Mediocre Fred's Mediocre Blog
Monday, May 31, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Ready to Go" by Republica

YOU CALL THIS A KICKOFF TO SUMMER?

Hello again, everyone! So here we are on Memorial Day, the unofficial "start of summer," and here in the Fedroplex it's... raining. Ahh, fabulous. Where's my barbecue grill?

I have a couple of topics I want to tackle today: politics and footwear. Let's start with the politics. Loyal reader Frinklin of Frinklin Speaks had a comment on Thursday's post about John Warner and the GOP:

What worries me about my party, and the nation as a whole, is that the Republicans have moved steadily toward the scary religous right, and they get more popular as they go! I think some of this has to do with the disconnect between a very popular centrist president (Clinton) and the party in Congress, but still it scares me.

Frinklin, I sense a certain connection between us politically, even though we're on opposite sides of the aisle. You seem like a fundamentally reasonable person, and your heart seems to be in the right place. I applaud your commitment to fiscal discipline, and your fear of the religious right. We may quibble about approaches to various problems or about interpretations of individual events, but the divide between our politics is not unbridgeable. It's the kind of thing that gives me hope for the future.

Or would, if more people felt this way. Modern political discourse is all too dominated by name-calling and finger-pointing, rather than substantive discussions about solutions to the problems we face. \the key, is seems, is to demonize the other guy at any cost, convince the voters that the other side is not merely wrong, but dangerous.

The GOP's emnbrace of the religious right has, sadly, only furthered this trend. Religious fundamentalists, being what they are, tend to see the world in stark, black-and-white visions that are ill-suited to the reality of the world. Either you're on the side of God, or you are evil. I have little patience for this kind of thinking, and it's particularly inappropriate in democratic politics, which is all about compromise and settling for half a loaf. I don't much care for most of the policies propounded by the religious right, but I think the scariest part of their entrance into the political arena is their good-and-evil mindset.

And the most troubling part of George W. Bush's presidency is his willingness to buy into that, particularly when coupled with the war on terror. I have no problem calling Al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein evil. But there's a danger in governing on that basis. Once you've branded someone or some group as purely evil, it's a fairly short step to justify destroying that person or group by any means necessary. Once you've decided that the insurgents in Iraq are evil, how far will you go to stop them? Are the atrocities at Abu Ghraib suddenly justifiable?

When that particular right-wing meme emerged a couple weeks back, I wasn't surprised, but it still made me sick to my stomach. If torturing, humiliating, and killing prisoners is okay, on what basis does our claim to moral superiority rest? A lot of conservative pundits seem to scoff at that question and reply, "Well, of course we're morally superior, because we're the good guys." I'm not comfortable with the particular tautology, and I suspect a lot of other Americans aren't, either.

There's nothing wrong with having a religious belief, of course. And part of believing deeply in a religion is believing that your religion is the right one. Again, nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is when that religious sense of absolute certitude is wedded to the political power to enforce that belief. That particular marriage leads to historical episodes like the Inquisition. The specter of episodes like that is why responsible people so vigorously defend the separation of church and state. Politics and religion are a dangerous brew, and they're best kept in their own separate spheres.

So why has the GOP's embrace of the religious right made them popular? Well, I think part of it is that certain influential people who don't share my wariness about mixing church and state (Pat Robertson comes to mind) worked hard to make it happen. But how did it catch on with mainstream voters? Well, a lot of Americans think of themselves as Christian, whether they attend church regularly or not, and they have sort of a hazy positive association with all things "religious," meaning Judeo-Christian religious.

And a lot of things that the Christian right advocates sound good to people. Who doesn't want longer-lasting marriages, more intact families, less obscenity and profanity in the public square and a better and safer world for our children? It all sounds so nice, and if voting Republican will get you all that... well, hell, sign me up.

The problem, of course, is that it's a false promise. Promoting the religious right's political agenda isn't going to produce moral nirvana. Posting up the Ten Commandments in public places, mandating prayer in schools, and cajoling people on welfare into getting married won't restore the mythic Golden Age that we revere. Getting people to understand that is the key to diminishing the religious right's political power.

Unfortunately, the Democrats have fallen right into Pat Robertson's trap. Rather than pointing out the holes in his argument, too often Democrats have attacked people who want the things that the religous right wants. They attack people who want stronger families and intact marriages, people who are sick of listening to obscene song lyrics and television programs, people who think the country is in moral decline.

This is a stupid tack to take, since it puts you in direct opposition to the majority sentiment in the country. It's natural for people to want a more moral society, and calling them stupid, outdated or priggish for wanting it is ridiculous. It only make it easier for the opposition to demonize you as the party of dangerous libertines, and greases the skids for landslide defeats.

Lowell Weicker had the right idea on this. Weicker, a Republican senator from Connecticut in the '70s and '80s, led the fight against the religious right's agenda in Congress. Weicker himself was a religious man, and he never shied away from proclaiming the good that religion can do. But he pointed out that combining church and state worked to the detriment of both institutions. His outlook was that government and religion were each powerful in their respective spheres, and that they should be allowed to work in those separate spheres. But never the twain should meet.

It's possible to oppose the union of politics and religion without attacking religion. The Democratic party, however, does not appear to have mastered the trick. And it's their failure that has allowed the religious right to become so politically powerful. Those who find this troublesome, as Frinklin and I do, would do well to take a lesson from Weicker and determine a better course of opposition before it's too late.

Not only that, but Democrats and Republicans who see the value in bipartisan cooperation would do well to put down their cudgels and start thinking about ways to work together, before the political agenda is completely hijacked by the loudest, most disagreeable voices on both sides. Does this mean trying to form a centrist third party? No. Rather, I'm calling for a calmer, more rational dialogue between the parties. We can do it if we try. What say, folks?

That rant ran rather longer than I expected, so I'll make my second point brief. I hate flip-flops. Hank Stuever wrote an article about them in the Post this morning, and it reminded me just how sick I am at looking of the damned things.

Flip-flops have their place: the beach. That is the only place where they're appropriate. But in our modern society, of course, nothing's ever inappropriate anywhere, so we're treated to the appalling sight of flip-flops in all walks of life. It's just another irritating reminder that, culturally speaking, we are a bunch of slobs.

Especially here in the Fedroplex. People like to talk about what a dreary, stiff-necked city Washington is, and they may have a point. But our supposed stodginess doesn't prevent wide swaths of our young people from wearing flip-flops to work. This might be appropriate if we worked at, say, Trader Vic's, but no, the offending young people often hold down serious government jobs. I can scarcely believe my eyes.

I know, I know, people are tired of standing on ceremony, and they demand the "right" to be comfortable any time and any place. But really, people, flip-flops? Just awful. The flip-flop fad is just the latest in the line of fashion trends that are either ugly, embarrassing or both. And it's yet another sign that we, particularly the young, are determined that no one will ever take us seriously. Eventually, some member of my generation is going to be president. And frankly, that scares the daylights out of me.

Enough ranting. Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice will be back tomorrow. See you then! 
Friday, May 28, 2004
  BONUS UPDATE: RAUL MONDESI IS A FRAUD

This just in: Former Pirates outfielder Raul Mondesi, who quit and went home to the Dominican Republic because he had "family issues," has just signed a contract with the Anaheim Angels for $1.75 million. Mondesi had said he "feared for his family's safety". I guess they'll feel safer with him playing even farther from home, as long as it's for a pennant contender.

It's been a weird year for Mondesi, who's fighting off a lawsuit from fellow Dominican Mario Guerrero, who claims that he taught Mondesi everything he knows. (Whether this included teaching Mondesi how to sulk and quit on fly balls is not known.) But I smell a rat here. Maybe there's something going on that we don't know about, but it seems to me that Mondesi bailed on a team he thought wasn't going to win and hitched himself on with a contender. Sort of a "get out of jail free" card.

As far as I know, the Pirates have no recourse in this matter, since they waived him. But I think that if a player leaves his team in a situation like this, the team should be able to retain his rights without paying his contract. The Pirates should have been able to place him on some sort of inactive list (like the "reserve-retired" list in the NFL), so that if Mondesi decided to come back, he'd either have to play for the Pirates or get them to swing a deal. As it stands, the Pirates really got screwed here.

I hope the Angels lose 100 games this year. And I hope Mondesi dips below the Mendoza line and stays there. Crap like this makes me sick. 
  Today's Musical Selection: "Mr. President, Have Pity On the Working Man" by Randy Newman

PROUD TO BE A VIRGINIAN (FOR ONCE)

Hello there, all! Sorry again about yesterday... recovering from erratic sleep habits and battling a low-grade cold. It was a choicec between taking the day off or producing another embarrassing, lame effort like Wednesday. I opted to maintain what minial standards we have around here.

So what's caused my mysterious sudden upsurge in state pride? A pair of articles in the post, spotlighting quality Virginia politicians on both sides of the aisle: Democratic Governor Mark Warner and Republican Senator John Warner (no relation). Both men are a credit to my state.

I've said a fair bit in praise of Mark Warner during the whole budget battle, so let me just take a moment to congratulate him on becoming chair of the National Governors' Association. The budget win has given him the opportunity to remind everyone what an impressive victory he scored by securing the governor's chair in the first place. He's still considered a longshot to be John Kerry's running mate, but I'd ask Senator Kerry to give Governor Warner a good look. The governor's very likeable, and he's demonstrated an ability to speak to a wide range of people effectively and convincingly. He's able to connect with rural voters without making big-city elitists like me think of Gomer Pyle. And having shepherded the budget deal through, he's earned his governing stripes. What say you, Senator Kerry?

But the profile of John Warner is what I want to focus on today. I frequently bewail the archaic political culture of the Old Dominion, but every so often, the system produces someone special. Senator Warner is such a fellow. He represents the best of Old Virginia, and its political tradition.

What do I like about Senator Warner? Well, he's a gentleman's gentleman, an increasing rarity in a political world that produces impudent guttersnipes like Newt Gingrich and back-alley brawlers like Jim Moran. Virginia politics was once famous for producing courtly, mannered politicians, and Warner is one of the last of the breed. He's a fiscal conservative, but not an anti-tax zealot. (Witness his invaluable support of Governor Warner's tax plan this year.) He supports the military, but is not afraid to ask tough questions when necessary. Though he is a Republican, he's not afraid to vote against the party line, even on hot-button issues like guns and abortion. And best of all, he's willing to stand up to the far-right fringe of his own party, even if it gets him in trouble.

Recently, I saw that loyal reader Frinklin over at Frinklin Speaks praised John McCain, and said than McCain encapsulates why he (Frinklin) is a Republican. Well, if more Republicans were like McCain, a lot more of us would be Republicans. I admire McCain a great deal, and I endorse the linked quote attacking the tax-cut-and-spend policy. But the heart of the Republican Party is not with McCain. (Ask Jim Jeffords.)

My own ideological leanings are definitely left of center, but my personal inclinations is toward moderation. If the GOP were run by men like McCain, Warner and Warren Rudmann, I could happily find a seat there. Unfortunately, it's currently run by men like Trent Lott, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay and George W. Bush, and I could never support that bunch.

A couple anecdotes in the article highlighted what I like best about John Warner's approach to politics. The first is the way he has consistently refused to support right-wingers simply out of party loyalty. He voted against Robert Bork for the Supreme Court. He refused to back wing-nut Mike Farris for Virginia lieutenant governor in '93 (and Farris was one of the few Republicans to lose that year). And when Oliver North stood against Chuck Robb for the Senate in '94, Warner took action. He encouraged his friend Marshall Coleman to enter the race as an independent. Coleman didn't win, but he cost North enough votes to ensure Robb's re-election. Furious conservatives tried to deny Warner the GOP's nod for his own re-election two years later, but Warner outwitted them and secured the nomination without trouble.

Why was Warner so opposed to North? Primarily, it wasn't North's politics that bugged Warner, but his role in the Iran-Contra affair. Warner felt that North was a "rogue officer," and such a man could never win Warner's support.

Warner's loyalty to the military (he volunteered for service twice) makes his role in the current Abu Ghraib hearings all the more interesting. Some Republicans would just as soon Warner let the matter lie; it reflects badly on the military at a time of growing public uncertainty in Iraq and it has the potential to harm President Bush's re-election drive. But Warner doesn't care. He knows it's more important to get to the root of what happened.

Some might expect a military man not to want to put the military's mistkaes out on public display like this. But Warner understands that it's especially important for those who love the military to see to it that the problems at Abu Ghraib are exposed and corrected. The best way to respect the military is to demand that it fix its flaws, not to stand silently and salute and pretend there are no problems. A number of politicians (particularly those who never served) seem to feel that being "patriotic" means wrapping yourself in the flag and blindly praising the military and attacking those who expose its weaknesses. But Warner knows better.

Personally, I have a great deal of respect for the military. I never served myself, but my father and both my grandfathers did. I feel grateful to our soldiers for the work they do on our behalf. But, like Warner, my gratitude is of a responsible sort. The military I know and love doesn't condone atrocities like what went on at Abu Ghraib. Something went wrong somewhere along the line, and I want to know what it was. So I applaud Senator Warner for trying to figure out the truth.

Do I agree with John Warner about everything? Hardly. But I am proud that he's my senator, particularly at times like these. Memo to Karl Rove: If you really want to make Republicans the permanent majority party, they'd do well to follow the example of politicians like Warner, rather than battling him and his ilk and trying to drive them from the party.

How 'bout them Brewers! Another fine performance by Ben Sheets leads to a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers and a 24-21 record on the year. (It figures, of course, that the year I finally gave up on Sheets for my fantasy team, he puts it all together and becomes a great pitcher.) This is more positive energy than I've felt about the Brewers in a long time. I don't think it'll last, but I'm hoping we can hover around the .500 mark until at least midseason and wind up with maybe 75 wins or so. For me, that would be a great season. (And it says something about how far we've fallen that a season like that would be a victory.)

Finally, I want to tip my hat to the Frederick Keys for a nifty little promotion, Cicada Night. Here's what will be in store:

There will be an extra buzz around Harry Grove Stadium on Tuesday, June 1, when the Frederick Keys host the Salem Avalanche in a doubleheader that begins at 6:05 p.m. as the Keys celebrate Cicada Night. The Keys will give away a pair of earplugs to the first 600 fans that brave the elements and enter the gates that night. Also planned for the night:

-All 17-year-olds will receive a complimentary general admission ticket to the doubleheader when they show proof of age at the Keys’ ticket office the day of the game.
-Dr. Mike Raupp, cicada expert and professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, College Park, will be on hand.
-The “Cicada Maniacs,” a group of graduate students from the University of Maryland, will accompany the Carroll Independent Fuel Cicada Patrol.
-Dr. Raupp, his students and the Keys’ field emcee I.M. Fun will present an educational lesson on cicadas during the between-innings break.
-“Cicada Chef” will be on hand to provide fans with cicada snacks!


This is the greatest reaction to the whole Brood X business that I've seen yet. I love minor-league baseball. I really wish I could go to this.

That about wraps it up for me today. Have a great weekend! 
Thursday, May 27, 2004
  SORRY, FOLKS

Hello, everyone. I'm dead. Not literally, but it sure feels that way. I could use a good solid month of sleep, but seeing as how that's not in the offing, I'll settle for laying down and staying still for a while. However, my relaxation plans preclude blogging, so I'm taking the day off. See you tomorrow! 
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Twisting" by They Might Be Giants

WHO NEEDS A CONVENTION, ANYWAY?

Good day, all. I can't say I'm feeling particularly inspired today, so I'll take a shot at a much-talked-about idea that John Kerry is considering: delaying acceptance of the nomination until September. Why would he do this? Simple: Once he accepts the nomination, he'll be bound by the $75 million federal general-election spending limit, just like George W. Bush. But since the Republicans are having their convention in September and the Democrats are having theirs in July, Kerry will be on the spending clock over a month earlier than Bush, meaning that his $75 million won't go as far.

Roger Simon thinks Kerry's plan is stupid. I think it's smart. I'll quote Simon's criticisms and respond to them, point by point.

Let me count the ways this idea is too dumb:

1. If Kerry does not accept the nomination at his convention, how will he get anybody to watch it? The damn things are dull enough, but a convention without the presidential candidate accepting? Who would tune in to watch such a thing? And by giving up their audience, the Democrats will give up tons of free publicity.

And even among Democratic party stalwarts, how many will want to go to Boston in late July to experience traffic jams and security delays without the pay-off of an acceptance speech to boost their spirits and rally them for the fall campaign to come?

And where does this leave the vice presidential candidate? Does he or she also delay accepting the nomination? And give up one of the biggest viewing audiences he or she may ever get?


Does it really make that much difference if Kerry accepts or not? He can still come to the convention and he can still give a speech, he just can't formally accept the nomination. He can rally Democrats to the cause, he can deliver all the inspiration he wants, he just can't say "I accept the nomination." I don't think the convention would be substantatively different at all. It would just highlight what an absurd anachronism conventions have become.

As for the VP candidate, I don't know whether he or she would also have to delay acceptance, but just like Kerry, he or she is free to speak and take advantage of the public audience. I think Simon's hung up excessively on one minor point.

2. According to one expert, Kerry can expect a 14-point bounce in the polls following his convention. If that sounds too high remember that Michael Dukakis left his convention in 1988 some 17 percentage points ahead of George H.W. Bush (and then Dukakis squandered that lead by going back to Boston and playing governor, the only job he ever really wanted.)

In other words, by refusing to accept the nomination, Kerry risks giving up a huge poll bounce and all the psychological advantages that go with it.


Again, if the convention still goes on and Kerry still speaks at it, how would this affect the bounce? Why would voters be offended by his formally delaying the nomination? I doubt they'll notice, or care.

The only way Kerry doesn't get his usual bounce is if the media refuse to cover the convention. And much as they might like to, they'll still be there. Otherwise, they risk looking bad if the competition covers it.

Besides, if the convention is so crucial, how come Bill Clinton went out of his way to diminish its importance in 1996? The Clinton campaign took the media on a train trip through the eastern U.S. that went on while the convention was happening. Essentially, Clinton wanted to make news on the train, to minimize the impact of the convention itself. So if convention coverage is so crucial, why did the Clinton campaign seek to make the convention irrelevant?

(And where did I learn about Clinton's train gambit? From the book "Show Time", by Roger Simon. The same Roger Simon. Didn't he read his own book?)

3. And what does Kerry get in return? He gets to spend millions of more dollars on TV commercials…in August. August! Watch a lot of political commercials in August do you? In fact, let me ask a more basic question: Do you ever watch political commercials?

Campaign gurus believe in TV commercials even more than they believe in their own candidates for two reasons: First, commercials are totally controllable. When candidates are left to their own devices and give speeches, hold town hall meetings, conduct press conferences or engage in debates, anything can happen.

But you can control each frame of a commercial. You choose the words, the pictures, the music, the background, the mood, etc. Why risk having the candidate go out and screw things up, when you can just run several million dollars worth of ads that are perfectly honed to your specific (and usually very dull) message?

Second, and this is even less pleasant, a variety of people on campaigns make their money from the commercial ad buys. They get a percentage of the money that is spent on putting the commercials on the air and this can mean millions of dollars for them. This is a bad system, which encourages the over-buying of ads, few of which are ever really watched by actual human beings.


I agree that the system encourages over-buying of ads. But campaign gurus wouldn't believe in ads if they didn't work. If no one watches campaign commercials in August, surely they don't watch them now. And yet both sides are spending money on ads. Why would either side waste the money if they have no effect?

By this theory, Kerry would do just as well to accept the nomination in July and just air no ads at all until September. But if he did that, the talking heads (maybe even Simon) would attack Kerry for being passive and not wanting the job enough. Kerry's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

4. If Kerry does not give his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, how will he get anybody to watch him when he does give it? There are only two moments before Election Day when large numbers of people actually focus on the presidential campaign: the conventions and the debates.

I don’t care if Kerry gives his acceptance speech naked in the middle of Fenway Park in September, he will never get the audience he would have gotten at the convention in July.

The Kerry campaign wizards tried to get cute once before: They had Kerry make his presidential announcement speech in South Carolina (pretty far from his home state of Massachusetts) in front of an aircraft carrier. Kerry went on to lose South Carolina - - one of the few primary states he did lose - - by 15 percentage points.


The South Carolina anecdote is a perfect example of the correlation-causation fallacy (Kerry didn't lose the state because of his announcement there). But tell you what, Roger... I'll grant you this point if you promise never to make me think about Kerry giving a speech naked in Fenway Park again.

5. In talking to many voters over the last year, I have never heard a single one say they wanted more political maneuvering from the candidates. I have heard many say they wanted to hear a little inspiration.


I'll grant Simon this point. But Kerry didn't design this silly system that gives an unfair advantage to the party that waits until the last possible moment to have its convention. Since we're talking about political maneuvering.

And that's all I have to say about that. Not much, but it's something.

Very interesting post over at Al's Ramblings in defense of Commissioner Selig. Definitely worth a read. Al's the best Brewer blogger out there, and he mounts a strong defense of Bud's legacy. And, as it happens, I agree with him.

It's fashionable to bash Selig, and there's ample room for criticism. The commissioner's legacy is hardly spotless. But on balance, I think he's done more right than wrong. Wild cards are good for the sport. The unbalanced schedule is good for the sport. So is interleague play. And the 2002 labor settlement was the first time in decades that baseball's players and owners had signed a collective bargaining agreement without a strike or lockout.

I think Selig tends to get a bad rap because he leaves a poor public impression. He's a sloppy dresser with a bad haircut, his speeches are halting and rambling, and his favorite answer is "It's hard to give a definitive answer to that." He's easily the least impressive-seeming of the current crop of commissioners. Also, his real genius seems to be in organizing consensus behind the scenes, and people like that never get the credit they deserve, at least not until years later. I'll bet that long after Selig has left the commissioner's office, we'll start hearing the stories about how Selig made things happen when the lights are low.

Now, part of being commissioner in the modern age is being the game's public face, and Selig is not great at that. But when it comes to getting things accomplished, Selig is strong. I think history will treat him much more kindly than modern critics do.

That's all for today. Something better tomorrow, hopefully! 
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Hit That" by Offspring

TALKIN' HOCKEY, PART II

Hello, everyone! Today we continue our overview of the struggling NHL through the prism of the Western Conference champion, the Calgary Flames. Currently, the Flames are the hobby-horse of old-time hockey fans (like me) who simply could not abide the thought of the Stanley Cup being hoisted in Florida. We old-time fans figure, not unreasonably, that hockey is Canada's sport, and since Calgary is a Canadian team, it would be right and proper for them to capture the title. Traditional hockey fans root for traditional teams like Calgary, right?

There's one itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny little detail missing here: There's nothing particularly traditional about the Flames. The Flames' history offers us a window into the first time the NHL went crazy, back in the '60s and '70s. Let's hop into the wayback machine, shall we?

Back in 1967, the NHL was a very, very different league. It consisted of six teams. Not only that, it had consisted of the same six teams since 1942 (Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York Rangers, Toronto). It was a true connoisseur's league, with the action confined to a very small portion of the country. For hard-core old-time hockey fans, the era of the Original Six is the Garden of Eden: a state of grace to which we can never return.

And then things went crazy. Between 1967 and 1974, the NHL expanded from 6 to 18(!) teams. That's right, it tripled in size. What's more, beginning in 1972 the rival World Hockey Association got into the mix, providing the world with a smorgasbord of hockey. What caused the explosion in the number of franchises?

It was, am I'm sure you've guessed, the almighty dollar. The NHL wanted to broaden its profile, stake its claim as a major sport, make itself attractive to (yes) television. What followed was chaos, pure and simple.

The NHL's first bold move was to double in size in 1967, going from 6 to 12 teams. The expansion yielded four cities with a solid record of support for their teams (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Minnesota) and two California teams (Los Angeles and Oakland) which made no sense, but are semi-excusable in the long view. Expanding or moving to California in those days was The Thing To Do. It proved you were a big-time league. But the California move set the stage for what was to come.

In a curious move, the NHL lumped the Original Six into the "East" division and the six expansion clubs into the "West" division. On the one hand, this preserved the Original Six rivalries, which was smart. On the other hand, it must have been a travel nightmare for the "Western" teams, and it guaranteed that one new franchise, no matter how poor, would play for the Stanley Cup. Old-time fans, I'm sure, cringed.

1970 brought a puzzling new alignment. Buffalo and Vancouver were added (solid choices both), and Buffalo was logically added to the East. Chicago, also logically, was kicked to the West, to make room for... Vancouver! Mind you, Vancouver is located on the Pacific Coast. Presumably there was logic to this, but I haven't been able to discern it. (Incredibly, Vancouver remained in the East until 1974.)

Our next stop is 1972. Remember the WHA? They were just getting started at this point, and planned to place franchises in Miami and Long Island. The NHL decided (not unreasonably) to try to squelch the WHA threat. They did this by (very unreasonably) awading quickie expansion franchises to Long Island and Atlanta. Note well that neither area had been clamoring for an NHL expansion team. In an era of market analysis and financial impact studies and demographic figures to make your eyes burn, it's somewhat refreshing to think about the good old days, when expansion franchises were awarded more casually:

"Mr. Commissioner, the WHA is going into Long Island and Miami!"
"Ah, Christ, what do we do? Quick, get Atlanta on the phone. Hello, Atlanta? How'd you like a pro hockey franchise? (pause) Ice hockey. Guys on skates who whack a puck with a stick. (pause) No, not curling. ICE HOCKEY! (pause) Well, think it over and call me back in ten minutes. I've got Birmingham on the other line."

Now, about that Atlanta franchise... it played in the Omni, and it was called the Flames. Yes, the team was named in honor of the worst calamity in the city's history. And yes, that's the same team that is now the pride and joy of all us old-time hockey fans. We're all rooting for a team that was transplanted from Atlanta.

I'll pause so that you can recover from the shock.

Suffice to say, Atlanta did not prove to be a hockey town. Attendance was adequate for a couple novelty years, but the honeymoon ended in a hurry. Despie making the playoffs every year from 1976 to 1980, attendance fell from 12,259 to 10,024. Time to go. (Notwithstanding the revisionist wishful thinking on display here.)

But where? A group of businessmen in Calgary purchased the Flames and took them north of the border. It made some sense... Calgary was a smallish town on the Alberta prairie, but it would be a good rival for WHA refugee Edmonton. Calgary lacked a decent arena (the Flames played at the Corral, which seated less than 7500 people), but the fans had heart. They packed the Corral, and when the Flames finally got a decent facility (the Saddledome), they packed that too. It was a good old-fashioned love affair between town and team.

Of course, love affairs like these happen when you win, and in those days the Flames won a lot. They made the playoffs every year they were in Calgary until 1992, won division championships in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994 and 1995, went to the Cup finals in '86 and '89. The Flames are the first team I can remember winning the Cup, and I've felt warmly about them ever since.

Yes, times were great in Calgary... until the winning stopped. The Flames made the playoffs in '96, and then didn't make them again until this year. And the attendance... well, it reflected that:

1995-96: 18,000 (7th in league)
1996-97: 17,089 (9th)
1997-98: 16,847 (11th)
1998-99: 16,202 (18th)
1999-00: 15,322 (rank N/A)
2000-01: 16,622 (15th)
2001-02: 15,718 (21st)
2002-03: 16,239 (17th)
2003-04: 16,579 (16th)

In fairness to the Flames, there were a couple other factors at work. The 1994-95 strike hit the smaller markets (including Calgary) pretty hard. And the plunging value of the Canadian dollar crippled the Flames and other Canadian teams, since they were taking in revenues in Canadian money and paying out salaries in American money.

The fall, though, was stunning and quick. For much of the '80s and early '90s, the Flames were a model franchise. Falling attendance and economic issues in the mid-to-late '90s left the team reeling. Loud whispers around the NHL had the Flames leaving Canada as part of a mass southern exodus (every Canadian team but Montreal and Toronto was reportedly in dire straits). Winnipeg and Quebec had already succumbed, and the Oilers were very close to moving to Houston. Had the Oilers left, the Flames would have been all alone on the western prairie. Very likely, they would have joined the wagon train to America.

The Oilers stayed, though, and so did the Flames. And slowly but surely, Calgary began building its team back. They retained their young star, Jarome Iginla, and built a scrappy, hustling team to surround him. They tinkered with a very bad jersey design (now relegated to a shoulder patch, thankfully). The Canadian dollar recovered a bit, and the NHL provided some supplementary cash to keep the Canadian teams afloat.

And the Flames have sprung a magical playoff run this year. Slipping into the playoffs as a sixth seed, the Flames wiped out longtime nemesis (and noted playoff chokers) Vancouver in the first round. In the second round, they sprung a stunning upset over the mighty Red Wings. The third round produced that wacky, ferocious, fluky series win over San Jose. And now the Flames, having laid out the top three teams in the West, stand ready to take on Tampa Bay for all the marbles.

The Lightning figure to have the edge on talent. But the Flames have already shown they don't know from talent. Whatever the result, it figures to be an exciting series. If the NHL is on the verge of a long, brutal hiatus, at least it's going out with a bang.

In fairness to Tampa, I wish to point out that they have at least one rooter out there. It's safe to say, though, that the majority of hockey hearts are with the Flames. Including mine.

Loyal reader Frinklin of Frinklin Speaks is on the tenterhooks of a dilemma:

I'm really torn about this Stanley Cup. I shouldn't be, seeings as I fancy myself an old-school hockey fan. I should be rooting for the gritty (and of course gutty) Canadian team. I really want to.

But DAMN the Lighting can be fun to watch. How the hell did the Flames ever lose Martin St. Louis?


More on St. Louis from the Big Fool himself, Carl:

As a Flyers (and Caps) fan, and a secret Canadian at heart, I am obligated to root for the Flames. But the Ning are a very good team. Martin St. Louis is the Lenny Dykstra of hockey.

St. Louis is definitely a treat to watch, and a helluva player. He stands all of 5'9", weighs a mere 181, and moves like the wind. He won the scoring title this year. And yes, he used to play for Calgary.

How did the Flames ever let him go? I'm with Frinklin in wondering about this. Sure, he's small, but so was Theo Fleury, and he had a number of great years with the Flames. It's not as though Calgary's biased against small players.

I suspect it was the same old story: St. Louis came up out of nowhere, undrafted, and he was buried on the fourth line of a struggling team that wasn't playing to his best strengths (can you believe the Flames tried to make a checker out of him?). St. Louis' gifts are obvious only in a team with a wide-open skating and scoring attack, which the Flames didn't have, and the Lightning do.

It would have been great if the Flames still had St. Louis, but I'm not sure he'd ever have reached his potential if he hadn't gone to Tampa (a team desperate enough to let him do what he wanted). And the rest, as they say, is history.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow, everyone! 
Monday, May 24, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Dirty Little Religion" by Warren Zevon

TALKIN' HOCKEY

Hello, everyone! Hope you had a fine weekend. Mine went well enough. Today I'd like to pay a visit to the NHL, on the eve of the Stanley Cup opener between Calgary and Tampa Bay. Personally, I'm pulling like hell for the Flames, but that's not my primary point. I wanted to point out that the Calgary vs. Tampa Bay matchup is a perfect microcosm of what the league's become, on the eve of a labor showdown that may wipe out a season or two.

David Halberstam once wrote a book called "The Breaks of the Game", which followed the Portland Trail Blazers through the 1979-80 season. This may seem a somewhat odd subject for a book, but upon reading the book, the choice makes sense: the Blazers were a recent NBA champion struggling to hold together and trying to adjust to life without their beloved but fragile superstar, Bill Walton. Through the lens of the struggling Blazer team, Halberstam produces a magnificent study of a league in crisis. These were the dark days of the NBA, when the Finals were shown on tape delay and the league was suffering the doldrums of overexpansion and greed. What was true of the NBA then is true of the NHL now, as the histories of these two franchises demonstrate.

The Tampa Bay Lightning came into existence in 1992, as part of Commissioner Gary Bettman's master plan. Bettman took charge of a 21-team league concentrated almost exclusively in Canada and the northeastern US (not coincidentally the regions where hockey is popular). The league filled its niche well, and it was a fairly stable (if small-time) operation. Bettman envisioned a league with the prestige and marketability of the other major sports (baseball, football and basketball). If the NHL could put itself on a par with those leagues, there would be a bonanza of riches awaiting everyone, or so the theory went.

In order to make the NHL a "big-time" league, however, certain changes had to be made. First and foremost among those was the spread of cities. By and large, at that point the NHL's teams were in the cities they were in due to attendance factors. Teams played where they were wanted, where there were loyal hockey fans. This was fine for the league, but bad for television. No American network would give a big national contract to a league whose teams were clustered in one region of the country. If the NHL wanted to run with the big dogs, it had to go national.

So, with Bettman leading the charge, the NHL expanded or relocated into noted hockey hotbeds like San Jose, Tampa, Miami, Dallas, Phoenix, Raleigh, and Atlanta. None of these cities had a hockey tradition. None of them gave any particular indication that they were hockey-inclined. What they did offere was large populations with plenty of TV households and a bit of disposable income. In these cities, the NHL wasn't selling hockey as hockey; they were selling it as an entertainment option, like "Friends" or topless bars.

So, if the NHL was moving toward demographically desirable cities with no hockey pedigree, who was losing out? You guessed it: hockey-mad cities with bad demographics. Say goodbye to Quebec, Winnipeg, Hartford, and Minneapolis (later re-occupied). The NHL sent the message to its diehard fans: We don't care about you. You're not our market. We want the guy with the NASCAR wife-beater on who might tune in hockey a couple times a month if he's bored. Buy your merchandise and go home.

So how did the Lightning do? Fine, while the novelty lasted. The team played in the cavernous Thunderdome (where the Devil Rays now play) before moving into a proper arena, the Ice Forum. Take a look at these attendance figures and tell me how you like the trend line:

1993-94: 19,549
1994-95: 19,941
1995-96: 18,888
1996-97: 17,419
1997-98: 13,868
1998-99: 11,511

Pretty ugly, no? Well, a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion: The Lightning started to pick up some good players. With good players came marginally improved play. And with improved play came... improved attendance. (Funny how that works out.) Observe (and this time I'll put the league attendancec rank in parentheses, so the figures have more meaning):

2000-01: 14,906 (24th in league)
2001-02: 15,722 (20th)
2002-03: 16,545 (16th)
2003-04: 17,820 (12th)

Which just goes to show what winning can do for a franchise. It is perhaps a touch embarrassing that the team with the league's second-best record finished 12th in attendance, but there you have it.

The wave of expansion led by the Lightning has done incalculable damage to the league. The league now consists of a bloated 30 teams, at least a third of which are in hockey-clueless markets. The broadcast contracts came in, for a while. But (surprise!) salary increases outstripped revenue increases, and now a number of teams find themselves in worse financial shape than they were before the "boom". The owners' desperate attempts to find a way to rein in spending has lit the fuse on the labor-strife dynamite, which is now threatening to blow the league apart. And old-time hockey fans everywhere are ready to blow chunks at the thought of a team from Florida skating off with the Stanley Cup. Bleargh.

What a blunder by the NHL, no? What folly to make a grab for the national stage. Ah, the perils of overreaching. Too bad they didn't have any way to know what a bad idea it was to expand into markets where they don't belong, just to raise the national profile a bit.

Except that they did. The folly of the '90s truly was a case of history repeating itself. That part of the NHL's history will be uncovered when we look at the history of the Calgary Flames tomorrow.

Is there anything better than random fireworks? I was driving home last night about 10 PM, and off to the southwest (Manassas, perhaps) I saw a fireworks show in progress! That unexpected treat made the trip home a good deal more pleasant. Consider this a call for more fireworks.

Finally, the world needs to know something I saw this weekend. It was a sign spotted in Berryville, Virginia. Papa Shaft was a witness to this joyous occasion. We were out for a scenic drive, and unremarkable Berryville was starting to recede from view when I caught sight of a banner reading "HASH AUCTION CENTER". After a quick double-take, I alerted Papa, and we shared a good, hyena-esque laugh. "One thing you have to say about the country," said Papa, "they're much more honest and forthright. No beating around the bush. They say what they mean." This was right up there with the Bong Recreation Area in our pantheon of roadside signs.

And that's all for today. See you tomorrow! 
Friday, May 21, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest

ANOTHER WEEK DRAWS TO A CLOSE

Hi, everybody! We have some random nonsense to get to today, as per usual. Let's start with something thoughtful, a comment from loyal reader Tripp concerning Monday's post on cicadas and fear:

I'm with you on the fear thing. In the early 90s I spent about a year in the south of England, and took some weekend trips into London. One night upon my return from London I learned that there had been an IRA bombing at a pub in London that very day I had been there!

It spooked me, but the thing was I hadn't even been anywhere near where the bomb went off. Even if I had been near it, there was nothing I could have done. I thought about not returning to London.

Not to trivialize 9/11, but I think it was like that London bombing to a lot of Americans. It was the first time they realized something BAD could happen to them, personally.

There are many responses to this fear, but I think the best response is to carry on. We don't need to be stupid, but we don't need to overly timid, either.

When I was young I was fearless, even though I had my whole life ahead of me. Well, now I've had a pretty good run. I've been blessed in many ways. So when my time comes it will be okay.

I've seen my parents lose a child, my sister. I've seen a relative paralyzed by a stroke and now confined to a wheelchair. His wife inserts his catheter for urination every day.

There are worse things than death.


I think he's right about 9/11... before that, Americans had the old illusion of invulnerability brought on by our size, strength, and geographic isolation. Think of it... during the major wars of the 20th century, the only time there was a major war-related attack on American soil was Pearl Harbor. There was some fear during the Cold War (ICBMs and so forth), but there was never any nuclear war and once communism fell, we had the sense that, as the world's only remaining superpower, we were safe.

Sure, there was occasional violence and destruction, but most of the talked-about attacks were fairly small-scale and attributable to isolated cranks. (Think about the World Trade Center bombing in '93, which was an actual terrorist attack. Think about how relatively minor and casual a response we had.) 9/11 was the first time that a major, coordinated attack on America happened since Pearl Harbor, and it shattered all our illusions. We suddenly knew what residents of other cuntries had known for a long time... that the world is a fundamentally unsafe place.

So what do we do with this knowledge? Work to make the world safer, obviously. But what do we do about the danger we can't control? Do we live in constant fear of it, or do we accept it as given and carry on?

I'm definitely a member of the carry-on camp, as I said Monday. No amount of worrying is going to make the danger go away. And oncec you've passed the point of reasonable concern and precaution into abject worry and fear, it diminishes your quality of life. At some point, you've got to grab the enjoyment that you can and live with the danger.

My ankle injury represents my attitude here. If you'd told me that, on that particular play at the net, I'd tear up my ankle if I jumped, I wouldn't have jumped. If you'd told me that if I went to play volleyball that day I'd end up with a sprained ankle, I might not have gone. But if you told me that if I played sports all-out as I do that I'd eventually sprain my ankle, there's no way I'd stop. The only way I can play sports is all-out. If I'm not pushing myself to the limit, I'm not having fun. I know that if I play this way, I'm going to hurt myself. I accept that, because playing hard and getting hurt beats being careful or not playing at all.

I feel the same way about death. If you could tell me, with absolute certainty, that I'd die if I got in the car tomorrow, I'd stay out of the car. But if you told me that if I drove at all, eventually I'd die in a car wreck, I'd keep driving. Some people left Washington and New York after 9/11 because of the fear. I can't and wouldn't do that. I refuse to live in fear.

Is my attitude foolhardy? Maybe, but I don't think so, because we don't know how we're going to die. Maybe I'll get hit by a bus tomorrow. Maybe I'll develop terminal cancer. Maybe a terrorist will fly a plane into my building. I don't know. So I'm just going to keep living and see what happens.

In other news, Cubs pitcher Mark Prior had a successful outing in his first rehab start in Class-A Lansing. Prior should have known this was coming, since he is the ace for my fantasy team this year. My fantasy league is the Bermuda Triangle of baseball. Every year, I have key players -- in many cases players with no history of injuries -- go down for long and inconvenient stretches. Those that don't get hurt enter inexplicable deep slumps the minute they sign on with me. I'm surprised that none of my players has refused to report yet. They just don't understand my black-magic powers. Next year, I'm loading up my team with Yankees. May as well get some benefit out of my misery.

Incidentally, look at the picture in that article. That's Prior in a Lansing Lugnuts uniform. Ridiculous, isn't it? Of course, Prior's young, but imagine if an established player like, say, Sammy Sosa had to wear that for a rehab start. Minor-league uniforms these days are so cartoony and embarrassing that I think established players on injury rehab should be allowed to wear their major-league garb while they're stuck in the bushes. I mean, if I were Prior, I'd pay money to keep that stupid picture out of the paper.

Interesting column by Charles Krauthammer today that deserves a look. Krauthammer makes a smart argument with a couple debatable conclusions. Let's start with the intro:

In the mid-1970s, the twilight of America's oil innocence, the average new American car was a monster weighing 4,000 pounds. The oil shocks induced belated rationality into American oil habits. By 1981 the average car was down to 3,202 pounds.

By the mid-'80s, rational consumer reaction to high prices -- home insulation, fuel-efficient appliances and lighter cars -- had actually solved the energy crisis. We had OPEC on the run. In July 1986 oil plunged to $7 a barrel.

It is now $41 a barrel. We had a golden moment, and we let it pass. The way to lock in our gains then would have been to artificially raise the price of gasoline with a tax that would depress consumption, maintain consumer demand for fuel efficiency and, most important, direct much of the pump price into the U.S. economy (via the U.S. Treasury) rather than having it shipped to Saudi Arabia, Russia and other sundry, less than friendly places.

Nothing, of course, was done. It was morning in America, and no politician ever got elected running on higher gasoline taxes. Americans got used to low oil prices again. Consumers once again acted rationally: The average car is now back up to 4,000 pounds.

Pump prices have once again soared. Surprise.


Krauthammer is absolutely right on the basic economics. If we want to get serious about reducing oil consumption, some sort of artificial price hike (such as a tax) is the most natural way to encourage purchase of more fuel-efficient cars. When gas is cheap, naturally people will buy bigger cars. It's purely rational from an economic standpoint.

And if we hadn't bought gas-guzzlers then (when gas was cheap), the price of oil wouldn't be so high now. Lower demand equals lower prices. Krauthammer's got it exactly right so far.

I also give him credit for being willing to use a tax increase for this. Right-wingers like Krauthammer tend to turn green at the very whisper of the word "taxes", so bully on him for seeing the value in them here.

He then takes a couple whacks at Democrats for cynically pandering to public resentment of gas-price hikes. This is no surprise from Krauthammer, and it's also no surprise that he fails to point out that the cynical pandering on the issue is hardly confined to one side of the aisle. But never mind that. (He's definitely right to bash Kerry's call to stoop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is indeed foolish.)

Krauthammer outlines the nature of the price hike reasonably well (though he omits one big factor, as we'll see):

Why are gas prices up? Well -- surprise again -- demand is up and supply is down.

First, China's enormous economic growth is raising demand -- and prices -- for all kinds of commodities from steel to cement to oil. Until the late 1990s, China was a net energy exporter. Its newly developed appetites will now be putting pressure on energy prices for decades.

Second, the low oil prices of the '80s and '90s gave us an epidemic of gas-guzzling tanks on wheels. Americans have every right to shop for groceries in vehicles built for hunting elephants, but then they should stop whining about the inevitable oil price crunch that follows. Especially when they drive their SUVs to environmental rallies to prohibit drilling in the largest untapped oilfield in North America because of an exquisite sensitivity for the mating habits of Arctic caribou.

There is no free lunch. As demand has risen, U.S. oil production has declined -- down 25 percent since 1985. Americans have every right to an eco-sensitivity that prevents drilling offshore, on federal lands or in the Arctic. But they should not be surprised when they end up dependent on -- and paying through the nose to -- Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iraq.


That's right, America, other country's consumption habits affect our oil prices too. We're paying in part for China's economic expansion. And yes, those SUVs are definitely hiking our demand for oil.

The problem, of course, is that our demand in automobiles trails the gas-price fluctuations a fair bit. Let's say that, tomorrow, the pricee of gas plunged to 50 cents a gallon. Presumably, a lot of people would go ahead and buy more SUVs. But if the price of gas shoots up to 5 bucks a gallon next year, we'll be stuck with those big tanks we bought. We can't reasonably buy new cars every time the price of oil soars or plunges. That's why some form of artificial price stability helps: If gas is always expensive, people will always be more reluctant to go buy those enormous SUVs that drive consumption up.

Missing in Krauthammer's analysis, oddly enough, is the war on Iraq. And yes, Charles, it does matter. Our occupation, at least so far, has destabilized the situation in the Middle East. Destabilization makes OPEC nervous. And nervousness drives up oil prices. A more even-handed analysis would mention this, although in fairness to Krauthammer, it's somewhat beside his point, which is that our consumption habits and drilling restrictions are causing the problem. (Destabilization of the Middle East also doesn't quite fit neatly into the supply-and-demand framework that Krauthammer employs, but consider this: A lack of stability is a potential threat to future oil supplies, which is why it drives prices up.)

The solution? Let's turn it back over to Krauthammer.

The fact is that for two decades neither party has distinguished itself on the issue of oil blackmail and price vulnerability. There is an obvious solution: Tax and drill. Democrats won't allow drilling, and neither party supports taxing.

The idea is for the government -- through a tax -- to establish a new floor for gasoline, say $3 a gallon. If the world price were to rise above $3, the tax would be zero. What we need is anything that will act as a brake on consumption. Since America consumes 45 percent of the world's gasoline, a significant reduction here would bring down the world price.

But the key is to then keep the tax. Indeed, let it increase to capture all of a price reduction. Consumers still pay $3, but the Saudis keep getting lower and lower world prices. The U.S. economy keeps the rest in the form of taxes -- which should immediately be cycled back to consumers by a corresponding cut in, say, payroll or income taxes.

Keep gasoline prices high and American consumers will once again start demanding and buying lighter and more fuel-efficient cars -- exactly as they did in the late '70s and early '80s. Prices will continue to drop, and the U.S. economy will capture the difference.

It's a perfectly virtuous circle. It requires only a modicum of political courage. Which is why it does not stand a chance of happening.


It would also help if we managed to stabilize Iraq, but we've already covered that ground.

Because I'm so proud of Krauthammer for advocating a tax-based solution, I'll refrain from giving him my lecture on the "perfect virtue" of opinion columnists (and bloggers, ahem).

I think we should be able to accomplish our goal of reducing oil consumption without offshore drilling, but tapping more of our own oil reserves would reduce our dependence on foreign sources, which is positive. I also think Krauthammer's kind of sliding the "drill" option through the back door, in the hope that lefties who like the tax idea will kind of nod their way through the drilling bit.

Let's examine the tax solution more closely. I think it wouldn't be as easy as Krauthammer seems to think to "immediately cycle" the gas-tax revenune into income and/or payroll tax cuts, but of course Krauthammer wouldn't accept this tax plan if it wasn't revenue-neutral, so I understand why he proposes it. I'd prefer to use the revenue to, for instance, encourage development of alternative-energy technologies. But reasonable people can differ.

My primary beef with the Krauthammer Solution is that, eventually, the effects would wear off. Let me detour into an economic example. (I'll keep it simple; don't roll your eyes.)

In national economies, it was long assumed that there is a trade-off between inflation and unemployment. The higher the inflation, the lower the unemployment, and vice versa. As a result, in the '50s and '60s America tried to keep unemployment low by keeping inflation artifically high. In the short run, this worked.

In the long run, though, people figured out the game. They adjusted their expectations for inflation upward, and as a result the artificial inflation no longer produced low unemployment. (This led to what's called "stagflation," which you may remember from the Ford and Carter administrations.)

The point of my example is this: People aren't stupid. Eventually, they stop responding to artificial stimuli. They adjust their expectations to compensate.

So let's assume we set the gas price floor at $3. (We'll even index for inflation, which Krauthammer doesn't mention.) In the short run, it will have the desired effect: consumption and prices will drop. Hooray!

In the long run, however, consumers will come to expect a fixed price for gas, and as a result they'll stop adjusting their consumption habits downward. The reason people responded to the energy crisis by decreasing consumption is that they figured it would make prices go down. Once they see that it won't, they'll revert to their old consumption habits.

And once OPEC realizes that an increase in their price of oil doesn't lead to a drop in U.S. consumption, of course they'll start raising prices again. In the short run, the U.S. economy may receive the surplus, but eventually, OPEC will extract it.

In the end, this plan amounts to a system of price control, which I'm sure Krauthammer railed against when the Soviets tried it. Well-intentioned as Krauthammer's plan is, it's not a long-term solution. It only works if it's a bridge to a long-term strategy for reducing consumption.

And on the heels of that mini-screed, time to depart for the weekend. See you Monday! 
Thursday, May 20, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Down in the Bottom" by Howlin' Wolf

SOMETIMES I THINK HE'S TOO GOOD FOR THIS GAME

Hello, everyone. It was a day of highs and lows in the sporting world yesterday. The highs (Calgary advancing to the Stanley Cup finals, and Kevin Garnett carrying the Timberwolves to a Game 7 victory) were great, but there's not much to say about them. It's the low that I want to talk about.

The Golden State Warriors, a team which normally attracts about as much of my attention as the Pakistani national cricket team, fired coach Eric Musselman and are reportedly going to replace him with Stanford's Mike Montgomery.

Montgomery doesn't interest me much; he's had a good run at Stanford, and he'd probably be a decent choice, despite the dismal record of legendary college coaches failing at the pro level. I think Montgomery will do better than the Jerry Tarkanians and Rick Pitinos, because (1) a lot of legendary coaches maintain their success through their reputation -- incoming college players want to play for a great coach like Pitino -- and I don't think Montgomery has that issue, and (2) a lot of great college coaches have an autocratic streak that plays poorly in the pros, and Montgomery's not known for that. But the college-to-pro flops are another story for another day. (For those who want to know more, Dick Vitale has something interesting to say for a change.) Montgomery's nothing to me. Which chaps me is that Musselman was canned.

A little background on the situation. The Warriors have been a pathetic, bumbling franchise for a long time. Long ago they played in Philadelphia (and incidentally, I love the "Philadelphia Warriors" name... pure old-school basketball) and Wilt Chamberlain was their stars and times were good. Then they moved to San Francisco, and they became fairly forgettable. They had a run of success in the '70s (including aan NBA championship in '75), but since then, save for a spurt of semi-success in the early '90s, they've been dead in the water.

It's not that they haven't had decent players: among the players who wore the Golden State livery during this period were Robert Parish, Bernard King, World B. Free, Chris Mullin, Ralph Sampson, Tim Haradaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Webber. And it's not as though they haven't had good coaches: Al Attles, George Karl, Don Nelson, Rick Adelman and P.J. Carlesimo have all piloted the Warriors.

What happened? Well, a few dumb trades (Parish for Joe Barry Carroll, Richmond for Billy Owens, Webber for Donyell Marshall, Carroll and Sleepy Floyd for Sampson's decompsing corpse) and some bad luck with injuries. Also, owner Chris Cohan is reportedly one cheap bastard. But all this merely made the Warriors forgettable. It was one ugly incident that marked them as a cursed team.

It was 1997. The Warriors had just hired Carlesimo, and it wasn't working out. The team started 1-14. Carlesimo's authoritarian approach wasn't going over with the ragtag Golden State squad. The closest thing the Warriors had to a star was a talented but mercurial youngster named Latrell Sprewell. Surely you remember what happened next. You remember the choking incident. You may even remember that after Sprewell left the building to cool off, he came back a half-hour later to try choking Carlesimo again. You may even remember Sprewell's spirited defense, "Hey, he could still breathe." After the incident, the Warriors seemed to stagger through the seasons, and through a forgettable series of coaches (Garry St. Jean, Dave Cowens, Brian Winters). Had the NBA been considering an MLB-style contraction plan, the Warriors surely would have been at the head of the list.

Then came Musselman. Winters was ushered out in 2002 on the heels of a 21-61 season. Larry Hughes, perhaps the team's best all-around player, departed for Washington. And Musselman came in and turned it all around. He was an unheralded assistant, only 35, primarily famous for being the son of noted martinet coach Bill Musselman. Eric had his father's sense of discipline and professionalism, but he blended it with a somewhat softer edge (Musselman the elder sparked player revolts at virtually every stop). And it worked. At one point the Warriors were 30-30, but slumped a bit at season's end to finish 38-44, still the team's best finish since the '93-'94 season. Signs of life! Perhaps a playoff bid was in store.

Or not. The Warriors responded to their newfound success by deealing their leading scorer, Antawn Jamison, to Dallas for sulky Nick Van Exel and letting emerging star Gilbert Arenas bolt for Washington. Ownership had struck again, and cut the floor out from under the promising young coach.

With a decimated roster, Musselman somehow coaxed 37 wins out of the Warriors. This was deserving of a Coach of the Year award, or perhaps a lifetime contract. Instead, Musselman gets dumped overboard. What a crock.

Upon hearing the news, I contacted Papa Shaft and said, indignantly, "Eric Musselman is the new Chris Ford." Ford has been our personal hobby-horse for some time now, as he gets shafted everywhere he goes.

Ford began his coaching career rather auspiciously, taking over the Celtic dynasty in 1990. He guided the team to a couple Atlantic Division titles and a second-place finish, despite the fact that the Celtics were aging rapidly. Bird, McHale, Parrish... going, going, gone. Len Bias should have been coming into his own as a star and team leader then, had he not decided to celebrate being drafted with that all-night cocaine party that cost him his life. Reggie Lewis seemed poised to lead the team as the old guard faded away, right until that day he collapsed and died on the court. How many teams have two budding stars *die* in the span of a decade? Karmic payback for all the good years, maybe, or some old Irish curse at work. Who knows? It was a sad time to be a Celtics fan (I should know; my dad is one). Not only was the dynasty dead, but the team's future was, literally, in the grave.

After the demise of Lewis, the Celtics were a mess. Emotionally, the team was a mess. And the "talent" on the floor consisted of bright young hopes like Acie Earl, Xavier McDaniel, Dino Radja, Dee Brown, and Alaa Abdelnaby. Ford did the best he could, coaxing 32-50 and 35-47 marks out of the wreckage. And Celtics GM M.L. Carr dumped Ford and inserted himself. My dad was furious. "I guess Ford won too much for them," Dad muttered. "M.L. wanted to make sure the team did better in the draft, so he put in the least competent coach he could find: himself." Dad's words proved prophetic as the Celts crashed to a 15-67 record in 1996-97. M.L.'s primary strategic coaching move, according to Dad, was sitting on the bench and waving a towel to pump the team up. The Celtics did not exit the wilderness until Jim O'Brien showed up in 2001.

In '96, Ford took over my team of choice, the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks had just come off a brutal 25-win season under bewildered Mike Dunleavy. Ford came in, installed a little old-school discipline and improved the Bucks to 33, then 36 wins. Ford seemed on the verge of making the Bucks a contender. So what did he get as a thank-you present? He got fired to make way for George Karl. George was okay, at least until he alienated the entire team and forced the Bucks to make lopsided deals that voided them of their star talent. Karl is a talented coach, but his massive ego and notoriously sensitive nature tends to make himself, rather than his players, the focus of attention.

Ford's next stop was with the sorry Clippers. The 20-75 record he compiled there can hardly be considered his fault, considering the utter hopelessness of LA's second-banana franchise. But once tainted with the stain of the Clippers, Ford seemed finished as a coach. He'd hardly be the first coach to be driven to coaching oblivion by the Clip Joint.

Earlier this year, I was at a Wizards-Sixers game with The Smart Lady. I happened to glancec at the program and noticed that Ford was a Sixers assistant. This pleased me, and I tried to explain about Ford to The Smart Lady. She did a fine job simulating interest, which is pretty impressive considering that I must have sounded like a dotty, rambling fool. I thought no more about the matter until Sixers coach Randy Ayers was made to walk the plank and Ford was installed as his replacement.

Now, the Sixers job may sound like a giant step up from a gig with the Clippers. But there's a crucial difference: The Sixers' franchise is basically structured around the whims and moods of Allen Iverson, a fine and gutty player whose attitude leaves a great deal to be desired. With the Clippers, it didn't matter if you alienated a key player, because he'd probably be gone the minute his contract was up anyway. But coaching the Sixers requires the ability to cater to Iverson.

Chris Ford is an old-school coach, and he has antiquated ideas about what makes a good team. Therefore, he demanded that Iverson start doing radical things like practicing, showing up on time and respecting authority. Iverson sulked, moaned to the press, and openly defied Ford. Ford responded by benching him. To hear Iverson tell it, the benching was the biggest travesty of justice since Sacco and Vanzetti.

Frankly, daring to take on Iverson at all was an enormous show of chutzpah on Ford's part, since ownership dotes on Iverson like a lovesick teenager and GM Billy King refused to make Ford the permanent coach, which might have given him more authority in Iverson's eyes. The media largely sided with Iverson. And at season's end, Ford (who pulled a 12-18 record out of the mess) was unceremoniously fired.

So, when I heard of Musselman's firing, I immediately thought of Ford. And I said to Papa Shaft, "It's a foregone conclusion that either Ford or Musselman will wind up coaching Atlanta. It's just a question of which one." Papa replied, "If I were Ford, I'd pay off Musselman to make the Hawks job." The hapless Hawks are another coaching graveyard, and they are reportedly hot for Musselman (which I didn't know when I made my comment). Eric, if you're reading this, I implore you: Don't do it! Wait a year if you have to. Hold out for a real job! Let Ford's fate be a lesson to you.

In other news, just in case you thought William Donald Schaefer might have come to his senses since that silly McDonald's remark that sparked a big flap in Maryland last week, rest assured that Schaefer is still who he is. Schaefer took the opportunity to turn the biweekly Board of Public Works meeting, which is a serious meeting designed to discuss state spending, into his own personal forum for venting about the hubbub over his remarks. He even handed out bumper stickers reading, "Schaefer: He says what you think." This behavior isnothing new for Schaefer, but the article also contains a few interesting tidbits from Schaefer's career, like the time he compared the Eastern Shore to an outhouse when he was governor. It's definitely worth a read.

And that's all for today. Mush tomorrow!
 
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Build Me Up Buttercup" by the Foundations

A LITTLE SOMETHING QUICK

Hi, folks. My regular blogging time was subsumed by work today (work! the indignity!) and so I'll just hit you with a couple quick thoughts here at day's end.

Hei Lun at Begging to Differ has a nice post ripping that "don't buy gas today so we can bankrupt the oil companies" e-mail tha's been floating around. He does a pretty good job pointing out all the logical inconsistencies in the appeal. My first thought, when I heard of the existence of this campaign, is that whoever came up with it doesn't understand economics. A one-day boycott isn't going to bankrupt anyone, it isn't going to create massive stockpiles, and it isn't going to cause the price of gas to fall. I've long felt that no education is complete without a grounding in economics, and this just proves my point. If people knew the basics, they wouldn't be fooled by idiocies like this.

In a piece of exciting baseball news, the Blue Jays signed the immortal Marvin Benard to a minor-league contract. I've always had a mild fascination with Marvin, for reasons I don't entirely understand. Marvin's never really been good, and his career stats are basically the definition of "replacement-level player." But he's one of my guys. It was nice to see his name again. Does anyone else have a fascination with marginal players? Or is it just me?

Oh, and Randy Johnson threw a perfect game or something. I was alerted to this in the seventh inning by my cousin, who IMed me, "Are you watching the Braves game?" I replied "No," since Braves telecasts are usually a priority for me right up there with the Golf Channel. He said, "You'd better turn it on, if you like to see history." I do, and I did, and Randy did. What a rush! I hope all those Arizona diehards will cling to this memory as their 75-win season grinds toward its conclusion.

That's all for today. Something better tomorrow, I hope. See you then! 
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Enter Sandman" by Metallica

THEY'RE BACK!

Hey, everybody! Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are back. It's their third appearance in the span of a week, which is fairly impressive. Particularly for Uncle Millie. You may not realize this, but advice-giving is difficult and trying work. A good advice columnist needs a few basic essentials, most notably a basic level of sobriety. This is, shall we say, a bit of a challenge for Uncle Millie, and I think he deserves credit for his yeoman's work. (Aunt Beatrice also deserves credit, for keeping him in line.) Our favorite couple phoned in today's column from Seattle. Take it away, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice!

- - - - -

The Best Things In Life Aren't Free; They Usually Charge By the Hour, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello, lads! Greetings from lovely Seattle. How we wound up here is a bit of a funny story.

AB: And for once, it doesn't even involve your lousy sense of direction.

UM: Well, after last week's Kansas City fiasco, we righted ourselves and I vowed to make it to Sacramento before the Kings-Timberwolves series was over.

AB: Which wasn't hard, since the NBA takes a month to play each round of the playoffs.

UM: Once we arrived in Sacramento, we discovered that the next game wasn't for another four days. So we turned ourselves loose! We saw all the sights in Sacramento, visited every hot spot, took advantage of everything the city had to offer.

AB: And when that was over, we realized that only 10 minutes had passed, and it was still four days to the next game.

UM: So I suggested that we fly to Detroit to catch the Pistons-Nets game.

AB: And I vetoed that suggestion. I lived in Detroit for five years, and that was enough.

UM: Beatrice then suggested that we visit some city that was completely playoff-free. I was of course dubious of the suggestion, but the more she talked, the more I liked it.

AB: I told him I'd let him drink more if we didn't have to go to a sports game.

UM: My beloved suggested Washington, DC, a town which is regularly playoff-free. At first I thought I'd relish the opportunity to visit my good friend Mediocre Fred, but once I heard about the conditions, I simply could not go.

AB: Uncle Millie is afraid of the cicadas.

UM: Cicadas killed my father.

AB: Your father's still alive. We visited him last month.

UM: Well, uh...

AB: At any rate, I suggested the other Washington, and here we are.

UM: And I have an afternoon appointment scheduled with my good friend Guinness, so perhaps we'd better get right to the letters.

AB: Afternoon appointment, huh?

UM: Yes. Serious matter. It may last well into the night.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I've been seeing "Susan" for about four months now. She's got a lot going for her: she's clever, funny and attractive. But she and I lead... different lives. I'm fairly conservative and strait-laced. She's a free spirit. I don't drink or smoke. She's done a list of drugs that would make Timothy Leary jealous. I've only had one sexual partner in my life. She's slept with more people than Wilt Chamberlain. My idea of a fun evening is cuddling up by the fire with a good book and a fresh pot of hot chocolate. Her idea of fun is to set fire to several city blocks. She has a wealth of exciting stories that involved things like smuggling drugs across the border and shootouts with the police. The most exciting thing that's happened to me in the last year is that I got a toaster with a bagel switch. Do you think it can work out between us?

Bob in Eastlake


AB: Hi, Bob. Well, they say opposites attract, and you and Susan are living proof of that, I suppose.

UM: Where did the two of you meet, anyhow? I've made the acquaintance of people like Susan in my time, and I've never known them to spend time in the same places as people like yourself. They tend to suspect that people like yourself are police informants.

AB: In my experience, relationships like this don't tend to last long, unfortunately. You're a refreshing change of pace for each other, but in the long ruun, what are you going to do together? Is she really going to be fascinated by your bagel switch? Are you looking forward to bailing her out of prison?

UM: Where's your sense of adventure, my love? I think she might be just what he needs.

AB: There's something to that... if you've felt like you're in a rut, and she's looking to settle down some, you might be very helpful to each other. Just don't expect it to last forever.

UM: Who cares if it lasts forever? I'll bet the sex is great with her. Lad, this woman can show you things you never imagined possible. Savor the opportunity!

AB: As always, Uncle Millie has his eye on the ball. Or the bed.

UM: Once you get burned out on the sex, dump her before she lands you in jail. But for now, live it up like a sailor on shore leave!

AB: Just be sure you both get tested. And don't let yourself become here caretaker. It's not good for either of you, and it's hard to get out of once you've started. Believe me, I've had plenty of experience in tending to an irresponsible partner.

UM: I didn't know your last husband was that irresponsible.

AB: My next husband surely won't be.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm in a bit of an awkward situation. I'm 22 years old, and I recently went out on a first date with one of my college classmates. Boy, did we hit it off! We talked for hours, had a lot in common, and at the end of the evening we had sex in the back of my car. I mean really great, wild jungle sex. We quickly made plans to see each other again. The next day, my roommate asked me where I'd been that night, so I told him. I might have shared a few details of our specific activities.

So now this girl doesn't want to go out with me any more. She said I "lack respect for women." Which just isn't true. I greatly respected her flexibility and imagination, among other things. So what gives?

Jerry in Boise


UM: Ah, lad, welcome to the mysterious world of the female. Women. You can't live with 'em, and you can't have sexual relations without 'em.

AB: Mysterious? What are you talking about? Jerry, forgive me for being blunt, but what you did was awful. Women don't appreciate being treated as pieces of meat. You showed a complete lack of respect for her when you talked about her like that.

UM: Well, she picked a fine time to develop scruples. What kind of woman offers her favors and expects the gentleman not to talk about it?

AB: Millie! Why should a woman expect to have her private life turned into public gossip?

UM: Do you understand men at all, my dear? When we find a woman that special, naturally we want to share our good fortune. It's perfectly natural.

AB: Oh, for crying out loud. Why don't you just write her number on the bathroom wall?

UM: There's another action that is frequently misunderstood by women. That's not an insult, it's a tribute. Why do you think we write, "For a good time call..."?

AB: I'd argue this further, but I'm frankly afraid of what you'll say next. Jerry, go to the woman and beg forgiveness. Explain that it was a one-time mistake, and you'll never treat her that way again. If you're very lucky, she'll see clear to forgive you.

UM: Ah, she may have the right of it, lad. If you don't apologize now, she may never offer you her favors again. And if you thought the first time was great, wait until you see the next time!

AB: You... but... never mind. I was going to ask what sort of mindset makes that statement possible, but I don't think I want to know.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I've always been unlucky in love. Try as I might, I can never seem to hold onto my girlfriends for very long. I'm an average-looking guy, I'm a good listener and I never open beer bottles with my teeth. I have my share of admirers, and I have a fair number of first dates, but they never seem to go anywhere. After the first couple of dates, they stop returning my calls. What am I doing wrong?

Lonesome Louie in Charlotte


AB: Hi, Louie. You didn't give us that much to go on, but if I had to guess, I'd say you're just having a run of bad luck. You probably just haven't met the right person yet.

UM: Oh, poppycock. There's clearly a pattern here. A couple good dates, then nothing. What does that spell? Doctor Millie's diagnosis is that you're bad in bed.

AB: Doctor Millie? What medical school did you go to?

UM: The School of Love, my dear.

AB: I didn't know that Hooters had the power to confer degrees.

UM: Touche. But isn't it obvious, lad? You're scaring them away with a bad romantic technique.

AB: You and your one-track mind. Where in his letter did he say he's been taking them to bed?

UM: Do the math. He says they leave after a couple of dates. And if they aren't sleeping together by the third date, he's either a monk or a closet case.

AB: Millie!

UM: After all, it was our second date when we-

AB: That's just enough. Louie, please ignore Millie. Here's a possibile suggestion: try going out on a "date" with a close female friend, and see if she can spot any flaws in your approach that might be scaring the woman away.

UM: Foolishness. Play dates? What sweet, soft-headed silliness. Lad, you and I both know it's your other approach that needs work, and to fix that, well, practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. You may need to visit one of the ladies who charges by the hour in order to get your practice in, but so be it. Think of it like putting a quarter in the pitching machine to work on your swing.

AB: Work on your swing? Oh, for heaven's sake... Louie, if you think Uncle Millie has any idea what he's talking about, feel free to take his advice. But if you're a reasonable person, you'll listen to what I have to say. It will probably prove more useful in the long run, and in the short run you'll save the expense and potential jail sentence associated with the "ladies who charge by the hour," as Uncle Millie so delicately put it.

UM: Lad, you and I both know what your real problem is. Nothing to be ashamed of, it's just a lack of practice. A few sessions in the ol' batting cage, and you'll be stroking them to all fields in no time. If you know what I mean.

AB: Uncle Millie would know, although he needs a little help with the strike zone. Uncle Millie will swing at anything that moves. If you know what I mean.

UM: Aunt Beatrice is a bit of a shrew today. If you know what I mean.

AB: Keep that up and you'll be sleeping alone. If you know what I mean.

UM: Well, time to wrap this up. My business partner Guinness awaits. Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Programming note: The regular biweekly shedule resumes today. Look for them in this space in two weeks.

A moment of silencec for Tony Randall, who passed away yesterday at age 84. Many will remember Randall as the neat freak on "The Odd Couple," but I most enjoyed Randall's bizarre appearancecs on "Hollywood Squares." I'll never forget the way he kept his sunglasses on until someone called his name. He'd whip off the sunglasses, give the shortest answer possible and put the sunglasses on as soon as the question was over, A fascinating fellow, to be sure.

Quitting time for today. See you tomorrow! 
Monday, May 17, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Spiders and Snakes" by Jim Stafford

CICADA MADNESS TAKES WASHINGTON!

Hey there, everybody. I hope a pleasant weekend was had by all. Me, I spent most of the weekend mastering the crutches. I've become pretty proficient, by most accounts. Send your best healing energies this way, if you would.

Being hobbled as I am, I'm particularly vulnerable to the Fedroplex's latest menace, cicadas. For non-locals, our cicada swarm emerges every 17 years, and this is one of those years. And because we're such a worrywart city, the re-emergence has been accompanied by a wave of media-driven hysteria. For example, there's this. And this. And this. The way people talk about these things, I live in fear that I'll be carried off by an angry swarm while I'm unable to defend myself.

Otherwise rational people are asking each other, "Is it safe to go outside?" Although cicadas aren't dangerous, don't sting, and aren't even attracted to people, some Fedroplexers are behaving as though this is a matter of major concern. My sister, for instance, has announced she's not coming to visit until the swarm is over. Official Washington is waiting anxiously for Sally Quinn to tell the city how to panic properly.

I'm feeling the appropriate level of concern. Yesterday, I had lunch with my parents at the Macaroni Grill, a restaurant that's primarily interesting because they let you write on the table. They provide crayons and butcher paper on the table. Most people over the age of about 6 leave the crayons for the waiter, so that he can show off his ability to write his name upside-down, but my family is not most people.

The minute I was seated, I drew a cicada on the table. Reacting with an appropriate level of concern, my dad drew a frog to eat my cicada. Responding in kind, I drew a snakehead (talk about animals causing local hysteria) to eat his frog. My mom tried to pretend she was at another table.

But this isn't about me, or why you can't take my dad and I anywhere. It's about the cicadas. And the truth is, everyone just needs to cool out. The cicada swarm is nothing more than a nifty little curiosity.

I remember the last swarm, back in '87. My dad and I were camping out at Lake Fairfax, Dot-Com Canyon's flimsy excuse for wilderness. All night long, we heard the ceaseless chirping (which I find fairly pleasant) and a strange rustling sound. When we got up in the morning, the tent was covered with cicada exoskeletons (they shed fairly frequently). There must have been over a hundred on the tent. The exoskeletons were hardly attractive, but they were nothing more than an inconvenience. It didn't affect our enjoyment of the trip.

The problem, I think, is the transplants. Those who were around for the last swarm know that nothing bad's going to happen, so they're inclined to relax and enjoy it. People who are new... well, they swallow the hype. They flip out. They make more of this than it is.

Therefore, it's up to us locals to stop the madness. We who know better need to soothe the fears of those who don't. Governor Ehrlich of Maryland, for once, did the right thing, issuing a proclamation celebrating the cicadas, saying, "Periodical cicadas offer a harmless, short diversion from the more serious aspects of modern life." I never thought I'd say these words, but: Listen to Governor Ehrlich. He makes sense.

Of course, I'm inclined toward calm in events like these. Went the snipers were roaming free a couple years back, the Fedroplex was really on edge. And that time, there was a rational basis: The snipers struck at random, showed up without noticec all over the area, and eluded police with chilling ease. It wasn't a calming situation, and Chief Moose's daily fistfights with the English language weren't helping. A lot of rational people were walking in zig-zag fashion, sitting inside their cars during fill-ups and scanning the horizon constantly. When I visited my grandmother in Pennsylvania, she insisted that I fill my tank there, in order to reduce the risk.

Honestly, though, I didn't care. I didn't alter my routine in the least. I walked normally, got out of the car during fill-ups, and went outside as much as normal. I realized that this was different from most area residents, but I didn't realize just how much until a couple weeks before the snipers were caught. I was at the gas station, filling my tank, and the woman at the next pump caught my eye. She nodded and said, "Scary, huh?" I sort of shrugged, too polite to say that no, I didn't find it scary at all.

You can't let your life be governed by fear. If you do, there's a hundred things that would keep you from ever getting out of bed, if you knew them. Fear is good for the media; it drives ratings. Fear is good for incumbent politicians; it encourages people to stifle their dissent. But fear is corrosive to the soul and to the self; the more you let it consume you, the smaller you get, until there's nothing left of you but a mass of frights and worries.

Maybe the worriers are smart. Maybe something will get me in the end that won't get them, because they knew to fear it. But it's a risk I'm willing to take. I'd rather be struck down young than live a long but cringing existence. Life's short enough as it is. There's just not room or time in my schedule for cicada panic.

That's all for today. Tomorrow, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice will be checking in. See you then! 
Friday, May 14, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Running on Ice" by Billy Joel

SENDING IN A PINCH-HITTER

Hello again, everyone. Well, I'm still drugged up, so I'm pretty well shot as far as useful ideas go. But I asked Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice if they'd step in for a day, and reply to a comment posted by loyal reader Tripp. They said they would, and I thank them for it. I'll be back afterward with a couple quick-hit thoughts.

Millie and Beatrice,
I am so happy to see you back. Welcome!


AB: Hi, Tripp. We're glad to be back, and we're always glad to hear from our fans. It's talking to people like you that really makes our job worthwhile.

UM: Aye, my beloved has the right of it, lad. We're most grateful to the fine lads such as yourself that read our advice regularly. Especially if they send us whiskey.

AB: Ignore him, Tripp. He's just cranky because he lost the key to the minibar.

UM: Oh, God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Do you mind if I kibbitz on your advice?

Oh. Well I'll do it anyway.


AB: It's quite all right, Tripp. We're always happy for a little feedback, aren't we, dear?

UM: Certainly. Particularly when the feedback is accompanied by-

AB: A bottle of whiskey. I think he got the hint, dear.

UM: Well, I know that the subtleties of my language occasionally escape people.

AB: In my experience, you're as subtle as an atom bomb.

UM: And twice as potent!

AB: Don't you wish.

Jenny wants to see other people. You both gave good advice. Let me just add that Jenny wants to leave, and Mike, even if it kills you, you gotta let her do it! I know from an awful personal experience that you simply cannot hold onto her. (No, there was no stalking involved!) Your only hope is to let her go!

UM: This is clearly the voice of experience talking. I'm sure, lad, that you know as well as I the wisdom in allowing the woman the freedom she desires. It's all a matter of balance. It's just as the old proverb holds: "Love is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too tightly and you'll kill it. Hold it too loosely and it will sneak off with your brother behind your back."

AB: I wanted to take a minute here to respond to all the women who've written in to accuse Uncle Millie of being a misogynist. When it comes to misogyny, Uncle Millie doesn't know the meaning of the word. Or a number of other words, for that matter.

UM: Besides, lad, you and I know how sticky those restraining orders can be.

AB: Millie, he said there was no stalking involved.

UM: Of course he did. But just between you and myself, lad, we know the truth.

AB: Tripp, ignore Uncle Millie. He gets like this when he hasn't had his whiskey.

UM: Where in heaven's name is that key?

And once you do that may I remind you to read Tripp's tips on women? I think your ego needs a BIG boost right about now.

UM: Ah, yes, lad, I've read your tips. I think they're fine advice! They're an appropriate compliment to my own romantic tips.

AB: Tripp, I liked your tips as well. What I liked most about them is that they're respectful to women. You can be a strong man without using or demeaning women. Your advice stands in stark contrast to that of some people I know...

UM: What? Are you suggesting that I do not respect women?

AB: All right. What's the name of the first woman you slept with?

UM: That's not fair. That was a long time ago indeed.

AB: All right, then what's the name of that little tramp you co-wrote the column with while we were separated? Little miss hot-pants? Remember her?

UM: Of course I do, and I'll thank you not to call her a tramp. Her name was Roxie.

AB: It was Shelly.

UM: Was it?

AB: Yes. But I'm sure you respected her a great deal.

UM: The lack of whiskey has dulled my faculties of memory.

AB: Oh, you don't need a lack of whiskey to accomplish that, dear.

UM: Why, thank you.

About group sex - you guys kill me. Very good. And Beatrice - the guys thinking about being with multiple women (which means all guys) aren't necessarily thinking that it is the women that are going to get the satisfaction, if you know what I mean!

AB: Yes, Tripp, I'd kind of figured that. A lot of male fantasies seem to be predicated on the idea of women as props. Which always led me to wonder... why bother with actual, flesh-and-blood women at all? It seems to me your needs could be equally well-served with a couple of inflatable dolls.

UM: Oh, don't be ridiculous, my dear. Real women do much more and are much better than even the most lifelike doll could ever be. For instance, real women don't get mildewed if you store them in the garage for a long period of time.

AB: You're such a charmer, Millie. I'm swept away with the romance in that statement.

UM: Swept away enough to go get me a pint of whiskey?

AB: You and your fantasies, dear.

Regarding the embarrassing photos on the web, I have just one word:

URL!


AB: Homesick Texan didn't include the URL to the embarrassing photos, and even if there had been one, we wouldn't have printed it, because it wasn't germane to the letter.

UM: Perhaps not. But I understand your desire, lad. And there were certain identifying details in the letter which, if added up carefully, could lead you to the site.

AB: We did remove some of those details for precisely that reason.

UM: Over my objections, I assure you.

AB: The last thing that Homesick Texan needs is an additional dose of embarrassment, Millie.

UM: I don't consider those photos cause for embarrassment, my dear. In fact, they might be a certain source of pride. I mean, it's not every day that you see that kind of flexibility.

AB: Sorry, Tripp, but we can't direct you to the site.

UM: I don't suppose we should. But let me just say, www.-

AB: Millie!

UM: Sorry, my dear. Well, I must be off in search of some headache medication.

AB: He means whiskey, of course.

UM: Well, I know of no better cure for a headache. Happy hunting!

Mediocre Fred here again. Couple of things before I slide off to the weekend.

The Brewers are coming off a sweep of the sorry Expos and host the Braves this weekend. Here's hoping we can continue our winning ways!

Bill Simmons is back to column-writing duties. He's given up his day job writing for the Jimmy Kimmel show to focus on sports-related ventures, which is good news for fans of his columns. It would be bad news for fans of the Kimmel show, if there were any.

I particularly appreciated one sentence toward the end: "I felt like my writing was starting to slip -- I just didn't have enough time to work on columns or even think about them (which is three-fourths of the writing process). So something had to give." It wasn't just me! I'd always thought that Simmons was craftsman enough to be unhappy with half-ass effort. His recent output had caused me to question his commitment. So that sentence was a proud declaration of standards, for which I'm grateful. Long live The Sports Guy!

And on that note, to the weekend! See you Monday.
 
Valium for the soul. Don't worry, none of those pesky strong opinions here. All are welcome. No shirt, no shoes, no service.

If You're Sick of Me, Read These Instead

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