Mediocre Fred's Mediocre Blog
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "I'm Henry VIII (I Am)" by Herman's Hermits

THINKING BORROWED THOUGHTS

Hey there, all. It's a gray and grim Wednesday here in the Fedroplex, and I'm in the grips of the mid-week doldrums. Days like this, you just want to crawl back into bed and curl up with a good book. Especially when you realize there are two more work days after this one. If The Smart Lady were here, she could cure these blues in a hurry, but she's still away. Given all the drear that surrounds me, I'm not feeling much like producing my own original thought. Instead, I'll respond to other people's original thoughts. Besides, too much original thinking is bad for a guy. Takes a lot out of you, you know?

Let's start with Thomas Boswell, who wrote an excellent column lampooning baseball's decision to open the season in Tokyo. Like me, Boswell found the whole thing disorienting and unpleasant:

Who says that time begins on Opening Day? Not me. Not anymore. Not when the first ceremonial pitch is thrown out by the prime minister of Japan in Tokyo, not the president of the United States in Washington. And not when "Play Ball" arrives at 7 p.m. in Japan. Just so we don't get lost in translation, that means the former national pastime chose to start its season in the middle of the night all across America. Baseball, that fan-friendly sport....

Thanks, Bud. If baseball hadn't televised its season opener starting at 5 a.m., I might never have known exactly when the birds in my neighborhood start to sing before dawn. Answer: In the top of the second inning. Trust me, they weren't humming, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." If they had, I'd have thrown rocks at them in the dark.

All over America, I imagined, bartenders were shaking the last drunk in the joint, saying, "Wake up, buddy. You said you wanted to see A-Rod's first at-bat. Well, he's up."

Which is weirder? Pink elephants or A-Rod and Derek Jeter in the same infield for a Tokyo lid-lifter?


All this is particularly amusing, since Boswell doesn't usually write in this dark, grumpy tone. He sounded like a man who, well, got up at 5 AM to watch a baseball game.

I particularly liked his closing passage, written with a curmudgeonly tone that I frankly envy:

If any sign of life is found on Mars, baseball's in real trouble. A marketer will whisper in Selig's ear that aliens just love MLB logo caps -- one for each of their heads. And if there's a profit in it, Bud will listen.

Unless, of course, the Orioles' territorial rights to Mars are jeopardized.

How trashy can baseball get? This Opening Day was surely a tip-off. And a warning. Baseball's traditional spring showcase game -- one of its supposed jewels -- has now shared the same pre-dawn TV time slot as "this channel is not yet available" and a religious infomercial to buy "The Green Prosperity Faith Handkerchief."

One infomercial, however, did strike a chord with me. Something called the "Invention Submission Corporation" asked, "Do you have an idea for a new invention?"

Yes, I do. I would call it Opening Day. And I would play it in America.

And now, I think I'll go back to bed.


Meanwhile, Tony Kornheiser's writing his annual "Boy, do the Wizards and Caps stink" column. He makes up for the formulaic idea with some fresh and original writing, like this:

It's torture looking at the standings in the paper -- though I do have a suggestion to ease the pain. I was thumbing through The Post and came upon "Peanuts" on the comics page. I thought it strange, as everybody knows Charles Schulz has died. Then I noticed it was running under the title, "Classic Peanuts," so these are obviously recycled strips.

Okay: Can't The Post stop running box scores from the current pathetic Wizards, and instead run "Classic Bullets" box scores from the 1970s and early-'80s? It will make us smile to see "Hayes" and "Unseld" in the box scores again, and see the "Washington" team win for a change. So what if they end up beating the Buffalo Braves and Kansas City Kings? At least they're beating somebody!


I think Kornheiser's onto something here. And it gives me an idea: Why can't the Post say "To hell with the Orioles" and start running "Classic Senators" box scores? We don't have to wait for Selig and Company to get around to awarding us the grubby Expos. We can bring baseball back to Washington ourselves! Wouldn't you love to see Frank Howard slugging away again? I know I would.

Apparently, Paul Hornung thinks black athletes are stupid:

Hornung told Detroit's AM-1270 The Sports Station (an ESPN radio affiliate) on Tuesday that Notre Dame must ease up on its academic restrictions because "We gotta get the black athlete," he said. "We must get the black athlete if we're going to compete."

Hornung said that Notre Dame's schedule factors into his opinion.

"You can't play that type of schedule," Hornung said. "We're playing eight bowl teams next year ... and it's always year in and year out ... one of the toughest schedules.

"You can't play a schedule like that unless you have the black athlete today. You just can't do it, and it's very, very tough, still, to get into Notre Dame. They just don't understand it, yet they want to win."


Now, obviously, Hornung is an idiot. (For those not familiar, he was a Heisman winner at Notre Dame in the '50s and went on to play for the Green Bay Packers.) But lately, I've been feeling a little burned out on the way the media picks up on every slip and soft-headed statement and pummels the speaker to a fare-thee-well. In this spirit, I decided to take a closer look at what Hornung said, and see if maybe -- just maybe -- there is a less noxious way to interpret his comments.

Now, I noticed that Hornung's statements quoted here talk about Notre Dame's tough academic standards, or the need to get black athletes, but not both. Now, Hornung has suggested in the past that Notre Dame's academic standards are too high, and not in specific relation to black athletes. So isn't it possible that he was making two points: that the Irish can't compete with other football powers unless it lowers the academic standards, and that Notre Dame does a poor job recruiting blacks? Both of those statements, taken separately, do not imply a racist attitude.

So I looked around the Web for a fuller transcript, and I saw that he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: "We can't stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned because we've got to get the black athlete."

Oh. Never mind. As I was saying: Hornung is an idiot.

Speaking of football, former Skins head coach Norv Turner is now in charge of the Raiders, and I see where SI's Don Banks interviewed him about working for Al Davis, the Raiders owner and a notorious meddler. Turner told Banks that though Davis is a meddler, there are worse meddlers out there:

"The biggest thing I would say is being with Al Davis, it's football,'' Turner said, between bites of the AFC coaches media breakfast on day two of the NFL's annual meeting. "You're not fooling around with a lot of things that are non-football. He obviously has a background, an understanding, a history.

"When you sit down and talk to him about something specific, he knows football. We can talk about games, we can talk about players, we can talk about plays. It doesn't take you long to figure out it's totally different from my past experience, with sitting there talking with someone who has no football background and wants to have opinions.''


Turner's clearly taking a shot at Skins owner Dan Snyder. The implication is: Davis may meddle, but at least he knows what he's doing, unlike Snyder. I'm of two minds on this.

On the one hand, Turner is right. Snyder's the worst kind of owner: meddlesome and clueless. Say what you will about a guy like Davis or George Steinbrenner, but they've been in the game a long time and know their way around. Snyder's still a novice, and he's not willing to get out of the way and let the people he hires do their jobs. He insists on sticking his fingers in everything that's going on, and it's killed the team in the time he's owned it.

On the other hand, Turner's account makes it sound as though he was a man of sound and firm judgment who quit because he couldn't abide the meddlesome owner. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, Turner didn't quit, he was fired. Second, he wasn't fired because he crossed the owner. He was fired because he wasn't a good football coach.

Norv Turner was the head man in Washington for seven years. The NFL is not noted for head-coaching longevity, so you might figure a seven-year run indicated that he was some sort of great coach, or that there was a love affair between him and Skins fans. However, a 49-59-1 record isn't exactly Hall of Fame caliber, and speaking as a Skins fan, I can assure you that there was no great love for ol' Norv in the Fedroplex.

So how did Norv last so long? He was Mr. None of the Above. Turner is a very nice man, pleasant and polite. We called him "Uncle Norv" because he had that kindly quality about him. He was inoffensive and never made waves. He would never be quoted in the papers saying something dumb, and he'd never be caught yelling at a reporter or giving some player a pep talk with his fists. In short, he never gave anyone reason enough to even notice he was there, much less think about canning him.

Also, the Skins were in a down-cycle when Norv came in, and it was highly unlikely that any top-flight coach would have been willing to come to D.C. to oversee the rebuilding. Norv oversaw a substandard team without complaint, made slow but steady progress and looked reasonably dignified doing it. "It could be worse," that was the motto of the Norv Turner era.

When Dan Snyder took the wheel, he wasn't going to settle for respectability. He wanted greatness. Norv Turner can get you respectability, but he will never get you greatness. There is no greatness in Norv Turner. He is a distinctly human-sized head coach. Snyder saw the Redskins turn in .500-ish performances, and he saw Turner go into press conferences, shrug his shoulders and say, "Aw, heck, the boys are trying out there." And unlike everyone else, Snyder didn't just say, "It could be worse." He said, "We can do better." It's one of the few things I credit Snyder for as an owner.

Al Davis has to know this history. He's a smart and savvy owner. He has to know he'll never get to the Super Bowl with Turner. But he's probably taking a look at his roster and realizing that there's no way this team is making the Super Bowl even if Vince Lombardi came back from the dead to coach them. What he needs is to avoid the embarrassment the Raiders suffered last year. He needs a coach who won't make waves, who won't alienate players, who won't get into a public spat with the owner. In short, he needs a coach who can make the Raiders respectable. Enter Uncle Norv.

If Turner realizes that he's been brought in as a placebo until the Raiders get better, he's not letting on. And in a way, I hope he doesn't get it. A guy that nice shouldn't have to deal with the knowledge that he's being used.

Incidentally, Papa Shaft does a devastatingly accurate impression of Turner. Here's his impression of Turner at the press conference announcing his hiring with the Raiders:

"Well, I don't know... it's nice to be a head coach again, I guess. I don't want to repeat the mistake I made with the Redskins. Everything was good there when we were 4-12 and 5-11, but then we started getting better. Next thing you know, there we are in the playoffs, and everyone thinks we should be a contender now. Well, shucks, those boys were trying as hard as they could, and now all of a sudden they're supposed to make the playoffs all the time. I suppose they're supposed to work hard in training camp, too. Everyone knows that training camp is for fishing and working on your putting game. And now we're supposed to practice football? Come on, I'm not a slave driver like that Parcells. So here, I'm going to stick with 4-12 and 5-11, maybe a 6-10 every now and again to make it interesting. You've got to keep expectations low to keep the team and the fans happy."

Papa Shaft is a hoot.

Anyway, that's enough for today. Perhaps something more original tomorrow. See you then! 
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Magic" by the Cars

THE (SOMEWHAT) TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF UNCLE MILLIE

Hello again, all! After a brief hiatus, Uncle Millie is back on the romantic advice beat. He even got Aunt Beatrice to return to co-advising duties. And he's celebrating Opening Day in fine style. In honor of the season's opening in Tokyo, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are reporting in from the Far East... specifically, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, home of Kamikaze's sports bar. It's hard to predict what might come next with these two, but it's always an adventure finding out, isn't it? That said, I give you Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Take it away, folks!

- - - - -

Where is The Love? I Don't Know, But It's Not in Seacaucus, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello, lads. Banzai!

AB: You've been saying that since 5 in the morning, and it's really getting on my nerves.

UM: Sorry, my dear. At any rate, your Uncle Millie is back in the saddle again, and riding by my side is my beloved partner in crime, the Sundance Kid to my Butch Cassidy, the Bonnie to my Clyde, the Jane to my-

AB: Watch it.

UM: Apologies again. Lads, say hello to Aunt Beatrice!

AB: Hi, everybody. I have a fact that may shock you: Uncle Millie is actually clear-headed today.

UM: 'Tis true, alas, I am alarmingly sober.

AB: Well, tell them why.

UM: I promised I would limit myself to one sake for each run the Yankees scored. 3 sakes is a miserly portion indeed for a man of my age and habits.

AB: Thank you, Victor Zambrano.

UM: How was I to know I should have picked the Devil Rays?

AB: Now, dear, don't cry. It's all right. Have another glass of Perrier.

UM: Perrier? Oh, lads, I need a moment...

AB: While Uncle Millie mourns, let's take a look at our first letter.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I'm 27, and I've been dating my current girlfriend for two and a half years. I love her a lot, and we enjoy each other's company, but lately it seems like a lot of the zip has gone out of our relationship. We used to go to concerts and plays, hiking on weekends in the spring, and even salsa dancing. Nowadays, though, it seems more often than not our idea of a big date is TV dinners and a rented movie on the couch. Actually going out seems like more of an effort than either of us is willing to put out. What happened? When did we get so lazy? And how can we put the "life" back in our love life?

Rodney in Steamboat Springs


AB: Hi, Rodney. A lot of couples start losing steam after a couple years. They get settled into a routine and start taking each other for granted. The only way to break the routine is to put forth a little effort. Set a date, plan something special -- make reservations at a nice restuarant, for instance, or get tickets for a play -- and make an evening of it. Dress up, maybe even pick her up with flowers after work, and make it special. Sparks come naturally when the relationship is fresh and new, but after the novelty wears off, you have to light those fires yourself. Anything to add, Uncle Millie?

UM: Aunt Beatrice has the right of it, lad. Planning a special evening is the way to go.

AB: That's it?

UM: Yes.

AB: You're not going to tell him I'm sweet but completely wrong?

UM: No.

AB: You're not going to make any winking references to getting better sex?

UM: No.

AB: You're not going to tell him to dump her and find some giggling young thing and get laid?

UM: No.

AB: Wow. And you didn't even cut me off mid-sentence. That seems so... unlike you.

UM: Aye, my love, it is most unlike me.

AB: What's wrong?

UM: This enforced sobriety is affecting my advisory abilities. I need fuel for my own fires. Bartender!

AB: Oh, no, you don't. You promised.

UM: But, Beatrice, it is cruel and inhuman to come between a man and his whiskey!

AB: I don't want to hear it. Sit down.

UM: Dear God in heaven, why have you forsaken me, lad?

Dear Uncle Millie,

I'm getting sick of my wife nosing around in my business. We've been married for ten years, and now she's decided she's an FBI agent. Reading my mail, reading the credit card bills, you name it! And the questions. "Where are you going? Why didn't you come home last night? What's this $5,000 check made out to 'Cash'?" She's a real pain, I tell you. Anyway, I've got a girlfriend on the side. We've been seeing each other for a couple months, and I'll bet the super-sleuth is going to find out about it any day now. Any advice to keep this all hush-hush?

Jack in Pomona


AB: Hi, Jack. I'm not going to beat around the bush: you're digusting. You're a disgrace to everything that is good and decent in this world, and if I knew who you were, you can bet I'd be on the phone to your wife this minute. So you'd better dump the dish, beg forgiveness from your wife and pray that some day you'll be redeemed. I hope your girlfriend is dating a bodybuilder, and I hope he finds you. Now, here with the opposing view is Uncle Millie.

UM: Fading... fast... must... consume... alcohol...

AB: Snap to, dear. You're on.

UM: Huh? Oh, well, lad, you should ask your wife to stop spying on you. It's not nice.

AB: That's all? I'm surprised at you. Ordinarily you'd jump at the chance to defend a sleazeball like this. You'd pounce right in, telling him to drop his wife like a hot potato and take off to Mexico with his girlfriend. What's the matter?

UM: I told you what the matter is. You're depriving me of my life force.

AB: Really, I think you're being melodramatic.

UM: Without liquor, life is a vast wasteland. Do you know how miserable it is to be in a bar when you're sober?

AB: Considering all the places you've dragged me to, I think I'd qualify as an expert on the subject.

Yo Uncle Millie,

Not a question, just wanted to say thanks. I met you in Chicago a couple months back and was looking for advice on what to do about my girlfriend. She wanted to get married in the spring, and I wanted to wait until summer. You advised me to run as far away from her as I could. It seemed a little strange, since I really loved her, but I took your advice and it worked out great! I took off for Hawaii, spent a month or so drinking steadily, and I forgot all about her. I don't even remember what her name was! Anyway, I liked Hawaii so much that I decided to settle down here. I'm working at a little beachfront bar in Waikiki. This is paradise! So, anyway, thanks for the terrific advice, and the next time you're in Hawaii, the mai tais are on me. Mahalo!

Brian


UM: Mai tais... (sobbing)

AB: Oh, there, there. It's all right.

UM: I can't do this!

AB: Well, you know, you're quite different when you're sober. Something missing.

UM: My spirit, my soul, the very essence of my existence is missing!

AB: If this is what I have to look forward to, I think I'd rather have you drinking.

UM: Really?

AB: Really. You just don't seem like Uncle Millie without it.

UM: So I can start drinking again?

AB: You may have one sake. One.

UM: Bartender! Hand me that bottle!

AB: Millie, I meant one shot-

UM: Sweet nectar of life! Thank you, Lord!

AB: Millie, slow down, please-

UM: Ah, that's more like it! Remember, lads, love 'em hard and drop 'em quick!

AB: That's my Millie. No denying it. Excuse me, bartender?

UM: That's all for this week, lads! Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Remember, from now on they're be appearing every other Tuesday in this space.

So, who was up for Opening Day? That's right, the first game of the baseball season was this morning. You heard me right, this morning. At 5 AM. Why would the geniuses at MLB schedule a game at that hour? Well, because it was being played in Tokyo. Now, I think this whole global-outreach business is good for baseball. But do we have to sacrifice Opening Day for it? Do we have to choose between watching the first game of the season and being awake at work?

I awoke at my usual hour, which allowed me to see the last two innings. A couple thoughts from the snippet I saw:

- Have you ever watched a baseball game first thing in the morning? It feels weird. It feels odd and disjointed, like you've dropped into a parallel universe much like our own, but somehow different. It's like when you're sick and you fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon and then wake up around dinnertime, and it feels like morning only it's 7 at night.You know that feeling? That's what I felt like this morning. Don't do that to me, MLB.

- Both the Yankees and the Devil Rays wore patches on their jerseys and hats. These patches advertised Ricoh, a copier company. Now, I know advertising is customary on Japanese uniforms, but I don't believe MLB's insistence that they're not setting a precedent here. Why else would they put the patches on? Did they think the Japanese fans wouldn't know it was baseball if the teams didn't look like billboards? Look for MLB to try putting ads on American jerseys within two seasons.

- The ESPN announcers (who were all, by the way, broadcasting from a studio in Connecticut, which added to that weird, disconnected feeling) talked a lot about how the spring-training steroid flap was overblown. Now, any major sports news is subject to too much hype, but I think that the announcers' see-no-evil routine was a little much. A lot of guys do look visibly thinner, and I didn't hear anything about the Bud Selig Offseason Diet Plan sweeping the nation.

- Also, most of the whispers about the Yankees and steroids center around Jason Giambi, but to me the guy who looks like he's lost the most is Gary Sheffield. Sheffield came to bat in the eighth inning, and my first thought was, "Hey, look, it's Miguel Cairo!"

- If I were Giambi, I'd demand that Arm and Hammer either pull the deodorant commercial starring him or re-shoot it. It's hard for Giambi to argue that he's not getting dramatically thinner when the old, bulked-up him is on screen 150,000 times during the NCAA tournament.

- I was enthusiastic about the Devil Rays' impressive 8-3 win (or at least as enthusiastic as I can be at that hour of the morning, which is not very), at least until I heard one of the announcers mention that the Devil Rays have now won their last 5 Opening Day games in a row. So Opening Day is a harbinger of nothing. Repeat, nothing. Hear that, George Steinbrenner?

Anyway, enough for today. Something else tomorrow! 
Monday, March 29, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "The Thrill is Gone" by B.B. King

FEELING SPRING-ISH

Hello, again, everyone! What a stunningly beautiful weekend in the Fedroplex... blue skies, temperatures in the 60s and 70s, spring blossoms out all over. Programming note: The regularly scheduled Uncle Millie advice column will run tomorrow instead of today, and will henceforth run on Tuesdays instead of Mondays. See, Uncle Millie phones in his columns, and his coherence is generally a little better in mid-week, if you catch my drift.

Today, I'll take some time to muse on the wonder of springtime around here. DC's unusual geography (pinned between a mountain range and a sea coast) tends to make for bad weather a lot of the time. Summer is miserable and beastly oppressive, sticky and scorching and painful. Winter is gray and sludgy, cold without a lot of snow, the perfect beastly bookend to summer. To borrow a phrase from Garrison Keillor, winter in Washington is "God's attempt to show people who don't drink what a hangover feels like." Fall's fine, when it's not raining, although it never seems to last long.

But spring... ah, spring. Spring repays you for the suffering incurred during the rest of the year. It's Washington in Technicolor, and I savor every minute of it. I went out walking around Dot-Com Canyon, and was reminded once again of the joys of living here.

Where to begin? Well, for one thing, most Fedroplexers realize that truly beautiful days are rare, so they tend to hope on their bikes or hit the walking trails in great numbers. Or they bring their convertibles and classic cars out of the garage for a spin. Normally, everyone's crammed onto the roads with the windows rolled up, yakking on cell phones and weaving from lane to lane. The effect is menacing, unfriendly, suggesting that these are people with damned serious business to attend to and you'd better just step aside or get run over. When they're walking or biking or cruising in a cherry convertible, people seem much more accessible. The Type-A workaholic side stays in the closet with the power suit, and instead my neighbors are revealed as just plain folks with kids and dogs. The Fedroplex feels a lot more livable in springtime.

In the same vein, pleasant weather means open windows, which is a field day for conversational voyeurs like myself. Walking through a neighborhood, I hear snippets of parties and cookouts and laughter and arguments and music. Especially music. Anyone who doesn't think that Washington is a melting pot should come walking with me. Just this weekend, I heard rap and salsa and classic rock and jazz and blues, to name a few. Listening to that tapestry of musical snippets, I marvel at what a wonderfully diverse metropolis this is. You can experience more cultures side-by-side here than in most places I've been.

And you never know what you'll find. This weekend I was walking up by the high school, and I saw a bunch of people running around the basketball court. But they weren't playing basketball. I couldn't make out what they were doing; all I saw was a lot of running. As I got a little closer, I saw that one guy had a bat, and another fellow was pitching to him. Baseball, I figured. But why are they playing on the basketball court? And why is the pitcher running up to deliver the ball. Then I got closer and noticed that the bat was wide and flat, and then I knew what I was looking at. Cricket! They were playing cricket! For those unaware, cricket is a baseball-like sport popular in much of the former British Empire. The gentlemen on the basketball court appeared to be of Indian or Pakistani descent. I walked away with a smile.

Even if the human face of the Fedroplex weren't on display, the stunning natural beauty would be worth the walk. Whites and yellows and pinks and oranges and purples... Dot-Com Canyon was dressed in its Sunday best, and the results were beautiful. Normally, the landscape is nothing but drab, featureless suburban sprawl. But when the trees and flowers are in bloom, it looks pretty and pastoral. We don't do parades in Dot-Com Canyon, but during the spring it looks like we're decked out for one.

And even this morning, as I trudged in to begin another week's work, there was a little flash of life in the mouth of the Metro station. A street musician blew his horn, accompanied by harpsichord music -- harpsichord music! -- on tape. Nearby, an old-fashioned news hawker peddled the Express in a sing-song voice. "GOOD morning! EX-press! GOOD morning!" And I went into work with a smile, having been reminded again that I live in a real community.

A little follow-up on Friday's ethical dilemma for DC baseball fans. The Smart Lady weighed in with a couple possibilities that I hadn't considered. Her first suggestion was to bypass Major League Baseball entirely and patronize the local minor-league clubs. I can't believe I hadn't thought of this, particularly since this is what I spent most of last summer doing. It makes perfect sense... it's an easy drive, you get to see live baseball, and it's arguably more fun than the major-league game to boot. The only downside is that in order to be truly ethical, you'll have to avoid Oriole farm clubs, which eliminates the two best options for most local fans (Frederick and Bowie), along with Aberdeen and Delmarva. This would leave the Potomac Cannons, possibly the worst-run organization in the minor leagues; the Hagerstown Suns, a low-A outfit; and (for those willing to make the trek) the Harrisburg Senators and the Norfolk Tides. I admit that you'll likely see me at Frederick and Bowie games this year, so let your own degree of orthodoxy be your guide.

The other possibility she suggested was that we take up soccer. I reacted somewhat skeptically, but she insisted, "If you start following another baseball team, they'll probably figure that they've got your money anyway, so they won't need to give you a team."

I replied, "But we'd have to watch soccer."

She said, "It's the only other major sport that plays in the summer. And think of how cool and international you'd look."

"But we'd have to watch soccer!" I wailed.

Nonetheless, she might be onto something. The best way to show our disdain for the way we're being jacked around is to boycott. Taking our entertainment dollars elsewhere would be a good way of showing that we're mad as hell and not going to take it any more. Still, we'd have to watch soccer.

Incidentally, I heard that week that rumor had the Expos on their way to Monterrey, Mexico. I'm not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, going to Monterrey would further baseball's desire to go international, and Monterrey is probably the best Latin American city, in economic terms, for MLB to go. Plus, the fact that Monterrey's a foreign city gives it an "X-factor" that makes it harder to compare against other cities. For instance, if the Expos were to go to, say, Portland or Las Vegas, it's fairly easy to compare those cities to Washington on a demographic basis. And after about 15 seconds of study, it would be obvious that Portland and Vegas don't come close to Washington as an option. But if they go to Monterrey, it keeps MLB from looking foolish. You can still say that Washington's bigger and richer, but MLB can say, "Yes, but we're trying to expand the international reach of the game." And how can you argue that? All you can do is point out that Mexico has the same number of votes in Congress that Washington does, but you've already lost the argument. Monterrey, in my mind, represents the most plausible alternative to Washington for this reason.

On the other hand, well, Washington is bigger and richer than Monterrey. And the timing of the rumor suggests to me that it may be a shot across the bow to anti-stadium forces in DC. Just a reminder that, "We don't have to put the team there. We do have other options. And we're quite prepared to move on them." I can't help thinking that this is more of a prod to the District than an actual finalized plan. At least I hope that's the case.

All right, enough for today. Uncle Millie tomorrow. See you then! 
Friday, March 26, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Tell Me Something Good" by Chaka Khan

RANDOM THOUGHTS FRIDAY

Hello, everybody! Beautiful day here in the Fedroplex, and I'm floating on a good vibe and in no mood to write thoughtfully aobut anything in particular. Fortunately, this being Friday, I don't have to. In an effort to bring a little variety to my usual mish-mash, though, I'll seek some connective tissue between the items I bring up. Should be interesting. Here we go!

First item up for consideration: the Atlanta Braves have added a pitcher, acquiring swingman Juan Cruz from the Cubs for a couple minor leaguers. (For those not in the know about baseball lingo, the term "swingman" has nothing to do with Cruz's musical abilities or sexual proclivities. It simply means that he can either start or relieve.) Cruz is in the running for a slot in the rotation, which causes me to wonder.... What is going on with the Braves? Has the front office become so smug about its ability to develop pitchers that it's deliberately aiming for a rotation of no-names? I mean look at the folks they'll be running out there this year. Russ Ortiz is a guy I've always liked and considered underrated, but he's not a household name. Mike Hampton used to be great, but now he's primarily remembered for taking the money and running to Colorado, with its fun-house ballpark and non-existent air. (Hampton's ridiculous $120 million deal may be the worst big-money signing ever. A-Rod's deal is bigger, but to the degree that any player can be worth $25 million a year, he is. Kevin Brown's deal is too much for a frail pitcher, but he's great when healthy. Hampton was just terrible. His contract is so bad that Atlanta wouldn't take it unless Colorado and Florida -- for whom he never even pitched -- picked up part of it.) Paul Byrd didn't pitch at all last year, and he was never any great shakes when he did pitch. (He's a career 52-46 pitcher with a 4.39 ERA.) John Thomson and Horacio Ramirez are so anonymous they might as well be called Null and Void. (Thomson's a journeyman, Ramirez is a kid. I know virtually nothing about either one.) And Jaret Wright has thus far been a spectacular bust, never living up to the hype he got coming up in Cleveland. (For his career, he's 37-37 with a 5.68 ERA.) And now Cruz is in the mix. Whoopee.

I'm no Braves fan, but if I were, I'd be concerned about this trend. The Braves' terrific run of success was always founded on pitching, particularly starting pitching. Nothing about this rotation suggests even a hint of greatness, and the lineup has its fair share of questions too. We can't ever count the Braves out, but I don't know how they expect to win with this bunch.

Speaking of the Braves... they also picked up starter Chris Reitsma from the Reds. Reitsma's another who-cares kind of guy, another faded prospect. More concerning, from the Braves' perspective, is that they gave up two young starters (you know, the lifeblood of the franchise) to get him. The departed pitchers are Bubba Nelson (good name, whether he can pitch or not) and Jung Keun Bong.

Speaking of Jung Keun Bong... I remember watching a Braves game a couple years back and Don Sutton was raving about this kid, about his poise and maturity and command of his pitches and so on, and the camera cut to a shot of him warming up in the bullpen. When Sutton noticed, he happily said, "There's Mr. Bong!" I spent the rest of the inning on the floor, convulsed in helpless laughter. Here Sutton's just trying to praise a young pitcher, and he comes off sounding like a character from HR Pufnstuf. I wonder if "There's Mr. Bong!" was a common phrase in the Sutton household during his pitching days.

Speaking of Bong... last summer Papa Shaft and I were in Milwaukee, and we drove south to Chicago to visit an old college chum. Papa was driving, so I was relaxing and watching the serene Wisconsin prairie unfold along I-94. Suddenly, I saw a road sign that said, "BONG RECREATION AREA -- EXIT 340." I immediately snapped to. Could I possibly have read that right? I asked Papa if he'd noticed, and he said no. But sure enough, a couple minutes later, there's a big, unmistakable sign reading "BONG RECREATION AREA." I immediately directed Papa's attention to this, and we both started laughing like hyenas, followed by an impromptu Cheech and Chong impression.

I'm sure you think I'm making this up, but I have proof! As you can see on this admirably unironic Wisconsin state site, the site is named for Major Richard Bong, a World War II hero. When I saw the place, I figured that they'd dedicated the thing back in the '50s, back when no one knew just how funny later generations would find it. But no, it was dedicated in 1974! The entry sign clearly dates from that era as well. Now, Midwestern bureaucrats of that era generally tended to be pretty square, but didn't they have some young staffer anywhere in the department who might have alerted them to this? I mean, really.

Speaking of Milwaukee... Papa and I have discussed going back up again to catch some more baseball this summer. I'm very fond of Milwaukee, at least what I've seen of it, but I want to see more. If any Milwaukeeans happen to pass through here, and have any suggestions as to what we shouldn't miss when we're in town, feel free to leave a comment. (We'd also be hitting Chicago, so any Windy City folks with suggestions, step on up.) Nothing beats a good Midwestern baseball tour!

Speaking of baseball... very interesting point in Marc Fisher's chat yesterday:

Ex-DCer in Philadelphia: Marc,

I know it's almost baseball season, so I figured I'd let you know that I'll be rooting for that team up I-95 again this year. You know, the one with the neat throwback ballpark and the big hitters down the middle of the lineup, that had been out of the playoff race for years but is now making a serious effort at it?

Yes, that's right -- I'll be rooting for the Phillies! Stick to your principles, and don't let Peter Angelos have your money!

Marc Fisher: Indeed--The Phils are the closest major league team on which a good Washingtonian can ethically spend money, and I am eager to visit their new ballpark, even if it does have some ludicrous corporate name.


Fisher raises an interesting point... for those of us Washingtonians who don't wish to lend assistance to Angelos' Evil Empire, where should our loyalties lie? DC baseball fans should get together on this and reach an official consensus, lest some of us get giddy and start rooting for the O's out of weakness. As far as I can see, there are five logical alternatives to O's rootership.

1. Root for the Phillies. Geographically, they're the closest team other than you-know-who, making it easier to go to a game. They have a promising team and a nice new park to boot. On the downside, if the Expos do move here, the Phillies would suddenly be our top rivals. Potentially awkward.

2. Root for the Expos. The team that currently appears most likely to be ours someday, so we might as well get in the habit of rooting for them. On the downside, it's not really convenient to make the trip to see them at (either) home, and if we don't get the Expos (and buzz is running against us right now), then we've just wasted our time rooting for a meaningless franchise.

3. Root for the Twins and/or Rangers. Rather than rooting for the future Senators, we can root for the former Senators, who can at least be confidently identified. On the downside, this is sort of like being the best man at your ex-girlfriend's wedding.

4. Root for whoever's leading the AL East, presuming it isn't Baltimore. This would allow us to doubly revel in each O's defeat. On the downside, it looks sort of fair-weatherish, and it would result in spending at least part of the season rooting for the Yankees, which I refuse to do. (A related strategy would be to go to Camden Yards and root for the O's opponents, but Angelos still gets the money in that instance.)

5. Root for your hometown (or adopted hometown) team. Since a lot of Washingtonians are from somewhere else, they can simply maintain their prior rooting interests. (And if they're local yokels like me, they can just pick a favorite somewhere else.) On the downside, having our collective rooting interest spread out over so many other teams blunts the force of it. (It's not like LA, where they can react to having no local NFL team with a yawn. Cities without an NFL team get the same broacast package everyone else does. Cities without an MLB team are largely at the mercy of the superstation teams, or the team that's geographically closest.)

I'm sure there are other options, and I'd love to hear thoughts from the rest of you. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments, and we can start sizing up our options. DC baseball fans, unite!

That's all for today. Have a great weekend! See you Monday! 
Thursday, March 25, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "This Is the Life" by Weird Al Yankovic

I KNOW YOU ARE, BUT WHAT AM I?

Good day, all. Couple stories crossed my desk today that put me in mind of those silly old grade-school fights we all had. Let me use the first one to get to the second one.

King Kaufman over at Salon is rapidly becoming one of my favorite sportswriters. He knows a good turn of phrase when we see one. Take this passage, which has had me chuckling most of the morning:

The off-the-court story of the NCAA Tournament so far has been the silly dust-up between CBS analyst Billy Packer and St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli on Selection Sunday. Packer, a former star player and assistant coach at Wake Forest who makes no secret of his belief that the ACC is the One True Conference, said St. Joe's, from the lesser Atlantic 10, didn't deserve a No. 1 seed.

"Meow meow meow," replied Martelli.

"Up your nose with a rubber hose," Packer shot back. I'm paraphrasing. You get the idea.


Kaufman goes on to make the point that Packer's circus isn't a big deal, because as a sports commentator he's paid to have an opinion, not just confine himself to the dry facts. I think he's right. Besides, it's not as though college basketball is of life-or-death importance. Arguments like the Martelli-Packer spat don't hurt anyone, because in the larger scheme of things, it doesn't matter. It's only when this level of discourse is applied to meaningful issues that we have a problem.

Which brings me to an article in today's Post. The link to the article is entitled "9 Va. Legislators Pledge Cooperation," which is one of the more misleading headline I've ever seen. The article contains one sentence indicating that the House and Senate budget negotiators are pledging to work together to solve the looming crisis, followed by three pages of material strongly indicating that they have no interest whatever in doing so. This does not bode well for those who would actually like to see the state pass a budget.

It's disheartening enough that the sides aren't making any progress, but worse yet is the way they're failing to make progress. For instance, if the negotiators were passing proposals back and forth, having informal meetings outside the sessions, and discussing things amicably, that could be considered good news even if the two sides hadn't gotten any closer.

Instead we have such cheerful news as, "They met for two minutes, agreed only to talk again Thursday, and adjourned." Or this bit, which is so childish and snotty that it's hard to believe that these people are allowed to hold political power:

Discussions resumed March 9 but quickly descended into misunderstanding that resulted from a reluctance to meet face to face.

For more than an hour, the sides remained separated as staffers shuttled back and forth with written offers and counteroffers. At one point, House negotiators hovered over a Senate spreadsheet, thinking their adversaries had proposed even higher taxes. Rather than pick up the phone and ask, they dashed off a sarcastic letter: "Thank you for your willingness to 'compromise.' "

House negotiators then headed off for a feast at a private eatery called the Bull and Bear Club. Senators who had expected to work all night were enraged. "For half the [negotiators] to excuse themselves at 5:45 p.m. does not help us meet a budget deadline," said Sen. William C. Wampler Jr. (R-Bristol). By the time a few of the House negotiators returned at 8:30 p.m., the senators had given up waiting.


You may recall that when I last wrote about this mess, I derided the let's-put-taxes-to-referendum plan, on the grounds that legislators are paid to legislate and that the average citizen doesn't have the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision. On the other hand, if this is the alternative, I'm not so sure that it's an improvement. It's hard to make the argument that we should leave things to the professionals when the professionals behave like this.

The author of this article went so far as to track down professional negotiators and ask their opinion on the whole business. This was a fairly useless step, as the negotiators provided the sort of advice that should be familiar to those of us who have been in committed relationships: Don't get personal and don't take an all-or-nothing position. The Virginia legislators have violated both ends of this argument, on both sides, in textbook fashion.

The Virginia legislature has long had a genteel reputation, but someone forgot to tell these guys:

Early on, Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Stafford) had a suggestion: Let's agree to raise the sales tax so we can lower the tax on food.

"So you pay less for food and more for clothes?" snapped [Vincent] Callahan, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

"That's called tax reform," Chichester replied.

"So I can run around and eat well naked," Callahan grumped.

The rest of the meeting followed a similar course. At one point, when a delegate referred repeatedly to the Senate's tax proposals as "massive," Chichester countered, "Why not just call it gargantuan?"


(Incidentally, students of media biad will doubtless note that Chichester is described as "suggesting," "replying" and "countering," while Callahan is described as "snapping" and "grumping." Perhaps Callahan was speaking in a much angrier tone of voice, but perhaps the article is betraying a certain sympathy to Chichester's position. Food for thought.)

The problem here is that too many legislators now seem incapable of separating campaign rhetoric from actual political business. Campaign-trail speech hasn't really gotten that much uglier over the years; John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had a number of wildly uncomplimentary things to say about each other. The problem is that, where once opponents were able to lay their cudgels aside when the campaign was over and work agreeably at the bargaining table, now they seem imprisoned by their outrageous vote-getting slogans. Blame the never-ending campaign cycle, blame the all-consuming media which bring our legislative sausage-making out for public viewing, blame the parties' ideological rigidity, whatever you please. Whatever's to blame, it's undeniable that a sea change has occurred.

Take the reaction to our last two presidents. People speak openly of "Clinton-hatred" and "Bush-hatred." Partisan squirm and twist to explain why their hatred for the other guy is proper and justified, while the opponent's hatred is irrational and bizarre, but it's the same thing on both sides. This "hatred" is only irrational in the sense that no one seems to understand how to turn it off when the election's over any more. No longer do we shake hands and settle down when the smoke clears. Instead, the winners gloat and taunt and use their power to bully, while the losers become bitter and vengeful Ahabs, vowing revenge no matter what the cost.

It started at the national level, and now it's trickling down to the states. Unfortunately, the trickle-down is occurring just when the states desperately need serious minds at work. The budget crises in many states demand thoughtful statesmanship, and in too many places (including Virginia) there's none to be found.

Another outgrowth of the permanent campaign is the ridiculous adherence to iron-clad, simplistic rules even when the facts demand a more nuanced solution. The House Republicans are the worst offenders here with their "no tax increases period" position, but both sides are guilty, as this passage demonstrates:

On March 11, the sides were still bickering over the Senate's proposal to create higher income tax brackets for the wealthy.

"Suppose you call it a revenue intake fee?" Chichester asked.

"I don't care what you call it, it ain't going to pass," said Del. Lacey E. Putney (I-Bedford).

Chichester responded that he "couldn't get two votes" for a House plan to balance the budget by eliminating business tax breaks.


See the dilemma? Both sides have committed themselves to the idea that, come hell or high water, there's no way the other side's plan is going to pass. They're in favor of "compromise" in the sense that "compromise" means "doing what I want." Many of you will be familiar with this negotiation dynamic, which tends to lead to slammed doors, sleeping on the coach, and driving away in a huff. In this case, it seems to lead to storming out to the Bull and Bear Club.

In any case, this whole mess seems to be nasty and getting nastier, without a referee in sight. Some of you may be thinking, "Well, what about Governor Warner? He's got time on his hands." I was thinking the same thing. However, observers interviewed by the Post feel Warner compromised his role as broker by demanding a special session on the budget. It struck me as odd that asking legislators to do their job constituted an unforgivable sin, but apparently the House Republicans were pissed off by it, and there's no point in bringing in someone to act as broker if one side can't stand him.

So what's the way out? If Chris Farley had not passed away, we could bring him in to play Matt Foley and tell the negotiators to pass a budget or spend the rest of their lives "living in a VAN down by the RIVER!" Or we could stage a Pauly Shore film festival until they give in. Or we could dispatch a mediation team headed by Tony Soprano. I don't know. All suggestions welcome. Post your thoughts in the comments section.

So Ugueth Urbina fumed, fussed, delayed and threatened to bolt to Japan, all so he could sign with... the Tigers? Of greater interest: Are Pudge and Ugie forerunners of a new baseball trend: "Greedy athletes signing inflated contracts with loser franchises desperate for star power"? Is this a good thing? And do franchises like Detroit really think that they can build a fan base and a winning team this way, or are they just counting on the Yankees to bail them out in a couple seasons when the burden gets too crushing? Watch this space for further developments.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow! 
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "I Fought The Law and the Law Won" by Bobby Fuller Four

EXTENDING MY PROTEST

Hey there, everyone. I'm still cheesed about the whole "1776" thing, so I'm following up yesterday's angry letter with more lyrics from the musical. They will be presented without comment, so feel free to draw your own conclusions about their suitability for impressionable middle-school minds.

* * * * *

John Adams:
By God, I have had this Congress! For ten years King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied, and diddled the colonies. And still this Congress refuses to grant any of my proposals on independence even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God, what in hell are they waiting for?

Congress:
Sit down, John!
Sit down, John!
For God’s sake, John, sit down!
Sit down, John!
Sit down, John!
For God’s sake, John, sit down!

Someone oughta open up a window!

It’s ninety degrees!
Have mercy, John, please
It’s hot as hell in Philadephia!

Someone oughta open up a window!

Adams:
I say vote yes! Vote yes!
Vote for independency!

Congress:
Someone oughta open up a window!

Adams:
I say vote yes!

Congress:
Sit down, John!

Adams:
Vote for independency!

Congress:
Someone oughta open up a window!
(No, no, no!
Too many flies! Too many flies!)
But it’s hot as hell in Philadelphia!
Someone oughta open up a window!
(Can’t we compromise here?)

Adams:
Vote yes!

Congress:
No, too many flies here!

Adams:
Vote yes!

Congress:
Oh for God’s sake, John, sit down!

Adams:
Good God! Consider yourselves fortunate that you have John Adams to abuse. For no sane man
would tolerate it!

Congress:
John, you’re a bore
We’ve heard this before
Now for God’s sake, John, sit down!

Adams:
I say vote yes!

Congress:
No!

Adams:
Vote yes!

Congress:
No!

Adams:
Vote for independency!

Congress:
Someone oughta open up a window!

Adams:
I say vote yes!

Congress:
Sit down, John!

Adams:
Vote for independency!

Congress:
Will someone shut that man up?

Adams:
Never! Never!

* * * * *

Adams:
Dear God! For one solid year we've been sitting here. A whole year! Doing nothing!

I do believe you’ve laid a curse on North America
A curse that we now here rehearse in Philadelphia
A second flood, a simple famine
Plagues of locusts everywhere
Or a cataclysmic earthquake
I’d accept with some despair
But no, you sent us Congress!
Good God, sir, was that fair?

I say this with humility in Philadelphia
We’re your responsibility in Philadephia
If you don’t want to see us hanging
From some far-off British hill
If you don’t want the voice of independency
Forever still
Then God, sir, get thee to it
For Congress never will!

You see, we piddle, twiddle, and resolve
Not one damn thing do we solve
Piddle, twiddle, and resolve
Nothing’s ever solved
In foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy
Philadephia!

Congress:
Someone oughta open up a window...

Adams:
Good God!

They may sit here for years and years in Philadelphia
These indecisive grenadiers of Philadelphia
They can’t agree on what is right and wrong
Or what is good or bad
I’m convinced the only purpose this Congress ever had
Was to gather here specifically
To drive John Adams mad!

You see, we piddle, twiddle, and resolve
Not one damn thing do we solve
Piddle, twiddle, and resolve!
Nothing’s ever solved
In foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy
Philadephia!

Abigail:
John, John, is that you carrying on, John?

Adams:
Oh, Abigail, I have such a desire to knock heads together!

Abigail:
I know, my dearest, I know. It's all quite simple, really.

Just tell the Congress to declare independency
Then sign your name, get out of there and
Hurry home to me!
Our children all have dysentery
Little Tom keeps turning blue
Little Abbey has the measles
And I’m coming down with flu
They say we may get smallpox

Adams:
Madam, what else is new?

Abigail:
There’s one thing every woman’s missed in
Massachusetts Bay
(Adams smiles and says, "Yes, well...")
Don’t smirk at me, you egotist, pay
Heed to what I say
We’ve gone from Framingham to Boston
And we cannot find a pin
"Don’t you know there’s a war on?"
Say the tradesmen with a grin
Well, we will not make saltpeter
Until you send us pins!

Adams:
Pins, madam? Saltpeter!

Abigail:
Pins!

Adams:
Saltpeter-

Abigail:
Pins.

Adams:
Saltpeter.

Abigail:
Pins.

Adams:
Peter-

Abigail:
Pins.

Adams:
Peter-

Abigail:
Pins!

Adams:
Peter-

Abigail:
Pins.

Adams:
Peter!

Abigail:
Pins.

Adams:
Done, madam. Done.

Abigail:
Done, John.

Hurry home, John!

Adams:
Oh, as soon as I'm able.

Abigail:
Don't stop writing. It's all I have!

Adams:
Every day, my dearest friend.

Both:
Till then
Till then
I am as I ever was and ever shall be
Yours, yours, yours, yours, yours...

Adams:
Saltpeter -- John

Abigail:
Pins -- Abigail

Congress:
For God’s sake, John, sit down!

* * * * *

Richard Henry Lee:
All hail Virginia, the mother of American independence!

Adams:
Incredible! We're free and he hasn't even left yet. What makes you so sure you can do it?

Lee:
Ha!
My name is Richard Henry Lee
Virginia is my home
My name is Richard Henry Lee
Virginia is my home
And my horses turn to glue
If I can’t deliver unto you
A resolution on independency!

For I am FFV -- the first family
In the sovereign colony of Virginia
Yes I am FFV -- the oldest family
In the oldest colony in America
And may the British burn my land
If I can’t deliver to your hand
A resolution on independency!

You see it’s here a Lee, there a Lee
And everywhere a Lee, a Lee

Franklin:
Social?

Lee:
Lee!

Franklin:
Political?

Lee:
Lee!

Franklin:
Financial?

Lee:
Lee!

Franklin:
Natural?

Lee:
Lee!

Franklin:
Internal?

Lee:
Lee!

Franklin:
External?

Lee:
Lee!

Franklin:
Fraternal?

Lee:
Lee!

Franklin:
Eternal?

Lee:
Lee!

The FFV -- the first family
In the sovereign colony of Virginia
And may my wife refuse my bed
If I can’t deliver as I said
A resolution on independency

Adams:
Spoken modestly! God help us.

Franklin:
Oh, He will, John, He will.

Lee:
They say that God in heaven is everybody’s God.

Franklin:
Amen!

Lee:
I’ll admit that God in heaven is everybody’s God
But I tell you, John, with pride
God leans a little on the side
Of the Lees, the Lees of old Virgina!

You see it’s here a Lee, there a Lee
And everywhere a Lee, a Lee
Here a Lee, there a Lee
And everywhere a Lee

Look out!
There’s Arthur Lee
Bobby Lee
And General Lighthorse Harry Lee
Willy Lee
Jesse Lee

Franklin:
And Richard H.!

Lee:
That’s me!
And may my blood stop running blue
If I can’t deliver unto you
A resolution on independency!

Yes sir, by God, it’s here a Lee, there a Lee
Come on boys, join in with me!
Here a Lee, there a Lee!

Franklin:
When do you leave?

Lee:
Immediate-Lee!
Here a Lee, there a Lee!

Franklin:
When will you return?

Lee:
Short-Lee!
Here a Lee, there a Lee!
And I’ll come back triumphant-Lee!
Here a Lee, there a Lee!
Everywhere a Lee, a Lee

Forward ho!

* * * * *

There, chew on that for a while. And see you tomorrow! 
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister

IT'S AN OUTRAGE!

Hello, everyone. You'll forgive me if I skip the usual plesantries, I hope, because I'm mad. "Oh boy," regular readers are saying to themselves, "what is it this time? Is he going to waste a column whining about the new man on the Brawny towel wrapper or something?" And I understand your skepticism. In the past, I've managed to get myself worked up over less-than-earth-shattering issues. But this time I'm serious. This issues involves the future of our children's education. So pay attention this time.

Many thanks to Papa Shaft for filling me in on this travesty in progress. Papa read about it in yesterday's Express. I personally don't read the Express, because I feel that the time spent reading it could be put to better use filing my nails. But Papa Shaft reads it, and thank God he did, or this madness might have passed unnoticed. And I, Mediocre Fred, messenger of truth, scourge of the unjust, would not be able to convey this crucial information to you, The Increasingly Bored Reader. I see you making those hurry-it-up motions with your hands, which is quite rude but understandable. So I'll just thank Papa Shaft and move on.

What's the outrage? Well, it seems that the middle schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, have banned the movie "1776" from the curriculum. "1776," for those who don't know, is based on a Broadway musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It stars William Daniels (Mr. Feeney from "Boy Meets World") as John Adams and the principal from "Head of the Class" as the fat guy from Maryland who eats all the time. Why was it banned? Well, apparently the school censors -- er, I mean "curriculum coordinators" -- feel that the sexual innuendo in the movie is inappropriate. And when I say "sexual innuendo," we're talking seriously raunchy stuff, like Thomas Jefferson saying, "I haven't seen my wife in the past six months." Or John Adams asking, "Will you be a patriot... or a lover?" My God! Imagine the damage that might be done to our nation's youths if they're exposed to this sort of raw, unadulterated filth.

I'm completely disgusted by the school system's craven decision, and I choose to vent my disgust in the form of...

An Open Letter
To: Fairfax County School System
From: Mediocre Fred
Subject: I Thought This Was America

Dear Brownshirts,

I am writing this letter to protest the cowardly, intellectually vacant decision to ban "1776" from middle-school curricula. We may not be able to stop the violence, sexuality and obscenity that we've come to expect from the evening news, but by God, we sure as hell can prevent our children from having even a mildly enjoyable educational experience.

I myself am a scion of the Fairfax County educational system. "1776" was part of my formative educational experience. It did not warp me in any way that I wasn't already warped. The so-called "innuendo," which in today's raunch-besotted culture amounts to little more than a playful grandfatherly wink, did not faze me in the least. And up until now, I had been proud to be a graduate of your system. Now, though, I am appalled at the small-minded impulses that undergird its structure. As if those SOL tests (what an acronym!) weren't bad enough, the Fun Police are once again at work to ensure that anything that might make our children love learning is eradicated from the system.

Let's look at one of the supposedly objectionable passages, shall we? This is a song from the film, and incidentally, one of my favorites:

Adams:
Now, which of us shall write our Declaration of Independence?

Franklin:
Mr. Adams, I say you should write it
To your legal mind and brilliance we defer

Adams:
Is that so?
Well, if I’m the one to do it
They’ll run their quill pens through it
I’m obnoxious and disliked
You know that, sir

Franklin:
Yes, I know!

Adams:
So I say you should write it Franklin
You

Franklin:
Hell no!

Adams:
Yes, you, Dr. Franklin, you!

Franklin:
But-

Adams:
You!

Franklin:
But-

Adams
You!

Franklin:
But...
Mr. Adams, but Mr. Adams
The things I write are only light extemporania
I won’t put politics on paper; it’s a mania
So I refuse to use the pen in Pennsylvania

Others:
Pennsylvania!
Pennsylvania!
Refuse to use the pen!

Adams:
Mr. Sherman, I say you should write it
You are never controversial as it were

Sherman:
That is true.

Adams:
Whereas if I’m the one to do it
They’ll run their quill pens through it
I’m obnoxious and disliked
You know that, sir.

Sherman:
Yes, I do.

Adams:
So I say you should write it, Sherman, you.

Sherman:
Good heavens, no!

Adams:
Yes you, Roger Sherman, you

Sherman
But-

Adams:
You!

Sherman:
But-

Adams:
You!

Sherman:
But...
Mr. Adams, but Mr. Adams
I cannot write with any style or proper etiquette
I don’t know a participle from a predicate
I am just a simple cobbler from Connecticut.

Others:
Connecticut!
Connecticut!
A simple cobbler he!

Adams:
Mr. Livingston, maybe you should write it
You have many friends and you’re a diplomat

Franklin:
Oh, that word!

Adams:
Whereas if I’m the one to do it
They’ll run their quill pens through it

Others:
He’s obnoxious and disliked
Did you know that?

Livingston:
I hadn’t heard.

Adams:
So I say you should write it, Robert, you.

Livingston:
Not me, Johnny!

Adams:
Yes you, Robert Livingston, you!

Livingston:
But-

Adams:
You!

Livingston:
But-

Adams:
You!

Livingston:
But...
Mr. Adams, dear Mr. Adams
I’ve been presented with a new son by the noble stork
So I am going home to celebrate and pop the cork
With all the Livingstons together back in old New York

Others:
New York!
New York!
Livingston’s going to pop a cork!

Adams:
Well, Mr. Jefferson...

Jefferson:
Mr. Adams, leave me alone!

Adams:
Mr. Jefferson-

Jefferson:
Mr. Adams, I've not seen my wife in six months. I beg of you, Mr. Adams-

Adams:
"And we solemnly declare that these we shall employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die free men rather than to live slaves." Thomas Jefferson, On the Necessity of Taking Up Arms, 1775! Magnificent.

You write ten times better than any man in Congress. Including me. For a man of only thirty-three years, you possess a happy talent for composition and a remarkable felicity of expression. Now then, sir: Will you be a patriot... or a lover?

Jefferson:
(thinks it over) Lover.

Adams:
No!

Jefferson:
But I burn, Mr. A!

Adams:
So do I, Mr. J!

Jefferson:
You?

Livingston:
You do?

Franklin:
John!

Sherman:
Who'd have thought it?

Adams:
Mr. Jefferson, dear Mr. Jefferson
I’m only 41, I still have my virility
And I can romp through Cupid’s Grove with great agility
But life is more than sexual combustibility

Others:
Combustibility!
Combustibility!
Combustibili...

Jefferson:
Quiet!
Mr. Adams, damn you, Mr. Adams!
You’re obnoxious and disliked
That cannot be denied
Once again you stand between me and my lovely bride
Oh, Mr. Adams, you are driving me to homicide!

Others:
Homicide!
Homicide!
We may see murder yet!


Oh, my, look at that! Innuendo! Jefferson loves his wife! The scandal!

But if we can avoid choking on that possibility for a second, you'll see that there's actual information tucked in here. And, in fact, this is a reasonably faithful (if quite compressed) version of the actual debate over who would write the Declaration. Now, you could tell the students this story, but odds are it wouldn't sink in. But in this handy-dandy song format, you can be damned sure that it will. Sure, there will be a fair amount of sniggering over the parts about "sexual combustibility" and "homicide," young people being what they are. But when they're done laughing, I'll bet you they remember the story of the Declaration's creation a lot better from the movie than they would if they read it out of the history text.

I could cite other examples, but the central point is the same: The reason "1776" is such a good movie, and the reason it's a popular teaching tool, is that it makes the Founding Fathers human. We tend to approach those figures as icons, giants who once roamed the earth, distant and remote from our own experience. In fact, though, the Founding Fathers swore, drank, quarreled, and yes, lusted. They're people just like me, and perhaps even like you.

I feel particularly strongly about "1776" because it kindled my own interest in history. For a long time, I didn't enjoy studying history, largely because I felt it was a bunch of lifeless facts on a page, colorless artifacts from a long-dead time. I felt no connection. But "1776", in conjunction with some high-quality teachers, taught me that history is animated by people, people who think and feel and act, living breathing humans. Since my awakening, I've become a dedicated student of history, American history in particular. I'm sure I'm not the only student who's had this experience. Ban this movie and you deprive teachers of a great way to reach young minds. Do you want to run the risk of losing those students for the sake of sparing them this dread "innuendo"?

Let us not forget, after all, that middle school is a time for testing boundaries. Students that age love something that pushes the envelope a little. They're starting to experience feelings of rebellion, and they're most interested in material that is a bit rebellious. If you just keep feeding them pablum in the name of preserving their pristine souls, they'll just tune out. (And how ironic is it that you're banning a movie about freedom? Perish the thought.)

"1776" contains no sex, no violence, and no words fouler than "damn" or "hell." Prime-time television is worse than this movie. Frankly, I thought this kind of censorship was limited to traditionalist backwaters, getting their knickers in a bunch over "The Scarlet Letter" or "The Catcher in the Rye." I thought we were too broad-minded for this sort of silliness. I thought this was a smart school system. I guess I was wrong.

I hope and trust that you're being bombarded with angry missives from history teachers regarding this ban. If the teachers are as strong, independent-minded and dedicated to education as I remember from my own experience, I have no doubt that they'll fight this. Once again, they'll demonstrate a basic truth: the best school system is the one that triumphs over its bureaucracy.

Sincerely,
Mediocre Fred

Whew! That's enough for today. Excuse me while I go cool down. Fight the power! See you tomorrow. 
Monday, March 22, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "I Wish It Would Rain" by the Temptations

BOY, I'M REALLY ON A ROLL!

Hey there, everybody. Well, I warned you ahead of time that I'm a terrible pool picker, but this is a new low for me. Two rounds complete, and all of my Final Four teams have bitten the dust. All of them. Wisconsin lost a heartbreaker to Pitt, Kentucky got squeezed out by UAB(?!), Stanford got beat by Alabama(?!), and Mississippi State got whipped by Xavier(?!?). Now you know why I don't put money on these things any more.

Incidentally, you have to love the way the conventional wisdom switches on the fly, with a 1984-esque indifference for what was said two days ago. On Friday night, after 28 of 32 favorites advanced, the storyline centered around how the tournament was completely surprise-free. Now, a couple days later, no one is safe. That didn't take long, did it?

Casting about for something to write today, I located Rob Neyer's column about the financial future of the Oakland A's. Neyer argues that the A's model is effective enough to compensate for whatever financial disadvantages they suffer in their market. He makes a fairly convincing case that the A's are in pretty good shape, financially, in the short term. It's his next passage that gave me pause:

It's also worth mentioning that "keeping the players they want to keep" often isn't all it's cracked up to be. The Kansas City Royals have, over the last few years, lost two players they wanted to keep: Johnny Damon and Dye. But are either of the teams that currently have Damon and Dye happy about it? Hardly.

Typically, a good player reaches the majors when he's 22 or 23. You can pay him peanuts for three seasons, then you have to pay him good money for the next three (though if you're smart enough to identify real talent, you can often sign him to an extension covering those second three years and get yourself a bargain, which is what the A's did with their three aces). So finally the six years are up, and your player is 28 or 29.

And you know what? Most players aren't particularly good values once they hit their early 30s. And most teams with reasonably productive farm systems are better off letting high-priced players go after those first six years.


On a strictly economic basis, Neyer is correct. Over-30 players, relative to their statistical production, are likely to be overpaid, particularly compared to 22- or 23-year-old players with similar stats. And, as Neyer points out, teams with good farm systems probably have some young player who's roughly comparable to any over-30 player they might be jettisoning. (At least with hitters; it's less likely that a team will have a comparable young pitcher in its system, a caveat Neyer accepts.) So, if Neyer's right, why would any team (at least any team that's not super-rich) keep its players after age 30?

Well, there is the minor matter of the fans to consider. It may be inconvenient for statistical types like Neyer to consider, but fans actually do develop attachments to players. Most players with real potential tend to break out around age 25 or 26, and by the time that they're 28 or 29 (when Neyer counsels dumping them) they've been stars for two or three seasons, enough time for the fans to fall in love with them. If you let those players jump to richer teams at that point, you may maximize the value of your money, but you lose the faith of your fans. They'd like their team to make a commitment to its stars, and if the team won't, the fans will stop showing up.

If you asked Neyer, he'd probably suggest that fans care more about winning than keeping stars. And if you asked me if I'd rather see my Brewers make the playoffs this year with a bunch of guys I'd never heard of or lose 100 games with my old favorites, I imagine I would opt for winning. But the Brewers haven't been in the playoffs in over 20 years. Of coruse we're starved for winning. But once you've made winning a habit, as the A's have, might not the fans become somewhat fatigued with that? Look at Atlanta fans. They seem to regard a season without a World Series as a fair disappointment. Will it be the same for Oakland fans?

More to the point, why should a team have to choose between keeping its stars and winning? Why should winning with famous players be a privilege reserved to the Yankees and Braves of the world? I think that's the point Bud Selig should be making. As the A's and now the Twins are proving, it's possible to build a winner, even a consistent winner, on the cheap. But it comes at the cost of high turnover and limited tolerance for mistakes. Intelligence can trump money, yes, but money gives you a big advantage, bigger than is merited. Why should the Yankees have a five-fold (or more) financial advantage just because they happen to play in New York? Just because Selig and Company have overstated their case doesn't mean they're wholly wrong.

Forgive me if today's post is a little short and distracted. I'm just missing The Smart Lady, who's out of town for a while. I'm missing her an awful lot. But I'll try to shake it off and do better tomorrow. See you then! 
Friday, March 19, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "I Am the Walrus" by the Beatles

SO, HOW'S YOUR BRACKET DOING?

Good day again, all. Hope everyone made it through the day with picks intact. Actually, since the chalk prevailed in all but two of yesterday's game, you should be in pretty good shape unless you did something stupid (like, say, pick Vermont to upset UConn). To those of you who thought Michigan State was going to beat Nevada: I told you on Tuesday that the Spartans are way overrated. I may not know much about college basketball, but I do know the Big Ten. And for about 10 minutes in the first half last night, I thought I'd be able to announce myself as "the man who gave you Vermont." I figured I could coast for months on that. Such fantasies, of course, were the Catamounts' downfall. That and the fact that Emeka Okafor completely shut down Taylor Coppenrath. Oops. (In my defense, when I filled out my bracket Okafor still looked iffy for the first round. And if Okafor had been out, this would have been a different game. End of revisionist history.)

Having spent the entire week writing about the tournament, I'd like to change gears for a bit, if I may. The big non-tournament buzz in the Fedroplex today concerns John McCain, who defended John Kerry's record on national security yesterday. Republican loyalists are furious at McCain for straying from the script, as if McCain has ever stayed on any script. Notwithstanding McCain's penchant for doing his own thing, this must be distressing for GOP leaders, who were rolling right along with a neatly-orchestrated pummeling of Kerry's national-security bona fides before McCain opened his yapper.

So what's McCain thinking? Some have interpreted this as evidence that McCain is setting himself up to run on Kerry's ticket. But I don't think that's so. McCain has convincingly denied any such aspirations, and I can't imagine a man like McCain being happy in a largely ceremonial job like VP. (He said this himself yesterday; more on this below.) Besides, he implicated Kerry in the campaign's nasty tone too.

Is it possible McCain was just saying what he thought? He's never been shy to say what's on his mind just because he's thinking it. He had to have known, though, that the Republicans were going to pound him for what he said, and if he is (as reported) tired to being a whipping post, he probably wouldn't have brought this up now without a reason.

So what's he up to? I have three theories.

Theory #1: He's just standing up for his friend. McCain and Kerry have been close for a long time, and McCain has always been loyal to his friends, valuing friendship over partisanship. Combine that with Kerry's service in Vietnam, which McCain clearly respects, and you can see why McCain would refuse to pile on the attacks on Kerry. This is the official spin coming from the McCain camp, and it's plausible. But I think there's more to it.

Theory #2: He's reminding the Bush camp that they can't count on him to be a partisan parrot. Not sure why the Bush camp wouldn't be aware of this, but McCain's never been shy to assert his independence, and it's possible that McCain saw a party line forming and wanted to demonstrate that he won't play along. Given the Bush team's tendency to isolate non-supporters, though, I wonder why McCain would bother to pick this fight now. Unless...

Theory #3: He has grander aspirations. Let's look closely at what he said:

I don't think that [Kerry is weak on defense]. I think that John Kerry is a good and decent man. . . . I think he has different points of view on different issues, and he will have to explain his voting record. But this kind of rhetoric, I think, is not helpful in educating and helping the American people make a choice...

Both sides have been beating up on the other in the most negative campaign earlier than I've ever seen... I'd like to see it stop. I'd like to see a serious discussion about Medicare, Social Security, education, what we're going to do about the deficit and overspending...

I think we ought to have open and honest debates on those issues. I think the president has led this nation with clarity since September 11th. I'm supporting his reelection. But I would certainly hope that we could raise the level of this debate. Otherwise, we're going to have very low voter turnouts in November.

The vice president only has two duties. One is to break a tie vote in the Senate and the other is to inquire daily as to the health of the president. I prefer being in the Senate.


Now, he does say he's supporting the president's reelection, but that's standard. I don't think he could not say that without inviting the Bush team to disown him for good. But look at the rest of it... the implicit challenge to the Bush campaign strategy on defense, the allusion to key domestic issues, the rejection of the vice-presidential slot, the ciriticism of the campaign's tone, saying Kerry will have to "explain his voting record"... anyone else smell a third-party challenge in the works?

And really, wouldn't it be a perfect time? The coventional wisdom is that Bush is beatable, but that Kerry is not an exciting alternative. A third-party candidate who was strong on defense and offered a bold alternative on domestic issues, who has good name recognition and is well-regarded by independents and moderates, could thrive in this enviroment. It would be even better if it was someone whom the media already know and like. Doesn't this description fit McCain to a tee?

Watch McCain closely over the next month or so. If he pulls back from the stage or stops making comments of this type, then he probably was just standing up for his friend. But if he steps up his criticism of the campaign and of the candidates (particularly Bush)... well, then, make sure the Straight Talk Express is all gassed up.

Great column by Bill Simmons over at ESPN about the Bertuzzi incident and what it says about our culture. As I've mentioned before, Simmons has gone way downhill since he moved to LA and took up star-gazing, but this is worthy of his old days. When Simmons actually writes about sports, he's damn good. Take a look at this:

It's not like this changed my opinion of hockey or anything. Remember, under NHL rules (I think I have this correct) it's okay to punch somebody in the head repeatedly -- or at least until he loses consciousness -- just as long as you don't make any derogatory racial remarks in the process. Bludgeon your opponent into a coma, just don't hurt his feelings. So I wasn't surprised by what happened. To paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the business they've chosen.

I was more worried about myself. Why couldn't I stop watching? Is something wrong with me? This was like slowing down as I passed a car wreck, only this time I kept doubling back to the crash. Do I enjoy seeing hockey players maim each other? My stomach rumbles with disgust, but it's a lot like when I watch those strangely absorbing Autopsy shows on HBO. Most important, am I the only one? Did you flip the channel and say, "I can't watch this again," or did you keep staring at the TV waiting for more too?

Of course, you kept watching. That's why Bertuzzi's punch has lingered almost as long as Julio Franco has. But we're also being played here. Janet Jackson's boob comes flying out on Super Bowl Sunday, causes a national ruckus ... hey, guess who has a new CD coming out this spring! It's the formula these days. Leak a sex tape, get your own TV show. Seduce the prez, get your own line of purses. Make up stories for your newspaper, get a massive book deal. Eat cockroaches and cow intestines on TV, get your 15 minutes and a winner's check.

Welcome to Rubberneck Nation. We can't turn away, and both Hollywood and the media know it. Bertuzzi's punch headlined sportscasts and newspapers for a solid week, with every column and TV segment centering around the same exhausted themes: Isn't it despicable? How on earth could the NHL allow their players to do this? Doesn't this make you sick? Oh, and by the way, would you like to see it from another angle? (Absolutely! Hey, show me the one from the right side, when you can see the guy's head bounce! Where did I put my TiVo remote?)


Great stuff, and all dead on target. Why can't Simmons write more stuff like this? He used to put out quality work like this routinely. Either he's burned out, he has too much on his plate or he's stopped caring.

A little Simmons background: Before he signed on at Page 2, Simmons used to run his own site, the Boston Sports Guy, which was bankrolled by Digital City. It wasn't a blog (they didn't really exist then), although it had that fast-and-loose blog feel. It was a one-man sports-commentary site, and Simmons had the chops to pull it off. He had media experience, which explained why he could think and write in complete sentences and make cogent arguments unlike some bloggers today, but he clearly reveled in being outside the system. He wasn't beholden to anyone's party line, and he had no limits on what he could write about.

Eventually, he quit his site in a dispute over money with Digital City, and signed on at Page 2. Simmons fans like me were disppointed at the site shutting down, but happy to see that he would continue writing. He couldn't take potshots at media figures any more, but other than that it was essentially the same thing. He was writing less, but it was still sharp. It was all good.

Then he agreed to write for Jimmy Kimmel's show and moved to LA. Great life move for him, I have no doubt. I don't say he made the wrong choice, but it was right around then that he lost his way. He wrote less about sports and more about entertainment, which mirrored a similar (unhappy) trend in the writing at Page 2. And when he did write about sports, he seemed to be writing from the perspective of just-any-fan, as opposed to that of an intelligent commentator with a fan's perspective. His column describing his desire for a Patriots dynasty was a particular low point. He sounded nearly as insufferable and spoiled in victory as the Yankee fans he so despises. Enough people noticed this that Simmons had to write a second column pretending to weigh his reaction against that of a Yankee fan, and concluding that his avarice was okay because Yankees fans are jerks, and he would never be a jerk.

So what happened here? If Simmons has too much on his plate, I'm sympathetic; writing for a flailing TV show undoubtedly takes up a lot of time. I'd be supportive if he cut way back on his online columns as a result. (Which he has.) And if he's burned out, I'm very sympathetic; I feel burned out on this blog sometimes, and I've been at it a lot less time than he has. If he took a leave of absence due to burnout, I'd have nothing but sympathy and respect.

If he doesn't care, though, and he's just in it for the long green, then it's time for Page 2 to let him go. I'd hate to think it would come to this for him... during his old BSG days, he always seemed to care a great deal about what he wrote. He took a lot of trouble to get it right. If he's half-assing it now, it's time to hang it up.

This most recent column is an encouraging sign. If he'd completely given up on quality, he wouldn't have written this. The question is: is it a temporary blip, or is it a sign he's coming back? Time will tell.

I'd encourage Simmons, though, to take a look in the mirror. During the old BSG days, he took great pride and pleasure shredding guys like Dan Shaughnessy, whom he described as coasting on reputation. Is Simmons turning into Shaughnessy? I hope not. But I'd encourage him to think about it. One of the things I always liked about Simmons is that he was a tireless defender of standards, of being fresh and original and thoughtful in sports commentary. If he can't do that any more, then he should walk away. It's in keeping with the lessons he always preached. Given the choice, though, I'd rather see the old Simmons back. If this column is any indication, he still has the juice.

That's enough for this week. Back to the tournament! Have a great weekend! 
Thursday, March 18, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Stray Cat Strut" by the Stray Cats

EMERGENCY MEETING AT THE SPORTS BAR!

Good day, all! As you may have heard, the NCAA tournament tips off in earnest this afternoon. (Technically, it tipped off Tuesday with the Lehigh-Florida A&M game, but who counts that?) Sadly, I have actual work to do, but I would heartily encourage those of you with less pressing concerns to get yourself in front of a television post-haste. They say America's a workaholic culture, and in a lot of ways it is, but even us workaholics find a way to deliver a broad national wink to the scoreboard-gazing and work-shirking that occurs during this time of the year. And bully on us for it!

I first became aware of the concept of March Madness hooky in high school. Usual tourney-watching protocol involves sneaking off to a sports bar or clicking between the online scoreboard and a dummy spreadsheet, but at my high school we figured: Why not be blatant? Someone would fetch a TV from the library, install it in the senior lounge and turn on the tournament. Then we'd all gather around and watch. There must have been over a hundred people in there at times, watching, cheering, groaning, updating the big bracket (yes, we put a 10-foot-high bracket up in the lounge as well), trading jibes and feeling a good friendly vibe. No one pulled rank or had any of those silly high-school-clique pissing matches. We gathered for the tournament, and we were all brothers (and sisters) in arms.

Usually, after the first two rounds, the administration would eventually realize that at least 10% of the school was completely blowing off afternoon classes, and shut down the senior-lounge racket. Thus chastened, we would locate a tourney-friendly teacher (which wasn't hard, especially if someone's alma mater was playing), cart the TV into his or her room and resume watching. The administration invariably gave up at that point, realizing that they were outnumbered. (And mine was no school of slackers... we sent more students to Ivy League colleges than anyone else in the state. We worked hard when we worked, and played hard when we played.)

I have many fond memories of those tournament days. In '96 we were watching Princeton, holding a 13 seed, hang tough in its first round game. They weren't the prettiest team to watch, but they were hanging tough and looking good and we were all pulling hard for the Tigers (as I said before, many of us were Ivy-bound). Time was winding down, Princeton had a lead... and I had a class to get to. Couldn't blow it off, since we were going to review what was on the upcoming exam. Muttering curses to myself, I trudged off to the class and sat down. The teacher walked in and said, "Well, let's get right to the important business." He paused and smiled. "Princeton just beat UCLA." We all whooped it up. They did it! We got down to the review eventually, I guess, but who cared?

The next year, I was back in the lounge, this time comfortably able to blow off the class at hand. It was sometime in the second half, the game was close, the room was abuzz... and I spotted a biology teacher, walking through the lounge, stopping and frowning. Frowning with surprise and apparent disapproval. (He must have been new.) I did some quick figuring: his classroom was right next to the senior lounge, the noise would probably drown out his attempts to teach, and he'd probably complain to the administration. This could be bad. Better think quick. So I turned and shouted, "Kentucky's up by 4, Mr. Lampazzi!" He looked at me, smiled, nodded... and walked away. Crisis averted. My one shining moment, my chance to be a PTP. (That's "prime-time player," for those of you who don't speak Vitale.)

I was delighted to see that nothing had changed when I visited my school as an alumni a couple years back. I dropped in to see my writing teacher, Ms. Stegall, who allowed her students to watch the game before class. St. Bonaventure was playing, a 14 or 15 seed, and they were giving some overdog a hell of a game. Everyone was watching with the sort of rapt attention they never displayed during class.

The problem arose when St. Bonnie sunk a last-second bucket to force overtime. Unfortunately, overtime coincided with the start of class. So Ms. Stegall turned the TV off. Everyone moaned.

"Hey," one student said, "you can't do that!"
"It's my classroom," she said, "and I'm going to have class."
"But it's overtime!" the student replied.
"Believe it or not, this is a school, not a sports bar," Ms. Stegall said.
"This is crucial stuff!" another student blurted.
"Forget it," Ms. Stegall replied.
Finally, with admirable ingenuity, one student shouted, "I'll give you my firstborn child if you let us watch overtime!"
"What would I want with your lousy kid?" Ms. Stegall shot back. End of argument.

I could go on, but you're all drifting off to the scoreboard anyway. And I'm not one to resist. Go watch the games! See you tomorrow! 
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Rich Girl" by Hall and Oates

FLY ME TO SEDNA!

Hey there, everybody! I imagine most of you are still slogging through yesterday's incredibly long picks column. Forgive the length, but I'm sure you appreciate the in-depth analysis I provided, the kind you can only get from Mediocre Fred. (Raise your hand if you thought you'd ever read a picks column that involved Van Halen.) To give you time to catch up (and to give my typing fingers a rest), today's column will be on the short side.

In case you missed the reference in today's title, we have a new planet in the solar system! Woohoo! Break out the party hats! I've long felt that the current planet lineup was getting pretty stale, and Sedna is just what we need to revitalize the whole solar-system business. I was all set to throw a big Sedna blowout with all my friends when I read that Sedna is three times farther away from the sun than Pluto. And Pluto ain't exactly a weekend getaway. To me, calling Sedna part of our solar system is kind of like saying Cincinnati is part of the Washington metropolitan area. Notwithstanding my dampened enthusiasm, I'm sure Sedna's a perfectly nice planet that will seem very charming once I get to know it better.

So, does the discovery of Sedna mean that Pluto is off the hook? Some of you who stayed awake in astronomy class may know that there's been some controversy over whether Pluto is actually a planet, or if it's just an asteroid that wandered into the wrong orbit. As I recall, the controversy had to do with how far away it was and its weird orbit. But if Sedna's all the way out there, and we're counting that, isn't it time to cut Pluto a break? What say you, astronomers?

The Hubble space telescope is currently on its way out to pay Sedna a visit. Funny thing about Hubble. I remember when it was launched, and when they had to go up and make some fixes on it, everyone laughed at Hubble. Another silly government boondoggle, they said. They should give it dark glasses and a cane, they said. Now it's been over a decade, and Hubble's providing us with reams of valuable information that we couldn't get any other way. Moral of the story: Just because something takes more than a week and a half to work doesn't mean it's a failure. All you results-oriented short-termers out there, take note.

Three cheers to Virginia Governor Mark Warner for ordering a special session of the General Assembly to strike a deal on the budget. House Republicans figured they could get away with playing stall-ball for a couple weeks, slink back home and declare an impasse. Good for Warner for forcing everyone back to the table to reach a real solution. Everyone should understand now that the governor is serious, and he's a real player in the discussion.

Two quotes I saw in the linked article really captured the essence of things. One was from Senate Finance Committee chairman John Chichester: "We've done what we've done because we have listened to the people. They [House leaders] say no one has come with a torch and said, 'Raise my taxes.' Well, guess what? No one ever will." Exactly right. Of course no one's going to volunteer to have his or her taxes raised. The legislature needs to move beyond the simplistic and self-centered slogans that play so well in campaigns. The grown-ups need to take the wheel.

The second quote was from Professor A.E. Dick Howard, an observer to the debate: "A generation ago, Virginia was more parochial, and for conservatives, the question over taxes was a pragmatic one. Today, we have in the legislature people whose political instincts are driven by national politics, and the result is much more partisan." That's exactly the problem. Many of the leading figures in this debate are playing to the national grandstand, rahter than making realistic budget choices. Look at the looming presence of Grover Norquist. Is Norquist a legislator? No. Is Norquist a Virginia citizen? No. His role in this debate is to bully Republican legislators into toeing the national party line and rejecting all tax increases, no matter what violence it does to the budget. Grover, do us a favor and stay out of this. There's no proper place for you in this debate.

Swithcing to the national political stage, I see that Congressional Democrats are thinking of ending the ethics-investigation truce between the parties. After Newt Gingrich went down in 1997 (seen by some as Democratic revenge for the Gingrich-led removal of Speaker Jim Wright a decade earlier), both sides agreed to cool things down for a while. Now, I'm torn on the idea of lifting the ban. I'm a good-government type all the way, and I think any ethics violations should be investigated thoroughly. Also, I don't care for the buddy-buddy, back-scratching ambience that a truce carries. On the other hand, if you thought the partisan pissing matches over judges were unsightly to watch, wait and see what happens when we get the ethics-accusation food fight going. I can't wait to see what happens when party leaders are calling hourly press conferences to blast the ethics of the other side.

One worthwhile idea would be to take the ethical-investigation powers out of the hands of Congress. Put it in the hands of, say, a panel of retired judges. It's a lot harder to sit on ethical accusations when the investigative power is out of your hands.

On to football. You may have noticed that I've said nothing about the whole Terrell Owens nonsense. And I don't intend to. Here's hoping everyone involved gets what they deserve.

Finally, in yesterday's book-length treatment of the NCAA pool, I cut short my Princeton reveries by saying, "I'll spare you my mom's story about Princeton and Steny Hoyer." Now, 99% of you were probably grateful for my sparing you the story, but a couple of you may have been curious enough to wonder what the hell I was talking about. For those of you who were curious, here you go.

First off, a little background: Steny Hoyer is a long-time Maryland Congressman, currently serving as Minority Whip. If his name sounds familiar to non-locals, you may recall that he ran for Minority Leader against Nancy Pelosi a couple years back. Now, when my mom was in high school, she went on a trip to the Northeast. While on the trip, she bought a Princeton sweatshirt. Upon returning from the trip, she went to the mall with her sweatshirt on.

So into the mall she goes, and there's Steny Hoyer, who was campaigning for a seat in the State Senate at the time. Steny sees my mom and her sweatshirt, and comes toward her with a big grin on his face. "Hey," he shouted. "Do you go to Princeton? I went to Princeton too!" Mom mumbled something about just owning the shirt, and darted away from Steny as fast as she could. "I just liked the sweatshirt because I thought I looked good in orange and black," she told me.

So there's the story. Aren't you sorry you asked?

Enough for today. Something better tomorrow, I hope. See you then! 
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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