Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mother of Mercy, is This the End of Al Swearengen?

It recently came to The Home Office’s attention that HBO has not picked up the option for a fourth season of its epic Western, Deadwood. As Deadwood is one of the two best shows on television, and the announcement was made after the current season was in the can but not yet aired, none of the ongoing story lines will be tied up properly. For Deadwood fans, that’s a serious bummer.

Below is the letter sent to HBO by The Home Office. For a somewhat more erudite take, see John McNally’s blog at http://americasreportcard.blogspot.com/2006/05/deadwood-rip.html

For information on how you may be able to help to avert this travesty, see



I just learned the HBO has yet to renew its options for a fourth season of Deadwood. I am writing to implore you to reconsider. I realize no program runs forever, but to terminate Deadwood without allowing the creators to wrap up the story lines would be a disservice to the large number of HBO subscribers who maintain their subscriptions mainly for shows such as Deadwood.

I recently analyzed my HBO viewing habits, and realized all I watch are Deadwood and The Sopranos; I'd be hard pressed to say which of the two I prefer. Novelist John McNally has compared Deadwood's writing to Shakespeare, a conclusion my Spousal Equivalent came to halfway through Season 1.

I have already bought Season 1 of Deadwood on DVD. From a strictly marketing perspective, I would expect DVD sales would be much greater for a complete series then for one with important story lines left incomplete.

HBO has long been associated with the highest level of television art, from Band of Brothers through The Sopranos to Deadwood. Please don't besmirch this legacy by allowing Deadwood to end before it's time. It would be the hoopleheaded thing to do.

Turning Over a New Leaf

Enough is enough. Writing these essays used to be a lot of fun, especially when they were just emails sent to an unfortunate group of friends too polite to ask me to please, for the love of God, stop sending these. (A friend referred to my e-mails in a Brando-esque whisper as “the horror.”)

Sniping at those who can’t really be hurt is fun. It gets an occasional bug out of your ass, and may cause a smile or two. Unfortunately, current news worthy of comment has very little entertainment value, unless you’re Stephen Colbert. My latent anger gets more exercise than Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. Just since the last posting I’ve learned the government is playing Six Degrees of The Home Office with my phone records. (The phone companies, in a burst of inspired disingenuousness worthy of the Bush Administration, have denied turning over the records. The phone companies only gave the records to other companies, who then handed them over to the gov. I feel much better.)

Last week came word that some self-important functionary in the Department of Veterans Affairs violated the confidentiality of over 26 million veterans (including yours truly) so he could “work at home;” the laptop containing the records was promptly stolen right out of his house. The policy breach wasn’t bad enough; the Washington Post reported the burglary look place sometime between approximately 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Isn’t that primo “working from home” time? How can the items you say you’re working on be stolen while you’re working on them?

The head of the VA appeared said he was “mad as hell.” That’s nice. VA’s own Inspector General has reamed them for years about lax practices in this area; now this guy’s mad? When is someone to take some of this stuff seriously, instead of continuously violating our rights to “protect” them? (Dubya never went to Vietnam, but the state of our civil liberties and the Iraq situation prove he learned the lesson of “We had to destroy the village to save it.”)

That’s enough; I’m getting worked up again. Suffice to say, at my age, my blood pressure doesn’t need the exercise. What I need now, more than the Daily Outrage, is a few laughs. So from now on, If I can’t make fun of it, I can’t be bothered with it. (At least until I’m really bothered by something.) And there’s nothing funny about the legacy my generation will be leaving to our children through the acts of the politicians we have elected.

So let’s have a little fun. Below is a reprint of something I wrote in my pre-blog days, 2003 to be exact. It’s as true today as it was then.

There has been a certain amount of culture shock since The Home Office relocated to the People’s Republic of Maryland last March. On the plus side, traffic in Maryland, bad as it is, is better than in Virginia. The risk of being shot in a public library is also greatly diminished. (For those of you who are not local, the Virginia House of Delegates voted down a bill that would have made it illegal to carry a firearm into a public library. No point in being unprepared if you happen onto a terrorist reading the Koran.)

Living in Maryland has its down sides. Living in Prince George’s County has even more. Here are a couple of indications, provided solely as a public service, should anyone consider moving to this area.

I recently took the Sole Heir Correspondent to a local Taco Bell for a cold drink in the midst of an errand-running expedition. Our order was taken by a young woman who I do not wish to unfairly disparage, so I will use her real name, since she is probably as incapable of reading this as she is unlikely to make the effort.

Nicole gave us the standard PG County fast food greeting, which consists of not quite making eye contact while silently waiting for me to decide she’s ready to take my order. Taco Bell offers three drink sizes. I ordered a small and a medium. No flavor was required, all Nicole had to do was give us the cups; the soda dispensers are self-service.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: We’d like a small and a medium drink, please.

Nicole (still not looking at me): We ain’t got small.

Me: You’re out of small cups?

Nicole: Ain’t no small.

A brief period of silence followed, broken by the Sole Heir telling me sotto voce, “Dad, I think they just have medium, large, and extra large.”

Finally catching on, I told Nicole I want the smallest size, and the one in the middle. She handed me two identical cups, which Taco Bell describes as “large,” and I would call “medium,” seeing as how they were of the intermediate size of the three options. As she handed me the cups, she asked if the order was for here or to go.

Huh? Her entire contribution consisted of handing me two cups, one of them incorrect. I had to get the drinks, lids, and straws. What earthly difference could it have made to her, or to Mr. Bell, where I drank them? I was tempted to order one for here and one to go, but I was afraid we’d get into a discussion about which was to stay and which was to go, even though they were both the same size.

Prince George’s County has the well-earned reputation of being the metropolitan Washington area’s equivalent of a third world nation. Proof of that was found in a call to the cable company that same week.

The cable call was prompted by a promotion the company was running when I ordered my original service back in March. Comcast would provide free installation and three free months of every channel Showtime offers if I signed up for digital cable. If I didn’t want to keep the Showtime, I could cancel after the third month. I had tried to cancel a couple of weeks earlier, but they wouldn’t let me, saying it was too early to cancel, and that if I cancelled too soon they would have to charge me for the installation after all. When the valid cancellation window opened, hesitation would require paying for a month of Showtime I could live without, since I had watched it exactly zero times since moving in.

I called the number I saw on a televised ad the previous night and was immediately directed to a pleasant young man who looked high and low for my account information without finding it. It was finally determined that I had called the Montgomery County number, and he couldn’t help me. He could, and did, transfer me to the Prince George’s County number.

I didn’t get a human right away on the PG County number. First I had to choose the language in which I wanted to transact my business. Fortunately, English was the first choice. Immediately after pressing “one” for English, I got to listen to a thirty-second spiel informing me of Comcast’s Cable Amnesty Program. It was not thought to be necessary to inform Montgomery County residents of the illegality of cable theft. In PG County, it opens the conversation.

Welcome to Prince George’s County, Maryland, where the showcase high school offers a course in Japanese to show its advanced and cosmopolitan makeup. All it really does is teach its illustrious graduates to ask “You want fries with that, motherfucker?” in a sushi restaurant.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Values Voters

George F. Will and I sit on opposite sides of the political spectrum, each about as far from the center as the other. We tend to agree about a third of the time, which I’m sure brings him great comfort on cold winter nights. I always read him, even though I often disagree, because his perspective is usually thought-provoking enough to make me re-examine my opinion. Not change it (though that does happen from time to time) but think about it.

Today he nailed one, the column falling into the category of “Things I Wish I had Written.”


To which I sent the following reply:

Dear Mr. Will,

Thank you for your column on values voters in today's Washington Post. I am about as liberal as you are conservative. Although I often disagree with your perspective, I appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes into its expression. Today we are in complete agreement.

I belong to no organized religion, yet work every day to live according to what most would refer to as Judeo-Christian principles. I have come to actively distrust those who, to borrow a phrase, wear their piety too much on their sleeves. I resent the implication that I am without "values" because I don't have a problem with same-sex marriage and believe that. I also believe abstinence is the most efficient method of preventing unwanted teen pregnancies, but I'm willing to accept the fact that young people aren't going to practice it in large numbers, so maybe we'd better have Plan B ready, such as teaching about condoms and other birth- and disease-control methods.

I consider tolerance to be a value, as well as the idea that a nation as wealthy as ours should not countenance the idea that any child goes hungry, or without adequate medical care. (Adults are more on their own. At some point everyone has to quit whining about their difficult childhoods. Abraham Lincoln had a difficult childhood; so did Helen Keller. Get over it.)

That doesn't make me a knee-jerk liberal. My primary objection to capital punishment is how often it's used. Some people cry out for the death penalty; DC Sniper John Muhammed is the Poster Child for Capital Punishment.

What I'm saying (not as well as you) is that values take different forms and embrace different principles with equal validity. Those who considered themselves to be "values voters" to seize the moral high ground by attempting to deny it to others lack some important values themselves.

Thank you for pointing this out so eloquently.

I’m sure this, too, will bring great comfort to him. Probably hang it right next to his framed Hillary Clinton dart board.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ba-a-a-rry, Ba-a-a-rry

Barry Bonds will pass Babe Ruth on the all-time Major League home run list this week, as sure as George W. Bush will do something to make us wish either he or we had been born elsewhere. The Home Office will greet Bonds’ accomplishment with unsurpassed indifference. Henry Aaron holds the record, not Ruth. As far as I’m concerned, Aaron will hold the record even if Bonds hits 800 home runs.

This isn’t just the pre-Alzheimer ranting of a middle-aged fart who remembers Bad Henry as an icon of his youth. Hearsay and circumstantial evidence may be all we have, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Bonds cheated. Baseball can’t really put any asterisks next to Bonds’ records; even if he was on the juice, it wasn’t against the rules when he did it.

Everyone has an opinion about Bonds, most of them unfavorable. Many reasons have been put forth for this, ranging from racism to steroid use to his being a California-sized asshole. The big question lately has been why the reactions are so visceral. In the interests of time, we’ll distill some of them into their essence.

Why does Bonds receive more venom than the other steroid-tainted players?

He’s he one who has broken, or about to break, the biggest records. Mark McGwire got a pass in 1998 because the steroid bubble hadn’t burst yet. When Bonds hit 73 in 1991, the clear and the cream were out of the tube.

Another reason may be that Bonds never needed to cheat. He had Hall of Fame talent from the time the Pirates brought him to the bigs. This is not at all the same as some poor sap hanging on by his fingernails to the 25th spot on a roster.

Compare Bonds’ career with that of Ken Griffey, Jr. Similar body types and skill sets, except Griffey was a superior outfielder with a much better arm. (Full disclosure demands informing the reader that, as a Pirates fan, I still remember Rag-Arm Bonds’ inability to throw out Sid Bream in his wheelchair from deep short, costing the Pirates a trip to the 1992 World Series.) Griffey was well ahead of Bonds’ home run pace until a few years ago, when injuries destroyed most of several seasons. Bonds has been injury-free, or at least blessed with remarkable recovery times, until the big push to root out steroids coincided with him missing virtually all of last season with a minor knee injury.

Baseball has tolerated amphetamine usage for years; what’s the big deal about steroids?

There’s no defense for the wide-spread use of “greenies” in baseball; it’s about time they did something about them. Steroids are on a different plane of cheating; they make physiological changes to the player’s body.

So what? They don’t increase eye-hand coordination. Bonds still has to make contact.

True, but how much distance does the extra muscle mass add to a well-hit ball? Even a five percent increase turns a 380-foot fly to the warning track into a 400-foot blast into McCovey Cove.

Why the fuss about passing Ruth? Josh Gibson probably hit more home runs, but wasn’t permitted to play in the major leagues. Plus, Ruth never had to hit against Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, or Bullet Rogan.

Negro league records are scanty, so Gibson’s numbers are impossible to verify. (His HOF plaque lists “almost 800 homers.”) If we’re keeping track of who Ruth didn’t have to hit against, it should also be pointed out that Gibson didn’t have to hit against Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, or Herb Pennock. Besides, the records being debated are for Major League baseball. If we’re going to include all leagues, the guy to catch is Sadaharu Oh, with 868.

Bonds is reviled because he is the point man for an ugly open secret that has blown up on him. Most of those implicated in the steroid scandals had the good grace to slink into the shadows. Jose Canseco blew the whistle, but he was already out of baseball. Mark McGwire is the largest invisible man in history. Sammy Sosa didn’t fuss when no one offered him a contract this year. Rafael Palmeiro disappeared after his now-comical protestations blew up in his face.

Last year’s repeated surgeries gave Bonds ample opportunity to bow out gracefully. As usual, he missed it. Whether he’s refusing to sign balls for the kids at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh or asking for a child-support reductions during a strike, Barry Bonds is a self-pitying prick. His father had a long major league career and Willie Mays is his godfather: they ensured he learned to play the game right. He also has more talent than any three people have a right to. Barry will endure if the world never gives him his props, or shares the love. He has enough love for the whole world. Too bad he uses it all on himself.

The day is coming for Barry to take his oversized ego and undersized balls and leave us alone. Maybe they’ll give him his own wing in the Hall of Fame, like he has in the Giants’ dressing room. Even better, he can share one with Ty Cobb. They could name it the Sphincter Wing.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Gasoline prices are over $3.00 per gallon and the nation is in an uproar. Congress has several ideas calculated to prove they will go to any lengths to solve these sticky problems, so long as no sacrifice is involved, especially by them.

The following bills were introduced last week, presumably not as empty gestures:

  1. A $100 tax credit for everyone to offset increased gas prices.
  2. A special tax on windfall oil profits.
  3. A moratorium on the federal gasoline tax for six months.
  4. Drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (of course).

President Bush, always willing to appear to do something instead of actually doing it, suspended deposits in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and loosened environmental standards for refineries. (Another big surprise.)

These “actions” provide the empty suits on Capitol Hill opportunities for Clinton-esque “I feel your pain” moments; none will address the real problem with gas prices. Anyone who took basic high school economics class knows this is strictly a matter of supply and demand. As long we remain “addicted to oil,” the oil-producing countries (read: Iran) have our economy’s balls in a vice.

This is when leaders step forward. Harry Truman said, “Leadership is getting someone to do something he doesn’t want to do and making him think it was his idea.” Let’s see how our “leaders” are doing.

Democrats held a press conference/photo op at a gas station one block from the Capitol for the expected Republican bashing. Not that they don’t deserve it, but there’s blame here to go around.

How did some prominent Dems travel the block to the presser? They drove. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) drove in a Chrysler LMS, getting 18 miles per gallon. New York’s Charles Schumer, never shy about telling us how out of touch Republicans are with the average Joe, drove his Hyundai Elantra at 34 mpg, but still, it was a block.

We shouldn’t be too hard on those two. After yesterday’s lunchtime votes, the following senators could be seen driving (or being driven in) these vehicles to their offices across the street:

John Sununu (R-NH) GMC Yukon – 14 mpg

Jim DeMint (R-SC) Nissan Pathfinder – 15 mpg

Ben Nelson (D-NE) Ford Explorer – 14 mpg

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Lincoln Town Car – 17 mpg

Edward Kennedy (D-MA) Chrysler minivan – 18 mpg (In fairness, Ted needs a substantial vehicle to haul him around. The Nimitz was unavailable.)

Evan Bayh (D-IN) Dodge Durango V8 – 14 mpg

Of special interest was Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). The Bobster, who just last week ranted about how President Bush “remains opposed to higher fuel-efficiency standards,” scoots around in a Ford Explorer XLT.

We could talk to them about “not getting it,” but why? It’s like talking to furniture. Actually, it’s worse. The furniture doesn’t pretend to listen.

This is the legacy of the Baby Boomers, on the brink of being the first generation whose children cannot expect a better standard of living than did their parents. It had to happen sooner or later? Probably, but the Boomers made damn sure they got theirs before the party was over. For a time it looked like they might just leave it to their kids to turn out the lights; there’s no need to worry about that now. The lights will go out all by themselves.