response. I suspect you must have done something very serious to warrant this. I'm guessing infidelity. Probably with multiple women. That would be typical.

UM: Whoa, whoa, hold on a moment here. You have no proof that any infidelity occurred. In fact, I'm willing to bet that the poor lad did nothing wrong. Probably he was just minding his own business, being a decent fellow, when all of a sudden, for no reason, his lady decided to pitch a fit at him. It was undoubtedly unjust and unfair, but what do you expect from a woman?

AB: What do you expect from a woman? How about what a woman expects from you? Unjust and unreasonable demands like fidelity, honesty, crazy things like that. But you wouldn't know anything about those things, would you, Bryan? You don't know about anything except hormones.

UM: Frankly, lad, you're probably better off without this woman. She's probably a bitter, suspicious shrew. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.

AB: It's men like you, Bryan, that make women want to give up on the whole idea of relationships. You're just lucky I don't know where you live.

UM: I'm not sure he knows where he lives.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I'm 18, and I'm a senior in high school. There's this girl I have a real crush on. She's pretty and funny and fun to just be around. The problem is that she's a cheerleader, and she only looks at the athletes. I'm definitely not an athlete. I'm just an average guy. Do you think there's a way to get her to notice me?

Steve in Lincoln

UM: Well, lad, this is a classic query. Many a young man has fallen for a seemingly unattainable young lady. The good news, lad, is that you can win her heart. You'll simply need to find other ways to attract her attention, such as-

AB: Wait a second here. Steve, you seem like a nice enough young man. For now. But if you start chasing after what you can't have, you'll be setting yourself up for that kind of life. You'll never be satisfied with what you have. You'll always be looking to trade up. You'll always think there's something better out there. And so commitment will be come a joke to you. "Forever" gives way to "for now." And you turn into a heartless, philandering scumbag.

UM: I sense a little bitterness here.

AB: Hey, you want me to give advice, so I'm giving it. I'm trying to save Steve from ruining his life and the lives of the women around him.

UM: Why don't we just move on to the next letter.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I'm 42, married for 17 years, and my wife just told me she wants to get a divorce. We've had our ups and downs, our good times and bad times, but overall I thought things were going all right. She doesn't seem to agree, though. I asked her to consider counseling, but she refused. She's made her mind up. But I'm not ready to let go. I think we could make it work if we gave it another shot. How can I convince her to try again?

Warren in Dawsonville

AB: You can't change her mind. She's decided. It's over.

UM: Well, lad, you seem well-intentioned, and if you can just show her that you still do care-

AB: It won't matter. She's made up her mind.

UM: But if you really are sincere, and lay out the reasons why you think it can be better-

AB: Doesn't make a difference. It's over.

UM: But all that time and trouble, the roads you've gone down together-

AB: Don't mean a thing.

UM: Do you mind if I finish a sentence?

AB: Does it make a difference?

UM: It does to me.

AB: I'm sorry. Warren, I'm probably being hard on you. I'm sure this is a shock to you. But the fact is -- and I speak from experience here -- once she decides it's over, it's over. And if you were so concerned about staying together, where was this concern when you got into the mess in the first place. To profess love suddenly now... well, it reeks of a deathbed conversion. And that doesn't impress anyone. Again, I speak from experience.

UM: Well, perhaps the lad's wife will be a softer-hearted person.

AB: Better a soft heart than a soft head.

UM: At any rate, I think we've had enough for this week.

AB: God knows I have.

UM: We'll be back in two weeks. Hopefully with a better attitude.

AB: There's nothing wrong with our attitude.

UM: Stay well, lads, and see you in a fortnight. Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Once again, they will be appearing every two weeks from now on.

The Smart Lady published on her blog the results of the Taboo morality quiz she took. Just for kicks, I took the same quiz and got the following results:

Moralising: 0.7
Interference: 0.8
Universalising: 0.75

These results imply that I am a narrow-minded, judgmental prude. Or at least that's what I took away from their analysis. I agree with their assessment. The Smart Lady's results indicate that she's some kind of wild libertine, which is interesting. No matter; whatever the results of this back-of-the-envelope quiz, she remains a fine, wonderful, sweet person whom I'm very lucky to have for mine.

Watched the Redskins-Panthers game on Sunday. A thought occurred to me: It may seem unlikely now, but perhaps some day, if the breaks go our way, we might have professional football in Washington again. Never mind that the NFL is so weird these days that it's impossible to tell who's good and who's not. (My theory: No one's actually good. Those teams that look good are just hot. And the football season's not long enough to distinguish the difference.) When does spring training start?

That's all for today. Tomorrow will be Tuesday. I promise. See you then. 
Friday, November 14, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "I Can't Drive 55" by Sammy Hagar


Greetings, all. Late fall has arrived in the Fedroplex, as temperatures are hovering in the 40s with a good stiff breeze. Invigorating weather to take a brisk stroll in, but fairly draining if you stand around too long. I just took a brisk stroll, so I'm feeling pretty well invigorated. Therefore, don't be surprised if today's work is marginally less unimpressive than my typical Friday output. You're welcome.

My interest was piqued by an opinion article in the Post by a political science professor from UMBC arguing that the Democrats should just give up on the South and look to fashion a majority out of the rest of the country. He suggests that the Democrats should look toward firming up their expanding hold on the Southwest, and adding that to their West Coast and Northeastern bases. I'm not sure this is a good idea. The professor argues that Al Gore's electoral-college bellyflop shows that Democrats can't win in the South, but it strikes me that writing off a region is a dangerous game to play. Even if the Democrats can build a winning presidential coalition that way, the congressional delegations will probably take longer to win over in new regions. (The Republicans were capturing electoral votes in the South long before they started winning the Congressional seats in large numbers.) That delay could prove fatal to the Democrats, who might find themselves clinging to their coastal strongholds while Republicans run the country.

I think the time is ripe for a major party realignment, and if the Democrats write off the South, they might hasten that outcome along. It may be that the Democratic Party, as presently constituted, is no longer capable of winning a durable majority. While the Republicans are sticking with simple themes and a consistent message, the Democrats seem to be casting around for whatever they think might sell. Next week, I'll delve further into why I think the Democrats, at least as we presently know them, might be on their way out.

The Young American passed along an article from the Indy Star I found intriguing. Recently, he and I were lamenting the latest stupid name in minor-league baseball (and the sport is rife with stupid names). The Class AA New Haven Ravens are moving to Manchester, New Hampshire next season, and the team's owners came up with the brainstorm of calling the team the "New Hampshire Primaries." This is, in my opinion, right up there in the dumb-name annals with the Montgomery Biscuits (Class AA, Southern League) and the Albuquerque Isotopes (Class AAA, Pacific Coast League).

Apparently, the fans agreed with me. The team conducted an online poll, and with 6,000 responses, 85% thought it was a dumb name. So the team, bowing to public pressure, yanked the name and announced a name-the-team contest, commencing today. Score one for the fans!

Or... should that be score one for marketing? The Star article includes the caveat that "time is running short and the team might have to stick with Primaries through its first season, which would coincide with the 2004 presidential elections." Hmmm. Call me cynical, but I think they had something like this in mind all along. I remarked to the Young American when we first discovered the name that, after the election was over, the name was going to look silly and outdated, kind of like having a team called the "Bicentennials" in the '80s. This way, the team gets to latch on to the political frenzy, capitalize on the one-season marketing fad (and probably sell a pile of merchandise), then junk the name and pick something more crowd-pleasing in 2005. Crafty, crafty.

I wanted to take a moment to tip my cap to loyal reader Tripp, who felt that yesterday's ground-breaking analysis of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was brilliant, but felt that the yellow-and-green flowers probably represented Easter, not summer. I'm certain he is right, and I thank him for catching me on that.

Tripp also had this to say about Britney Spears:

Britney Spears has cow eyes, which are surprisingly sexy, because they make her look just stupid enough to be interested in a guy like me. I mean a regular, plain sort of guy, not like me at all. An attractive, smart guy. Me. I mean.

I'm posting this, Tripp, in the hope that Ms. Spears might Google her own name at some point and find this. I'd say your chances are pretty good. I have no official comment on Ms. Spears' alleged cow eyes.

Speaking of young women, Richard Cohen wrote an editorial in this morning's Post admiring Jessica Lynch for telling the truth, unflinchingly, even if it damages the heroic-angel storyline that the media want to write for her. Like Cohen, I was ready to vomit after the swarm of admiring media stories, to say nothing of the biopic of last weekend. I was ready to write her off as a the next young pretty woman to be exploited by the media. But the real Jessica Lynch is far more interesting -- and far more admirable -- than the media caricature. Ms. Lynch, I do salute you.

For you baseball fans trying to keep up with the latest offseason rumors, here's the latest from Jayson Stark.

That's all for today. Take care, have a wild weekend, and see you Monday. 
Thursday, November 13, 2003

The more discerning readers may have noticed that, up until now, my blog has been missing something. Specifically, a blogroll. Why has this been missing? Because I'm appallingly lazy! But I've fixed that now. If you cast your eyes to the right, you'll see my bright, shiny new blogroll. Ain't it beautiful?

For those who might be wondering how I selected the blogs in my roll, I used the highly scientific process of posting the blog of anyone who's commented recently and left a link. (Also, I added two of my favorite bloggers, James Lileks and Dave Barry, plus The Smart Lady's various blogging ventures.)

Therefore, if you want to get your blog on my roll, all you have to do is leave a comment with the URL included. That's all it takes. I'm a shameless whore! (Disclaimer: If your blog is, say, in praise of Adolf Hitler, I reserve the right not to link to it.) See you tomorrow! 
  Today's Musical Selection: Find out below!


Greetings, all. Lately I feel like we've drifted away from our purpose a bit here at Mediocre Fred. We've raised the level of our discussion, and that's good. We've had some open, free-flowing discussions with readers, and that's even better (I certainly get sick of listening to myself after a while). We've touched on important issues of business, society and culture. Hooray for us all.

Still, I feel like something's been missing lately. And after some serious soul-searching, I've figured out what it is: I'm not giving you the kind of hard-hitting, no-holds-barred, no-sober-person-could-bring-you-this information to which you were once accustomed. Therefore, I've decided to bring back the "Behind the Lyrics" feature, home of the insightful musical-interpretation work that once made Mediocre Fred the darling of Buffistas everywhere.

Today I'm going to tackle a popularly misinterpreted song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by the Beatles (a moderately famous early English rock group of whom some of you older readers may have heard... sort of like Gerry and the Pacemakers with drums). Because the song was released in the '60s, a lot of stoned rock fans, wildly jumping to conclusions, assumed it was a song all about drugs. Despite the Beatles' perfectly reasonable denials (John Lennon said the title came from a drawing his son Julian did), this nasty rumor persists to this day.

It's about time someone blew the lid of this whole drug rumor, and I feel I'm just the person to do it. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" has nothing whatsoever to do with drugs, and I'm going to prove it. As per our usual format (for those unfamiliar), I will reproduce the lyrics in italics, with my commentary appended in regular font. This is truly groundbreaking stuff, and I don't think it would be forward to suggest that the Nobel Prize Committee should institute a new prize for lyrical interpretation. I'm not saying it has to be named after me, but I wouldn't mind it at all. For those skeptics still out there, put down your bongs and get a load of this.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Already, a lot of people see this couplet and start insisting it's some sort of hallucination, which is just bogus. You're picturing yourself in a boat. On a river. How unusual is that? Those of us who were forced to sing "Row Row Row Your Boat" several thousand times during grade school should be familiar with this scenario. As for "tangerine trees"... well, tangerines do grow on trees. (Pending further research; I'm a lyrical scholar, not a botantist.) The "marmalade skies" bit is perhaps problematic, but he's not suggesting that the skies are actually full of marmalade. Of course not. That would be silly. He's suggesting that the skies are the color of marmalade, which is orange, which is entirely normal during the sunset hours. Of course, marmalade is only orange-colored if it's orange marmalade. I once had some quince marmalade, which was more of a pink, and it was quite delicious, even though I had no idea what the hell a quince was, and frankly still don't, but it seemed rude to question my host and he'd never tried to poison me before, so I figured "why not?" and ate it anyway and... but perhaps I'm straying from my point. Moving right along.

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Here people tend to assume you're answering slowly because you're in some sort of drug-induced fog. Nonsense. You know how if you're out in public, and someone calls your name unexpectedly, it takes you a while to realize they're calling you? Even if you have a strange name like Nebuchadnezzar, and it's seriously unlikely that someone screaming "Nebuchadnezzar! Yo, Nebuchadnezzar!" is trying to get the attention of some other Nebuchadnezzar? You're just not expecting it, you know? Anyway, this is perfectly natural, and doesn't in any way indicate an altered state.

And the "kaleidoscope eyes" bit strikes some people strange, but it is possible. Some people have eyes that change color with the weather, or with their emotional state. Kind of like those old mood rings. Remember those? I used to have a mood ring. For some reason, it was always black, which I take to mean that the wearer is dead. But I was alive the whole time. So I guess it didn't work. I still miss it, though.

No, I am not high right now. I resent the suggestion.

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head

Obviously, you are now standing next to a store display window, which is made up with some big oversized fake flowers to announce some kind of sale. Based on the colors, I'd guess it was a mid-summer sale. Which you hardly ever see around here, but maybe they're big over in England. The British are weird like that.

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone

"Aha," the druggies say, "she was just a hallucination!" No, that's not what that means. It means that she's just a flirt, attracting your attention and then disappearing before you can really chat her up. Women like that really bug me. If they're not interested, why get your attention in the first place? The same goes for women with short skirts who get huffy if you happen to notice their legs. What's with them? Makes me mad.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Hmmm. On the face of it, this does look a little drug-addled. But let's consider it a different way: "In the sky" could mean that she's snooty and walks around with her nose in the air. "With diamonds" means that she's already got a bunch of fancy jewelry supplied by her rich boyfriend, which would explain why she doesn't have any time for a schlub like you. How you figured out her name is "Lucy" if you didn't get to talk to her is a bit unclear. Maybe she had a name tag on.

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies

Okay, okay, I know what you're thinking. But this is not about drugs, goshdarnit. "Rocking horse people" could very well be perfectly ordinary people who have a habit of rocking back and forth while they're sitting. Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone is a perfect example of this. And "marshmallow pies" obviously refers to the famous Moon Pie, the Southern delight which features marshmallow cream between two oatmeal cookies dipped in chocolate. Personally, I think they taste like death warmed over, but the Beatles were apparently fans. Which figures, given that they were used to eating British food.

Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers
That grow so incredibly high

I know, I know, and John Lennon makes the case tougher by laying such heavy emphasis on the word "high." But these are the same flowers that were in the department-store window earlier. The department store just happens to be hard by the river. A bit unorthodox, I know, but not every community is so firmly wedded to the automobile. Perhaps the store is in Venice.

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore
Waiting to take you away

Not looking too good for the drug-free interpretation, is it? Well, you may not be aware of this, but in Britain "newspaper taxi" is slang for the police trucks, or what we Americans call "paddy wagons." Obviously Ms. Lucy is a fugitive from justice. Makes you wonder where those diamonds came from, now, doesn't it? And no, the fact that the alleged "British slang" I referred to is not used by any actual British people, and is in fact something I just made up, does not make me any less convinced that I am right.

(Am I reaching? No, of course not. What makes you say that?)

Climb in the back with your head in the clouds
And you’re gone

"Oh, come on," the druggies are saying, "this has to be a drug reference." And I'll admit that most vehicles don't have self-contained weather systems, thus eliminating the possibility that your head is in actual physical clouds. But if you're next to the enchanting Ms. Lucy, isn't it possible that you just feel like your head's in the clouds? High on life, so to speak. Exciting women can make you feel this way. I should know. The Smart Lady makes me feel like that all the time. And no, I'm not hallucinating her, dammit.


Picture yourself on a train in a station
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties

Completing a transportation trifecta, we've now gone from boat to taxi to train. (No mention of planes, though. Isn't that odd?) Some of you are probably still thinking the porters are some kind of hookah dream, but no. They don't get a lot of sun in England, you see, and it's natural for people with indoor jobs (like porters) to have pale, waxy skin that looks a lot like plasticine. As for their "looking glass ties," they sound kind of cool. I want one. My most adventurous ties are paisley. They put people to sleep. I want cooler ties.

Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile
The girl with the kaleidoscope eyes

So the little vixen comes home at the end, does she? Well, you knew she would. She might play the coquette, but in the end she just can't resist your virile charms. You stud you. See the reward you get for staying sober?

There, I have officially and conclusively proven that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" has nothing whatsoever to do with drugs. John Lennon's explanation was obviously correct, and so you snickering half-baked skeptics can just shut your yappers. Now, "I Am the Walrus," on the other hand...

Attended a Caps game with The Smart Lady last night, and had a wonderful time, as the struggling Caps pulled off a rare win, a 7-1 thrashing of the Hurricanes. Our box was situated next to a couple of passionate, if well-lubricated, old-time hockey fans. ("Old-time hockey fans" are the ones who stand around shouting things like "Somebody hit somebody!") The highlight of their cries came during the first intermission, when a bunch of 7-year-old pee-wee players came out to skate around and play a scrimmage. The old-time fans in the next box were watching the kids skate, some of them small enough that their jerseys went down to their knees, and shouted, "Put a body on someone! Let's see some checking!" I'm reasonably sure they were kidding. After it was over, I reached over to high-five them, and they pointed at me and said, "You, sir, are a great hockey fan. God bless you." I'm still not sure how I earned their approval (I'm a pretty vocal rooter, but I wasn't cheering for a fight or anything), but I appreciate it.

Returning to the Wal-Mart thread from yesterday, Art Buchwald had a devastatingly funny column on Wal-Mart's use of illegal immigrant labor. Definitely worth a read.

Finally, I just want to point something out to all you famous people out there who might be reading this. If you're a famous pop-culture icon (such as sex kitten and dilettante singer Britney Spears) odds are that someone (such as Maryland First Lady Kendel Ehrlich) will say something stupid about you (such as "I would shoot Britney Spears if I had the chance") for some reason (either because Mrs. Ehrlich is sincerely concerned about the effect of Spears' me-so-horny dance moves on impressionable youth, or because she wants to prove that more than one member of the Ehrlich family suffers from diarrhea of the mouth). Should this happen to you, this is a perfect opportunity to say nothing and remain above the fray, and at least delude the more gullible members of the public into having sympathy for you. It is not, I repeat not, a prime opportunity to say something equally stupid right back (such as "She probably needs to get laid"). This will just confirm whatever negative perceptions the public already has in its collective mind about you (such as that you are a vapid, sex-obsessed airhead). Thank you.

That's all for today. Tomorrow being Friday, who knows what to expect? Tune in and find out! 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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