Mediocre Fred's Mediocre Blog
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Substitute" by The Who


Hello, everyone! Papa Shaft back here today to do my best Walter Williams impression for you. All right, maybe I'm more like Chris Core. No? Um...would you believe Howard Stern? Anyway, never mind that. It's time for another rollicking romp through the world that I call Pinch-Hit Journalism!

Let's start today by re-visiting a subject I talked about yesterday: the firing of the cottonmouthed coach Steve Spurrier. Over the past 24 hours, I've gotten an even bigger kick out of this, not least because Spurrier quit his job with the Redskins without, um, actually knowing that he'd quit. Apparently, Spurrier denied that he was resigning as coach of the team after the Skins had released a statement saying that he had, actually, quit. The confusion came in after Spurrier gave his agent full approval to negotiate his resignation with the team, but could not get in touch with his agent after his cell phone battery died while he was out on the golf course. In Florida. When he got in contact with a reporter, he denied the statement. Only after contacting his agent did Spurrier actually find out that he had, in fact, resigned.

A couple of thoughts here for Mr. Spurrier...First, what in God's name are you doing playing golf in Florida two days after your team went 5-11 for the year, if you're not resigning? Now that you've jetted off to the tropics the second after your sad-sack team blew the season, is there really any point denying that you're quitting?

Second...Just how dumb do you have to be to not know that you're resigning your job?! I mean, this is one of those things that normal head coaches do for themselves. You know, make choices. Decisions. Lead the way. But Spurrier has never done that with the Redskins, has he? He's always been in way over his head and looking everywhere else for solutions rather than figuring them out himself. So when it comes time to decide whether he's leaving or not, it's up to his agent. Great. Can anyone not see why we're 5-11 this year?

Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser made a pretty complete case for Spurrier's canning in yesterday's columns, so I don't have too much more to add. However, I do like Thomas Boswell's take on the resignation: ""When you're such a clueless rube that you want to phone in your resignation from a golf course, at least charge your batteries."

Now the Skins have to look to the future and find a coach that's going to bring them into that future. With all the money Snyder is likely to wave around, finding someone to take the job shouldn't be too much of a problem. Already rumored to be under consideration are, among others, former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, current Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, former Patriots coach Pete Carroll, and the entire "M-Z" section of the Verizon SuperPages. But the one possibility that had me laughing out of my chair was none other than former Redskins defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes. Rhodes, as you may remember, was screwed out of a well-deserved head coaching job in favor of "The General", Marty Schottenheimer. (Schottenheimer, as you may be trying to forget, got rid of most of the talent that the Redskins had at the time because they didn't fit into his system, then fled town a year later).

Here's a likely negotiation between Skins owner Daniel Snyder and Rhodes, as suggested by Mediocre Fred:

SNYDER: Hey, Ray, how'd you like to coach the Redskins?
RHODES: Are you f***ing serious?
SNYDER: But Ray, we all know you're the right man for the job. That whole forcing you out the door thing was just a joke! Really!
RHODES: Just how f***ing stupid do you think I am?
SNYDER: But Ray, this is your chance to coach in the big leagues!
RHODES: Let me get back to you, will ya, Danny? I got a guy on the other line about some whitewalls. I'll talk to ya later.

Suffice it to say that if The Danny does decide to pursue Rhodes, he shouldn't be surprised if his fruit basket is returned unopened.

Moving on in the world of football, Matt Millen still has a job. This fact absolutely blows my mind. I mean, what does this guy have to do to get fired, get caught taking illict pictures of the Lions cheerleaders after practice? Let's review the charges against Millen. He's gotten caught using an anti-gay slur against one of his players, something he should have known better about. Before that, he was fined by the NFL for not interviewing minority candidates when the Lions fired their coach last year. And on top of all that, as GM of the team for the last 3 years, he's led them to a super-craptacular 10-38 record. And yet he's somehow not living out of a cardboard box. It boggles the mind.

Meanwhile, Arizona Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis is now a former Arizona Cardinals coach. Despite leading the Cardinals to a shocking 18-17 upset of the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, McGinnis was fired Monday morning. This was after running on the field celebrating the huge come-from-behind victory that energized the entire team. Can you imagine that?

MCGINNIS: (jumping up and down) "WE WON! WE WON!! WE'RE NUMBER ONE! WE'RE NUMBER ONE! WE'RE NUMBER - Huh? Wait...I'm Fired? Uh...Well...Um...Crap."

Thus, I hereby nominate Dave McGinnis for the 2003 Sucks-To-Be-You Award. Tough shot, yes, but hey, maybe now he can find a job with the Detroit Lions. Then he'd never have to be worried about getting fired again!

That's all for today. Tomorrow, sex. Or something else that's relatively entertaining. Catch you then! 
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "I Can See Clearly" by Johnny Nash


Greetings, all! Well, after I announced that I was extending my sabbatical yesterday, I received several offers for guest-blogging duties. The only problem is that some of the offers were... different. Hammerin' Hank offered to step in, but when I asked what he thought he might write about, he suggested that he'd pen a column on "Mediocre Fred's Secret Cross-Dressing Double Life," at which point I informed him that his services would not be required. Uncle Millie submitted a sample "column," on the back of a cocktail napkin, consisting of the names and phone numbers of the various women he claims to have slept with in the past week. I decided to pass on that, for some reason. Aunt Beatrice submitted her "Top 10,000 Reasons Why Uncle Millie is a Lying, Alcoholic Scumbag." She offered to break it up into multiple parts, but even so, I felt that it didn't really fit with the light-hearted mood.

Than I got an offer from Papa Shaft, and I started listening.

Papa and I go way back. He's a fellow Fedroplexer, a hell of a guy with a solid jump shot. You loyal readers may recognize him from his long, thoughtful comments on this page in the past. I recommend him completely and without reservation. He'll be writing for me until either he gets tired of it or I decide to end my sabbatical, whichever comes first.

If you don't happen to like his work, well, sorry. I'll be back eventually. I bet you will like him, though. If you really like him, let me know and maybe I can persuade him to take a permanent guest slot at Mediocre Fred (or perhaps even start his own blog). If you like him better than me, I hate you.

Anyway, enough preamble. Let's wave in the right-hander and let him finish this one out. Take it away, Papa!

* * * * *

Hello all! Papa Shaft here, sitting in for Mediocre Fred while he does battle with the Attack of the Killer Virus. I'm not a quality writer, by any means, but I'm well-assured that this only makes me more qualified to write in this space. In any case, I'm going to be sitting in here this week, and hopefully while I do, something remotely interesting will come out. So awayyyyy we go! (Apologies to Jackie Gleason)

First up on this very special round-up is a look at a Howard Kurtz article that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post. In the article, Kurtz discusses the new book by New Republic writer Gregg Easterbrook, which takes a look at media sensationalism in today's society. I'll let Kurtz do the summarizing:

"In his new book "The Progress Paradox," Easterbrook argues that establishment journalists are obsessed with bad news because the elites they serve benefit from fear-mongering. Politicians hurl charges about how awful things have become, which gets them booked on talk shows. Interest groups seize on sky-is-falling reports to boost their fundraising. And newshounds themselves feel empowered because crises get their adrenaline flowing."

Okay, let's break this down. From the sound of things, Easterbrook seems to feel that the media is pandering to the hands that feed them - that is, those who give them the news - by sensationalising stories and reporting everything as a major crisis. But is this really the hand that feeds the news media?

Think about it...We're a nation of 225-plus million. Most of us have TV, and a significant number of us get cable, not to mention internet access. We're the ones watching and reading the news, and if we, the people, didn't watch it, advertisers don't pay for it to be shown, and the networks (and, by extension, their news bureaus) lose out. Similarly,
local stations lose out if people don't watch. So it's the commoners, not the elite, who really have the power, and motivate the media to do what it does.

This is why we see garbage like, "Tonight at Ten! There's a common household item in your home, near your kids, which you're probably using right this very instant, which can KILL YOU!! We'll tell you what it is...after American Idol!" Annoying as all that might be, it's a more effective draw than, "Tune in tonight to find out about something bad that we think might interest you. Plus 15 minutes of community news that no one cares about." And the thing is, local stations have greater pressure on them to get you to watch, because there's generally less news on a local level that is exciting and worth paying attention to. Who cares about the latest re-zoning push in Fairfax County when stuff's getting blown up in Iraq, and terrorists are making threats against Las Vegas?

Meantime, local stations run on smaller budgets and as a result, need to keep ad rates up to stay in business. That makes the push to get viewers for the nightly news even stronger. So they fall back to sensationalism to sell the story.

The national news does the same basic thing, but for a slightly different reason - because of cable news networks, alternative news sources like the Internet, and a general willingness of the public to substitute awafrom news and towards entertainment, has driven network news ratings into a death spiral. So news shows (including craptacular infotainment programs like Dateline NBC) feel the *need* to sensationalize to keep people watching because otherwise, we'll all wind up watching MSNBC and reading the Drudge Report instead.

Not only does this drive to maintain an audience lead to sensationalism of stories that get reported by the news media, but it influences the type of story that gets reported as well. The one place where I'd have to agree partially with Easterbrook is that the media tends to report a lot of "bad news" stories (i.e., with a negative slant) instead of "good news" stories (i.e., with a positive slant). And when you think about that, it's rational - after all, if it bleeds, it leads. Who wants to see puff pieces, which don't catch the eye, when you can see blood and gore?

But in recent times, we've seen a knee-jerk reaction to the blood-and-gore reporting common in the '80s and early '90s, with a return to the puff pieces that don't catch the eye as well. Only now, the media will sensationalize these feel-good stories by playing up how wonderful and heart-throbbingly wholesome and happy they are, making them more
attractive to viewers. Dateline, for example, does this with precision. For every story on child molester murderers or war in Iraq, they stick in a puff piece on the autistic kid who overcame impossible odds, or a happy-happy profile on Ben and J-Lo.

So they're balancing out bad news with good news. That should make it even, right? Wrong. The one thing that this view masks is that whether it's good news or bad news, there's a certain shallowness in the depth of reporting. To put it another way, TV journalism is not so much about giving the viewer what he needs to hear - the who/what/where/ why/when - but what they *want* to hear - the who died/what blew up/where the pieces landed/why should I care/and when the next commercial break's coming. This, I think, is what the biggest and most critical problem is with the modern news media. Journalists take themselves so seriously as the bearers of information - yet, the integrity of what they're doing is being compromised by their own tendencies to report lazily, focus on what people want to hear instead of telling the story, and sensationalizing in order to grab viewers' attention. And, in the end, that's going to be their undoing.

Moving on to a completely different subject, I noticed last night while watching CNN that the Anaheim Angels have re-named Edison International Field for the 2004 season. The park will be known as Angel Stadium of Anaheim, presumably until a new corporate sponsor for the place is found. As much as I hate corporate-named ballparks, I have mixed feelings about this move. On one hand, I do think it's a good thing to get rid of corporate names on stadiums; though they bring money into the team's coffers, they also are often annoying to say and make the teams even more about money and corporatism than they already are.

On the other hand, it's similarly annoying to see ballparks get re-named with these temporary names like "Angel Stadium", "Astros Field" and "Redskins Stadium" when you know that in 6 months or less, the place will have *another* new name anyway. What's the point? Why not just call the stadium the same thing it's always been until you get another big, fat naming rights contract signed? It's not like the fans are going to be calling Edison Field anything different for a good long while, anyway. Habits are hard to change, after all.

Also, I may be splitting hairs here, but I always thought Edison International Field was one of the better corporate names out there. Sort of like Raymond James Stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, or Miller Park. You can always just truncate it to "Edison Field" or "Lincoln Field" and all of a sudden, a corporate-name ballpark becomes, well,
normal-sounding. You can't do that with Minute Maid Park or Safeco Field, which often lend themselves to dumb nicknames like "The Juice Box" and "The Safe" just to sound relatively normal and catchy. So I'll sort of miss Edison International Field. Hopefully, they'll come up with something reasonably normal to replace it. (And not, say, Trojan Latex Field...)

Well, the axe finally dropped on The Ol' Ball Coach. Steve Spurrier is no longer coach of the Washington Redskins, and to that I say, "Happy trails, coach. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out." Frankly, I knew that Spurrier was going to get axed last night when he dodged around George Michael's questions about the team, had no idea which players would be coming back next year, and said he'll be figuring out what to do "in the next few days." Sure, Spurrier's always been a vague man, but that interview sent up huge flares in my mind. It's good to see Spurrier riding off into the sunset, though. At least now we Redskins fans can at least have some hope again and finally return to the long tradition of compete...Wait. Never mind.

Anyway, that's all for now! I'll be back tomorrow with something completely different. Satisfaction not guaranteed. See you then! 
Monday, December 29, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "More than a Feeling" by Boston


Hi, folks. Well, I did take a week off, as promised. Unfortunately, during the course of said week, somethng unexpected happened: I got quite sick. Therefore, my week off wasn't as restful as I'd hoped. As a result, I'll be extending my break for another week, hopefully a healthy one, in order to get the batteries recharged and come back fresh in the new year. If any of you loyal readers wants to try guest-blogging for a while, let me know and I'll be happy to set you up. Until next time, friends! 
Monday, December 22, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "White Christmas" by the Drifters


Greetings, all! I had a wonderful weekend. The Smart Lady and I celebrated Christmas with gingerbread, eggnog, potato latkes and "The Blues Brothers." I couldn't have asked for a better holiday. And now I'm whistling Christmas tunes and feeling in the holiday spirit. Thank you, Smart Lady.

I can't say that I have anything particularly interesting to write about for the time being, so I think I'm going to take the week off. I need a little sabbatical. I'll still be writing for Open Source Politics, and when I post something for them I'll let you know about it here. Also, if there's anything any of you loyal readers feel like talking about, post a comment and I'll be happy to take up a discussion. Other than that, though, it's siesta time. Take care of yourselves, and have a happy holiday. Cheers. 
Friday, December 19, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Blue Christmas" by Porky Pig


Good day, everybody. Well, if you're a baseball fan you've probably heard by now that the deal to send Alex Rodriguez to Boston is dead. Or not. Boston says it is, Texas says it isn't. I touched on this briefly the other day, but I want to raise the issue again because I read an article on CNN by Chris Isidore, claiming that the Players' Association was doing what it had to do by making the roundly unpopular decision to reject the restructured Rodriguez deal. (Thomas Boswell made a similar point in his column in this morning's Post, but he's turned bitter since the '94 strike and he's almost impossible to read on labor matters any more.) Isidore makes a solid case, and as I disagree with him I thought I'd take a shot at rebutting his argument.

It's easy to understand the anger in Boston. It seems ridiculous that a union should be able to stop a multi-millionaire from accepting fewer millions to play a game most fans would gladly play for free.

But the MLBPA is a union, and the purpose of any union is to act in the best financial interests of its members. Even if A-Rod doesn't need its help, it has hundreds of other members who do.

It does seem ridiculous that the union would block this deal, but it's not just a "fan's-eye view" that makes the business seem ridiculous. The issue is that both teams and the players involved want this deal to happen, but it's being held up by another party on the basis of "upholding the principle" of unmitigated greed.

As for the argument that blocking the deal isn't about Rodriguez, but about the hundreds of young players who hope to sign an A-Rod-like contract some day... sorry, folks, but those contracts aren't happening any more. The Rodriguez contract was a one-time deal, a monument to the fiscal insanity that gripped the sport in the late '90s. No one's using it as a benchmark any more. The union's stance isn't a brave defense of the salary scale. It's a statement to the world: "We value money over the happiness of our own members."

The fact is, allowing players to agree to cuts in their own salary is the first step down the road to making their contracts -- both big and relatively small -- as worthless as Red Sox 2003 World Series tickets.

If you have any doubt that players less wealthy than Rodriguez could be forced to take less than their contract called for, ask players in the National Football League. They are regularly being forced to take substantial pay cuts to hang onto their jobs.

Yes, it's true that the NFL players have non-guaranteed contracts and a salary cap working against them.

I hate the slippery slope argument, especially as applied here. Allowing Rodriguez to take a slightly less obscene amount of money in order to play somewhere he wants -- a deal that Rodriguez agreed to! -- is not going to lead to the end of guaranteed contracts. (Would that it could.)

This particular slippery slope has a barrier in it. No matter what Isidore says, just because a player like Rodriguez voluntarily agrees to take less money, it doesn't mean teams will be able to force players to take cuts. For instance, if Rodriguez wasn't interested in taking less money to go to Boston, he could simply say "No thanks," and the deal is dead. Guaranteed contracts are legally enforceable, and any owner who tried to force a restructuring of a player's deal would find himself in a world of legal trouble as fast as he could say "arbitration."

And frankly, the players' union is hard-put to complain about management trying to restructure the terms of deals halfway through. Any number of star players in recent years have demanded raises in the middle of perfectly valid contracts, or demanded to be traded. If players are permitted to demand raises in mid-contract when times are good, why aren't owners permitted to call for cuts when times are bad? Methinks there is a certain logical inconsistency.

The NFL analogy would be valid if players had once had guaranteed contracts and no longer did. But NFL contracts were never guaranteed. The NFL has a fairly docile players' union. Contrast them to the MLBPA, whose power is exceeded only by its arrogance. Baseball players would never give up their guaranteed contracts, no matter what the owners threatened. Isidore's "doomsday scenario" just doesn't hold water.

But the MLBPA didn't win a stronger labor deal for its members by giving unilateral concessions to make specific teams or star players happy -- which is what Red Sox fans would like to see the union do here.

"Concessions"? What the hell is the union "conceding" here? Technically, the collective-bargaining agreement doesn't allow for contract cuts without providing a benefit to the player. But isn't it up to the player to decide the player's benefit? And as described above, the union has no problem allowing players to extort unilateral concessions from the owners when the market is booming.

Rodriguez isn't taking a pay cut out of the goodness of his heart or because someone's holding a gun to his head. He's decided that the extra $30 million (money he will never spend in his lifetime) isn't worth the price of playing for a cellar-dweller as opposed to a contender.

Suppose you were making, say, $120,000 a year, but you hated your job and you didn't like the city you were in. Suppose someone offered you a $90,000-a-year position in your dream field in a city you really liked? How would you feel if someone stepped in and said you couldn't take the other job because "it would set a bad precedent" for other people in your current job? You'd tell that group to keep its nose out of your business, right? So why shouldn't Rodriguez do the same? It's his life. Gene Orza and Don Fehr don't have to play for the Rangers.

If A-Rod is allowed to agree to pay cuts, other players could soon be forced to take pay cuts as well. Few of them would negotiate from as strong a position as Rodriguez, who is arguably the league's best player.

"The union can't allow this to set a precedent," said Doug Pappas, a New York attorney and an expert in baseball salary structure and economics.

If players could negotiate a reduction in their contracts, he said, "instead of teams eating salaries the way they do currently when they dump salaries in these trades, they'll demand the savings come from the players."

Another bogus manifestation of the slippery-slope argument. I love the way Isidore slides seamlessly from A-Rod volunteering to take pay cut to players being "forced" to take cuts, as though it's the same thing. It isn't. Suppose Joe Shlabotnik is making $7 million a year with the Pirates. The Pirates can't afford him any more, so they arrange to ship him to the Yankees. The Yankees tell Shlabotnik that they'll only pay him $4 million a year. If Joe says yes, we're in an A-Rod situation and doing fine. If Joe says no, and the Pirates and Yankees try to make the deal anyway, the union will file a grievance. Even if the commissioner approves the deal, it goes to an arbitrator, and the arbitrator kills the deal. End of slippery slope.

But why shouldn't Shlabotnik have that choice? Why shouldn't he be able to decide if he'd rather trade a couple million a year for a better team, a better city or a better shot at playoff contention? Why should he be chained to a contract that he doesn't want, just so the union can brag to its friends at the bar about how strong it is?

"The union wants the sanctity of the contract as drafted," Pappas said. "Strictly speaking, the players aren't empowered to negotiate such things (i.e., reduced benefits)."

Again, this is garbage. If the union had previously stood up to players who held their teams hostage and demanded raises even when their contracts still had years to run, I'd buy this. But the union is only for the sanctity of contracts when it benefits them.

Players agree to take less than top dollar all the time, and the union can't and doesn't say anything about it. Former Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte, for example, signed with his hometown Houston Astros this winter for far less than the Yankees were willing to pay.

If A-Rod wanted to take less that the top possible dollar in order to play for a better team, the time for him to decide that was before he signed the deal, not three years later.

Isidore almost had me here. It was Rodriguez's decision to sign with the last-place Rangers for all that money. Perhaps he should be forced to deal with those consequences.

But there are two caveats I notice that make this argument problematic. First, at the time he signed his deal, Texas was promising that they'd build a team around him that would soon be competing. It's not Rodriguez's fault that the Rangers didn't do it. (And they surely could have. If the Anaheim Angels could win the 2002 World Series, surely the Rangers could have found a way to make the playoffs.) In a sense, he signed under false pretenses.

Second, and more importantly, there's been a significant market correction since Rodriguez signed his deal. With the insane way salaries were ratcheting upward at that time, he had every reason to believe that he would eventually be surpassed as baseball's highest-paid player, perhaps even within a year or two. But now star players are signing for deals half the annual value of his. Were A-Rod a free agent today, there is no possible way he'd get $25 million a year or a ten-year deal.

Had Rodriguez known at the time that (a) the Rangers were going to stink like week-old mackerel and (b) his contract would soon be an untradable albatross, he might well have chosen differently. But he's not a clairvoyant, and there was no reasonable way for him to have known either of those things at the time. So to condemn him to spend the rest of his prime on a last-place team counting his money is unfair.

The MLB players' union is accustomed to winning, I know. And they may think they're within their rights in this situation. But they screwed up this time, and despite Isidore's argument, it's not something they "had to do."

I highly, highly recommend The Smart Lady's addendum to yesterday's column on what happens to the holidays as you get older. It's excellently written, and she hits on a key point that I didn't even think about: once you have the power to do and buy things for yourself, the anything-goes mentality of the holidays loses some of its charm. Also, once you get older, you realize that freedom comes with responsibility. If you buy too much, you'll go broke. If you eat too much, you'll get fat. If you take too many days off work, you'll get fired. Go ahead and read the whole thing. You won't regret it.

I also recommend her latest post on gay marriage, which is also logical and excellently-written. She, unlike me, has been on a roll the last couple days.

And that's all from me for this week. Tonight, gingerbread cookies and The Smart Lady's company. I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be. See you Monday! 
Thursday, December 18, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" by Elmo and Patsy


Greetings, all. It's officially one week until Christmas. Unofficially, it's the day before Christmas Eve for me, since The Smart Lady and I are celebrating early. (She's going to be gone on the actual day.) Hard to believe that I haven't had any egg nog yet. I'm a nog fiend, and usually by now I'm well into my third or fourth gallon. But I've been too busy trying to remember whom I have and haven't shopped for yet to worry about the nog. Christmas sure isn't what it used to be.

One of my college professors said, "Once you have kids, you start seeing Christmas from the inside. You have become Santa Claus." He was right about most everything else, so I imagine he was right about that too. For now, though, I'm in sort of an odd state: I remember that Christmas used to be a big deal, but it isn't any more, and I'm not clear on when it stopped. The typical adult life, I've found, is very short on big-deal events: the working world has no equivalent to the last day of school, and the big holidays just don't have the same pizzazz.

Compare, say, Thanksgiving as a kid to Thanksgiving now. Back then, you had a couple weeks' run-up in school. You traced the outline of your hand on construction paper, added a beak and you had yourself a turkey. You did the re-enactment of the first Thanksgiving (I actually had shoes with buckles as a kid and consequently was always a Pilgrim), which was always a nice friendly pig-out and didn't dwell on nitpicking concerns, such as what happened to the Indians afterward and whether or not they actually had Kool-Aid in Plymouth Colony. About a week or so beforehand, the school cafeteria surved the turkey dinner, with dry stuffing and jellied cranberries and pumpkin pie, a four-star meal by youthful standards. Then there was the actual feast itself, which was always fun. You hauled up to Grandma's, ogled the feast, begged and wheedled a scrap of turkey skin from Grandma beforehand, then sat down to the meal. Grandpa would ask the blessing, and your brother would whisper, "Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub, let's eat" and the two of you would laugh like hyenas until Mom noticed and flashed you the Death Stare. Then there was pigging out and the Lions game and napping and then three more days of rest before you had to return to the daily first-grade grind.

And now... what? No hand-turkeys. No Kool-Aid reenactments. No cafeteria meals. And the actual event itself has lost its pizazz. The turkey's overcooked. Grandma seems a little dotty. Uncle Bud, whom you always liked because he laughed at the "rub-a-dub-dub" joke, is actually a loudmouth jerk. The childish shrieking that always seemed like so much fun when you were doing it actually turns out to be seriously annoying. The Lions stink. And you can't nap because every time you stretch out on the couch, some little niece or nephew hits you with a pillow.

You hear fellow adults talk about "holiday stress" and "surviving the holidays" and "if I hear Jingle Bell Rock one more time I'll kill someone" and you think, what happened to the joy? To the no-holds-barred fun? Where did it go? Every year before Christmas as a kid I'd pull an all-nighter, sitting up in bed and reading and waiting for the earliest possible moment I could dash down and start playing with my new toys. (My parents and I settled on a 5 AM limit after the Christmas incident when I was 7. I got up, watched the TV stations sign off and played with my new train until Dad came down and told me to turn it off and go to bed if I wanted to live to see 8.) I wouldn't dream of doing that now. Waste a whole night's sleep? You must be mad!

Part of it, I know, is the responsibility factor. As an adult, you have to cook the dinner and clear the table and wash the dishes and pick up after the kids. And part of it is that as you get older, you naturally grow apart from your family a little bit. Seeing them isn't the same magical experience it was when you were little.

But there's something else too. We're just not a ceremonial society. Sure, all the stores have lights in the window and wreaths on the door and Christmas carols on the sound system. But is Christmas really in the air?

Side note to non-Christians: yes, I know. It would be culturally insensitive to privilege one religious holiday over the rest. But I'm not talking about the religious aspect of it. The title of this post is not "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," you'll notice. I'm talking about the secular end of it. Look at songs like "Jingle Bells" and "Winter Wonderland." Religion-free. Hum those tunes to yourself if it helps.

As a society, we hardly care about our holidays. They're only useful if they can get us a three-day weekend (or better yet, a four-day weekend). We don't care about them for what they supposedly commemorate, unless they actually were designed to commemorate big sales at department stores. (My research on this is uncertain.) It's the lack of ceremony, I think, that makes the holidays feel so flat.

And why is there so little ceremony? My theory is that we don't live in cycles any more. In an agricultural-based society, work is cyclical. There's a time to prepare the ground, plant the seeds, help the crops grow, and then harvest. It's hard work during the cycles, but with little to do in between. So, when there's no planting or harvesting to do, you have time to put together a celebration. You can trim a tree, plan a parade, light off fireworks, or what have you. You can hold a harvest dance. You can celebrate spring with a community picnic. It all feels natural and appropriate, and there's a sense of genuine celebration.

But our work has very little to do with the natural cycles any more. If we go to work at sunrise and come home at sunset, it's only by coincidence. We can do the same work on a day in mid-July that we could do on Christmas Eve. There's no downtime. And in order to have a sense of ceremony about something (I've found), you need time to think about it, plan for it, get excited about it. And that's time we just don't have.

That's it for today. Tomorrow, who knows? Something else, I'm sure. See you then! 
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Have a Good Time" by Paul Simon


Hello, everybody. Last night I was discussing yesterday's piece on consumerism with The Smart Lady, and she had a couple thoughts that were valuable enough that I thought I'd post them here. In response to James Twitchell's comment that consumerism is "a lot less bloody than epic battles over whose God is greater," she points out that consumerism isn't exactly bloodless. She cited the example of young men killing each other over sneakers, as well as the illegal drug trade. Are the dollars made in the cocaine trade going to build high schools or keep Grandma in a good nursing home? No, they're going primarily to purchase cars, clothes and jewelry, the trappings of rank in our society. She's right, and I'd add the people who get into fistfights over who gets the last of some item at the store. Granted, all of these together don't approach the death toll of the Crusades, but it would be a mistake to think that we've created a system where rank is determined without violence.

She also sent along an article from Slate, in which Daniel Gross looks at the patterns of consumption so far this holiday season:

This year there's evidence to suggest that we're two nations when it comes to Christmas shopping. If the alleged Bush Boom were in full swing, after all, you'd expect an exuberant Christmas shopping season across the board. But that's not happening. Instead, high-end shoppers are running up tabs like congressional appropriators, while the masses are holding back.

As evidence, he cites extremely strong November sales figures at stores like Tiffany, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, contrasting with flat or declining figures at low-end to mid-level retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, Sears and J.C. Penney. Gross concludes from this that the economic recovery has thus far only benefitted the people at the top.

I think Gross's theory is probably right (or that at least confidence has recovered a lot more quickly among the rich than among the rest), but there is at least one alternate theory I can see that fits the data. Perhaps everyone overspent during the wild 1990s, but it was particularly true among the middle- and lower-income groups. (See yesterday's keeping-up-wih-the-Joneses theory.) When the recession hit, it was these groups who suddenly found themselves deep in debt. The rich may have spent heavily in the '90s, but they weren't spending themsleves into debt. It was the people who lived upper-class lifestyles on middle-class means who suddenly found themselves with bills to pay and wihtout money to pay them. So even if the recovery has lifted everyone equally, the middle- and lower-income folks are still paying off their debts. The rich, meanwhile, can afford to start spending again.

(There is a third theory, which Gross hints at but does nothing with. He writes, "Online shopping—typically the province of the connected, and hence the better-off—is rising." Okay, he's right that most welfare families aren't shopping at Amazon. But online shopping isn't the exclusive province of the Saks crowd. Isn't it possible that some people who'd normally be shopping at Sears, J.C. Penney and Target are buying online instead? Just a thought.)

Meanwhile, comes now news of another idiot Congressman running his fool mouth: Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington accused the president of timing Saddam Hussein's capture for political gain:

He told a Seattle radio interviewer Monday that American forces could have captured Saddam "a long time ago if they wanted."

Asked by interviewer Dave Ross on KIRO-FM whether the capture was timed to help the president, he replied: "Yeah. Oh, yeah. There's too much by happenstance for it to be just a coincidental thing."

Pressed by Mr. Ross about whether he meant that the timing of the capture was driven by politics, Mr. McDermott said: "I don't know that it was definitely planned on this weekend, but I know they've been in contact with people all along who knew basically where he was. It was just a matter of time till they'd find him.

"It's funny, when they're having all this trouble, suddenly they have to roll out something."

McDermott previously earned the nickname "Baghdad Jim" when he accused the Bush administration of lying to justify war with Iraq. In retrospect, given the haze surrounding the WMD question, it's clear that the adminstration would at least stretch the available facts to make a case. But this latest remark is just stupid. If McDermott wants to run his mouth and make wildly inflammatory statements without evidence, let him get a cable talk show. (And if he does have any evidence, he needs to present it immediately.) But one hopes (or at least fondly wishes) that we could expect more from our elected officials.

Incidentally, I found out about this tidbit in Howie Kurtz's column in the Post. Kurtz quoted the story in the Washington Times to which I linked, above. The Times ran the story at the top of their front page, while the Post didn't run it at all. Meanwhile, the Post ran a story on John Ashcroft's 2000 Senate campaign being fined by the FEC for accepting illegal campaign contributions, which the Times doesn't mention at all. Coincidence?

Well, Joe Horn of the Saints was fined $30,000 by the NFL for his dumb hey-look-at-me cell-phone stunt from Sunday night. Michael Wilbon had a nice, well-balanced piece in the Post. Although I admit sympathy with Gregg Easterbrook's somewhat firmer view:

Memo to Joe Horn: To text-message the word "punk" on your cell phone, type 7-8-6-5. To text-message "league fine," type 5-3-2-4-8-3, 3-4-6-3. That stunt was a total embarrassment. Zebras, why didn't you toss him? Coach Haslett, why didn't you send Horn directly to the showers? Giants, why didn't one of you lay this guy out? When Terrell Owens danced in the big star at Texas Stadium a few years back, George Teague of the Cowboys laid him out. I would have donated to the defense fund of any Giant who laid Horn out on Sunday.

After the Owens stunt with the Sharpie, the consensus was that pulling out a prop was funny the first time and would be an embarrassment if it happened a second time. As Horn was dialing his prop cell phone, TMQ thought, "Behold, yon punk doth invite the vengeance of the football gods."

And in baseball, the Alex-Rodriguez-to-Boston talks must be getting serious: The players' union is involved! Oh, you wonder why the players' union is getting involved? Easy. Because Roriguez is thinking of restructuring his deal, and said restructuring might involve him taking less money. So what? So, "any change [in Rodriguez's deal] would have to add some benefit for the player, according to baseball's labor contract."

Can you believe this? Even if Rodriguez volunteered to cut his salary in half to make the deal happen, the union would block it! Isn't the player's own wishes sufficient "benefit"? Of course, this is the kind of logic you'd expect from a union which defends $12-million-a-year deals to stiffs like Raul Mondesi with a straight face and threatens a collusion grievance when owners finally decide to start paying players in a more rational manner. The MLB players' union is out of control.

That's enough madness for today. Tomorrow, sweetness, flowers and light. Or not. See you then! 
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Down in the Mall" by Warren Zevon


Hello again, all. I read something this weekend that ticked me off. It was an article in the Post magazine, profiling a few people who enjoy buying really, really expensive things. Things like $750 shoes and $5,000 handbags and $50,000 cars. What ticked me off wasn't so much the people themselves: none of them is running an outrageous debt, they earn their money, and as Drew Carey once said, "Why make the money if you can't enjoy spending it?" No, what ticks me off is the ethos these people represent, the idea of material goods conveying personal worth.

The author of the article, one April Witt, apparently saw people like me coming, people who deny that material possessions are a good basis around which to structure a life:

Deny it, outraged, if you will. Rail against unchecked materialism like some puritanical scold. Pray for the soul of a nation wandering lost in the malls, more likely to shop than to vote, volunteer, join a civic organization or place a weekly donation in the collection plate of a local house of worship.

Very well, then, I will. (And I take much pride in being a puritanical scold, thank you.)

This passage gets to the heart of what irks me:

Consumerism was the triumphant winner of the ideological wars of the 20th century, beating out both religion and politics as the path millions of Americans follow to find purpose, meaning, order and transcendent exaltation in their lives. Liberty in this market democracy has, for many, come to mean freedom to buy as much as you can of whatever you wish, endlessly reinventing and telegraphing your sense of self with each new purchase.

Well, all right! I'm sure our Founding Fathers would be proud of us if they were alive today. Throughout our history, countless thousands have given their lives in order to assure us the awesome collection of liberties and freedoms we now have at our disposal. And what do we do with this, possibly the greatest gift ever given to a society in the history of mankind? Do we start newspapers? Do we get involved in our political system? Do we explore ways in which we can make our society even greater? No. We buy a great big honkin' pile of stuff!

Of all our freedoms, the freedom to acquire is curiously passive. It asks nothing of us other than the requisite cash on hand. It doesn't require any special effort or risk. It doesn't broaden us in any way. It just gives us something to occupy our time.

And it's not like this is just a phase:

Over the course of the century the culture of consumption and American life became "so closely intertwined that it is difficult for Americans to see consumerism as an ideology or to consider any serious alternatives or modifications to it," historian Gary Cross writes in An All- Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America.

Not only is consumerism itself passive, but our response to it has been passive. We just rolled over and accepted it as our American duty. Of course we should measure ourselves through our possessions. Of course we should make as much money as possible, the better to afford more and better stuff. Of course we should try to have more stuff than our neighbors, whether or not we can afford it.

It was not always thus.

Nineteenth-century philosophers and economists who viewed goods as utilitarian envisioned a not-so-distant day when American technical and manufacturing prowess would easily provide for everyone's basic material needs, freeing all workers to enjoy more family time and leisure. In the 1930s, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that within a few generations everyone would be working two-hour days.

"Their assumption was that our needs would be satisfied," Cross says. "That was the assumption through most of human history. What happened, of course, is that they were wrong. We never have maxed out on goods. Now, we realize that goods are not essentially about satiating material needs, physical needs, but rather psychological and social ones. And those needs, it would appear, are absolutely endless."

Keynes should have been correct. We do not need to work as long and as hard as we do. Our capacity to produce goods cheaply and quickly should be giving us more free time. But we've thrown that opportunity back, opting instead to keep pursuing the Great White Whale of consumerism.

At least in Keynes' model, there is a definable point at which we can be satisfied. (Namely, the point at which our basic material needs are satisfied and we're working those two-hour days.) But consumerism is a black hole which can never be satisfied: the more we buy, the more we want. If we somehow run out of things to want, companies will obligingly make more.

And not only is the consumption cycle endless and ungratifying, the structure of our society makes it worse:

In the decades following World War II, Americans in almost every income bracket saw their earnings increase at about the same rate. Since the early 1970s, however, the very wealthiest Americans have enjoyed virtually all the income growth, creating what Cornell economist Robert H. Frank calls a winner-take-all society. The lucky few have largely spent what they've earned, he says. In the process they've shaped everyone else's perceptions of what constitutes the good life.

"The people just below the top are influenced by what people at the top spend, and feel pressured to spend more themselves," explains Frank, who has written widely about rivalry and competition in economic and social behavior. "Then people below them start spending more, and you get cascades of spending all the way down. By the time you are in the middle [income range], a $4 cup of coffee doesn't seem strange anymore, and not having leather seats in your new car seems like you bought a stripped-down model."

Frank makes a very good point. If everyone's income was growing at the same rate, spending would be relatively more stable. Rich people buy Cadillacs, upper-middle-class people buy Buicks, middle-class people buy Chevies, poor people take the bus. The upper-middle-class people know they can't afford a Cadillac, and that's okay. They're content with the Buick and a good college education for the kids.

But with the income growth so disproportionately skewed toward the top, suddenly the rich people are buying two Cadillacs instead of one. Now the upper-middle-class people have to upgrade to Cadillacs just to keep up. And the middle-class people have to upgrade to Buicks. To hell with the kids' college funds. We can't suffer the indignity of living a middle-class lifestyle on middle-class means!

As you would expect, this doesn't make for happy people:

As spending at the very top relentlessly ratchets up everyone's expectations, today's gratification-seeking consumer is likely to live in a state of continual frustration, according to Juliet B. Schor, author of The Overspent American. She notes that 27 percent of people in households earning more than $100,000 -- among the richest people in the richest nation in the world -- say they can't afford to buy everything they really need. Or think they need.

This is absurd. Anyone who can't afford everything he or she actually needs on $100,000 a year is either delusional or has a serious gambling or drug habit sucking up much of his or her income. No, the problem is that "wants" have suddenly become "needs." If these same people were making, say, $25,000 a year, that $500 espresso machine would not be a "need." The ratcheting up of "needs" only keeps us unfulfilled and dissatisfied.

And goods, unlike people, have a diminishing psychic value over time. If I were to buy a CD, the first few times I played it I'd think it was really great. But as I got used to it, accustomed to having it around, it wouldn't seem so special. In time, it would become another case in my rack, providing little value other than wall decoration.

By contrast, if I spend an evening with The Smart Lady, that is consistently special. The pleasure of her company doesn't diminish over time. If anything, she's become more valuable to me as time goes on. She's worth more than any material possession ever could be.

That's why I object to those who trumpet consumerism as a great value system because it's egalitarian, as James Twitchell does in this article.

Call it shallow, Twitchell says, but a belief system that allows people to reinvent themselves through shopping is a heck of a lot fairer than the old systems where rank was a birthright and largely immutable. And competitive consumerism is a lot less bloody than epic battles over whose God is greater...

A society where rank can be purchased as easily as a Louis Vuitton key chain is fair, at least to shoppers who can come up with the 80 bucks.

"The global village is not quite the city on the hill, not quite the Emerald City, and certainly not quite what millennial utopians had in mind," Twitchell says, "but it is closer to equitable distribution of rank than what other systems have provided."

That's all well and good, but there are other measures of societal order besides equal access to rank. Wouldn't socialism be the ultimate system, by that measure? Consumerism may be equitable, but it's flimsy and unsatisfying and doesn't ennoble or improve people. How are we better, as a people, if we're parading around in $750 shoes?

No, if we wanted to improve as a society, we would look at alternatives to crippling consumerism. We would focus on making connections with people, rather than always trying to stockpile things. Perhaps we could even try to expand the frontiers of our minds, if it's not too radical a concept.

But if you think I'm off my rocker, so be it. Just let me know if those Manolo Blahniks keep you warm at night.

Here's something phenomenally stupid:

I feel like I've been just violated. I don't know what it is to be raped, not to be insensitive to people who have, but to me, this is my experience. It feels like they just held us down and just did whatever they want to us. It just felt bad.

That's Giants linebacker Mike Barrow, describing his team's 45-7 loss to the Saints on Sunday night. I know professional sports doesn't exactly lend itself to a sense of perspective, but this is one of the worst quotes I've seen all year. And here's Giants coach Jim Fassel, taking a bold stance on Barrow's choice of words:

Guys say things that I am sure they don't mean or don't want to say it that [way]. I don't know how he meant it. I am not defending it. But in his mind, he could be saying it and thinking of something else.

God knows what else he could have been thinking about. I don't think he was thinking at all.

And on that note, I'm done for today. Tomorrow, something else. See you then! 
Monday, December 15, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Dig My Grave" by They Might Be Giants


Good day, all. So, did anything happen this weekend? I understand there was some news out of Iraq. They captured a rebel leader or something? Shaggy-looking dude. Seriously, it's terrific that Saddam was captured. Here's hoping that justice will be swift and sure.

Speaking of people climbing out of their holes, it's time for Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice to wreak their relationship advice on an unsuspecting public once again. Today they are filing their column from Salem. Uncle Millie is in Salem, Massachusetts, and Aunt Beatrice is in Salem, Oregon. As their datelines attest, our two former lovebirds have not patched up their relationship, but they continue to toil on behalf of you readers out there, and I think they deserve some commendation for that. At any rate, I'll turn it over to them now and get out of the way. Cheers!

- - - - -

Love Is Sweeter Than Wine, And Twice As Intoxicating, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello again, lads! I'm delighted to be back again, ready to unleash my latest round of romantic advice upon you. And I'm delighted to be in contact once again with my lovely wife. How are you, dearest Beatrice?

AB: I'm still estranged, thank you.

UM: Well. Isn't that nice.

AB: I'd say I'm happy to talk to you, but I was brought up not to lie. Unlike some people I know.

UM: Why all this hostility, my dear? You're giving people the wrong impression of me. I know I've not always treated you as well as I could, but tell the truth: I've been doing what I could to repair our relationship.

AB: Yes, you have. You've made reconciliation a top priority ever since you saw my alimony request.

UM: I'm a changed man, my dear. If you'd consent to be in the same state as me for a while, you'd see that.

AB: Oh, please. You know the old saying. You can't teach an old dog new tricks.

UM: But I haven't had any new tricks in a month! See, I've reformed.

AB: Why don't we just read the letters?

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm 27, and I've met a young woman I really like. She's bright, vivacious, and great in bed. The problem is that some of her behavior is a little strange. We went out on our third date last night, and we got to talking about our dating history. She said, "I've had my share of boyfriends, but it never seems to work out. They stay around for a while, but then they just disappear." Later, we went back to her place. The heater went on the blink, so I offered to go down to the basement and try to fix it. She was adamant. "You CAN'T go down there!" she said, over and over. Whatever. Anyway, she grabbed an ax and said she was going to go chop some wood. She came back two hours later without any wood, which is just as well because she didn't seem to have a fireplace. At that point I said I was pretty uncomfortable and thought I should leave, but she said, "Oh, no you don't. If you leave, you'll regret it." Then we went to bed and had amazing, mind-blowingly good sex. So I felt better. Still, I feel like something's not right. Is this something I should be concerned about?

Wallace in Rochester

UM: Well, lad, I see nothing to be concerned about whatever.

AB: You what?!

UM: Well, lad, by your own description, she's a bunch of good things, and great in bed. What else could you want in a woman?

AB: Please tell me you are joking.

UM: Why would I be joking? Is there something wrong with being good in bed?

AB: No. But don't you think she has other problems?

UM: Problems? Like what?

AB: Oh... like the fact that she seems to be an ax murderer?

UM: Nobody's perfect.

AB: Nobody's perfect?! Well, you would be one to know. But don't you think he'd be better off with a woman who isn't likely to, you know, kill him?

UM: Poppycock, my dear. Risk is inherent in any relationship. But good sex... that's something to be cherished!

AB: I'd be revolted, if I wasn't already beyond shock with anything you say. Wallace, I hope you'll let the big brain do the thinking and dump this girl before you get hurt. And I mean really hurt.

UM: You do what you want, lad, but don't come crying to me if you leave her and your next girlfriend is a lousy lay.

AB: On the bright side, if you stay with this girl and she kills you, you won't have to worry about getting laid ever again. You'll be laid out.

UM: What a way to go, though.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm 62, so I'm rather older than most of your readers. But I think you might be able to help me out. My wife of 37 years passed away about a month ago. Since that happened, I've felt completely lost. She was my companion, my soulmate, my best friend, and now she's gone. I don't feel like getting out of bed, I don't feel like going to work, I don't feel like doing anything. How do I climb out of this hole I'm in?

Wade in Sault Ste. Marie

AB: Hi, Wade. I'm so sorry about your wife. It must be a difficult time for you. My best advice is to try to get out in the world and interact with people. Do you have any hobbies? See if you can find a group in your town that deals with them. And if you still find yourself feeling down in a few more months, you might want to talk to a grief counselor about your feelings.

UM: Typical woman.

AB: Excuse me?

UM: It's a typical woman's response to look at that question and try to answer it literally. You really think he's having trouble getting out of bed, don't you?

AB: Well, yes. That's what his letter says.

UM: But it's not what he means. There's a hidden subtext here.

AB: So what does he mean, then, Mr. Subliminal?

UM: He's asking for permission to start having sex again.

AB: What?!?

UM: When a man mentions that his wife's recently died and he "doesn't know what to do," what he means is that he wants to have sex, but he think it might be in bad form. So he wants approval for his choice. So, lad, I hereby grant you that permission. Go forth and multiply! It's a free country! There is no shame in your actions.

AB: Wade, please forgive Uncle Millie. He is not of sound mind. I'm sure you didn't mean what he thinks.

UM: Sure you did. I'm a guy. I know these things.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I wrote in a couple months back for advice on how a solid, sensible man can interest women. Well, now I have a new dilemma to deal with. About three and a half years ago, I was in a brief but intense relationship. Everyone said we were wrong for each other, but it felt right at the time. There was an incident in Florida, and we got to bickering over whose fault it was, and that was that. I admit we've drifted apart since, but we had an unspoken agreement to respect each other. And I always thought if we ever started dating again, we'd be together. Well, shows what I know. A few days ago, I turn on the TV, and there's my former partner with another man! To make it worse, the other guy is everyone's darling, a real hotshot who's been getting all kinds of attention. Meanwhile, I didn't even get so much as a phone call. Needless to say, I've been spending the past week hanging out with a couple old friends, Ben and Jerry, and it's probably not good for me. How do I get over this betrayal and move on?

Average Joe in Connecticut

UM: Well, lad, it's the nature of relationships. One minute you're top dog, the next minute you're dog meat.

AB: It's sad, but Uncle Millie is right for once. I know it hurts, Joe, but you have to try to move on. Your partner has made a decision, and you have to accept it. What you shouldn't do is take it personally. It's not your fault that your old partner threw you over. After a painful split, people do unusual things. But don't let this rejection define who you are.

UM: She has the right of it, lad. Put the ice cream down and take action.

AB: Right. Wait. Take action?

UM: Absolutely. Do not get mad, get even.

AB: Uhh...

UM: For instance, if this gentleman is much talked about in the press, perhaps you can call up a reporter friend and "let it slip" that you've seen the gentleman in a dress at certain social functions. Or strongly hint that he is an alcoholic or a dope fiend.

AB: Millie...

UM: If you know where he lives, you can try sneaking onto his lawn and setting off bottle rockets when he and your ex are spending an evening together.

AB: Millie!

UM: What?

AB: Your suggestions range from obnoxious to criminal. I'm really surprised you haven't spent more time in jail.

UM: The only prison I'll be facing is debtor's prison.

AB: Oh, so we're back on the alimony again, are we? You ought to have thought of that before you went out gallivanting with every nubile young thing you could get your filthy hands on.

UM: You know, if you really were as dead of feeling toward me as you claim, you wouldn't still be harping on this.

AB: I'm harping on this because I'm forced into contact with you every two weeks. Believe me, the only feeling you inspire in me is nausea.

UM: Beneath all those layers of ice, my dear, I know you still care.

AB: You're delusional.

UM: As you wish. See you in two weeks, lads. Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Well, thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. I'm starting to sense a thaw...

I have two new articles up on Open Source Politics: "Simon Says" pays tribute to the career of the late Senator Paul Simon, and "Fair Trade: Help Wanted" examines the problems involved with corporations exporting jobs to take advantage of cheap labor. Feel free to take a look and post some comments, if the spirit strikes you.

The Southern Democratic ranks in Congress are getting even thinner, as Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana announced that he will not seek re-election. Breaux had been hinting at this decision for a while, but he has been a good senator and a gentleman, and he will be missed.

In other senatorial news, former Sen. William Roth of Delaware passed away over the weekend at age 82. If the name doesn't sounds familiar, he was the Roth behind the Roth IRAs, and he was co-author of the Kemp-Roth tax cut of 1981 (along with some former football player). Whether or not you're a fan of Roth's views, the man at least deserves credit for dedicating himself to the distinctly unglamorous business of economics. Roth said of being a senator, "Anybody can speak glibly. What we need is more people dedicated to doing the job and not running for president." Amen to that.

Finally, I notice that a lot of folks have been visiting me in the last couple days because I mentioned the song "Percy the Puny Poinsettia." Most of them seem to be visiting in search of the lyrics, which I didn't print. Therefore, as a public service, I will print them now:

Percy the puny poinsettia
Hanging his bloom in dismay
If they had just kept him wetta
He'd be a house plant today
Folks liked the other plants betta
Now he's alone on the shelf
Even a plant with no uncle or aunt
Shouldn't spent Christmas day by himself

Holiday shoppers would stop at the counter
And pick out a plant to take home
One at a time, all his friends were adopted
'Til Percy was left all alone


Then into the shop on the day before Christmas
Came a poor little girl who was cryin'
But when she saw Percy her eyes opened wide
And she said, "Can I please make him mine?"

Now Percy the puny poinsettia
Is standing beside Mr. Tree
His leaves have never been redda
He's as proud as a flower can be
Somebody made him feel betta
Rescued him off of the shelf
Even a plant with no uncle or aunt
Shouldn't spend Christmas day by himself
[repeat last line to fade]

You're welcome.

That's it for today. The Smart Lady's returning from Chicago tonight, and not a moment too soon. See you tomorrow, everyone. 
Friday, December 12, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Percy the Puny Poinsettia" by Elmo and Patsy


Good day, all. It was quite a morning in the Fedroplex... a bomb threat snarled the Metro system, and I wound up being over an hour late to work as a result. Not that I didn't enjoy standing around on an overcrowded station platform all that time. Okay, I didn't enjoy it, but what sentient human being would?

At any rate, all that standing around has worn me out, so I'm turning today's column over to an old, um, "friend." Anyone remember Hammerin' Hank? That old mouth-breathing reactionary nitwit is out of his cage and ready to write. I warned him against a repeat of his usual tricks, but he ensured me that he just wanted to write a nice column about Christmas, which sounds reasonably harmless. So I'm going to lean back and hand the keyboard over to him. Take it away, Hank!

What's up, dudes! The fun is back! I know y'all have missed me. I've been reading Fred's stuff and, well... borrrrrring! He's writing about all this stuff that no one cares about, like tariffs and trade. Who does he think he is, Mister Wizard? Why can't he just write about issues that matter to people, like the Victoria's Secret fashion show? I'll bet he didn't even watch it. The Smart Chick probably wouldn't let him. Speaking of her, he keeps going on about how great she is, and then he won't even say if they're gettin' it on! I mean, come ON! Inquiring minds want to know.

Uh, Hank. What does any of this have to do with Christmas?

I'm just gettin' warmed up, Freddy. Chill out, amigo.

Stop calling me Freddy, and I am not your amigo. Besides, I specifically warned you against being crude.

Crude? What did I say that was crude?

Uhhh... perhaps that bit about "gettin' it on."

Naw. That was crude! If I wanted to be crude, I'd have said are they-

Stop it. Just... stop. I think you've warmed up enough. I believe you were going to write about Christmas.

Okay, fine.

Christmas is my favorite of all the holidays. Why? Because you get lots of stuff. Sure, the downside is that you have to see your family and all, but they give you stuff to make up for it! It rocks!

Like a lot of people, I have memories of great Christmas celebrations from my childhood. For instance, there was the time I "decked the halls" with my brother's Underoos. That was fun. Or that song about all the days of Christmas, whatever it's called. I liked that one, especially the part about the whores.

Hank! There is no mention of whores in "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

The hell there isn't. It's right after the swans.

The line after the swans is "Six geese a-laying."

Get out! You're serious? My old man taught me it was "Six girls for laying."

I see. Go on.

But that's not my favorite holiday memory. The best was the tradition me and dad had every Christmas Eve. After everyone was supposed to be in bed, my old man would wake me up and we'd sneak down to the kitchen. He'd take my mom's nog out of the fridge and spike it with a fifth of Wild Turkey. Then we'd drink it down and stumble down to the basement, where Dad would get the guns.

"Where are we going, Daddy?" I'd always ask.

"Reindeer huntin', son," he'd always answer.

We'd go out in the backyard, crawl into the bushes, and wait. Dad would talk about what good eatin' reindeer was, how we'd fire up the grill and eat barbecued reindeer on Christmas day. Meanwhile, I'd be on the lookout.

Finally, the magic moment would come. I'd see something moving on the lawn, and I'd alert Dad (or wake him up if he dozed off, which he usually did) and we'd start blastin'! Bang-bang-bang... those reindeer were no match for us!

Wait a second. Santa's reindeer aren't real. Were you shooting at actual deer?

Well, no. Usually, it was our neighbor's nativity scene. The Baby Jesus took quite a beating. We musta destroyed that manger six years in a row before the neighbors gave up and stuck to candles in the windows. We also took out a cat, a couple of dogs, and a few squirrels.

Did your neighbors complain?

Only when we invited them over for the barbecue.

What an awful memory, Hank! I can't believe this is what Christmas means to you.

It wasn't all bad. It was very instructional.

Oh, you learned what the inside of a jail cell looked like?

Naw, we never got arrested.

Why not?

'Cause my dad was the sheriff.

Oh. So what did you learn?

I learned that barbecued dog is good eatin'! Don't let anyone tell you different.

That's enough!

One year we accidentally shot my dog Sparky. I was pretty bummed out, but my dad whipped up this special sauce and-

Stop. Just stop. You're an awful person.

But I haven't even got to tell the story of when I was in the children's choir.

You were in the choir?

Yeah! I used to play "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" on my armpit.

That's it. Hank, take a hike. I can't believe I let myself be tricked into this again.

Sorry about that, folks. Next week I'll do better, I promise. See you then! 
Thursday, December 11, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Nobody But Me" by the Human Beinz


Good day, all. Having not been able to append any links to yesterday's column, today I've decided to overcompensate wildly and throw any old links I can find on here, with commentary attached as need be.

Let's start off here... three coaches were fired yesterday in three different sports. Dan Reeves of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons was the first to get the gate, followed by Frank Johnson of the NBA's Phoenix Suns and Bruce Cassidy of the NHL's Washington Capitals. None of them had any particular case for staying on, but let's look at them one by one.

Reeves, of course, is a name you know. If you don't know him from his probable Hall of Fame coaching career with Denver, the Giants and Atlanta, then surely you know him from his much-beloved Zocor commercials, in which he talks about coaching after a heart attack. He's grateful for it. (The coaching, not the heart attack.) Two things struck me about the Reeves situation. One is that, having been told that he would be dismissed at season's end, he told the team to do it now. I respect that a lot. No lame-duck period for him. Even if a healthy Michael Vick might have helped him pad his career win total a bit.

The other thing that struck me was this article in the Times yesterday, about the changing nature of football coaches' sideline apparel. Ever wonder why coaches stopped wearing suits and ties and started wearing sweatsuits and parkas emblazoned with the team logo? That's right: money. The league is paid by Reebok to have their coaches so outfitted on the sidelines. Coaches can choose to opt out, in theory, but they are "encouraged" to follow suit, as it were.

I bring up the article because Reeves was quoted in it a couple times. Reeves was one of the last coaches to stay with the formal look, in honor of his mentor, Tom Landry. He had it in his contract with the Giants that he could wear whatever he wanted. But he changed when he came to Atlanta... because the Falcons' owner asked him to help with marketing by donning Falcons duds. Coaches like Reeves have clout, but in the end, the almighty dollar conquers all.

Cassidy I know, because he coached my hockey team of choice. Michael Wilbon weighed in with a thorough and pretty damning indictment. He never escaped the "who are you?" factor, never connected with his players (especially the moody Jagr), and didn't win nearly enough to overcome the above. And despite the fact that he was my favorite team's coach for more than a full season, all I really knew about him is that the announcers liked to call him "Butch" ("Butch Casssidy"... get it?), and that the Caps played with no discipline or intensity while he was manning the ship. Can't say I'll miss him.

Johnson I know nothing about. I don't know what college he went to, I don't know where he coached before, and I didn't even remember he was coaching Phoenix until they canned him. (In fact, on some days I forget Phoenix has an NBA franchise.) Allegedly, the Suns are an exciting team with a lot of talent, but I wouldn't have any way of knowing. The haven't been interesting since the mid-'80s, when the league was threatening to fold the team because it was so heavily populated with drug addicts. So here's hoping the next coach can recapture that kind of excitement, minus the pharmaceuticals.

So it looks like Team Dubya is starting to fear Howard Dean. Or maybe not. Hard to say from this article. The overarching impression I get is that they don't understand Dean, which is easy to believe. It's probably best for them to be wary, if for no other reason than that smirking overconfidence really doesn't suit Team Dubya.

A few big-name baseball players are finding homes, including Bartolo Colon in Anaheim, Kazuo Matsui with the Mets, and Andy Pettitte in Houston. Note to Roger Clemens: Are you sure you wouldn't be interested in being an Astro for a year? This is a team with the potential to be interesting. (Especially if they'd signed an ace five years ago, when their hitters were still good.)

Meanwhile, my team of choice, the always-proactive Milwaukee Brewers, have signed... Dave Burba. Yes, the Dave Burba. What do you mean, "Who's Dave Burba?" You remember, from the... oh, hell, I give up. He's 37 and he didn't stink last year. Yay us.

In other sports news, Rasheed Wallace is going Johnnie Cochran on us, explaining that the white power structure of the NBA is exploiting the majority-black pool of athletes in the league. Wallace theorizes that the NBA is hot on the trail of high-school players these days because they want athletes who are "dumb and dumber." It's brave of him to come out and take a stand like this, although it might be a little easier to take seriously if it was coming from someone other than, you know, Rasheed Wallace. The same Rasheed Wallace who was responsible for this incident, which I read about in Bill Simmons' column yesterday:

According to a local paper, at practice...Rasheed Wallace pulled [teammate Bonzi] Wells aside, said, "Watch this," then whipped a basketball 100 feet into teammate Ruben Boumtje Boumtje. As the guy writhed on the ground, Bonzi and Sheed "giggled like schoolchildren and ran away."

Obviously, this guy has the moral standing to be a commentator on the league's affairs. Another fun fact: Did you know that Wallace is married? For five years, even. Apparently, his wife finds his antics embarrassing. Which gives her something in common with the rest of the citizens of Portland. A passage from the article:

Wallace said his wife helped him realize that some of his actions can have a negative effect on their family, such as when he was arrested and charged with marijuana possession in November 2002 while riding in a sport utility vehicle with guard Damon Stoudamire.

I think this is all well and good, and I'm glad Mrs. Wallace is around to set him straight. But does he really need his wife to tell him that getting busted for trying to re-create "Up In Smoke" is a bad idea?

A question for the masses: what the hell is Art Buchwald doing? The veteran humorist is usually pretty sharp, but this column is a nonsensical bunch of drivel. It starts off talking about AIDS, and it winds up talking about Buchwald's preference for Trojan condoms. Yes, I know there's a connective thread, more or less, but I think this was one for the "Too Much Information" file. As Buchwald himself says, "You are probably wondering why my sudden interest in condoms." Uh, yeah, dude. Please keep your sex habits to yourself, Art.

Finally, kudos to The Smart Lady for milking a post out of the brief conversation she and I had about hats last night. I think her observations are dead-on. I couldn't possibly care less about where I fall on the "appearance scale." The Smart Lady thinks I look fine, and little children do not run screaming from the sight of my visage. This is satisfactory enough for me. I'll let The Smart Lady worry about key issues of my appearance, such as whether or not my hair would look better if I stopped combing it and adopted the currently-fashionable "Lazy Slob" look. (Feel free to submit your vote in the comments section.)

That's all for today. Something tomorrow, I imagine, but who knows what? See you tomorrow! 
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Rebel Rouser" by Duane Eddy


Hello again, all. I seem to be recovering from whatever it was I had (looking back, I think it was the flu), and have apparently conquered the technical difficulties that prevented me from posting earlier, and so am ready to analyze Howard Dean's plan to compete in the South, as promised on Monday.

Dean's timing, as has often been the case throughout this campaign, is excellent. Having secured the endorsement of Al Gore (whom I understand used to be some Southern politician), the generally-anointed front-runner needs to focus on removing whatever stumbling blocks remain between him and the nomination. Besides the oft-raised contention that he is one angry dude, the primary objection to Dean is that he's too far left to win in the general election. Given that he's primarily known for being anti-war, anti-tax-cut, and pro-gay-civil-union, this seems like a reasonable concern. And if he's going to prove his electability on a national scale, there's no tougher place to do it than the South.

Over the past three-plus decades, the South has pretty steadily trended toward Republican dominance. Southerners have increasingly voted on cultural issues like "guns, God and gays," to use Dean's phrasing, and that terrain has definitely favored the GOP. And as no one ever seems to tire of pointing out, the only Democrats to have national success in that time were from the South. If Dean, the New York-born former Vermont governor, can make it there, it seems probable that he really can make it anywhere.

Can Dean pull it off? That remains to be seen. But it's important that he try, not just for his own sake, but for the future of the Democratic Party. The party can't afford to write off the entire region, and Dean's program may represent their best chance to break the Republican hammerlock on the old Confederacy.

First, a little history. The current Republican dominance in the South got its first foothold with Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" of 1968. The crux of Nixon's "strategy" was an appeal to voters based on race. Republicans found ways to assure nervous white Southerners, "We're on your side. You can trust us on race." After Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, previously diehard Southern Democrats felt betrayed. And Nixon was there to reassure them that they had a place to hang their white hoods.

To be fair, the "Southern Strategy" wasn't exclusively about making coded racist appeals. The Republicans did a good job painting Democrats as dangerous libertines, out of step with the mainstream on cultural issues. The Democrats were tarred as the party of "acid, abortion and amnesty" (Everyone notice the alliterative similarity to Dean's phrase?), and the characterization has held ever since. The Democrats have never recovered in the South since the Republicans got on the "right" side of the cultural issues that matter to Southern voters.

Dean's strategy is to convince Southern voters that voting on the basis of the old cultural issues isn't serving their best interests. Rather, he argues, they should be voting for the party that will help them on health care, education, and the economy. This can only help the Democrats, since they aren't ever going to out-GOP the GOP on the cultural issues that matter to the South (no matter how many times the Democrats cave on silly bills like the Defense of Marriage Act). If the Democrats are going to be successful in the South, they're going to have to shift the battleground of the debate.

Of course, it's one thing to say "we're better on health care, education and the economy" and another thing to actually demonstrate it. To my knowledge, no Republican has yet gone on record against any of the above three items. Dean's rhetoric will succeed only if he can tie it to programs that Southern voters can react to. To do this, he might want to take my advice and show how his program would be better for the struggling blue-collar worker than Bush's. Take a page from the John Edwards playbook, and make a "we're all in this together" argument, saying (as Dean has in the past) that we all need jobs, and we all need health care, no matter what region of the country we're in.

If Dean's effort is successful, he might bring a key region of the country back into play, which puts a lot less pressure on their electoral coalition elsewhere. As Al Gore can attest, getting swept in the South makes winning difficult. And as Gore can also attest, the Democrats can't rely on the native-son appeal of a Southern candidate to win. They're going to have to find issues with which they can be competitive with the GOP, or they might as well write off the region long-term. Dean's strategy may not be the answer, but at least it's a start.

No links for today. I'll make it up tomorrow, if Blogger lets me. See you then! 
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Germs" by Weird Al Yankovic


I'm sick, so nothing today. If I'm feeling better tomorrow, then you'll get my analysis of Howard Dean's "Southern Strategy." If I'm not feeling better, you'll get my account of what the doctor says is wrong with me. See you tomorrow! 
Monday, December 08, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Back in Black" by AC/DC


Good day, all. I'm a little stiff from snow shoveling, but otherwise fine. My new column for Open Source Politics is up, this time analyzing the steel tariff. Having enjoyed a weekend of quality time with The Smart Lady, I largely stayed away from the world of sports. But I returned to the fray this morning, and discovered that the sporting world is all abuzz about the hot topic: The BCS shat the bed.

For those not familiar, the Bowl Championship Series was instituted in 1998, supposedly as a way to crown a true national college football champion. The BCS bowls (Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta) pit the champions of the six major conferences against each other, as well as matching the #1 and #2 ranked teams according to the BCS standings. The BCS standings are generated by a formula which combines rankings from the two major human polls (the AP media poll, and the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll), several computer-generated rankings and a few other factors such as strength of schedule.

It all seems rather complicated, but it boils down to this: prior to the BCS, there was no guarantee that the top-ranked teams would play each other at year's end. Let's say that at the end of the year, the top-ranked team was Wisconsin (a guy can dream, can't he?) and the second-ranked team was Florida State. Now, under the old system, Wisconsin would have gone to the Rose Bowl (because the Big Ten champ always went there) and Florida State (as the ACC champ) would have gone to the Orange Bowl. Let's say each team beat its bowl opponent by five touchdowns. We still wouldn't know which team would be the best in a head-to-head matchup, since they hadn't played in one. Since the BCS pits the #1 and #2 teams, this unfortunate scenario would be averted.

Except that it isn't that simple, of course. The BCS is a great system if there are two clear-cut favorites for the championship. If there aren't... well, that's where it gets messy. Take 2001. That was a pretty weird year: There was a clear-cut #1 (Miami) and a bunch of also-rans (Nebraska, Oregon, Colorado and others). Nebraska was the clear-cut favorite for #2, but it laid a stink-bomb in the last game of the season, losing 62-36 to Colorado. Thanks to the loss, Nebraska didn't even make its conference championship that year. Yet somehow, once the computers stopped crunching, there was Nebraska in the national title game. Brows were furrowed, heads were scratched, and everyone vowed it would never happen again.

Except, of course, it did. This year's scenario was slightly different than the 2001 fiasco. This year, there was a clear-cut #1 (Oklahoma) and two contenders for #2 (USC and LSU). USC did what it had to do, winning the Pac-10 championship by a solid 52-28 margin over a decent Oregon State team. LSU did its part, notching a decisive 34-13 win over a tough opponent in Georgia. And Oklahoma... well, Oklahoma was pounded 35-7 by a Kansas State team with three losses and its usual Charmin-soft out-of-conference schedule. So now the BCS faced the quandary of three one-loss teams with a reasonable claim on the title game.

Never fear, though. Both the coaches and the media sorted through the debris and came out with the same opinion: USC was #1, LSU was #2 and Oklahoma was relegated to #3. Bring on the Trojans-Tigers championship game!

One minor hitch, though: The BCS formula did not concur with the polls' judgment. In fact, the formula ultimately inverted the top 3, leaving Oklahoma in the #1 spot (all evidence to the contrary) and freezing out previous #2 USC. The natural order of things has been upset. And naturally, chaos has erupted in the commentariat.

What are we to make of all this? Opinion has generally split into two camps. (Neither camp, incidentally, thinks that the BCS formula was right.) The pessimists -- whose views are most forcefully expressed by Tony Kornheiser -- say that the BCS is a sham and an embarrassment and should be scrapped immediately, preferrably replaced by a playoff system of some sort. The optimists -- Stewart Mandel is taking the lead in this camp -- essentially argue, "Don't worry, be happy. Now we have two national championship games. The more championship games, the better." Never mind that the whole point of the BCS was to avoid having multiple championship games and split titles.

To a point, my sympathies are with the pessimists. Even if the computers are right, and Oklahoma really is the best team in the nation, no one not associated with the school seems to think that's the case. And I don't think that anyone's ready to say that the computers know better than human eyes do. So if the BCS can't be fixed such that consensus #1 teams don't get invited to the dance, then it's a useless system and deserves to be scrapped.

But is a playoff really going to solve the problem? For one thing, how big is the playoff going to be? Four teams? Eight? Sixteen? If it's four, expect some griping from the teams #5 and #6, which usually aren't appreciably worse. If it's eight, teams #9 and #10 will likely be squawking. (Particularly this year, since #9 Miami beat #7 Florida State earlier in the year.) If it's sixteen, you really start to raise questions about how legitimate a low-seeded champion is. (What if #15 Florida, with four losses, won the playoff?) Oregon AD Bill Moos has suggested a plan wherein the winners of the four major bowls are dumped into a pool, and the two top-ranked teams meet in a championship. But let's say this year's bowl winners are Oklahoma, Michigan, Kansas State and Miami. Anyone see a championship game in that bunch?

My suggestion is simple, yet radical: To hell with a national championship. Why do we need one? Unless we were able to come up with a system wherein every top team could play every other top team, we'll have no way of knowing which team is really the best. Professional playoffs work because everyone's competing on a roughly level playing field. There is no such thing as a "mid-major" in professional sports. College basketball has its popular March Madness tournament, but that's big enough to encompass just about everyone who deserves to go. Since college football can only play one game a week, it's not practical to have such a big tournament.

It strikes me that the only reason to have a declared champion in college football is to spark debate among those who were overlooked. So why bother to declare anyone? Let 10 teams claim the championship, for all the difference it makes. It just makes the boosters feel better. If the coaches and the media want to publish their polls, fine. If they happen to agree on a #1 team, so much the better. If they don't, however, no jerry-rigged computer system is going to erase the questions.

Here's an OSP link that's definitely worth checking out: John Williams has created a simulation of the new electronic voting machines, and demonstrated what can happen if someone rigs them. I used such a machine the last time I voted, and I'm with John: I didn't like the fact that it didn't produce some sort of paper backup showing who I voted for. Check it out when you get a moment.

Congratulations to Bruce Smith, who recorded his 199th career sack yesterday in Washington's meaningless 20-7 victory over the sorry, helpless Giants. That sack breaks the all-time (recorded) NFL sack record, previously held by Reggie White. (White also recorded 22 sacks in the USFL, and God knows how many Deacon Jones would have if they'd recorded them then, but who's counting?) Congratulations should also be extended to Redskins fans, who will no longer be forced to put up with the sight of Smith's selfish, over-the-hill rear hanging around on the sideline counting his money and counting down, slowly, to the record.

For more commentary on the steel tariff, I recommend Vance over at Begging to Differ, who had a solid commentary on the political implications of the tariff, its repeal and the monitoring program now in place. Definitely worth a read.

And it looks like Howard Dean's got a plan to be competitive in the South. Go ahead and read the article, and tomorrow, I'll offer my commentary.

That's all for today. Have a fine afternoon and evening, and I'll see you tomorrow. 
Friday, December 05, 2003
  Today's Musical Selection: "Celebrate" by Three Dog Night


Well, at long last it's happened... my first post as an Open Source Politics contributor is up and ready to go! As promised, it's the one about the future of the Democratic Party that I was originally going to post on this site. I'm not usually a big fan of my own work, but I did think this one came out pretty well. I hope you'll take a look, spread the word and propagate my meager fame far and wide. Or at least take a read.

I've got a lot of other things to do this afternoon, so I'm going to have to let that post suffice for my usual Friday mishmash of nonsense. (It's a fair deal... I get the things that need to happen done, and you get rare Friday coherence. How about that?) If you find this to be insufficient and/or want a little something lighter for your week-ending enjoyment, then I direct you to The Smart Lady's post on her favorite holiday songs. I agree heartily with some choices ("Santa Claus and His Old Lady," "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"), disagree with others ("Santa Baby"), but to me, there's only one song that really captures the spirit of the season. It's by Run DMC. (No, I'm not kidding.) It's called "Christmas Is." Allow me to provide you a sample of this holiday classic:

Have a very merry merry merry, and hairy
And if ya need a leader, Run'll be there for your blurry blurry sight
And write a rhyme for the night
Xmas is a time for givin', not for the tight

So open your pocket, your heart unlock it
Dollars straight from Hollis, I give it like I clock it
Cold is the weather, minus the humidity
Don't mistake humbleness and kindness for timidity

Christmas, this must be the time of year
Leggo of your eggo, rather ego, amigo, there
And here, my dear, so give a kid a beer
Cause everytime you give, it's coming back, let's get it clear

I'll be scopin, and hopin, brothers lend an ear
So have a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year

Give up the dough!
Give up the dough!
Give up the dough on Christmas yo!

Give up the dough!
Give up the dough!
Give up the dough
Here we go, here we go!

(No, I'm not kidding, dammit. It's on the "A Very Special Christmas 2" CD. No, I'm not making the CD up, either.)

What better way to celebrate the birth of our Lord than by giving a kid a beer? If only someone had done that for me when I was younger... how the world might have changed...

At any rate, I'm out of here for the weekend. Stay safe, and if you're on the East Coast, enjoy the snowball fights! Have a good weekend, and see you Monday. 
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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