Mediocre Fred's Mediocre Blog
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "I Truly, Truly Believe" by the Temptations

TURNING THE PAGE ON JACK RYAN

Hello there, everyone. Today I want to take on final look back at the abandoned Senate campaign of Jack Ryan, courtesy of Clarence Page, who wrote a column I rather liked on the subject. This column is one of my favorite types: it makes a compelling, intriguing argument in support of a conclusion that I don't agree with. This is good because it forces me to engage my mind and figure out a counterargument. (Nothing's more fun than arguing with the newspaper.) Let's take a look at Page's argument, and the places where we part company.

Page believes that Ryan was hounded out of the race unfairly, exposed by a prying press that doesn't acknowledge a zone of privacy around public officials, and shoved overboard by fuming party leaders who were mad that Ryan lied to them. It's a sex scandal without the sex, Page argues. If this is enough to drive someone out of the race, aren't we setting a hugely unrealistic standard for personal conduct that drives away good candidates? It's a solid argument, and Page presents it well. However, it's also an argument with weaknesses, most of which Page cleverly conceals in throwaway lines. Take a look and you'll see what I mean.

Page comes on strong, making a case for the manifest unfairness of Ryan's departure:

An injustice of sorts has been committed upon Jack Ryan. The Illinois Republican ex-candidate for the U.S. Senate may be the first politician to be brought down by a sex scandal without having sex.

As recently as the days of John F. Kennedy, you may recall, reporters looked the other way when there were rumors of a president having sexual playmates running through White House bedrooms. Today an otherwise decent-enough Harvard law grad like Ryan, a wealthy investment banker who became a teacher at a Chicago urban high school, is forced out of the contest because his ex-wife says she did not like the kind of sex he allegedly wanted to have with her.


The term "injustice" caused me to raise an eyebrow, but I was nodding along with this passage right up until that last sentence. "His ex-wife says she did not like the kind of sex he allegedly wanted to have with her"? Oh, is that all?

In fact, that is not all. Page's breezy phrasing is so broad that, at least in theory, it could include rape as acceptable. But never mind that. What happened here is not just that Jack wanted to do it doggy-style and Jeri didn't feel like it. What happened was that Jack took Jeri to sex clubs without her knowledge, publicly humiliated her, and tried to pressure her to do something against her wishes. Repeatedly. As one commenter correctly pointed out last week, that's emotional abuse.

And the fact that Jeri now says that Jack's a good guy is immaterial. Unfortunately, even some victims of physical abuse will swear up and down that the abuser is a good person who's just "human" or "misunderstood." And despite Jeri's statement that Jack would make a good senator, she also stood by the charges she made. Take that for what you will.

Let's return to Page for a bit:

He says, she says. Who's right? Who cares? The Chicago Tribune and WLS-Ch. 7 lawsuit that unsealed Ryan's records cited the public's right to know. I'm a big believer in the public's right to know. But in a case like Ryan's no-sex scandal, I question the public's need to know...

Child-custody fights can be ruthless. Accusations and exaggerations get thrown around that both parties sometimes regret after the dust settles. Only the court papers live on, ready to embarrass one party or the other, if the rest of us choose to be embarrassed.


Hold it. Stop right there. See what he's doing here? He's implying that Jeri Ryan was making up (or at least trumping up) the incidents in service of her custody case. He implies that she "regrets" it now, particularly the "embarrassment" for everyone. Patronize much?

I find it a touch irritating that Page tries to dismiss the incident with "Who's right? Who cares?" and then implies that she's wrong. "It doesn't matter that she's wrong," is what that amounts to. And I reiterate that she stood by the charges. If she's feeling any "regret" over making them, she's doing an admirable job of concealing it. I think the only "regret" here is on Jack's side.

Back to Clarence:

In the real world of politics, Ryan's biggest sin was to assure top Illinois Republicans like state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, the GOP's state chairwoman, and former Gov. Jim Edgar that the divorce documents were nothing to worry about when rumors about the papers surfaced.

With that, Ryan violated an age-old political commandment: Thou shalt not fudge the truth with thine party's bosses. He also offended numerous sensibilities by insisting to reporters that he sealed the records to protect their son, now 9, even though court papers indicate his political aspirations, not his son, were his principal reason for sealing the records. Thou shalt not fudge the truth with the media, either.


Wrong. I mean, it's right in a sense: I mentioned last week the problems with the public sentiment that sexual shenanigans are okay as long as you don't lie about them. But let's get real: Ryan's biggest sin was that Barack Obama was wiping the walls with him.

I'm sure Topinka and Co. were upset that Ryan lied to them, but if he'd been 20 points up in the polls, do you think they'd have made a public stink about it? No, of course not. They'd have chewed him out behind closed doors, made him sweat a little, then come out and told the media that it was all cleared up. Party leaders only ream out candidates in public when those candidates are dead men walking.

And Ryan was already a turkey of a candidate, losing to Obama by wide margins even before the scandal broke. Page tries to conceal this:

When the records were opened, Ryan's political stock plummeted. Contributors dried up. Republican leaders turned their backs on him. Polls showed Ryan falling more than 20 points behind his infectiously likable Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago), another Harvard Law School graduate.


The part about contributors and Republican leaders is accurate, but Page makes it sound like the race was neck-and-neck before. In fact, Ryan was already 20 points behind Obama. Weak candidates who are plagued by scandal become ex-candidates in a hurry. Strong candidates plagued by scandal become folk heroes. Ask Bill Clinton.

About the media: Page is absolutely right that the media consider candidates lying to them a sin of the first order. But again, Ryan was already flailing. This scandal just finished him off.

Next, Page offers some praise for Obama, and curiously admits that the Democrat was cruising to victory anyway, after concealing the fact in the previous paragraph.

I am delighted for Obama. He may soon become the third black senator since Reconstruction and I think he will make a good one. I also think Obama's expression of sympathy for Ryan's predicament was genuine. After all, Obama was too far ahead in the polls already to need an ugly exit by his opponent to win.


I think Page's admiration for Obama is genuine, and from what I understand, the praise is deserved. Kudos to Page for realizing that you can feel one candidate got shafted without disliking the other one.

In his next passage, however, Page voyages back into the arguments that I didn't buy the first time:

Besides, Jack Ryan was not charged with something truly serious like assault or adultery, just allegedly attempted kinkiness within the privacy of his ultimately failed marriage, according to the highly heated and questionable testimony in divorce papers. If that's all it takes to knock off an otherwise worthy candidate, we need no longer wonder why more bright, talented and qualified people in this great land of ours would rather have a root canal than run for public office.


Again, I'd have to argue that emoitonally abusing your spouse is "truly serious," but we've covered that ground already. And here we go again with discrediting Jeri's testimony as "highly heated and questionable." When Democratic contender Blair Hull found himself in a media firestorm due to allegations of abuse in his divorce papers, no one was calling his ex-spouse's testimony "highly heated and questionable." Not even Page, I'll bet. So I guess the lesson is: If you're going to make accusations in divorce cases, aim high.

And this raises the central question: Are divorce papers fair territory for public inquiry, or not? After all, it's not practical to say we should only look at divorce cases that contain serious charges, since we don't know what's in the files unless we look. And who's to say what consitutes inappropriate behavior?

Let's take this argument from another angle. Were the accusations in Blair Hull's file troubling? Most people would say yes. Disqualifying from office? Most people would say so. Does the seriousness of the allegations trump Hull's right to privacy? If you say yes, everyone's divorce file is open, because who knows which files might contain allegations like Hull's?

Now, let's look at Ryan's file. Are those allegations sufficient to disqualify him? Clarence Page says no. But Ray LaHood says yes. So does the Peoria Journal-Star. It's a matter of opinion. So it's one way or another: either everyone's divorce files are off-limits, or they're all open, and the people judge for themselves the seriousness of any allegations contained therein.

Page winds into the rhetorical home stretch at this point, so I'll let him have his moment:

It is politically ironic that Ryan found himself caught up in the new Puritanism that his party has played a central role in escalating in recent years. Even if my media colleagues had not gone to court for the papers, it would have been very hard for Ryan to have kept his skeletons in his closet. Like the Indianapolis 500 track, our public curiosity about public officials only seems to speed up. In cases like Ryan's, I think it should slow down.

The real world is complicated. So are real people. Abraham Lincoln, one of the first Illinois Republicans, once said, "It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues." Honest Abe had the right idea. Minor indiscretions do not necessarily make us unfit for public service. They only show that we are human.


This argument works if you believe Ryan's transgressions are minor. But what if you don't? This, alas, is a discussion we're largely having in retrtospect, since Ryan didn't stay in the race long enough to have a full public debate.

Let us reiterate what happened here: The media noticed that Ryan was hiding his files. Being journalists, they figured something good must be in there, so they clamored for a look. And once the word was out, the Republicans took one look at the candidate, realized he was non-viable, and forced him out. It was a convenient excuse as much as anything.

So, Clarence, I'm willing to join you in a discussion of what constitutes a proper zone of privacy for political candidates. But let's not kid ourselves that that happened here. And let's not kid ourselves that Jack Ryan was a victim of anything other than his own ineptness as a candidate.

I was watching SportsCenter last night, and they interviewed Tracy McGrady about his trade to Houston. McGrady was acquitting himself fairly well, saying all the good political things about how the trade was good for both sides, and then the interviewer asked him about what went wrong in his relationship with Orlando. He said, and I quote: "It wasn't no communication."

Now, here's a free tip from me to athletes everywhere: If you want people to take you seriously when you're describing a lack of dialogue between you and the front office, do not say, "It wasn't no communication." How could there be?

That's all for today. See you tomorrow! 
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Lady" by Styx

HIGH ON LOVE

Hello again, all! My spirits are revived today, which is too bad for all of you, since I'm not writing anything today. Instead, as per fortnightly custom, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice ride again, spreading romantic advice across the countryside. Today our fun-loving couple is in Bozeman, Montana, for reasons I can't imagine. I'm sure they'll enlighten us, though. I'll be back on the other side with a couple links of note. Until then, I turn it over to Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice.

- - - - -

Fools Rush In Where Angels Fear to Tread - That's Why Fools Have More Fun, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello, lads! And Happy Fourth of July!

AB: Hi, everybody. We know it's not the Fourth of July. Yet. However, that hasn't stopped Uncle Millie from coming out here to drink whiskey and shoot off fireworks. And he's brought me with him, presumably so that someone can call the ambulance.

UM: Well, my dear, surely you know that my fireworks show is one-of-a-kind. Neighbors come from blocks around to experience it!

AB: I thought those were the neighbors who told you to knock it off before they called the police.

UM: Perhaps. But nonetheless, it is a show much talked about in our town! And in order to please my fans, I have to do some testing beforehand, to make sure I have the show planned out properly. And what better place than Montana for the wide-open spaces that permit me to do my testing in peace?

AB: Also, Montana allows the sale of a bunch of fireworks that are illegal back home.

UM: Those nervous nellies in the legislature would have ruined my show years ago if I'd let them! They're just tired of me upstaging the show they put on in the park. But here in Montana, I can purchase my M-80s in peace, without a hassle.

AB: M-80s? Aren't those really dangerous?

UM: A fireworks showman always lives on the edge, my dear. Bombs away!

AB: I wish you'd stop that.

UM: I've done this for years, love. I know what I'm doing.

AB: I'd feel better about that if you put that whiskey bottle away.

UM: This is snakebite medication, my dear.

AB: You haven't been bitten by any snakes.

UM: An ounce of prevention...

AB: There aren't even any snakes around. The fireworks scared them away.

UM: You and your technical cavilling.

AB: Let's go ahead with our first letter. While I still have my hearing.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

My girlfriend and I have been seeing each other for about two years. Recently, I was posted to another country in connection with my job, and my girlfriend and I have agreed to let each other see other people while I'm away. (I'll be here for a year.) My question is, if I meet other women while I'm there, how much should I tell them about the relationship I'm in? I don't want to mislead them, but I don't want to scare them off either.

Tim, the Temporary Canadian


AB: Hi, Tim. Clearly, some sort of disclosure is called for. After all, you're already spoke for in some sense, even if she's given you the liberty to date. But you don't need to make an excessively big deal of it. Just mention that you were seeing someone at home (I'm assuming here that you've already mentioned that you're not local) and that you'd agreed to see other people while you're away, and ask if that's a problem for her. Simple, and morally acceptable. That's all that necessary.

UM: That's all? Oh, lad, lad, lad... My sweet, soft-headed beloved has once again proven that good intentions will get you eaten alive in the real world. Yes, in theory, it's proper to mention your stateside love to your prospective Canuck belles. In theory. In practice, the minute you mention another woman, these ladies will flee faster than Nero fiddling while carrying coals to Newcastle.

AB: What?

UM: Perhaps I mixed my metaphors.

AB: I'm taking your whiskey away.

UM: Nonsense, my dear, it is a necessity. At any rate, let's consider, lad... if you mention having a girl waiting at home, these ladies will assuume, naturally, that you brought her up because you're hung up on her. It's only a short step from there for them to visualize the two of you in the boudoir and you crying into her hair about how much you miss your old Hometown Henrietta. Suddenly they'll remember the iron they left burning at home, or the cat that needs to be fed, and you'll be alone.

When you and your sweetheart agreed to see other people during your absence, you were given free reign. And you must seize that opportunity, lad! Imagine yourself as a stranger in a strange land, with no memory of who you are or where you came from. Girlfriend? What girlfriend? You don't recall a thing.

AB: Uncle Millie has been known to practice this sort of "periodic amnesia" from time to time, although he usually employs staggering quantities of alcohol to help him "forget."

UM: Treat this opporrtunity as if you were a prospector dropped into the middle of an untapped diamond mine. I can assure you that your beloved isn't going to countenance this sort of wandering when you return home. So roam far and wide! Sample the fruits of as many trees as you can! Let's be honest, lad: hasn't two years of enforced monogamy been enough for you? Embrace this opportunity!

AB: That's it. Give me the whiskey.

UM: No.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm a junior in college. I live in an apartment with three other guys, and locker-room-type humor is the norm. I'm not really into that kind of kidding, but I accept it. The problem is that recently I began seeing a young woman, and now every time I come home late I have to hear a bunch of jokes about our sex life. Ordinarily I'd just roll my eyes and ignore it, but my girlfriend and I are both very strong Christians, and we've promised to save ourselves for marriage, so I find it offensive. Also, I'm afraid that I'll bring my girlfriend over to the apartment sometimme and one of my "friends" will start making those jokes, and she'll assume I started it, and she'll dump me. How do I convince these guys to knock it off?

Elmer at State U.


UM: Lad, you ought not be offended at the joking of your friends. This is a badge of honor in male circles. The kidding is their way of telling you that you're "one of the guys," part of the group. Rather than fight it, you should revel in it.

AB: A "badge of honor," huh? I'll never quite understand the way men act around each other. I think it's stupid and juvenile. I'd tell you they'll grow out of it, Elmer, but based on my experience, they never do.

UM: You're still mad because I greeted your uncle at Christmas dinner by saying "How's it hanging?" You really need to let that anger go.

AB: At any rate, you should let your friends know that you don't appreciate the dirty innuendo. Particularly if you plan to bring your girlfriend around. How about that, Mr. Badge of Honor? What if this talk gets him in hot water with the young woman?

UM: Obviously, my dear, you're a woman.

AB: Well, I certainly hope it's obvious.

UM: Very droll. I meant that only a woman would worry about that. Gentlemen have a sense of time and place, and while they might toss about a bit of randy humor amongst themselves, they would restrain themselves when ladies are present. So you need not fear, lad.

AB: Oh, so a gentleman doesn't make inappropriate remarks in front of women, huh? I suppose a gentleman also doesn't greet dinner guests with the phrase "How's it hanging?"

UM: Are you implying something?

AB: I'm implying that if Elmer is looking for advice on what gentlemen do, he might consult a more authoritative source than you.

UM: I resent that.

AB: I was just pointing out that Elmer shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security just because you-

UM: Fire in the hole!

AB: Will you stop that?

UM: No.

AB: Give me that whiskey bottle.

UM: I'm afraid that's impossible, my love.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm not sure what I should do about an unfortunate incident that happened last week. My boyfriend and I have been in a relationship decline for a while now. I've tried to keep a good public face on things, but it all boiled over. We were in public, and he told me he was tired of me nagging him about his business (I don't approve of some of the things he does), and I replied that I was tired of his comments about my religion (he's called me a "bad Catholic"). So then he suggested I perform an anatomical impossibility. In front of all our friends! I was so embarrassed. Now everyone's talking about it. He won't apologize; he said it felt good and it was about time he said something. And now I have to deal with it. Is it over?

Just Pat in Vermont


AB: Hi, Pat. It sounds to me like your boyfriend has some anger-management issues. You should never use language like that in public, as far as I'm concerned.

UM: Ah, what's one little incident? Perhaps you should consider not nagging him about his business. Let him take care of that, and unless he asks your opinion, you should keep it to yourself?

AB: Little? What would he have to do to make it a big incident, take a swing at Pat? It's wrong, and the fact that he won't apologize tells me that he's got an attitude problem. I think you should dump him.

UM: Oh, now, let's not get carried away. He may be a fine fellow in other respects. Everyone can have a bad moment or two. I think you should let it go, unless he does it again.

AB: Typical. Why do you defend abusive men? I figured that someone who really loves women would hate to see them mistreated.

UM: I do! I just think that some women are a bit oversensitive sometimes. They have a hair trigger- Kind of like that Roman candle there. Oops.

AB: What was that?

UM: Oh, it must have crash-landed over there- What do you suppose that fire is? Must have hit some scrub brush.

AB: That's not scrub brush. That's our rental car.

UM: Oops.

AB: Give me the whiskey. Right now.

UM: All right.

AB: This bottle is empty!

UM: I know. Why do you think I handed it over? Now be a love and find a trash can, would you?

AB: First I think I'd better call the fire department.

UM: Might be a wise idea. Happy hunting, lads!

- - - - -

Um, thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. They will return in two weeks, presuming they're not in jail then.

I did promise a couple links, and here they are.

First, Tainted Bill has launched the Rebel Alliance of Yankee Haters. (That's Yankees as in the baseball team, not Northerners or Americans.) I've proudly cast my lot in with this bunch. My dad is a Yankee fan, and I've long since grown tired of listening to him complain that the Yankees are doomed because they're only 6 games up, and they can only afford 8 Grade-A starters this year. There isn't a violin small enough. The Yankees must die.

Second, and finally, my man Frinklin wrote an excellent post about Bill Clinton, and specifically those Republicans been on ensuring that he's remembered only for his mistakes (just as they want Reagan remembered as a saint). Though Frinklin is no Clinton fan, he credits the man for his successes, particularly in making the Democratic Party vigorous again. He points out (correctly) that a functioning democracy needs two strong, competitive parties, not one majority party and a spineless, crazy opposition. And he calls on his fellow Republicans to stop demonizing Clinton and canonizing Reagan, and allow both to be remembered as human, in all their successes and failures.

I agree, and call on my fellow Democrats to do the same. Yes, I know, Clinton was hounded excessively by Ken Starr and the Republican inquisitors, but let's not make him into Jean Valjean. No matter what Clinton says, most of his problems were of his own making. It was not Ken Starr who fooled around with Monica Lewinsky. The Republicans may have hunted overzealously, but Clinton's behavior did offer a pretty big target.

And can we lay to rest the idea that Reagan was the Antichrist incarnate? He did a number of things that I, personally, did not agree with, but that doesn't make him evil. And like Clinton, Reagan deserves credit for breathing life back into a flailing party. The Republicans were in rough shape after the '60s and '70s, on the verge of becoming a permanent minority, and Reagan made them appealing to the masses again, gave the party optimism, made trickle-down economics seem credible, gave Americans reason to be proud of their country again. For that, he deserves credit. He also deserves credit for leaving his stamp on the nation's political scene. Like it or not, the post-Reagan political landscape was a lot different than the scene before Reagan.

Go read Frinklin's piece. Trust me. You'll thank me later.

And with that, I must away. See you tomorrow! 
Monday, June 28, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band

WEEKEND REHASH

Good day, all. Or at least I'm told it is. It's a grumpy Monday for your pal Mediocre Fred, but I'll do my best not to let that bleed into today's post. I'll do that by focusing on some of the things that happened this weekend, which was overall very enjoyable.

Let's start off with one of my famous Food Reviews. The latest item to catch my attention was the Burger King Angus burger, which has been the subject of a recent ad blitz. I have a somewhat curious relationship with Burger King. I don't really like their food; if it's bad burgers I'm into, then I tend to opt for McDonald's. (Save your letters: it's entirely possible that, on an objective scale, Burger King's burger are "better". But I grew up on the Arches, so I'm conforted by the familiar.)

My first prolonged exposure to Burger King came during college, when I worked summers in a sporting-goods store that had a BK next door. I regarded this as a stroke of good fortune, since I didn't have time to drive elsewhere for lunch, but as time passed I was struck with the slowly dawning realization that I didn't actually like Burger King's burgers. Ever since that realization, I've tended to maintain a healthy distance from my local BK. Even after I moved to my current apartment, which is right across the street from a BK, I've passed it up.

Except that every so often, Burger King will roll out a new burger, or improved fries, or some such thing, and like a lemming, I'll find myself going over to check it out. It's like Lewis Black's relationship with candy corn. When Lewis was a youngster, he says, his mother introduced him to candy corn: "Try it! It's corn that tastes like candy!" And Lewis went, "Duh, okay," and tried it, and hated it. But every year, like an Alzheimer's patient, he sees some in a candy dish somewhere, and goes, "Ooooh! Corn that tastes like candy!" and pops it in his mouth, and shouts, "Son of a bitch! This sucks!" This is how it is with me and Burger King.

The last time, they suckered me in with something called a "Shaq Paq." Clearly, I should have known better. Shaquille O'Neal may be a fine basketball player, and he's clearly no stranger to the drive-thru window, but he could not reasonably be described as a gourmand. What made the "Shaq Paq" special? It was a bacon-cheeseburger combo meal, except that the burger was served on "toasted sourdough bread". Ooooh! I've got to get me some of that! Suffice to say, if this bread had ever actually been toasted, it was at some point before the bread arrived at the restaurant, and by this time the bread had the texture and mouthfeel of a cosmetic sponge. After that debacle, I swore never to fall for Burger King's promotional chicanery again. And I kept my word. Until now.

When I learned that BK had unveiled a burger made of Angus beef, I admit I was intrigued. This was a departure from usual fast-food standards. I was not foolish enough to accept BK's contention that this was in fact a "steakburger," but it sure did look nice. And I was out of food at the house. And I'm weak and pathetic. So off to the drive-thru I went. I chose the standard model over the bacon-and-cheese, on the theory that I'd prefer to make it through the weekend without suffering a coronary, if at all possible. The Angus designation was worth a $1 surcharge over a regular burger.

The first thing I noticed was that, rather than ketchup or mustard or mayo, this burger was topped with steak sauce. It bears a visual resemblance to A1, but its flavor note is a touch mellower, more like Heinz 57. It was topped with sauteed onions and lettuce, sauteed onions because that's the sort of thing one typically envisions on a "steakburger", and lettuce because it's supposedly healthy, and that helps fast-food executives to sleep at night. My personal belief is that if I wanted lettuce I'd eat a salad, but I am not a fast-food executive. But this is irrelevant, really; when one is eating something billed as a "steakburger", one does not care about the toppings. One cares about the meat.

And the meat, as it turns out, is pretty darn good. The hamburger was in fact more tender than one typically expects in a joint such as this. Some credit may go to the Angus pedigree of the beef, but at least as much credit goes to the fact that the patty is thicker than normal at a joint such as this. The main problem with fast-food hamburgers, in my view, is that in order to comply with health regulations they must be cooked into oblivion. With your typical fast-food patty, by the time the meat hits that sanitary state of advanced doneness, the moisture has long since departed the premises. With a thicker patty, at least some of the juice makes the cut. While the Angus does not approach what I would do with my own grill, it does at least bear a congenial resemblance to a burger that I might produce. And when it comes to fast food, a congenial resemblance is as good as it gets. I do recommend the Angus burger for those whose taste buds have not been dulled into insensitivity by fast-food overexposure.

Actually, as I was downing my burger, I recall thinking, "Gee, I've never had a fast-food burger this tender before." Then I recalled that I had. A couple years ago, facing extinction, the Hardee's (or Carl's Jr. for you Westerners) chain junked its menu and threw its lot in with what it called "Thickburgers", which are indeed a double-fisted eating experience. I tried one of those once, and found it congenial. The only problem is that, in order to convince us customers of the value we were getting, Hardee's dumped so many condiments on the burger that they squirted out all over the place when I tried to bite into it. The Thickburger itself, though, possessed the same tenderness I discovered in the Angus. Bonus points to Burger King for managing to put that same tenderness into a reasonably tidy package (I ate the whole burger and it didn't drip on my shirt once, which is quite an accomplishment, as anyone who knows me will attest.)

Next item of business on the weekend recap: the trip Papa Shaft and I took to Frederick to see the Keys. I like Frederick a lock; the whole town seems to have been preserved in amber in about 1957. The old downtown storefronts are still occupied, the housing stock is a mixture of old-urban rowhouses and early-suburban ranches (though the modern McMansions are creeping in around the edges). The people, too, tend to carry themselves with a hip-to-be-square old-fashioned attitude. Crowds at Keys games generally have that slow-lane defiantly-rural look. It's a very nice change of pace from the usual Fedroplex rat-race atmosphere.

Imagine, then, my surprise upon looking at the outfield advertisements and seeing an ad for "Time Bomb Tattoos & Piercing." I am quite certain that ad was not there the last time I was in Frederick. The times, they are a-changin'.

My faith in Frederick's fundamental squareness was restored, however, by the folks sitting in front of us. These were Good Old Folks if I ever saw them. They had the out-of-fashion shirts, the old-school haircuts, and they were talking in that old-person way about their adult children (who don't visit enough) and their friends (all of whom seem to be in, just out of or going into the hospital for something or other). Now this is a Frederick crowd.

Unfortunately, for such a big crowd (beyond capacity, I'd say), it was a fairly comatose lot. The PA would try to encourage some rhythmic clapping, and the crowd largely seemed to ignore it. Papa and I were, of course, clapping right along and trying without much success to generate enthusiasm. About the fifth inning, I finally turned to Papa and complained. "We've got a crowd of at least six thousand here," I said, "and we're the only two people clapping. What's going on here?" At this point the woman in front of me (one of the elderly Frederick women) turned around and smiled and said, "Maybe you're the only ones with rhythm!" Now I knew I was home: People as Caucasian as myself are rarely accused of having rhythm. Certainly this has never happened to me in the Fedroplex. At last I'd found a group of people whiter than me!

When the elderly folks left in the eighth, the same lady turned back and said, "Thanks for making it lively for us!" Either our youthful enthusiasm really was welcome, or our cheering was driving them to distraction, but either way we enjoyed the comment. Papa and I consider it our job to bring vigor and enthusiasm to sporting crowds, and we accomplished our goal that night. A successful trip, to be sure.

Speaking of trips: Papa and I are headed to Pittsburgh this weekend to take in a Pirates game. Anyone who has suggestions on Pittsburgh sights or experiences that we shouldn't miss, or anyone in the Pittsburgh area who'd be willing to buy us a beer, leave a note in the comments.

Let's see, what else did I do this weekend? Ah, yes... I watched Sunday Night Baseball. And I've noticed a growing trend on the show: the ongoing disintegration of Joe Morgan. I seem to remember that Joe used to be a thoughtful analyst, contributing usefully to the Sunday night broadcasts. Nowadays, possibly under the withering glare of criticisms from the sabermetric types, Joe's become more and more useless. What's more, I think his broadcast partner, Jon Miller, is looking for subtle ways to make Joe look bad during the broadcast.

Think I'm kidding? Here are a few highlights I noticeed from last night's broadcast:

- The Yanks have runners on first and second, no out, full count on Matsui, and they send the runners on the pitch. Joe says it's a bad idea. What if they get a strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play? The runners go, Matsui strikes out, and Joe says, "I told 'em they shouldn't do it." But no sooner do the words leave poor Joe's mouth than the runner beats the throw. Joe mutters, "Well, it worked that time." And Jon Miller says, in his stagiest voice, "It's a brilliant play!"

- Ruben Sierra bloops a ball into left to score a couple runs. And Joe says, "That's where Ruben Sierra's big bat helps him," explaining that Sierra's big bat slowed down his swing and allowed him to make contact. And then he says Mike Stanton "made the pitch he wanted," a slow curve. So help me out here... if Sierra has a slow swing because of his bat, don't you *not* want to throw him a slow curve? Don't you want to throw, I don't know, an inside fastball? Jon is rendered speechless by this burst of "logic."

- Jon points out that the Mets have the best ERA in the NL, then says, "That may change after today." And Joe says, "Well, the Mets have three errors up there, so I don't know how many of those runs are earned." Which he could presumably figure out by consulting his scorecard. Which Jon promptly does and says, "Actually, those errors have not figured into the scoring. They're all earned." Joe says nothing.

- Jon describes the Mets' performance on the evening as "Sisyphean," and then asks Joe if he (Jon) is pronouncing the word correctly. Joe goes, "Uhhhhh... I don't really know what that means." Jon then proceeds to explain the legend of Sisyphus in excruciating detail, and Joe says, "Um, okay. I think I get you now." The camera then cuts to the two men sitting in the booth, and Joe looks like he wants to hide under the desk. At this point, Joe starts to reconsider the whole "talking" idea and starts saying less and less throughout the rest of the game, going the entire top of the eighth without saying a word.

- Joe finally decides to open his mouth again. Derek Jeter beats out a dribbler for a base hit, and Joe says, "That's what you call smellin' a base hit. He smelled it coming, he hasn't had a hit today, so he kicked it into second gear." That's priceless analysis right there.

- There was a trivia question about which Yankee won the most World Series titles by age 30. Jon reads the question, and then says, "So, what's the answer, Joe?" Joe says it's either Mantle or Berra. Jon says in a hugely put-on voice, "Really? More than Joe D?" And Joe stumbles all over the place, "Well, I don't know nothin'.... It's just a guess.... I have no idea." Jon twists the knife in a little further: "You do know that DiMaggio won the Series each of his first four years. Joe fumpfers around some more, and basically withdraws his answer.

So then comes the answer: Mantle and Berra are tied. Jon says, "See, there, Joe Morgan gave you the answer right there!" And Joe says, "Well, that was a guess, you know. I figured Yogi has so many rings, and he couldn't have won them all after age 30. I stink at trivia, you know." And Jon says, in the by-now-familiar put-on stage voice, "Hey, you're 1-for-1 so far. You're the most brilliant trivia mind I've ever seen!" The camera is on Joe, who tries to smile.

- The Mets' batter, Eric Valent, just had a kid, Jon tells us. And Joe starts rambling about bumping into his boss, Steve Anderson, who also just had a kid. Then Valent jacks a home run into the upper deck, and Joe says, and I quote: "You know why that happened? Because I was busy talking about Steve Anderson, and it interrupted my focus." (I'm not sure if he confused himself with the pitcher or what.) Then, deciding to provide the color commentary that he's allegedly being paid for, he adds, "That was a big fly."

In between Joe-isms, I clicked over to a stand-up comic named Ron White, who said something that might just as easily apply to Joe: "Hey, the next time you get an idea in your head? Just let it go."

What can we do about this? Well, I think it's time to start the Joe Morgan Watch. Every Monday, I'll report Joe's flubs and inanities (and Jon's provocations and put-downs) from the previous night's broadcast. You, The Reader, can help by watching the games and passing along word of any incidents you notice, or anything you may spot in Joe's online chats or columns. Drop a note in the comments, and I'll see that your contribution gets credited. Travis Nelson over at Boy of Summer ought to be able to help us out here. What say you, Travis?

I want to stress here that I like Joe and don't wish him ill. It's just that his "analysis" is making it increasingly difficult to enjoy Sunday Night Baseball. I would just turn the sound down, but then I'd miss Miller's traditionally excellent play-by-play (incidentally, I think this may be why Miller's taken to undermining Joe). ESPN needs to find Joe another job, and get a commentator who's capable of commenting usefully on the game, before we're all driven to watching "Major League" on DVD every Sunday night.

Finally, our man Frinklin is seeing the bright side of the Sonics' pick in last week's draft:

Everything I read about Robert Swift says he could be great 3 or 4 years down the road. I guess I can handle that. It was either him or yet another shooting guard.

Besides, anything short of in-their-prime Hakeem Olajuwon or Micheal Jordan joining, the Sonics are still gonna be middle-of-the-road.


Two thoughts about that first paragraph:

(1) If he actually gets good 3 or 4 years down the road, that'll be right on time for his rookie contract to expire. Angry Sonics fans will run him out of town, and he'll hook on somewhere else just in time to redeem all that promise.

(2) Has there been a white big man acquired in the draft who's had success in the NBA since Rik Smits? Not to rub it in or anything, but here's the Bill Simmons list of big white guys who've been drafted the last few years:

Alec Kessler ... Rich King ... Adam Keefe ... Frederic Weis ... Scott Haskin ... Eric Montross ... Cherokee Parks ... Loren Meyer ... Todd Fuller ... Les Jepsen ... Bill Curley ... Chris Anstey ... Scot Pollard ... Paul Grant ... Michael Doleac ... Jim McIlvaine ... Gheorghe Muresan ... George Zidek ... Jeff Foster ... Scott Padgett ... Joel Przybilla ... Jason Collier ... Vitaly Potapenko ... Geert Hammink ... Troy Murphy ... Jake Tsakalidis ... Michael Bradley ... Bruno Sundov ... Kirk Haston ... Travis Knight ... Radoslav Nesterovic ... Jake Voskuhl ... Evan Eschmeyer ... Alex Radojevic ... Zydrunas Ilgauskas ... Brian Evans ... Greg Ostertag ... Loren Meyer ... Dwayne Schintzius ... Primor Brezic ... Curtis Borchardt ... Chris Mihm.

Now, maybe Swift is the guy who breaks the string. But I have my doubts.

On your second point, that's dead on... the Sonics just don't have the kind of game-changing players you need to make a splash in the West. Ray Allen is probably the Sonics' best player right now. I'm familiar with Allen from Milwaukee. He's smooth, very talented, and a fine human being. I'd want my sister to date him. But can he carry a team on his back? No. He's one of those guys in the very-good-but-not-great class, the players who can't win without help (just like Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Vince Carter). And the Sonics don't have the talent or cap room to get Allen the help he needs. (I keep hearing rumors that the Sonics are going to trade Allen, as if every other team in the league doesn't already know that Allen is a hugely overpaid second banana. Good luck.)

That's all for today. Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are back tomorrow!
 
Friday, June 25, 2004
  A COUPLE THINGS I FORGOT

Jack Ryan is officially out of the Illinois Senate race. It's almost a shame. I guess this means I'll have to find some new material next week.

Also, seems that Dick Cheney invited Pat Leahy to "Go f*** yourself" during a discussion in the Senate the other day. I think it's pretty evident now that Cheney isn't going to be renominated. Just like we knew Joe Trippi's days as Howard Dean's campaign manager were numbered when he told off the media, no politician who intends to remain in office goes around making obscene remarks to opposing politicians in a public setting. (At least unless that politican is Jim Moran.) Look for Cheney to be replaced at the convention (Giuliani seems like the most logical replacement, though I think he'd be an awful president).

Okay, I'm done now, 
  Today's Musical Selection: "Loverboy" by Billy Ocean

TOO TIRED EVEN TO THINK OF A GOOD TITLE

Hello, all. Well, an exhausting week draws to a close. Jack Ryan is reportedly teetering on the edge of withdrawing from the race. (I had to mention that, in keeping with our Jump On Jack week theme.) Republicans are reportedly scoping out a replacement. (Is anyone else sick of the whole last-minute candidate-switch game? Both parties are guilty; Democrats did it in New Jersey with Robert Torricelli, now Republicans are poised to do it with Ryan. Shouldn't there be a Dance-With-The-One-That-Brung-Ya Rule, that says that any candidate nominated by a party has to remain that party's candidate through the election, barring death or incapacitation? I didn't like the Lautenberg switch, and I don't like this one.) And in New York, the NBA allegedly held some sort of draft.

I was planning to skip the draft, but my cousin, the Gentleman's Gentleman, had it on, and I wanted to be able to share the moment with him. Unfortunately, it's kind of hard to share the moment when most of the moments consist of statements like, "Who's that?" and "Is he any good?" and "Where's he from?" This was easily the least enjoyable draft I've ever seen, due to the unknown factor. It was even worse than last year's all-Euro draft. It was so bad ESPN used "Who Are You?" as the draft's theme song. Just brutal.

At one point, I was tempted to suggest a drinking game to my cousin: take a drink for every time someone picked a player we couldn't pick out of a police lineup. But I quickly realized that we'd be dead of alcohol poisoning by the end of the first round.

To make matters even duller, my team of choice (the Milwaukee Bucks) didn't have a pick in the draft. They'd already dealt their first-rounder to God-knows-where for God-knows-who, they took one look at this year's pool, wisely decided that they'd be better off re-activating Terry Porter and traded their remaining pick to Charlotte for someone named Zaza Pachulia, whom I've never heard of, but his name is fun to say. (Try it!)

I managed to amuse myself by placing a side bet on whose head was going to explode first, Dick Vitale's or Stephen A. Smith's. Those two should never be involved in the same telecast; it's like listening to a building implode, live and in stereo. Vitale's most spirited rant came when he spent a good solid minute and a half ripping the Celtics for taking Al Jefferson. He was screaming about how Doc Rivers had nothing to work with and the Celtics were doomed and Danny Ainge was a moron and so forth. All because the Celtics took one high-schooler, and a highly regarded one at that. What's more, Boston spent its next three picks on college guys and wound up having a good draft. But don't let the facts get in your way, Dickie V.

(For more on the draft, check out Bill Simmons' always-hilarious draft diary.)

Seriously, is there a reason besides inertia that we still broadcast the NBA draft at all? Does it matter? Ever wonder why the baseball and hockey drafts aren't televised? For a very good reason: You don't know these guys. Really. My Capitals are all set to pick Alexander Ovechkin in the next NHL draft. I keep hearing he's the next Gretzky. But I've never seen him play! His name means nothing to me. In the NFL draft, on the other hand, teams pick guys you know. You've seen them play, you have some idea who they are, so it's meaningful when your team takes somebody. It used to be that way for the NBA too. No more.

The Atlanta Hawks took some high-school kid named Josh Smith. Jay Bilas ripped the kid for having "no right hand." Until they cut away to Stuart Scott's interview with the kid, I might have figured Bilas was speaking literally. After all, these are the Hawks; taking a one-handed player might not even be on their list of top ten draft blunders. It turns out Smith has both hands, and he just can't shoot with his right. But how was I to know?

Finally, I wanted to commiserate with Frinklin, who's upset with the Sonics for taking Robert Swift. I can't blame him. I've been calling him "Robert Stiff" all week. What is it with NBA teams and 7-foot white guys? When was the last time they drafted one that could play? My dad's a Celtics fan, and Boston was reportedly hot for Swift, a tidbit which concerned him greatly. When the Sonics grabbed Swift, I called Dad. "Hey, Dad, your guys missed out on your boy there," I said. Dad replied, "Thank God. That kid's going to be the next Shawn Bradley. I said, "No, Dad, he has the potential to be Shawn Bradley. If he's lucky." Sorry, Frinklin. The Sonics now lead the league in centers who can't play (Vitaly Potapenko, Calvin Booth, Jerome James and Swift).

Enough about the draft. Time to talk about something important. Like mustard.

I've had cause to think about mustard this week. See, I've been taking sandwiches to work, which is not my custom. It not being my custom, it was no surprise that I was out of mustard at home. Rather than actually go to the store and buy some, I decided to "borrow" some from the break room at work. Unfortunately, the only kind that was around was the little mustard packets you get when you order Chinese take-out.

Now, one of my favorite phrases from Ball Four describes a rookie trying to "throw a strike at the knees with Chinese mustard on it." I liked the phrase for its evocative nature, but I was unclear on the precise nature of it... I thought it might be some sort of weird racial slur. But now that I've experienced actual Chinese mustard for myself, I can attest that no slur is intended. Chinese mustard is indeed sinus-perforatingly hot. I am thankful that I survived that sandwich with my digestive system intact.

Reminds me of a time when I was just a youthful mediocrity, putting together a turkey sandwich for lunch one day when my parents weren't home. I wanted to put some mustard on the sandwich, but there was none about. Improvising, I poked around in the spice cabinet and found some English mustard powder. And mirabile dictu, there were instructions on the back for making your very own mustard! A little water, a little vinegar, some mustard powder, bada-bing, bada-boom. I whipped it all up with a flourish (I fancied myself an amateur chemist in those days, so this was fun), let it set for a bit, and prepared to spread it on my sandwich. Thankfully, I hesitated before putting it on the rest of the sandwich. Unfortunately, I decided that the only appropriate way to taste-test my creation was to jam a big ol' spoonful of it right into my mouth. I might as well have just set my tongue on fire. It was the better part of a week before my taste buds were fully operational again.

So, my complaint: It is manifestly unfair that French's and Grey Poupon and the whole-grain stuff I like and the English powder and the Chinese stuff in packets are all referred to as "mustard." This is a sick joke. Isn't there some sort of truth-in-labeling law we can apply here? Can't we at least call the English and Chinese stuff "Atomic Mustard" or something?

At any rate, the weekend beckons, and I must answer the call. See you Monday! 
Thursday, June 24, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Just Plain Folks" by Lonesome Rhodes

WE'VE GOT EXPOS RELOCATION FEVER!

Hello there, everyone! Picking up on a thread I mentioned briefly yesterday, I'd like to discuss the fate of the Montreal Expos. Having grown up in Fedroplex, and being fully aware of our history of near-miss attempts to land a team here over the years, I've developed a certain callused cynicism about the pats on the head MLB periodically issues to keep everyone in the game. But this time, I think MLB is serious. The Expos are going to go somewhere, and soon.

Why do I think this? Because everyone's suddenly rushing forward with new offers. Norfolk recently announced a big season-ticket drive. Portland upgraded its stadium-funding plan. Las Vegas unveiled plans for a big-deal mega-bucks facility. Northern Virginia has promised a fully-funded stadium in the exurban wilderness. And DC just "discovered" a great new waterfront site for its stadium. Coincidence? I don't think so. Considering that this joint step-up has not occurred in any of the previous years that MLB was "on the verge of a decision," I suspect someone's been whispering in some ears out there.

And the time is right. Having dragged out the Expos' fate for three seasons now, they've got all the leverage they're ever going to get. And after this year, the big dogs are likely to drop out of the bidding. Washington's essentially told MLB that it's now or never. Virginia's state funding approval expires at the end of the year (this affects Norfolk as well as Northern Virginia). And Portland's about to lose its stadium-boosting mayor, Vera Katz. (The election is in November, and neither candidate to succeed Katz seems to favor stadium funding.) At that point, MLB will be left deciding between Las Vegas, San Antonio, San Juan and Monterrey. Whoopee.

So where does this leave everyone? San Antonio's mayor has stated publicly that the city isn't ready for a baseball team, so we can safely eliminate them. San Juan isn't exactly setting the world afire in their role as temporary Expos host, so they're probably out. And after a brief spasm of interest in Monterrey, that bid has fallen strangely quiet, so I'd mark them a long shot.

That leaves DC, Northern Virginia, Portland, Norfolk and Las Vegas. I still don't think Vegas is ready. It's a trendy choice, I know, and a lot of players undoubtedly wish MLB would go there. But the funding is mostly mythical, the market's still on the small side, and MLB is definitely skittish about the whole gambling issue, with Pete Rose still floating around out there. Vegas will get a team eventually, I think, but not now. Not until Rose dies or another league (probably the NBA) goes there.

Norfolk puts on a serious face and tries damned hard to look like a real contending town, but I do not believe that MLB could put a team there with a straight face. There just isn't the population base. The corporate presence is so-so, and the market has zero cachet. If the Expos wind up here, MLB is really desperate.

That leaves Washington, Northern Virginia and Portland as the primary competitors. Really, it's a question of Portland vs. the Fedroplex, and then Washington vs. Northern Virginia. Let's look at the bidding.

Demographically, Washington crushes Portland. It's twice Portland's size (in terms of metro area), and it's considerably wealthier. On the other hand, Washington has lost two franchises before (a minor but persistent concern) and there's always the looming specter of Angelos and the Orioles (a big concern). The Mariners have made some noise about Portland cutting in on their turf, but this is a smaller concern.

All things considered, the two cities grade out about equal. So what decides it? Well, let's assume that MLB wants to put teams in both cities eventually. Where do you go first? To the city that's been waiting the longest. Expecially if that city is running out of faith in your promises.

Out-of-towners may not be aware of the history here. We've been teased ever since Bob $hort rode the greed train on down to the Sun Belt in '72. The Padres were so close to coming here in '74 that Topps printed the Padres' cards that year with "Washington" on them. President Ford went to bat for the city in '76, to no avail. We were the alleged leaders in the '87 expansion derby that never happened. We just missed the cut for the '93 and '98 expansions. And the Astros were signed, sealed and delivered to us in '96 before Houston pulled a last-minute stadium offer out of its hindquarters. Add the Expos tease to that, and you'll understand that we're a little pissed. The only other city that was ever jacked around this long was Tampa Bay, and they got their reward (if you want to call it that) last time around. Washington is overdue. Portland can put up with a pat on the head or two. (Notwithstanding the mayoral candidate's supposed anti-stadium stance, I bet they'll come around when they get another offer.)

Want proof? Here you go. Portland is willing to wait for the next thing that comes along. They can afford it... their demographics will only improve with time, and the population still thinks of the baseball chase as a novelty. Portland is new to the game. Washington is the mistress that's heard the "I'm about to leave my wife for you" promise too many times. If MLB wants to get Washington in the league ever, it had better be now.

So if it's the Fedroplex, where do we go? Downtown or the boondocks? The answer should be obvious... downtown is where it's at. But since this is not immediately obvious to some people, let's take a moment to lay out the case for Northern Virginia.

The Fedroplex is a bloated, sprawling area, with a lot of the sprawl spreading in the direction of Virginia. A lot of the area's high-tech business, which is a big draw for young people and families, are located in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County, which borders the stadium site, is one of the area's wealthiest. And the farther away from Baltimore the stadium is, the happier Peter Angelos will theoretically be.

All these points are reasonable. I'd even be willing to concede that the population center of the area is west of DC. But that doesn't mean the Loudoun ballpark plan isn't stupid.

It would be one thing if the stadium was in Arlington, as originally planned. That would have had many of the advantages of the DC plan (Metro accessibility, decent neighborhood pre- and post-game dining options, view of the monuments) while still being a bit more convenient for Northern Virginia. Sticking it at the far end of the sprawl, though, is idiotic. The fact that it's beyond the reach of Metro means fans will be forced to drive there. And traffic in Northern Virginia is horrendous. I leave work at 5:30. I usually don't get home until 6:30 or later. And the stadium site is several miles beyond my house. In order to guarantee arrival for a 7:05 or 7:35 start, I'd probably have to leave work early. Dinner's not an option. This defeats the whole argument for attending a midweek game. I might as well go to Baltimore.

If the stadium was in Loudoun County, midweek attendance is pretty much restricted to people who work in western Fairfax County or beyond. (And let's hope they live there too... good luck trying to get home from the game to, say, Alexandria or Rockville in time for a decent night's sleep.) And it's not the same argument for people trying to get from western Fairfax to a dowtown stadium in time for the game... they'd be driving against traffic, and Metro is an option.

And it's probably a good thing I don't have time to consider having dinner before a game in Loudoun, because the scene out there is dead. Virginia baseball boosters say that development will grow in around the stadium. Sure. Ask the residents of Landover how they enjoyed the boom that surrounded the Capital Centre after it was built. After they stop laughing, you might get an answer.

So there's one man's (admittedly biased) outlook on the situation. If MLB wants to do the most it can with the Expos, bring them to downtown DC. If you don't, and in five years you're looking at crowds of 8,000 a night in Norfolk or San Juan, don't come crying to me.

A quick return to the Jack Ryan business. While all of us hip sophisticates out on the coasts and in the big cities rush to pat ourselves on the back for believing that sex clubs are no big deal, it's worth remembering that not everyone feels the same way. That's what I love about the Midwest. And I especially love the tart, acerbic tone of this editorial from the Peoria Journal Star:

Senate nominee Jack Ryan told a Chicago radio audience Tuesday his "character has been proven by" divorce files that accuse him of pressuring his wife to have sex in public - and telling her crying "was not a 'turn-on'" - since they do not accuse him of adultery.

"There's no breaking of marriage laws" or the Ten Commandments, he said in an interview on WLS-AM. If the worst people can say is that over eight years of marriage he took his wife to places "she felt uncomfortable ... then I think people will say, gosh, that guy's lived a pretty clean life."

Some people may say that, but probably not many in central Illinois, where the average resident is not accustomed to using "sex" and "club" in the same sentence and following it with the phrase "pretty clean life." If what Ryan's ex-wife accuses him of doing is bothersome - some will think it perverted - then the defense he offered Tuesday sounded grotesque.


Isn't that great? Seriously, I love Peoria. Any place where the phrase "perverted" is used unironically, and not to denote approval, is all right with me. I still believe that Ryan's sex life is his own business, but I'm glad there are still places in this country where people are bothered by this stuff. (Incidentally, Ray LaHood, one of the few Republicans to slam Ryan about the sex, represents Peoria. No coincidence, I'm sure.)

Will Saletan scolds the Republicans who wanted to run President Clinton out of town on a rail but are willing to stand by Ryan. They do deserve a scolding, but what about the Democrats would would roast Ryan but wanted Republicans to leave Clinton alone? There's ample room for hypocrisy charges on both sides.

That's all for today. Mush tomorrow! 
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Blues Beach" by Steely Dan

TALKING POLITICS... AND SPORTS

Hey there, everyone! Today we display a stunning lack of originality in hitting two of my favorite subjects, politics and sports. Very male sorts of things to talk about, no? You can almost feel the dark wood paneling of the Elks Lodge closing in on you. So fire up a stogie and away we go!

Let's begin by revisiting the Jack Ryan mess. The candidate himself held a press conference yesterday at which he demonstrated an impressive skill for shooting himself in the foot. First he stood by the denial of the charges he gave during the divorce hearing. Then he said that, not that the charges are true or anything, but if they were, it's not that bad:

She says three times over eight years [of marriage], we went to places that she felt uncomfortable. That's the worst of it. I think almost any spouse would take that as, "Gosh, if that's the worst someone can say about me after seeing me live my life for eight years . . ." then people say, "Gosh, the guy's lived a pretty clean life."


Then, in a feat of verbal gymnastics that would make Bill Clinton blush, he argued that he did not mislead the state GOP chair when she asked him if there was embarrassing information in his divorce files: "I don't think the phrase, `I don't think so,' is misleading." Oh, of course not. He didn't mean "I don't think so" meaning "no," he meant "I don't think so" meaning "yes." (If this is his outlook on the language, perhaps the whole thing is easily explained. Perhaps Jack Ryan asked Mrs. Ryan if she wanted to go to a sex club, and she said, "I don't think so.")

At any rate, the Republican Party is slowly backing away from Jack Ryan, smiling and nodding and saying "We're right behind you, Jack," as they nervously peer behind them, looking for the exits. Considering that, in addition to this scandal, Ryan is under fire for having a staffer stalk his opponent, Barack Obama, all day with a video camera, I think the GOP would be wise to disassociate themselves from this particular train wreck.

At any rate, my man Frinklin weighs in on whether sex scandals should ruin candidates:

Hanky-Pankydom is never a reason not to vote for someone in my eyes. I think these so-called scandals highlight the backwards ways Americans still view sex, not any personal failing. My problem with Clinton was never that he got some, it was that he constantly lied and disassembled about said getting.

This is a popular view, one rather similar to my own. The sex is far less troublesome than the lying. Particularly in this case, and particularly against an opponent who has already demonstrated that the truth will set you free.

Did you know that Barack Obama did cocaine as a teenager? You didn't? Well, why isn't this a cause celebre? Call the papers! Find the source and splash the whole sordid story in all media!

The reason that this hasn't happened is that the source is Obama himself. He wrote a book which laid out the story in some detail. All the fun was gone for the news media, what with the story being old news, and so Obama has gone largely unscathed by this. Once again, we see that Ryan is a dumbass.

However, there is one caveat to this sex-is-okay-but-lying-isn't story. Take Bill Clinton's case as an example. I'm sure he wasn't at all eager to reveal the truth about the Lewinsky story. But he had one particularly powerful reason not to tell: he'd have to explain it to his wife. And Hillary does not strike me as the sort of woman who would react to a confession of infidelity with a shrug and a smile. And it's not as though he could cheerfully confess to the media and still keep it from her, since I'm sure Hillary watches the news. What was Clinton to do? (Other than the obvious -- keep his zipper shut -- but you can't undo what's already been done.)

See, this is the problem in figuring out what to make of all this: Infidelity always involves lying. Unless we expect politicians to run home and confess their infidelities immediately after commission, this is unavoidable.

Of course, this doesn't apply to Ryan, who is already divorced and had nothing to fear but public humiliation and the end of his political career, which appears to have been his primary concern. If we're going to find fault with Ryan, we should fault his overwhelming sense of personal ambition, which is hardly a first among the political set.

Frinklin, however, finds something else to fault him for:

My biggest problem with Jack Ryan, other than he might well torpedo GOP chances in Illinois, is that he's enough of a chowderhead to screw things up with Jeri Ryan in the first place. Dude, you're the guy who gets to have sex with Seven of Nine every night. Her: Smokin' hot Hollywood babe. You: Irritating Frat-Boy Wanna-be Politician type. You're lucky to get her in the first place, don't mess it up. If she doesn't want to do public S&M, move on, and remember that every straight guy in America short of Brad Pitt would GLADLY take your place.

Amen and double amen to that, Frinklin. Let us keep our eye on the ball here. As a man, you have to dope-slap Jack Ryan for having a golden opportunity such as this, and screwing it up. If you find yourself dating/consorting with/married to a woman of this caliber, you don't go around trying to force her into public bondage. You get down on your knees every night, thank God for giving you an opportunity you do not and can never deserve, and go on from there. I'll follow Frinklin in quoting the great BB: "Whadda maroon."

Speaking of politics, the other night I was discussing the election with my friend, the estimable Ms. Wizard, an MIT-trained engineer. I was surprised to hear her say that she was planning to vote for Bush. Since Kerry figures to be most appealing to serious-minded intellectuals such as Ms. Wizard, I had to ask why. She explained, "Bush won my vote when he gave that speech calling for expanding the space program. I think that space exploration is very important, and Bush is serious about it." I pointed out that Bush's inspiring speech was not followed by any actual action, in terms of funding. She replied, "Doesn't matter. Bush is interested in space, and Kerry isn't. That's it."

Argh. In my role as occasional Kerry proselytizer, the resistance I receive usually comes more in the form of "His speeches put me to sleep" or "He looks like an undertaker." This is a new one by me. Senator, if you're reading this, give a speech about the space program!

Switching gears now from politics to sports, Frinklin weighs in on being Matt Bush vs. Darko:

I'd still want to be Matt Bush, simply because Darko is the biggest goober in America.

Perhaps so, but Darko is now a very rich goober with a championship ring. So he's got that going for him. Meanwhile, Bush isn't rich until the check clears, and for now he's just an idiot in jail. Either way, both of these gentlemen are on their way to pissing away opportunity many of us would sacrifice years off our lives to get. So a dope slap for both of them.

How about those Devil Rays! It's 12 wins in a row now after last night's 5-1 win over Toronto. Is there any stopping this juggernaut? I can only imagine the riots going on in Tampa right now over the news. Shuffleboard courts will be burning tonight!

Seriously, this is a nice first step for a young team looking to make the breakthrough to respectability. Obviously it won't last, but Lou Piniella's starting to get the kids believing in themselves, and that counts for a lot. I'll pencil Tampa in for 75 wins, which could well allow them to finish ahead of Baltimore. Who'd have thunk it?

On the Expos relocation front, Northern Virginia is the latest group to make its move, announcing plans for a fully-funded stadium near Dulles Airport. Non-Washingtonians might assume this is a good location... after all, the airport must be part of a development hub, right?

Actually, it isn't. Dulles is an hour away from downtown D.C., and surrounded primarily by cookie-cutter mansions and blah shopping centers with gargantuan parking lots. It's not accessible by Metrorail, and it's a brutal drive during rush hour (which is when fans would be trying to get to most games). It's basically a kowtow to Peter Angelos' ridiculous contention that Washington is part of Baltimore's market. And for this reason, plus the promise of full funding, I found the prospect worrying. Marc Fisher cut the plans to shreds yesterday, which I figure he wouldn't have done if it weren't a serious competitor.

I shared my concerns with Papa Shaft, and he told me not to worry. Everyone's suddenly coming up with impressive-sounding plans, he said, because DC's so close to getting the team that it's clearly time for the other markets to put their best foot forward. While everyone else is planning, he says, DC is acting. Or, to use his great and colorful phrase, "The yip dogs always make the most noise when the pit bull's busy." His analysis strikes me right. And I hope it is.

Finally, fans of ESPN's Bill Simmons will be glad to know that he's now got his own Page 2 page. Will success spoil the Sports Guy? Hard to say, but we'll find out. Way to go, Bill.

That's all for today. Something else tomorrow! 
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Tell Me Something Good" by Chaka Khan

SEX SCANDAL HULLABALOO

Hello again, all! Today I want to talk about sex. (Oh, boy!) What with Bill Clinton's autobiography "My Life As A Cheatin' Horndog (And Also President)" out on the streets, everyone's fondly reminiscing about the days when sex was a big-time scandal. Not WMDs, not Halliburton, not who knew what about who wanted to attack us where and when, but good old-fashioned tomfoolery. Ah, too bad those halcyon days are gone.

But are they? No! Thanks to Jack Ryan, candidate for the Senate from Illinois, those fun times may be coming back again! Yippee! Everyone grab your moral-condemnation cudgels!

Did you know that Jack Ryan used to be married to Jeri Ryan, the hot blonde woman on Boston Public? Notice that I said "used to." They got divorced a few years back, and it was reportedly a pretty nasty business. Nasty enough that Jack Ryan tried very hard to keep the files closed. For the kids, he said. After all, who wants to read about Mommy and Daddy saying nasty things about each other?

Unfortunately, a judge did thought the files should go public, and now we understand why Jack Ryan wanted to keep them a secret. Seems Jack Ryan has a thing for kinky sex clubs, and brought Mrs. Ryan to several of them without telling her beforehand, and tried to pressure her into doing the horizontal mambo in front of other people, which she refused.

The reverberations figure to go on with this one for a while. Rep. Ray LaHood, a Republican who was out in the lead after Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, is back again, saying he's "shocked" (shocked!) that Jack Ryan would even think of running for office with this kind of background, and called on him to drop out of the race.

Does anyone else find the sound bites involved with these scandals tiresomely repetitive? The critics of the accused say that a man like this has no business in public office. The defenders respond that the critics should quit nosing around in people's private lives. The critics say that they can't believe the defenders are condoning this behavior. The defenders say they aren't condoning anything, but this whole scandal is just about sex, and the critics are just jealous because they aren't getting any. The critics reply that it may seem to be all about sex, but it's not, because (he lied about it/he violated the sanctity of marriage/he doesn't respect women/he did it in his office/it's just plain sick). And we are too getting some.

It's all so numbingly familiar, isn't it? One minor twist: Jack Ryan, like LaHood, is a Republican.

First of all, I think Rep. LaHood deserves points for his consistency in arguing that politicians having dirty and/or illicit sex is bad. (Although we might feel a touch sorry for Mrs. LaHood.) Ryan's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, also deserves points for declining to comment on the whole business, saying it's not his business. (Obama has clearly learned the wise politician's maxim that when your opponent has enough rope to hang himself, it's best to let him do it.)

For the most part, though, this scandal is playing out as expected. Most Republicans, aside from Rep. LaHood, are saying that Ryan should not drop out, that he's perfectly fit for office, and what's the big deal? This would include some of the same people who were rattling the White House gates back in '98, demanding that President Clinton resign for the good of the country. None of them even seem to have suffered whiplash at the sudden turnabout.

Personally, I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, I don't think Ryan should be disqualified from office on this basis. These allegations, creepy as they are, do not speak to his fitness for office. And I can believe that Ryan legitimately preferred not to have his children hear about this. It doesn't make for cheerful dinner-table conversation. ("Daddy, would you pass the rolls? And what's 'sadomasochism?'")

On the other hand, one of Ryan's potential Democratic challengers, Blair Hull, saw his campaign sink after the contents of his divorce file were made public. And if the allegations in divorce files are going to be public knowledge, then they should be equally so for everyone. (Note to aspiring politicians: Consider this Rule #1... "Do not attempt to revive your failing marriage by taking your spouse to kinky sex clubs against his/her will. And if you do, for God's sake arrange an amicable divorce.")

But should this stuff be public? I don't think so. A lot of nasty things can be said in contested divorce cases, and once it's in the record, it can't be removed later. And does any of it suggest an unfitness for office? No, it doesn't. What about it would?

Is it the specter of infidelity? Well, hell, if we're going to start purging the legislative ranks of the unfaithful, we'll never be able to get a quorum again. Is it the lying? Well, if it's not any of the public's business, then there shouldn't be any questions that would require lying. Is it the ick factor? I'll bet that you, The Reader, have done or would consider doing some things that would make other people disturbed beyond belief. (And no, I don't want to know about them either. I'm easily disturbed.) If not that, then what?

It's all part of our national schizophrenia about sex. On the one hand, we celebrate sex, publicize it and fetishize it in our popular culture. On the other hand, if someone gets caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar, succumbing to temptation, we react with shock and horror. Can you believe it? Who would ever do anything so wrong? Oh, and have you seen the latest Britney Spears video? Want to see that Janet Jackson peep show again? Apparently, we're supposed to be a nation of closet masturbators, which is arguably creepier than anything Jack Ryan stands accused of.

What do you, The Reader, think? Is hanky-panky a legitimate issue when considering a politician's fitness for office? Would a sex scandal keep you from voting for someone you otherwise would? Let your voices be heard in the comments below.

So, which young athlete would you rather not be, Darko Milicic or Matt Bush? Darko was drafted by the Pistons, rode the pine all year, was vilified for not being Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade, and was primarily notable for landing an infection during an ear-piercing gone wrong, leaving him as a ridiculous forgotten figure with bleached hair and gauze on his ears. So Larry Brown puts him in for garbage time at the end of Game 5... and he breaks his hand. So much for the Olympics! Meanwhile, Bush was drafted #1 by the Padres, primarily because he came fairly cheap, and was criticized for not being Jered Weaver or Stephen Drew. So what does the young man do? He goes and gets himself arrested in a bar fight. (He's only 18, so what he was doing at a bar is another matter.) And now the Padres have suspended him. Further punishment may be in the offing. When you're already under a cloud for being an undeserving #1, it's always a smart idea to land yourself in jail, no?

Enough for today. See you tomorrow! 
Monday, June 21, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Sleep Walk" by Santo and Johnny

LOOKING FOR THE "ON" SWITCH

Hello there, all. Exhausting weekend here, for a variety of reasons, so this figures to be somewhat short. My apologies.

The big news on the national desk is that Connecticut Governor John Rowland is planning to resign. Rowland is the same fellow who turned his office into a real money-making opportunity:

When he first took office, Rowland made $78,000 a year, was paying alimony and supporting a large family when his much wealthier friends and state contractors began to give him a taste of the finer things in life.

They fixed up his cottage in bucolic Litchfield, where Connecticut's movers and shakers summer, complete with a hot tub given to him by a state employee. The governor got thousands of dollars in Cuban cigars and French champagne, a vintage Ford Mustang convertible and free or discounted vacations at the estates of his friends -- contractors who won substantial business from the state.


Not bad for government work, huh? Rowland's been very popular in Connecticut (he's the longest-serving governor in the country, having been in office for 10 years), but he's clearly running out the string. The legislature was prepared to begin impeachment proceedings, and he's facing a federal corruption investigation as well. By resigning, Rowland might at least spare himself a measure of public humiliation.

Personally, I think Rowland deserves some credit for reviving the good old-fashioned lost art of selling your office for a piece of the good life. Not too many politicians these days have the chutzpah to trade favors for a classic Mustang. (Rowland also deserves credit for his taste in cars.) So, Governor, I salute you. Enjoy your forced retirement.

Also in today's Post, Sally Jenkins unleashes a rather vicious character assassination on Tiger Woods. As you've undoubtedly heard, Woods hasn't won a major title in a while, and as you can imagine, he's a bit touchy on the subject. I'm sure his grumpiness makes him an unpleasant interview subject, but it seems to me that the last thing he needs is someone like Jenkins ripping him a new one.

Let's look at Jenkins' criticisms of Woods one by one:

- Woods attacked the condition of the course on which this weekend's U.S. Open was played. Um, Sally, everyone else did too. The entire field thought the course was in terrible shape on Saturday nd Sunday. Check this out if you don't believe me. Or do you think it's coincidence that no one shot below par in the last round?

- Woods thought the media was being too hard on him. As if he's the first athlete ever to have this opinion. And, you know, if pieces like Jenkins' are par for the course (so to speak), Woods may have a point. Phil Mickelson is the only golfer in recent memory to have his slump so thoroughly scrutinized and picked apart in the press, and now that Phil's won the Masters, the world is in a love-fest with him.

- Woods did not apologize for the bad behavior of his caddy, he seemed to condone it. In this case, what his caddy did was to forcibly remove cameras from the hands of spectators along the course. I thought Jenkins had a point here, at least until she slipped in the insignificant fact that cameras are not allowed on the course. Jenkins is right that Woods' caddie should be summoning the marshals rather than using self-help, but it seems unfair to go after Woods for his caddie not following proper protocols when his accusers aren't either.

- Woods expressed significant displeasure with his former swing coach for making critical remarks about him on television. What Woods said was that if the ex-coach had a criticism of Woods' swing, he should bring it up face-to-face. This is a defensible position. After all, would you enjoy it if your ex-girlfriend took out an ad in the paper telling the world about your shortcomings? I don't think the ex-coach meant his criticisms in an unkindly way, but still, no one enjoys having his problems broadcast for public consumption.

In short, I think what's plaguing Woods now is that he's having his first brush with adequacy. Woods has always been the Golden Child, untouchably brilliant as a golfer, trained virtually from the cradle for this. It's like the straight-A student who gets his first C... he literally doesn't know how to handle it. To make matters worse, he has millions of people who don't have the first idea what he's going through who think they could handle it better. Really, very few people know what it's like to be Tiger Woods right now. But a whole lot of people think they do, or are jealous that they don't, and they're all dying for an opportunity to take a shot at knocking him off his pedestal.

What really gets me about Jenkins is that, for someone who is a reasonably famous sports columnist, she really seems to have no understanding about the mindset of athletes. That's not intended as a shot at her gender; there are plenty of female sports columnists who have a perfectly good grasp of how athletes think. But Jenkins seems to feel superior to or contemptuous of her subjects much of the time. Which causes me to wonder why she went into sports journalism in the first place. Was she just following in her father's footsteps? (Her father is the legendary football writer Dan Jenkins.) I don't know.

My man Frinklin had a few things to say about Friday's ramblings. First, on Ball Four:

Yeah, it took me awhile [to finish], possibly because she tried to read the book and couldn't halfway through. What, just because baseball bores [you], a book about baseball bores you even more?

I can sympathize with this. Most of my girlfriends have regarded my affinity for baseball with amused tolerance, at best, so if I'd ever tried to turn them on to Ball Four, I know how far I'd have gotten with that. Actually, I think the book has interest as a study of people even beyond baseball, but it's hard to get a non-fan to see that (also assuming they don't find the locker-room humor off-putting).

In answer to my question about whether Blues Brothers was his favorite movie, he said:

Blues Brothers...hmm, not my favorite, but probably top 5-10.

Very good. Perhaps you are not my long-lost brother, but I think you might at least be a long-lost cousin. "You're not goin' back out on the road no more, and you ain't playin' in them old two-bit sleazy dives. You're livin' with me now, and you're not gonna go slidin' around with your ol' white hoodlum friends." I've always wanted to be someone's white hoodlum friend.

And about the "Cheney in Charge" article:

Cheney in charge? Isn't he always? Remember kids, I'm a Republican, I can say such things and get away with it. Alexander Haig? In the words of my favorite actor, "Whadda Maroon."

I think Frinklin and I should have our own Crossfire-style show in which we attempt to determine which of us is more embarrassed about what the people who are theoretically on our side are doing. Also glad to see that you appreciate the unrivaled acting greatness of the immortal BB.

Frinklin also wrote a post in response to my C2 review, in which he admits having liked Crystal Pepsi back in the day. I did try Crystal Pepsi, and I didn't go for it... it was just enough unlike actual Pepsi to be maddening. And I had a bit of a mental block about drinking something clear with a cola-ish taste. But you're a brave man to admit it, Frinklin. And it's all right. There are support groups that can help. On the other hand, I don't imagine I have any standing to be making fun of anyone else's culinary preferences, since I'm the only person I know who actually likes anchovies.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow! 
Friday, June 18, 2004
  UPDATE: C2 REVIEW

This just in... I was taking my afternoon constitutional (a reasonably insane proposition given the weather) and as I was wandering toward Farragut Square I heard music. Putting my old journalistic training to work, I went to investigate.

About my journalistic training: I was on the staff of my high-school paper all four years. And if I learned anything during my stint there, I learned how to locate free stuff. In my term on the paper, I probably cadged more free stuff than anyone in the history of high-school journalism. I was clearly born for a life of expense accounts and press junkets. However, it was eventually pointed out to me that journalism also involved interviewing people and meeting deadlines, and that was where I parted company with my potential future career.

At any rate, my journalistic training had taught me that music in the vicinity probably meant a public concert, and odds are that free stuff was involved. So I made a beeline for the Square, and my instincts had not failed me: there was indeed a concert going on, and Coke was handing out free samples of its new low-carb cola, C2.

Now, I regard the low-carb craze the same way I regard Pet Rocks: the fad of the moment, sure to pass. It's stupidity, as far as I'm concerned. It may be medically sound if you do it the right way, but it's so easy and tempting to do it the wrong way, which strikes me as an open invitation to a heart attack or three. So I think "low-carb soda" is just the latest manifestation of this absurdity. However, I did not allow this to interfere with my hard-wired journalist's instinct to snag a free sample, which I drank on the way back to the office. And in a touching display of devotion to you, The Reader, I have interrupted my afternoon of pretending to work in order to share my impressions.

C2 advertises itself as having "half the carbs, same great taste." Now, the carbs in soda come from sugar, so what Coke did is to replace half the sugar, more or less, with artificial sweeteners. According to the ingredient list on the can, the sweeteners in question are aspartame (aka NutraSweet) and sucralose (aka Splenda). It's sort of a hybrid of diet and regular soda.

Now, some of the frowny-face worrywart types have previously complained about both of these sweeteners, little cavils like the potential for swollen kidneys and liver, migraines, brain cancer, death and so on. But I don't really care about that. What I care about is the dreaded Diet Soda Aftertaste. Veteran diet-soda haters know what I'm talking about: you take a sip of the diet soda, and for a second it tastes the same as the regular, and then you get that Aftertaste. I don't know how to describe it; it's a somewhat bitter chemical taste that is not found in nature. I'm going to trust that you know what I mean. Various friends and loved ones, concerned about my blobbish appearance, have occasionally lobbied me to switch to diet soda, but the Aftertaste has always caused me to resist. For me, the key question is: Can C2 combat the dread Aftertaste problem?

As soon as I'd secured my freebie, I popped the top and took a swallow. It tasted like regular Coke, with a smooth edge, easy going down. (It also seemed to be less carbonated than regular Coke.) I took another swallow, and did not have the slightest desire to spit it all over the ground. Thus we'd passed the first diet-soda hurdle. So far, so good.

Now, in past moments of desperate thirst when I'd managed to choke down an entire diet soda, I'd observed that the Aftertaste had a cumulative effect; the more I drank, the worse it was. So I took to my C2 somewhat ruminatively, swishing it around the mouth the way you might with a fine wine, waiting for the Aftertaste to show up. About halfway through the can, I did get those first familiar stirrings. By the time I'd finished the can, though, it was still well below the danger threshold. I was able to finish without gagging, wincing or winging the can into the nearest garbage pail. So it was perfectly drinkable.

And since I finished, I've had about half an hour to observe the after-effects. The Aftertaste tinge faded fairly quickly (with regular diet sodas, it had been known to last the better part of an afternoon). And I didn't have that lingering sourness in my mouth that sometimes comes on after too many Cokes. Perhaps my opinion would change after another six of them, but with just the one can, it was fine.

My conclusion? Not bad. I'm not certain I'd buy it for myself, and I certainly wouldn't pay more for it than for regular Coke, but I wouldn't refuse it if I was offered some at a friend's house. I like its smoothness. (Of course, you're also talking to a guy who thinks Vanilla Coke is swell, so adjust your opinion of my opinion accordingly.)

And just in case my recounting of my journalistic "career" has convinced you that I'll take anything that's free, I should point out that I do have some standards. A few years back I was in Baltimore, wallking around the Inner Harbor before an Orioles game. Some promotional types were passing out free cans of Tab Clear, which was the new thing then (when clear colas became, bizarrely, all the rage for a bit). Now, it was a scroching summer day, and I was desperate for a drink, so I regarded this sampling opportunity as a gift from divine Providence. I grabbed a can, raised a toast, took a drink... and nearly heaved into the harbor. What crap! I was thirsty enough that I choked down perhaps four or five swallows, and chucked the rest into the garbage. I passed about five other Tab Clear giveaway points that afternoon, and I refused them all. I do have limits.

At any rate, my obligation to my public is fulfilled. Back to "work." See you Monday! 
  Today's Musical Selection: "Heart and Soul" by T'Pau

NONSENSE ON PARADE!

Hello, everyone! It's a beastly hot day in the Fedroplex (heat index in the vicinity of 100, I'm told) and I'm currently erecting a shrine to Willis Carrier (father of air conditioning, don'tchaknow?) and sipping a cool Pepsi. A lot of this and that to get to today, so let's get to it.

Kudos to my man Frinklin for stealing my planned title for today. The Brewers dropped yesterday's game against the Mariners, leaving us shy of a sweep. Get-away day's been killing us all year. I'm happy with the series, though, and glad to discover that Frinklin shares my fascination with the Pilots.

Ball Four is my favorite baseball book, too. If anyone gave me an autographed copy of the book as a Valentine's Day present, I'd marry her immediately. Joe "Pound That Budweiser" Schultz is my kind of manager. I'm sure Frinklin's seen this aready, but fellow Pilot-o-philes will find a treasure trove of information here. The proprietors of this site are (or have been) trying to arrange a Pilots-Mariners old-timers' game; to help with the cause, click here.

So, Frinklin, how do you feel about The Blues Brothers? If it's your favorite movie, then you truly are the lost brother I never knew I had.

So the 9/11 commission says that Saddam and Al Qaeda were not conspiring to attack the US, and President Bush says, "Well, uh, that's what I meant!" He put it in a typically stubborn formulation: "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda: because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." Well, if the commission's report is to be believed, claiming a "relationship" between Iraq and Al Qaeda is like claiming a "relationship" between me and Cindy Crawford because I called her repeatedly to beg for a date. (Or claiming a "relationship" between loyal reader Tripp and Britney Spears because he's been stalking her.)

Look, I didn't support the idea of going to war with Iraq, but I don't believe it was some sinister conspiracy cooked up by the administration to enrich Halliburton and friends. I believe that President Bush sincerely felt we faced a risk. I would, however, feel better about giving him the benefit of the doubt if he would stop insisting that he was never wrong about anything. Even a simple admission that the facts on the ground aren't quite what he thought they were would do. But he's so insistent on looking "strong and decisive" that he'll insist day is night if he has to. That bothers me a lot.

I also found the Post's "Cheney in Charge" account of 9/11 interesting. I don't think the administration should be faulted for this; after all, I think the "What to Do When Terrorist Madmen Start Flying Planes into National Landmarks" is a fairly recent addition to the Presidential Action Handbook. I just found it amusing because it called to mind Alexander Haig's "I'm in charge here" declaration after the assassination attempt on President Reagan. My dad later told me that he'd never feared more for the future of the nation than when Haig made that statement. I can understand his feeling.

Here's an article that caught my eye last night as I was gobbling down Advil: a piece in Slate about why fans don't seem sympathetic to athletes' injuries any more. Now, I'm pretty intensely sympathetic to athletic injuries, given the number of them that I suffer, so I was interested to see what this article had to say. In the end, though, it boiled down to: athletes make gobs more money nowadays, and it's hard to feel sorry for Daddy Warbucks. File that under "Duhhhhh." I can't believe someone actually got paid to write something so obvious. Articles like that make me think I'm in the wrong line of work.

Here's at least one other theory that might be worth exploring, for those who want to transcend the obvious. For most fans, sports are mostly something you watch on TV. It's an entertainment option, just like "Fear Factor" and Bill O'Reilly, only less painful to watch. Perhaps people get used to seeing their entertainment out there, come what may. I mean, Seinfeld never went on the 15-day DL with strained vocal cords. Maybe the current generation of sports fans has become sufficiently divorced from what's actually happening that they forget that sports, especially at a high level, involves a staggering amount of physical pain. I know it looks innocuous enough on TV, but it's not. Any takers for my theory?

Speaking of sports, is there any sports story today more tiresome than the public histrionics of Marion Jones over the allegations that she's been doping? I haven't cared about the Olympics since Calgary, but really, neither side has distinguished itself. The anti-doping police and their secretive I-don't-need-to-offer-you-evidence posture is enough to make you wary. But Jones' media hissy fit isn't doing her any favors. Even if she is guilty of nothing more than bad taste in men (her ex-boyfriend and current boyfriend, both Olympic athletes, were nailed for doping violations), carrying on the way she is won't help her case. There's an old lawyer's truism: "When the law is against you, pound the evidence. When the evidence is against you, pound the law. When they're both against you, pound the table." Methinks Marion doth protest too much.


Powerful, must-read article over at the American Street on the "forgotten casualties" of war, the soldier who come back alive, but emotionally and psychologically scarred. It's hardly a new phenomenon; we heard plenty of these stories out of Vietnam, and similar portraits stretch back at least as far as World War I, in Hemingway and the Septimus Warren Smith character in Mrs. Dalloway. But this article is a sobering reminder that death and physical injury aren't the only ways you can get hurt in war. This is traditionally why we've only gone to war reluctantly, in the face of an imminent threat.

And with that, time to start rolling downhill 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.

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