Friday, December 28, 2007

What is a Liberal?

“Liberal” has become a dirty word in American politics, for two primary reasons. Liberalism has allowed its leftmost wing to set its public agenda, while allowing conservatives to frame the discussion. In this quote from a 2002 interview with Reese Fuller, author James Lee Burke lays out the most accurate, and eloquent, definition of what a liberal is. If only more liberals would read it. (Read the entire interview; it’s well worth the time.)

Do you consider yourself a liberal?

I consider myself pretty traditional, really. People of my generation, who were born in the Depression, tend to be traditionalists. If I had to call myself a name I'd say I was a Jeffersonian liberal. But, see, something has become askew in American thinking. Liberals now are tarred in every way by people who want to associate in the popular mind liberalism with some kind of fanatical movement.

Traditional liberalism has involved certain kinds of movements that gave us Social Security, minimum wage, public healthcare, environmental and consumer protection, the civil rights acts of the 1960s, the fair hiring act, the equal employment act, public education. What is it that is so objectionable about Medicare for God's sake?

I remember on many occasions when liberals, or people who were supposed to be liberals, were called liberals and they shrink. It's beyond me, absolutely beyond me. I mean, do people think that the right wing gave us Social Security, collective bargaining, clean water? I don't know. I think it's one of those deals where you say it enough times, people began to believe it.

Now, there are people, to my mind, who are libertine, who have taken on the guise of being liberals and they are not liberals. They are involved in something else. I'm not knocking them, but this stuff about correctness in language, this hyper-sensitivity about ethnicity and the notion that people are not accountable for what they do, this is not liberalism.

Liberalism is founded on the Jeffersonian notion that ultimately the individual deserves the protection of his government, that the government has to give power to and protect those who have no voice, who are disenfranchised. The government is there to make the society work in an equitable and just way. That's the spirit of and the tradition of the liberal movement in this country. This other stuff has nothing to do with it.

Empowering an adult bookstore to open up shop in a neighborhood filled with elderly people who lack political power, whose finances are immediately compromised and their property values plummet, that is not, in my mind, enforcement of the First Amendment. It has nothing to do with the First Amendment. This is a misinterpretation of the constitutional views of people like Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and all these other early guys. They weren't there to protect pornographers who create victims out of defenseless people.

The libertine view of life has much more to do with fashion than it does politics. There's nothing liberal about Hollywood. That's just nonsense. The Disney Company violated minimum wage laws in Haiti. I mean, you've got to really work to violate sweatshop laws.

Thanks to Reese Fuller for graciously allowing this partial reprint.

Fertility Meds for the Goose

Never has the concept of selling sizzle over steak been as obvious as in the ludicrous display of greed and pettifoggery known as the NFL Network.

The NFL has become the sports behemoth of America through careful management of what is, essentially, saturation coverage of its games over free, or basic cable (ESPN), television. Every NFL game is televised. Every fan sees all of the local team’s away games, and any home games that are sold out 72 hours before kickoff. ESPN games must be made available to the local markets of the participating teams via free, over-the-air television. The Golden Goose cranked out eggs at an unprecedented rate for an industry that doesn’t really make anything.

The NFL, not content with billions of dollars a year from the television networks, decided last year to cut out the middle man, and started showing games on their house organ, the NFL Network. That was okay, as far as it went; NFL Network was on most basic cable systems.

Then the league held a gun to the goose’s head, and started demanding cable providers pay more for NFL Network than for such staples of basic cable as CNN. Cable companies responded by making the NFL Network either a subscription service (like HBO or Showtime), or by including it in a “tier” of sports channels, available for an additional fee. The uproar was great across the land, peaking when Dallas and Green Bay played a critical game in November; neither city had the NFL Network available in its local cable system. The league relented, cried crocodile tears, and started selling the rights to local stations. Channel 20 here in Washington paid upwards of $700,000 to air the Redskins-Chicago Bears game a few weeks ago.

Now the New England Patriots, led by Bill “Dr. Strangelove” Belichick, are gunning to be the only team in history to win all sixteen regular season games. (“History,” in this case, means thirty years, as the sixteen-game season has only been in place since 1978. Hardly a time span of Biblical proportions, even if you go with that “the world is six thousand years old” thing they’d have you believe.) Stations in the New York and Boston areas paid through the nose for the rights; the rest of the country was still held hostage by the cable/NFL standoff.

This is America. Health care and a proper education are negotiable, but watching a football game on free television is a God-given right. Senators became involved; Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) staff continued negotiations even on Christmas day. (Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has apparently resolved all the civil liberties, unwarranted searches and wiretaps, and Justice Department scandals to his satisfaction.)

On Wednesday, the NFL announced both CBS and NBC would simulcast NFL Network’s coverage. This gives viewers across the country at least two channels to pick from; those in the metropolitan New York and Boston areas get four! (NBC, CBS, whatever local channel bought the rights originally, and NFL Network, for those who get it.) And it’s the same coverage! Literally. You’ll have the chance to flip from channel to channel and see the same thing, described by the same announcers. Bryant Gumbel available on four New York outlets at once! (He’ll probably wank his elbow out of its socket reading the newspaper articles.)

Here’s the best part: the game doesn’t mean dick. Both teams have clinched their playoff spots. The Pats’ opponent, the New York Giants, get the fifth seed whether they win or lose. Their goal is for no one to get hurt. The Pats can be expected to play pedal-to-the-metal; they’ve done it all year in meaningless situations. (Such as being up 40+ points.) Giants’ coach Tom “Rat Face” Coughlin has said he’ll play his starters; how much is questionable, with a playoff game to follow in a week.

I’m skipping this one. I missed the Steelers against St. Louis last week, and survived with no obvious psychic scars. (I live out of market for Steelers games and won’t pay for NFL Network.) I hope the Pats win, complete their 16-0 season, then lose in the playoffs, making it meaningless. Maybe a key player’s injury in this meaningless game could render him unavailable. Nothing career-threatening; a sprain or a pulled hammy will do.

Don’t get me wrong: I like football, and watch a fair amount of it. The NFL would do well to remember their success grew from providing free access to their fans, and not jerking them around any more than necessary. Golden geese are not immortal.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve, and Craze and I are driving to Germantown, Maryland to visit her niece’s family. Niece, hubby, and adorable daughter moved from Germantown to Houston last spring so hubby could get an advanced degree from Baylor University. (Note to grammarians: “Advanced Degree” and “Houston” may properly appear in the same sentence when accompanied by “Baylor University.”) They’re staying at hubby’s parents’ home, where we are to visit them.

Craze and I drive along the Beltway, north on 270, exit at Father Hurley Boulevard, stop for ice, and make the turn onto Wynnfield. About this time, it occurs to me to ask the immortal question: “I know we’re close, but where’s the turn for [names redacted]’s house? I only know how to get to [niece’s name redacted]’s house.”


Fortunately, it was close, and we’d already passed it when I asked; since I’d also been there before, I’m not blameless. (I try to accept as much blame as possible for everything, so as not to give Craze a complex.) Thank God for cell phones.

As a special bonus, I learned what might be the single greatest thing for a father with a teenaged daughter to know. When explaining the curfew to a boyfriend, end your politely worded and helpful comment with, “I’m not afraid to go back to prison.” Works every time.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Better to Remain Silent and be Thought a Fool

I had budgeted time to write a thoughtful piece on Shrub’s mortgage rate freeze. Then I watched my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers get torched by the still undefeated New England Patriots, 34–13 this afternoon, after Steelers safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a victory earlier this week.

It is my sincere hope that Mr. Smith has learned his lesson. If not, I’ll lay it out for him.

Anthony, you are not the best player on the team. You are not even the best player at your position, and wouldn’t be playing if Ryan Clark wasn’t out for the season. Shut the fuck up.

Anthony, if you’re going to shoot your mouth off, be ready for them to come at you. Biting on run fakes to let Randy Moss get fifteen yards behind you and getting suckered on a trick play are not options for a free safety who runs his mouth the way you did. Shut the fuck up.

Let’s hope young Anthony has learned not to let his whale mouth overwhelm his hummingbird ass again. At least not until we have a chance to trade him.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Huckabee By Any Other Name

Looks like Mitt Romney’s not as open-minded about religious choice he’d like you to think. "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom," to use a direct quote, is not the blanket call for tolerance the Mittster would like to claim it is. Recent polls show 18% of Americans define themselves as either agnostic or atheist. The number is probably higher if you include those who may believe in some greater power, but not in what passes for organized religion. Deists, for example. (For those might say Deists don’t qualify, let me cite one who is clearly germane to the discussion of religion versus politics in America: Thomas Jefferson.)

Freedom is supposed to be for everyone, regardless or what they believe. Or don’t. There’s no litmus test for it. It’s supposed to be an inalienable right, whether you believe in God, don’t believe in God, believe God “set the clock and got out of the way” (to quote Chris Matthews), believe in reincarnation, or pagan rituals.

Freedom in the United States is not handed down from God; it’s guaranteed in the increasingly fragile parchment of the Constitution. The framers may have thought they were divinely inspired – and they may well have been – but God does not actively dedicate Himself to the rights and liberty of every American. Want proof? The greatest assault on our allegedly guaranteed liberties in the 220 years since they were handed down from Philadelphia has taken place under the watch of, and with the encouragement of, the only President in history who considers himself to be God’s messenger on earth.

You can think your liberty comes from God, but you’d better be prepared to defend it yourself. Mitt Romney isn’t going to.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Holier Than Thou

Mitt Romney officially declared himself a Christian today, thus observing the unwritten third qualification to be president. (The Constitution puts forth the other two: at least thirty-five years old, and born in the USA. Sorry, Arnold.)

Romney's guilelessness can be debated elsewhere. It may be unseemly to question someone’s sincerity on a matter of faith, but Romney’s earned it, since he’s as sincere as a whore’s orgasm the rest of the time. As political theater, the speech was unmatched since Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle, “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Of course, Bentsen went on to lose the 1988 election behind Michael “Helmet Head” Dukakis, so that might not be the image Romney hoped to convey.

On the surface, Romney’s move is brilliant politics. No one doubts his real audience today was Mike Huckabee, who’s hot right now, and misses no opportunity to coyly diss Romney as a Morman. Romney’s speech leaves Huckabee with a Hobson’s choice: welcome Mitt into the Christian tent, or risk becoming the candidate of exclusion. Tom Tancredo would seem to have that gig pretty well wrapped up, but there’s always room outside today’s Republican tent.

The real loser in this Romney vs. Huckabee jihad is Rudy Giuliani. He’s dropped off the media radar faster than anyone since Philip Michael Thomas when Miami Vice was cancelled. This might not be a wholly bad thing for Rudy, as most of his recent coverage had been of the Judith Regan-Bernie Kerik “can my associations be any sleazier” variety.

I almost feel bad for the Republicans. Romney believes in whatever he thinks will get him elected at the time you ask what he believes. (Sort of the Republican Hillary Clinton, with better hair.) Giuliani has more skeletons in his closet than Alfred Hitchcock. Huckabee may be the nicest guy in the world, but he runs the risk of being the Republicans’ potentially most divisive candidate in the general election. John McCain seems to have just enough support to do what he did in 2000; win a surprise primary, excite people for a few weeks, then pull a Howard Dean. Paul, Tancredo, and Hunter? Come on, that sounds more like a firm of ambulance chasers advertising on TV at 3:00 AM than three potential presidents.

The big implosion could be on the way. “Faith” has become such a litmus test for Republican politicians that the radical right could provoke a discussion it can’t win by waking up the sixty per cent of the population who don’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other. The possibility exists that the Republicans, having opened the Pandora’s box of religion, could nominate a candidate to walk into the biggest defeat since Reagan clipped Mondale in 1984. Not saying it will happen; if it does, you heard it here first.

Friday, November 30, 2007

There They Go Again

Conservatives have done it again. This time columnist Charles Krauthammer is the point man.

In today’s Washington Post column, The Hammer is moist with praise over Shrub’s steadfast refusal to allow stem-cell research from human embryos, in light of the recent discovery of a better way to find the medically valuable cells. Krauthammer writes: “The verdict is clear: Rarely has a president -- so vilified for a moral stance -- been so thoroughly vindicated”

Whether or not Bush took a moral stance or threw a bone to the Christian right isn’t at issue here. As James Thomson said when he first isolated human stem cells, "If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough." No one truly knows when to call a embryo or fetus a human; we all have opinions. With that in mind, anyone with a facile attitude toward anything to do with the topic has not thought about it enough.

Neither have Bush, Krauthammer, and their cohort. Their moral ground is only high enough to forbid the use of embryos grown for that purpose, or from abortions. In Krauthammer’s words, “I have long argued that a better line might have been drawn -- between using doomed and discarded fertility-clinic embryos created originally for reproduction (permitted) and using embryos created solely to be disassembled for their parts, as in research cloning (prohibited).”

So farming embryos for fertility clinics is all right, even though many of them will be discarded? Aren’t those (potential) lives as sacred as any others? A similar faulty logic is applied to abortions. The conservative line is that abortions should be illegal in all instances, except for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Don’t those defenseless babies deserve some protection, too?

There’s a good reason conservatives are willing to stain their self-proclaimed moral certainties with the fertility clinic, rape, and incest exceptions. They know they don’t have the votes to be pure. Most people in this country see the shades of gray in such cases. Conservatives can’t afford to, because it’s a moral issue, and morality is either right or wrong. They try to cover the nakedness of their arguments with bright line exceptions, but the truth is still there, and its name is hypocrisy.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Hell May Have Frozen Over

The Lingerie Correspondent and I do not often agree on matters political. Even rarer is alignment of planets and asteroids that brings me into concurrence with Lou Dobbs, who may well be the poster child for what’s wrong with the Mainstream Media today. True as that is, I’d like to think the Lingerie Correspondent for passing along Fat Lou’s comments of September 5. (Apologies for taking so long to get to this. Between the start of the Sole Heir’s school year and the baseball playoffs, it’s been busy at The Home Office.)

Lou Dobbs is a one-issue, one-inch depth panderer to the basest American instincts. Still, when he’s right, he’s right. Felipe Calderon’s desire to be president “wherever there is a Mexican” is demagogic drivel on an unprecedented scale. I wonder what jefe Calderon’s thoughts would be if the President of Guatemala said the same things, since Mexico’s policies toward Guatemalans compares to our policy toward Mexicans roughly as the Inquisition’s treatment of heretics compares to a modern Catholic confessional.

Things would be substantially better if Calderon spent more time being presidente to Mexicans while they’re still in Mexico. A much overlooked fact in the heated immigration debate, legal or ill-, is that Mexico is a shitty place to live. Forget Cancun and Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta; they’re tourist traps, no more representative of Mexico than the Las Vegas Strip is of the rest of this country. Try to imagine going to the lengths many illegals take – stowing away, hanging off truck axles, paying smugglers – to end up in a country where you’re not wanted, if there was any reason to stay. Bear in mind, these aren’t people who have had great expectations snatched from their grasp. Mexicans have an historical, almost genetic, tolerance for poverty. I watched the classic Western, The Magnificent Seven, last night. I’d be willing to bet a lot of Mexicans aren’t much better off economically today than they were in the movie, after factoring in a few technological advances.

Two primary things have to happen to stem, or at least slow, the rate of illegal immigration. First is one we have control over: dry up the supply of jobs that makes this country so much more attractive. Enforce existing laws that require employers to get the documents needed to substantiate someone’s work status. We all have to complete the I-9 form whenever we start a job. The federal government takes it so seriously that the form, once completed, cannot follow us from job to job, even though the information contained never really changes.

What about forged documents? With all the computing power available to scan our phone records and emails for anyone who might ever had ridden on a bus with someone who met someone who once spoke to someone who was ever in Afghanistan, the feds should be able to check the legitimacy of a Social Security Number pretty quickly. Round his ass up ay work the next day. Sneaking into the country is one thing; forging official documents is something else altogether.

The benefit to Step One is that it shouldn’t cost much. The Great Wall of America shouldn’t be as necessary if the hardship of crossing the desert is less likely to lead to a better life. Step Two is the hard one: we have to help to make Mexico a better place to live, so people won’t be as desperate to leave.

We’re probably going to have to take that on, too, because we’re the ones with the vested interest. Do you think Calderon cares of a few million of his poorest citizens head north? He’ll hold the door for them; they have nothing he wants. If the wall does get built, don’t be surprised to see the Mexican government distributing breaching technologies. We’re going to have to do it, and NAFTA is the way.

I don’t like NAFTA any more than most of you probably do. Hear me out. Any job exported to Mexico should have to pay roughly the same as it paid here, including benefits. This will slow the outsourcing of jobs that deprive American workers of employment, while creating a middle class in Mexico that will be less inclined to come here (except as tourists, cha-ching!) and more likely to vote for more responsible political leaders.

Calderon and the Mexican elite aren’t going to like this one bit. Such is life. If we’re going to get along with the government to our south, let’s at least make sure it’s because we’re getting some benefit from it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dear Dr. Dean

I recently received a “grassroots” survey from the Democratic Party. I was, of course, free to make any contribution I wished when I returned the completed survey. Below is what I enclosed in the envelope.

Dear Dr. Dean,

I am returning your survey with mixed emotions. While I agree in general with the principles the Democratic Party has aligned itself with, I am disappointed at the shallow nature of these questions. Many of my responses are indicative of the choice that is the least unlike my views, as they were written with too broad a brush.

My greatest disappointment is with Question 1. Asking me to rate my ten most important issues, and leaving civil liberties off the list completely, shows how seriously out of touch the party is with what is important to me. Aside from Senators Leahy, Dodd, and Biden, I see little interest in rolling back the curbs on the freedoms our elected officials have sworn to protect.

I began this year with great hopes for the Democratic majorities in Congress; those hopes have been largely dashed. Majority Leader Reid is regularly outflanked by his Republican counterparts. His tepid responses, and continued compliance with the Bush Administration have become an embarrassment. Whether he lacks the courage of his convictions, or any convictions at all, is difficult to say, almost as difficult as deciding which is worse.

I gave $100 to a grassroots organizer on Connecticut Avenue in Washington last year; this year I will limit my contributions to specific candidates, such as Senators Dodd and Biden, until the party as a whole shows itself not only concerned about the issues I hold most dear for the good of the country, but willing to act on those beliefs. The politics of appeasement have failed us for almost seven years now. I am not arguing for confrontation, but merely that it is time for the politics of conscience to have its turn.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tim McCarver is the AntiChrist

Call of the Green Monster is the best baseball fan blog going. For proof, here are his comments about Fox television's Tim McCarver.

This is dead on; I can only add one thing. During Game 2, the ever-obvious Mr. McCarver noted, "once you drop the bat, baserunning is the most important element for scoring runs." Really?! Why didn't I think of that? I mean, I've only watched several thousand baseball games in my life; why didn't such a precise observation ever spring to my lips when enlightening The Sole Heir about the finer points of our National Pastime?

Maybe it's because, once you drop the bat, baserunning is the only element for scoring runs, dumb ass. Offense in baseball consists of two elements:
1. Hit the ball.
2. Run the bases.

Disgusting and incurable diseases abound. There are drug-resistant viruses and flesh eating bacteria. Do you expect me to believe there isn't permanently disabling, incurable disease that only attacks vocal chords? A just and merciful God would have given it to McCarver years ago, if He really answered prayers.

Unless McCarver works for a different employer. Let's think about this. He works for Fox, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. We might be onto something here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Like Things Aren't Bad Enough in California

President Bush today dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA Administrator David Paulson to Southern California to aid with the wildfires that have devastated the area for several days. Suicide hotlines were overwhelmed with calls when word of the impending “assistance” leaked.

The Bush Administration made it clear that the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina will be used to assist California. Boats are on the way now to shuttle displaced persons to the Superdome.

Monday, October 22, 2007

An Organized Crime

There’s an ad making the rounds on the local sports station with a disturbing undercurrent about the current state of America. The ad promises a “garage organization system” uniquely designed for you. Call today, and they’ll take $500 off.

How much do they charge to clean your garage if they can lop off five Benjamins and still make money? I know, you’re thinking the same thing Craze and The Sole Heir thought. “They do more than just clean your garage.” Okay, so they’ll take $500 off for cleaning your garage and building shelves.

Someone willing to spend that kind of money to make sure there’s room in the garage for their car needs a lot more than a “garage organization system.” They need behavior modification. Without it, the garage organization company will just be back next year. If they really want to help these people, they’d have some system to keep their customers away from yard sales. Something like, if you leave the house on a Saturday morning, the kids stay with us. You come back empty-handed, the kids can come home.

There’s a much easier way to handle this. The next time you think of putting something in the garage, make sure the car’s in there first.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Worse and Worse

I can't begin to tell you how the current government disgusts me. Dahlia Lithwick gives you an idea of why here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Truth Hurts

The mainstream media may finally have a clue. Read Frank Rich's dead-on column about our conduct in Iraq and at home. I will gleefully debate anyone who disagrees, so long as you don't do it anonymously.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Meanies and Hypocrites

I'd been thinking about writing something about SCHIP and what it said about "true" conservatives, but E.J. Dionne beat me to it here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Good Riddance (Finally)

I’m a simple man, with simple tastes. Working class background. No extravagant vacations or fancy cars. Meat and potatoes. Coke, not Pepsi. Among my unadorned joys is watching the New York Yankees lose. I enjoy seeing the Yankees lose so much that the city of Cleveland (aka The Mistake By the Lake) has even redeemed itself in my eyes until the Browns play the Steelers again.

With apologies to the Low Brass Correspondent (a dear friend and Yankee fan, proving the two aren’t mutually exclusive), what makes it so much fun to see the Yankees lose is the attitude of Yankee management and fans that it is their divine right to win every year. In their eyes, no one has ever beaten the Yankees. The managers makes a bad decision. A player, or players, stink, or choke. Bad umpiring.

Yankee owner George Steinbrenner sank to a new low this week. Forget about the threat to fire Joe Torre if the Yanks didn’t win. Big Stein has made this threat every year since 2001, so no one but the media got too worked up.

The new low came when the SOB (Senile Old Bastard) said Game Two should have been stopped when his rookie pitcher, Joba Chamberlain, was distracted by swarms of small, flying insects. Blaming umpire crew chief Bruce Froemming, a thirty-seven-year veteran, Big Stein promised Froemming would umpire no more Yankee games.

Huh? Last I heard, teams didn’t get to pick their umpires, and Froemming worked Games Three and Four. This is just the Yankees being the Yankees, blaming everyone and anyone for their own inability to parley a $216 million annual payroll into anything better than a wild card spot and an early playoff exit. Maybe Steinbrenner should ask who authorized paying 45-year-old Roger Clemens $18 million to pitch half a season (and not very well, at that.) Or who signed the checks for Jason Giambi, a $120 million platoon player. Or trade for Alex “The Invisible Man” Rodriguez. Sure, A-Rod hit a home run last night. Down four runs, with no one on base. He hasn’t had a playoff hit that mattered since Saddam Hussein was in charge.

Speaking of early playoff exits, the Yankees’ demise is one of few early exits this year. Last night’s game lasted four hours, three minutes. The average for all Division Series games was 3:24. Contrast this to Game Seven of the 1960 World Series, possibly the greatest baseball game ever played. Pittsburgh beat the Yankees 10-9, in a game with pitching changes and base runners galore, capped by Bill Mazeroski’s home run to lead off the ninth inning, two hours and thirty-six minutes after the game began. (Today is the forty-seventh anniversary of the glorious event, the first memory to which I can attach specifics.) The only games shorter than that so far this year are Josh Beckett’s four-hit shutout of the Angels (2:27) and the Diamondbacks’ 3–1 dispatching of the Cubs in Game One, a game in which ten hits were crushed by both teams combined.

Fox tampered with the post-season schedule to keep Games Six and Seven of the Series from falling on a Saturday and Sunday, where they draw low ratings. Maybe Fox should exercise its considerable clout within the Commissioner’s office to do something about the length of the games. Schedules are tweaked to allegedly accommodate the Eastern and Pacific time zones, but the games go on so long only the Central and Mountain folks can actually see the whole game. People in the Pacific aren’t home from work when the game begins, and those on the east coast are asleep when it ends.

This proves baseball is the single greatest creation of the mind of man. Otherwise, the skills of those in charge for the past 131 years would have run it out of business.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Happy Anniversary. Really.

Six years ago today the Burgh Correspondent and I were released from employment by The Software Company That Shall Remain Nameless or We Get No Severance. (They can't enforce that now, but even though I'm not holding a grudge, I'll be damned if I'm giving those rat bastard asshole pedophiles any free pub.) Time has shown me they actually did me a favor, which I guess I knew early on, as shown by this essay written in my pre-blog days, right after they dropped the hammer on me. (Note: I had moved out, but the divorce from Lady Voldemort had not yet gone final.)

I am not the most industrious person in the world. I hide it pretty well, having learned that most people are lazy enough that any effort at all makes you look conscientious. Beneath it all I have always had a desire to be a Man of Leisure, and I have finally achieved that goal.

My last job change brought me to a pre-IPO software company. Everything looked rosy, it was a new and open market space and we had an experienced and respected team at the top. We were shown slides of how much money people who got in early made at Microsoft, Oracle, and PeopleSoft. The sales people in the training class were secreting enough greed hormones to smother an elephant.

I am made of sterner stuff. None of this “all shake, no bake” business for me. I took what they told me with a large block of salt and put my shoulder to the grindstone and my nose to the wheel, metaphorically speaking. I hoped that I might be able to retire by the time I was fifty-five, with some conscientious saving and a little luck. Little did I know that within a mere five hundred ninety-seven days, my employer would make me a Man of Leisure.

They fired me.

I was in good company. About twenty-five per cent of the workforce got whacked. Some of them were high profile types, although I don’t think any were vice presidents. This was significant, as the ratio of employees to vice presidents before the recent blood letting was fourteen to one. Rumor has it some veeps became directors, to keep Manuel Noriega from moving in on the company like another banana republic.

I have studiously refrained from mentioning my company. I would like to say it is because I am a highly evolved human who derives no joy from denigrating others . Anyone who knows me has understands that this is not true. If I want to collect my severance, I have to refrain from making any disparaging remarks about the company, and to not divulge any company secrets or techniques.

At first I was mad about the gag order, but it’s not as strict as it sounds. We are talking about a company whose stock went from twenty-nine dollars a year ago to a low of a buck fifty-two the week I was riffed. (Note: The company has since had to engineer a reverse stock split to keep from being de-listed.) I realize the market has had a tough year, but the Titanic didn't sink that low. What insults could I possibly add to, “and Software X has lost ninety-five per cent of its value from its fifty-two week high?” They’re ugly and their mothers dress them funny? Their performance isn't insulting enough to insulate them from further damage to their reputation?

I like the company secrets bit, too. I’m sure their competitors are slavering over the chance to find out what they might be able to do to lower their value by ninety-five per cent in less than a year. Soviet Union stock did better than that. Even if the secrets were worth anything, it’s not like I ever had any training on the stuff.

Training for the pre-sales technical staff consisted on semi-annual meetings where we would all sit in a room for a day and marketing people would show us what the new product did. We could then play with it, hands-on, for an hour and a half if we were lucky, although at least half of that time was spent installing it and working around issues the marketing folks hadn't discovered.

It has occurred to me that some of you might not know what a pre-sales technical person does. It’s simple. Our role is to tell the prospective customer that what he thinks he heard the salesman say isn't exactly what the salesman meant without calling the salesman a liar to his face. It’s a job calling for enormous tact and diplomatic aplomb. Guess how good I was at it?

Those of you who have been paying close attention may detect a note of bitterness in this essay. Not really. They may have done me a favor. Several people have been telling me that I should look for something else for months now. I have been reluctant to look for reasons of my own.

First, I've had too much going on. Doing battle with Lady Voldemort has been a full time job, not unlike doing your own dental work while wearing mittens. There’s only so much energy to go around for anyone. The stress of looking for and starting a new job could wait.

It could wait indefinitely, as far as I was concerned. I was tired of changing jobs. The years of being a freelance musician have taken their toll. I want to be some place where I will know how things work, who to call for what, and how to get things done. Not the stuff they teach you in Orientation, but how things really get done. That only comes with time.

In fairness, it should also be pointed out that I was paid very well for what I did. My immediate working environment, as far as my boss and most of my peers were concerned, was excellent. I was allowed to do my thing in my own particular idiom. There was no urgency to leave, whether staying was a good idea or not.

Now I have to get busy. I have been granted an opportunity with very little downside. The Desert Flower Correspondent told me that I should view myself as uniquely free right now. I am all but rid of Lady Voldemort. I have some money in the bank, and my total indebtedness is about $800 on a credit card. I own my car, and I am not tied to a house. My health is good, and my age is not a major concern. I can do whatever I want.

What I want is to be a Man of Leisure. The problem is that I can’t afford it for too long right now. I’ve done a budget and I’m good for at least three months without having to dip into savings, unless I want some training or to relieve my stress with daily “therapeutic” massages. There are lots of daytime baseball playoff games over the next couple of weeks. I can spend some of the time between innings using some of my free brain cycles to pick winning lottery numbers.

Monday, September 24, 2007

He Who Hesitates is Lost

I've been thinking just about exactly this for several days, but several distractions like work and family obligations Kept me from getting to it. Many thinks to the New York Times for writing almost exactly what I would have said, if a little dryer.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Who's in Charge Here?

It’s been a while since I bashed Hapless Harry Reid. This week’s excuse was another defeat in the Senate. Not that I’ll post something to rip Harry every time he gets rolled by the Republicans. I have a full-time job already.

Harry finds himself, and the party that has lashed its ambitions to his incompetence, stuck in what may be a unique situation in American politics: he can’t do anything worth doing without sixty votes. The Republicans threaten to filibuster anything he might try, so the usual “majority rules” principle doesn’t apply.

While the Republicans may be superior parliamentarians, they’re still fascists. This week they quashed a bill that would have restored habeas corpus, a right that had withstood all manner of threats from 1215 till last year’s passage of the Military Commission Act.

Before my Republican friends get their glands on their shoulders over the term “fascists,” let’s examine the evidence. Habeas isn’t one of those “penumbra” rights they claim were invented by the Warren Court and its heirs, like Miranda or abortions. It’s a fundamental right of a free society. Latin for, “produce the body,” it’s the principle through which someone held by the government can demand to hear the charges against him, or be set free. To say anyone can be held indefinitely, without charge, is patently anti-American. It’s the kind of thing the Nazis would have done, and did. Ergo, fascists.

Here’s the question I can’t answer: if the Republicans can hold up the restoration of habeas corpus with the threat of a debate, why didn’t Harry save it that way in the first place? Walk up to then-Majority Leader Bill Frist and say, “Habeas stays, or we’ll shut the whole operation down.” Probably because he was afraid Frist would invoke the dreaded “nuclear option,” thus rendering filibuster obsolete. Mitch McConnell, the current Minority Leader, doesn’t have that fear. He’s already bluffed Harry into a ghost filibuster with every bill.

Here’s a suggestion: let them filibuster. Shut down the whole operation. It’s not like the Senate is accomplishing anything, anyway. If you’re going to get nothing done because the Republicans are being obstructionist, let the world see how obstructionist they really are. Losing votes is the quickest way to make a majority look like a minority with a big mouth, while allowing the minority with a big mouth govern as though they were the majority.

Enough should have been enough a long time ago.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dogs and Ponies

It wouldn’t be so bad for George Bush to lie every time he opens his mouth if it wasn’t so obvious that he doesn’t care that you know he’s lying. Last week’s clumsily choreographed events in Washington are another episode in the continuing saga of the Bush Administartion’s remake of The Man Who Would Be King.

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker spent Monday and Tuesday on Capitol Hill, testifying under oath their “reports” were not vetted or aided by the White House. This might have played better had Bush not announced his agreement with Petraeus’s recommendation to draw down our forces in Iraq before the general was even finished talking about it.

Salient fact: there’s no drawdown. The “surge” was supposed to be temporary. The troops coming are coming out on almost exactly the same timeline they would have originally. Extending them wasn’t really an option, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff are near mutiny now over the tattered state that passes for military readiness. Claiming credit for bringing them out without replacing them is a hollow truth; there are no troops to replace them with.

Much of Petraeus’s testimony alludes to improved conditions that allow him to send troops home, contradicting a recent audit by the Government Accountability Office. Ah, but, the GAO data is five to nine weeks older than what Petraeus brought forward. Things are completely different now, wink wink, nudge nudge.

On Thursday, Bush made a televised address to announce his new “return on success,” initiative, touting accomplishments that contradicted his own recent statements. Petraeus set him up nicely – if, of course, coincidentally, since no coordination was taking place – by stating in a media interview hours earlier that Iraq should reach a state of “sustainable security” by June 2009. Was this something he came up with on Wednesday? It must be, since he said nothing positive about the prospect of “sustainable security” while on Capitol Hill, unless he mentioned it to Larry Craig in the men’s room.

The parallels between Iraq and Vietnam grow greater by the day. Petraeus occupied a seat eerily similar to one William Westmoreland sat in forty years ago, being asked the same questions. “How long?” “Are we winning?” And the answers, while phrased with forty years of marketing savvy behind them, served the same purpose: to buy time. Keep the money coming. Keep the war more alive than the thirty-eight hundred who have come home in boxes.

We support a regime no more legitimate than the Diem government in South Vietnam. Bush has spoken of the bloodbath that resulted when we left Vietnam, and how he will avoid the same result here. Left unsaid was how much of that bloodbath was the result of our own actions: destabilizing the Cambodian government, allowing the Khmer Rouge to take over and slaughter millions of their own citizens, until the Vietnamese came in and took over themselves. Had we actually used Bush’s standard in Vietnam, we’d still be there, with over 100,000 names on The Wall.

The analogy to look at is Yugoslavia, where another strong dictator (Tito) kept bitter ethnic hatreds submerged through his own iron hand, and by providing a common enemy to the various factions. Yugoslavia fell apart into civil war, ethnic cleansing, and more new countries than anyone outside the State Department can keep track of. Things got sorted out there, but only after much violence that had been repressed found its way to the surface, and with the support and disinterested supervision of the United Nations and NATO.

Bush’s pronounced intention of buying time for the Iraqi government to get its act together is disingenuous to the point of perjury. He’s buying time to get his own ass out, to allow someone to make the inevitable departure so he can claim they “lost” Iraq. As for his alleged desire to avoid another Vietnam, it’s too late. Better to avoid another Yugoslavia, which can best be done by eliminating the factions’ current common enemy: us.

Maher vs. Clinton - No Contest

Slate Magazine recently held what it called a Democratic Mash-up, a form of online debate. The following came from John Dickerson’s follow-up article describing the winners and losers. Click here for the full article.

Press critics swarm after every debate with a list of the zingers and truth-exposing questions they would ask if only they had the chance. They assume that merely asking the question will get the desired answer. Bill Maher asked a sensible right-between-the-eyes question of Hillary Clinton about her vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq: "Sen. Clinton, all the senators here, except Sen. Obama, voted for the Iraq resolution in 2002, saying that their decision was based on intelligence that they believed to be accurate at the time. In other words, George Bush fooled you. Why should Americans vote for someone who can be fooled by George Bush?" This was a great question, and Sen. Clinton's answer was nearly identical to the one she has given so many times before in discussing her Iraq vote. Sometimes a great question doesn't get you any closer to a deeper answer.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Heroism in Government

Somewhere there must be a more craven, spineless, and detestable job than member of the United States House of Representatives. If so, it occupies a rung so low illegal immigrants won’t do it. Only lawyers and MBAs need apply.

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker made the rounds of the House and Senate this week to deliver their much anticipated “report” on the status of Iraq. There were few surprises, as they painted a picture optimistic enough to allow hawks to roll out the predictable “stay the course” rhetoric, while staying on the safe side of what can be said under oath.

My day job prevented me from listening during the day, so I caught as much as I could stand in the car after work. Fortunately, the drive took only about an hour. Fully half of the “questioners” I heard – regardless of which side of the aisle they occupied – failed to ask a question. Ass coverings in the form of speeches abounded. Democrats, sensitive to charges they do not sufficiently support the troops, praised Petraeus as though he was Eisenhower, Grant, and MacArthur reincarnated in one package. Republicans – who really don’t support the troops except with verbiage, but are impervious to criticism – lobbed him softballs all day. Petraeus’s contention that he had not vetted or coordinated his testimony would have been more convincing had he not answered several Republican questions before they were asked.

The Senate was better: less overt partisanship, more probing questions. It doesn’t matter; nothing will change, except the level of vitriol directed at Democrats by those who don’t think they’re moving fast enough. They’re not moving fast enough, but it’s not because they think the war is accomplishing anything. It’s because they’re Democrats, who live their lives afraid that anything they say, do, or think will offend someone, somewhere, even if that person was no more likely to vote Democratic than George Bush is to win the Nobel Peace prize.

Republicans, good for so long at framing any political discussion, have missed the boat one hundred eighty degrees. It’s not that the Democrats lack the courage to stay in Iraq. The Democrats lack the courage to leave.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Be Careful What You Ask For

We've all heard about the "General Betray Us" ad put out by I've been on their mailing list for some time, until tonight, when they asked those of us on the list what we thought of the ad, and provided a link with which we could email directly to their president Eli Pariser.

Most of you already know better than to do something stupid and then dare The Home Office to say something about it. Below is my letter to Mr. Pariser:

Dear Mr. Pariser,

It pains me to write this, as I agree with virtually all of MoveOn’s positions. I have also told my significant other that, while I’m not a marcher, I’d love to find an organization for which I could do some writing. I see you’re currently looking for people to do just that, Unfortunately, I am so disgusted with your organization right now, I have to pass.

The timing of the Petraeus ad was abominable. Taking a decorated and respected member of the armed services to task in such a disrespectful and sophomoric manner on the eve of this week’s hearings served no purpose other than to give Republicans a diversion to taunt the Democrats with, when all attention should have been on his testimony. Petraeus is not the architect of this failed policy; your ad merely shot the messenger, doing his job as he saw fit. Like you, I strongly disagree with him, and I feel the Bush Administration has used him shamelessly. Still, to vilify the tactician for the mistakes of the strategist is to blame the quarterback for calling the wrong play when the coach’s faulty game plan already has the team down by forty points.

Shame on MoveOn for sinking to the level of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, taking the cheap and gratuitous shot when more focused action was demanded. I’ll be removing myself from your email list tonight.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Stalling Your Career

The Burgh Correspondent asked what the big deal was about the Senator Larry Craig fiasco, wondering if it might have just been a misunderstanding over needing more toilet paper. I'm not sure how I feel about being her go-to guy on cruising etiquette, but I was able to summon up a few thoughts.

I don’t know a lot about the cruising habits of homosexuals in restrooms, but I expect that cop does. It’s his job. (I wonder who he pissed off to get that gig.)

What I do know is this:

  1. Guys who need toilet paper don’t use hand gestures to request it; we ask.
  2. Those were either really tight stalls, or he has a wider stance than Shaquille O’Neal.
  3. After six or seven weeks of contemplation, the distinguished Senator from Idaho pled guilty.
  4. He didn’t mention it to anyone, which an innocent man would have done.
  5. Rumors have floated around him 25 years, ever since he went out of his way to profess his innocence during a congressional page scandal that no one accused him of being involved in.
  6. While no one (except maybe a few of his conservative peers) cares that he’s gay, a lot of people care that he’s a hypocritical asshole, who would happily vote in favor of public flogging for someone (else) convicted of his offense.

I just wish this had taken place closer to the election, so a few more of his holier than thou conservative brethren could go down the tubes with him.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An Elegant Solution to a Weighty Problem

Tomorrow is my quarterly visit to the doctor. My cholesterol will be checked, as will my liver, to make sure the cholesterol medication isn’t killing me faster than the cholesterol. It’s also time for the annual “Senator Larry Craig does this every day but he’s not gay” digital prostate exam.

The prostate I can live with. Too many people have called me an asshole for too long for me to take offense. It’s the damned cholesterol and the dance my doctor and I will go through that’s wearing thin.

DOCTOR: Hmm, weight’s still up at 245.

ME: Yep. I’ve been meaning to exercise, but things have been busy. Work schedule’s bad, no time for walks, eating on the run sometimes.

DOCTOR: I know it’s tough, but those triglycerides are still high. Need to cut back on the sweets. Or there’s another prescription I can write that could help there.

That’s enough. I already take enough drugs every morning that I don’t feel as though I’m skipping breakfast; I’m full.

Here’s my gripe. I don’t smoke, do unprescribed drugs, or engage in indiscriminate and/or risky sexual behavior. My total alcohol intake is about a case of beer a year. The house bottle of Jack Daniel’s lasts, on average, three years. I drink no coffee, decaffeinated tea, and caffeine-free Coke when it’s available. I have one vice. (Aside from the asshole thing noted above.) I like chocolate. Sweets in general, but especially chocolate. It’s my preferred form of stress relief.

When I get stressed, I don’t come home, do a couple of lines of coke, drink half a bottle of Jack, and shove the Crazy Like Me Correspondent around. I eat a Hershey bar. With almonds, if I feel like indulging myself. Sometimes, after a really tough day of wallowing in the trough of government waste and largesse, I need some ice cream, or even – dare I say it? – a milkshake.

Is that so bad? Should I have to die for it? Maybe Congress, instead of whoring themselves out to the highest bidder, should try doing something that will benefit everyone for a change. Maybe a program, like they have for polluters, where one company’s unused credits can be bought by a worse polluter. “Well, he doesn’t smoke or drink, and he stays clear of hookers. Okay, half a dozen Oreos.”

Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Some May Little Note Nor Long Remember August 22, But She Will

Wednesday, August 22, 2007 is a day The Sole Heir will not soon forget.

She opened by not just passing her driver’s test on the first try, but getting a license photo she likes. Granted, she photographs well, but she’ll learn as time goes on that the Maryland MVA hires photographers who were fired by the Department of Corrections for taking unflattering mug shots.

Next came another special occasion: her first major league doubleheader. Seeing two games for the price of one is a cherished memory of my adolescence. Twin bills are rare now, unless they clear the yard after Game One so they can resell the seats for Game Two. Seeing two games for the price of one was a new experience for her. She was jazzed.

I had planned to watch at least part of the games so we could compare notes. I turned on the game, saw they were losing 14-3, and went upstairs to read before chancing Game Two.

Five minutes later the phone rang.

SOLE HEIR: Are you watching the game?

ME: I was going to, but I saw it was 14-3, Texas.

SOLE HEIR: Well, it’s 16-3 now. (Uproar drowns out voice. I hear her shouting to her mother, “Was that a grand slam?”) They just hit another grand slam. It’s 20-3.

She called back between games to ask if I could find out whether losing 30-3 was a record. (It was, for the American League. In the National League, where they still play real baseball as God intended for it to be played, the record for runs in a game is 36.)

She drove herself to school the next day on three hours sleep. Not easily daunted, she called me Friday morning to ask about the dinner out I promised her for passing her test.

“Am I limited to the usual list of restaurants?” she said.

“What do you have in mind?” I said, visions of Morton’s or The Palm dancing through my head.

“How about Camden Yards?”

So we went to the game again Friday night. And the Os lost again. She went back today with her mother, as her birthday gift for a friend. They lost all four game she saw this week. That means it will be at least the day after tomorrow before she starts politicking to go to another game. I say this with great confidence, because the Birds are off tomorrow.

That’s my girl.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bush, Iraq and Vietnam

Our Fearless Leader, the great and powerful George Dubya “Bring it On” Bush, has reached another low in puzzling and scary statements. This week he said we need to stay in Iraq because it’s like Vietnam, and "One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens…”

Gee, Dubya, we’ve only been telling you Iraq is like Vietnam for three years now. Nice to see you’re finally with the program. Except, he’s not. Read his statement again. In Bushland, our biggest mistake in Vietnam was not staying long enough.

Let’s not forget, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney combined spent no more time in Vietnam than I did. Only difference was, I was only twelve years old at the time of the Tet Offensive. The saddest part is that we’ve reached a point where it’s no longer disappointing for either of them to such statements. It’s just business as usual.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part II

You know how you can tell you’ve had a great vacation? When you’re paying the bills with a smile on your face because reading the credit card statement reminds you of what you did.

Here’s the gas we bought on the way to the tour of Camden Yards. Dinner at Famous Dave’s. The boat ride on the Potomac. Lunch at the Smithsonian. The liquor store to buy the beer for the cookout. Souvenir shop at the Football Hall of Fame.

My brother has his receipts; so do my parents. Nothing special. No safaris, or hang gliding onto a glacier. No one rappelled into the Grand Canyon, though I suspect my younger niece might be game if someone put it to her in the right way.

It was just three generations of a family, ranging in age from twelve to eighty, who, unlike the great majority of families, genuinely enjoy each others’ company.

We don’t get together as often as we’d like. The Ancestral Correspondents still live in the family estate in western Pennsylvania. The Sibling Correspondent and his family are in Colorado. That’s a lot of ground to cover for a casual visit. It’s not nearly so far as you might think, though; not when everyone involved knows that a phone call would bring any one of us to do whatever was needed. There are families living across the street from each other who can’t say that.

You can’t get any closer.

Damn, that was fun.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Orwell? Or Giuliani?

From a March, 1994 speech by current Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani:

"We look upon authority too often and focus over and over again, for 30 or 40 or 50 years, as if there is something wrong with authority. We see only the oppressive side of authority. Maybe it comes out of our history and our background. What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do."

This is a much easier position to hold when you are the "lawful authority." Note his care in choosing words; he said, "lawful authority," not "Constitutional authority."

As the Crazy Like Me Correspondent put it (With a curtsy in the direction of George Orwell), "War is Peace - Freedom is Slavery - Ignorance is Strength."

If that is true, Dubya, Gonzo, and Rudy should each be able to kick Arnold Schwarzenegger's ass with one arm tied behind their backs.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pat Tillman

Over 3,600 American servicemen and women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. All of their sacrifices are significant and equal; none are more indicative of our involvement than that of Pat Tillman.

Tillman enlisted at the height of the greatest outburst of patriotism since December 8, 1941. Everyone who enlisted then, or since, gave up whatever life they might have had otherwise. Only Tillman walked away from a millions dollar career that would not be there when he returned.

His enlistment alone should have been enough to shame the Young (and Old) Republicans who beat the drums and waved the flag from the safety of this country. Tillman wasn’t finished; he joined Special Forces and went to Afghanistan.

He died there, a victim of friendly fire, much as the American effort to bring Osama bin Laden to justice died short of Tora Bora due to misguided priorities of the same leaders who swore so sincerely to protect the troops and ensure that no American casualty would be in vain. He was used even more cynically than his fallen comrades by those who promoted the war, as his presence was routinely trumpeted as symbolic of the best and the brightest this country had to offer, stepping up to shoulder a reasonable and justifiable burden.

The Bush Administration is no more forthcoming about what really happened to Tillman than it is about the true roots of the war. All that is left to his family are broken promises and lies, and a feeling that, no matter what the government admits to, the reality is worse. When what passes for truth dribbles out over months, each revelation more dismaying than before, how can anyone know which is the last, or if any can be believed past a certain point?

We’re no more likely to get answers about the larger questions than we are about Pat Tillman’s final moments, unless Congress finds the will to exert its Constitutional responsibilities and provide some effective checks and balances to the unitary executive. It won’t repay the debt we owe for the 3,600 lives this nation bilked from their rightful owners, but it’s a place to start.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I'll Cialis, and Raise You One

Erectile dysfunction ads have always perplexed me. Not that I have a perfect record in that area; no one does. (Except maybe Barry Bonds. His never works.) It’s the ads themselves. To me, they never send the message they should be sending.

I’m thinking of an evening a few years ago. Levitra was running a television ad that consisted primarily of a man throwing a football through a tire. They never said what the product did. For all I knew, they were some kind of shoulder medication. Prevented rotator cuff inflammation, maybe. All I ever saw the guy do was throw the football. After several weeks of seeing this, curiosity got the better of me. The Sole Heir was thirteen or so, and chatting online with some friends. I asked her to look up, just to see what it did. I’m sure most fathers would agree, there are few father-daughter bonding experiences like asking your barely teen-aged daughter to look up some dick medication.

Cialis has the current puzzling campaign. You’ve probably seen it. A middle-aged (of course) couple is walking through what appears to be an upscale restaurant district, presumably having just finished a dinner of raw oysters and arugula with ginseng dressing. Another middle-aged (of course) couple waves to them from a restaurant window. Damn! A social obligation, and Mr. ED has already dropped his lid of Cialis. What to do?

Never fear, says the sonorous voice-over. Cialis is good for up to thirty-six hours. Thirty-six hours!? How talky are these people? You can’t find a way to graciously extricate yourself from a conversation is less than a day and a half? Let’s face it, within half an hour, one of the women will have to go to the bathroom. The other one will go with her. Mr. ED will lean over to his soon-to-be-ex-friend and say, “Dude, the clock’s running on my meds. When they come back, shut the fuck up.”

While the couples chat, the voice-over lets you know that Cialis also works in as little as thirty minutes. If it works so fast, why not wait until you get home to take it, thus eliminating the risk of some chatty asshole ruining your fun? Was Mr. ED planning to bend Mrs. ED over the trunk of a car in the parking lot? Show some class, people.

A written disclaimer near the end of the commercial warns that Cialis is not intended to prevent the spread of AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. No kidding. Here’s a news flash: Cialis makes it easier to get an STD. What are your chances of getting AIDS if the hydraulics don’t work? Not none, but a lot less than if they do work and you’re not fussy enough about where and how you put them to use.

Like all Cialis ads, this one ends with the loving couple holding hands as they each recline in their respective claw-footed bathtubs in the back yard. I don’t know about you, but any time I’ve seen bathtubs in the yard, a car on blocks was nearby. Bathtubs in the yard are not an indicator of affluence; they would be found in any thorough compendium of “You Might be a Redneck If…” In addition, the people are always in separate bathtubs. Isn’t the purpose of Cialis to get them in the same bathtub?

Enzyte has much more effective commercials. This male enhancement product makes no bones about it: it works, Bob is happy, and Mrs. Bob is happier than Meg Ryan in the restaurant scene of When Harry met Sally. As everyone connected with the male enhancement industry knows, we only ingest these potentially dangerous chemicals into our systems to please our women, who, apparently, can’t get enough of us. Definitely guys who wrote these commercials..

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Protecting America

There are two major political parties in the United States: Thugs and Cowards. They masquerade as Republicans and Democrats, but today’s incarnations bear as little resemblance to the parties of Lincoln and Roosevelt (even Eisenhower and Johnson) as a giraffe does to a manatee.

Thugs will stoop to any depth to scare, browbeat, intimidate, vilify, or disparage anyone who disagrees with them. Think the war in Iraq was a bad idea? You’re a terrorist sympathizer who wants our brave troops not only to die, but to suffer first. Think we might want to consider raising enough money to pay for the myriad of pork projects written into law in the dark of night without any recorded votes? You’re an advocate of sending the working man to the poor house. Best plan for health care? Give all your money to private insurers and let them decide whether to provide care, or not.

Sounds pretty oppressive, doesn’t it? The Cowards are worse. A Coward never met a challenge he couldn’t back away from. This makes Cowards natural fodder for Thugs, since a Coward is an invertebrate that couldn’t stand up for what is right if he recognized it, which he’s afraid to do, because all viewpoints have value and merit in the eyes of a Coward. Wouldn’t want to invalidate someone’s true feelings. Sure, we believe in the Constitution, but the perspective of our Thug brethren has just as much validity, even though where the Bill of Rights says “yes” the Thugs say “no” and where the Bill of Rights says “no” the Thugs say “yes.” We may disagree in our hearts, but when it comes time to put our vote where our oath is, the word “threat” trumps “freedom” every time.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is straightforward: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It’s that ”no Warrants shall issue” part that hangs everyone up. Warrants require probable cause, and Thugs don’t want to fool around with that. They’ll decide who to search and seize, no impartiality required. How to get around that tricky language? Do away with warrants altogether.

Never mind that warrants have had a place in jurisprudence since the Magna Carta. Forget that we won two World Wars and the Cold War without disposing of them. This is different. A few thousand people died on one day six years ago; the values that made this country great must be put on hold so no more will join them. What about the hundreds of thousands who have died over the past two hundred-plus years to preserve that freedom? Brave men and women die in Iraq and Afghanistan every day, allegedly so we won’t have to fight here. Yet we freely sacrifice the liberties that make this country worth fighting for.

At the top of this page is a quote from a man who was largely responsible for the type of nation we once aspired to be. His words were never truer than they are now: Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security. All members of Congress swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. May those who voted for the Protect America Act spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders, for they have ensured none of us will truly know whether those who would prey upon us are foreign, or domestic.

For the Thugs, disdain, with a grudging respect for their ability to get their way. For the Cowards, nothing but contempt.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bush vs. Clinton

The Second Amendment Correspondent and I have been good friends for quite some time. While I find no fault with most of his comment about the previous post, I must take issue with its ending.

Here’s the SAC’s final paragraph. (Emphasis added by The Home Office.)

Bush's real "crime" here is once again doing things without any regard for how his office will appear to the American people. And yes, he has repeatedly said that he won't tolerate criminal behaviour in his administration. Then again so did Clinton.

This is a common Republican failing. They spent eight years vilifying Bill Clinton for everything he did. Now, no matter how egregious Bush’s actions, they immediately compare it to something Clinton did, or to Clinton’s character.

Isn’t that self-setting the bar awfully low? To say that Clinton is a low-life, bottom-feeding, son of a bitch, then continually compare your guy to him every time he’s criticized, is to admit Bush is a low-life, bottom-feeding son of a bitch, at best.

Bill Clinton is a detestable human being. I wouldn’t walk across the street to shake his hand, and I wouldn’t allow my daughter to be I the same room as him. That being said, his Administration paid for things as they went, and the Constitution wasn’t treated as something only he had the power to interpret. George Bush has been a catastrophe to the nation he swore to defend; the damage he has done to our standing and respect abroad is immeasurable and will take years to repair. The damage done to our domestic institutions may be irreparable. To compare his record of malfeasance to anyone else is not unlike comparing a swale in your backyard to the Grand Canyon.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Written on the Fourth of July

In celebration of the 231st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, The Home Office is printing the letter that was sent today to Senators Mikulski and Cardin, and House Majority Leader Hoyer.

Dear -----,

President Bush’s pardon of Scooter Libby shows his complete disregard for the responsibilities of the presidency, but also a lack of common sense. Anyone elected by his razor-thin margins should be painfully aware of the need to reach out to ensure he is the president of all the people, not just those who got him the job.

I suspect Scooter Libby is a fall guy. Either his lawyers declined to call Vice President Cheney as a witness in the hope that the president would express some form of clemency, or the deal had already been brokered. Libby isn’t the problem here; he’s the symptom.

George W. Bush has shown a complete disregard for mercy or clemency for many years, extending back to his tenure as governor of Texas. No execution deserved a stay under his rule. He has often expressed an opinion that all sentences should be carried out in full, and the will of a jury should never be overturned. To make a complete change of direction is one thing; to start with a personal associate is disingenuous and unconscionable.

President Bush and his supporters in and out of government often refer to the “unitary executive,” and claim it as a Constitutional principle. Anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of the Constitution’s origins knows better. The Founding Fathers had learned from the failure of the Articles of Confederation that a strong executive was necessary to hold together factions and broker compromise. Their fresh memories of living under a king, and the potential for abuse inherent in unchecked power, led them to fill the Constitution with limitations on executive power and privilege.

There is no question a president does not have many of the powers the office’s current inhabitant has claimed for himself; or, even worse, those claimed by Vice President Cheney. Congress alone has the power to rein in such abuses, and for too long has allowed executive ambition to remain unfettered. Please take this opportunity to say, “No more.” Mr. Bush is either president to all of us, or to none of us. Surely he must answer to all of us, and Congress is the only instrument the people have to exercise their will, outside of an election. Please do not fail us.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Do You Hear Me Now?

From the Washington Post’s In the Loop column of July 2, 2007, by Michael J. Fletcher

Maybe it was the school setting, but [President] Bush was leaving nothing to chance in explaining the world to the audience at the Naval War College. "Remember," he said at one point, "when I mention al-Qaeda, they're the ones who attacked the United States of America and killed nearly 3,000 people on September the 11th, 2001."

Oh, that al-Qaeda.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

It occurred to me today that two weeks have passed since I took The Sole Heir to see the US Open. It was part of a long Fathers Day weekend: the Open on Thursday, nine holes of golf on Friday, with my dad riding in the cart over the course he taught me to play on, watching his granddaughter play golf for the first time. Thirty-six holes of miniature golf on Saturday, then home to watch the final round of the Open.

I wish I was as smart every day as I was the day I thought up that weekend. It was four days of multi-level bonding, including my mother teaching the Crazy Like Correspondent the secrets of homemade Syrian Bread. They may not sound like much, but by Sunday evening they had acquired an almost surreal glow, events far enough removed from normal activities to seem like they’d happened to someone else.

The cool part is that they didn’t. We spent eleven-and-a-half hours walking the Oakmont Country Club, watching the world’s finest golfers, talking about golf, and whatever else came to mind. Not a harsh word, none of the strained good humor that comes from a sixteen-year-old feeling dragged around by her old man, or the old man resenting the kid for hurrying him. When we left the course for the gift shop at 7:45, we both agreed we’d have stayed if there was any more golf to be seen.

It was the best vacation I’ve had since out last car trip to Colorado in 2005. In some ways it was even better. Opportunities like this don’t come up every day; yours probably won’t include a golf tournament. Stay alert for them. They won’t hit you over the head, and they aren’t the kinds of things you’ll miss if you don’t do them. Only after they’re done will you appreciate what was gained by making the effort.

One last thing: Don’t wait until the kids are sixteen before thinking of cool stuff. Kids know when you’re doing something because you think you should, maybe when you finally realize time is running out on how long they’ll remain kids. Don’t kid yourself; no matter how old they are, the time is running out now. Start today. Expose your kids to things that give you satisfaction. They won’t grab onto all of them. They might not get any of them. But they’ll understand and appreciate the effort if they know it’s sincere, and that’s all that really matters. Parents who doesn’t get as much from their children as the kids get from the parent shouldn’t be parents.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Inside Football (Inside a Cell, that Is)

Norman Chad is best known for providing the “expert” commentary on ESPN’s poker broadcasts. He also writes a weekly sports column that never fails to amuse. The end of each column are Chad’s (aka Couch Slouch) replies to readers’ emails. Particularly worthy emails win a prize of $1.25, paid by The Slouch’s secretary, Shirley.

The following is yesterday’s email exchange. It doesn’t get any better than this

Ask The Slouch (Special Bengals edition)

Q. If Bengals owner Mike Brown spotted one of his players on "America's Most Wanted" and subsequently gave information as to his whereabouts, would his reward money be subject to the NFL's revenue-sharing agreement?

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. When is the Bengals organization going to get with the times and change the stripes on their Bengal Tiger logo to white and black?

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. Will the Bengals have to go to no-huddle next season so their players can avoid associating with known felons?

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. Would it kill Pacman Jones to make it a Blockbuster night every once in a while?

A. Pay the man, Shirley. (I consider Pacman Jones an "honorary Bengal.")

Slouch Rules!

Inside Baseball

Craze likes it when I teach her little things about sports that deepen her appreciation of the game we’re watching. This conversation took place Sunday night, when ESPN gave us a shot of Gary Sheffield in the on-deck circle.

Me: There’s just one thing that keeps Sheffield from being the biggest asshole in baseball.

Craze (perking up): What’s that?

Me: Barry Bonds

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Door Closes, a Door Opens

North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong was suspended by a judge today, after indicating he planned to continue in office until July 13, even after being disbarred for his leading role in the Duke lacrosse team rape that wasn’t. Mr. Nifong needn’t worry about paying the bills. The Justice Department has lots of openings for which he is uniquely qualified, as prosecuting nonexistent cases is not only not considered unethical at DoJ, it’s encouraged.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Last Word on The Sopranos

Still think the last episode had a downer of an ending? See what Emmy Award-winning writer Ken Levine has to say here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dramatis Interruptus

Possibly the greatest accomplishment of The Sopranos was David Chase’s willingness not to explain. Tony, Carmela, et al, did what they did without apology or justification from the writer. Loose ends were sometimes left to dangle, or had less than satisfactory explanations. Surprises were deftly balanced with anticlimax. (Remember the feds taking several episodes to wire a lamp in Tony’s basement for eavesdropping purposes, only to have Meadow immediately and unsuspectingly take said lamp for her dorm room?)

Life is like that, and The Sopranos, more than any other entertaining show, reflected life, through the admittedly warped prism of Tony Soprano. Anyone who watched all eighty-six episodes learned to take the characters as the sum of their parts, as though they were real people. Chase rarely took us where we expected to go; when he did, it was via the road less traveled. Not always wholly satisfying, but, as Brian Williams noted in Slate, “the journey is the reward.”

The ending of the last episode was a disappointment because there’s a difference between feeling let down and feeling cheated. An audience has the right to expect that tension, once raised, will be resolved in some manner. Chase spent the last several minutes of Sunday’s finale building tension as well as anyone ever has; the Crazy Like Me Correspondent said her stomach hurt, watching the comings and goings in the diner, Meadow parking the car, Tony’s innocent banter with AJ.

I’ve read over a dozen articles deconstructing the ending, and I’m willing to admit Tony has probably gone to that great pork store in the sky. Flashing to him with Bobby on the boat, “maybe you never hear it,” seems more satisfying a set-up than expecting the entire audience to analyze rock lyrics they may be unfamiliar with to figure the ending. Still, in real time, it was a let down, like hearing the doorbell ring when on the verge of an orgasm.

A more satisfying ending might have been to end the show a week earlier, with Tony sitting in Uncle Junior’s bed holding his AR-10, looking at the door, awaiting his destiny. That was the nadir of the season, and of the series; nothing in the final episode is as bleak.

The pundits are talking me into it, though. As Craze said a few minutes ago, if Tony had to go, better like this than to see him a bloody mess. He went out happy: Phil defeated, Carmela happy, Meadow’s prospects bright, and AJ a whiny douche bag, which is about as much as anyone can hope for from AJ. The end came as fast for us as for him; maybe that’s Chase’s last life lesson. Malicious prick (his words) that he was, no one really wanted to see Tony die.

Maybe it was brilliant after all; it sure was a disappointment when it happened.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

You CAN Keep a Good Man Down

The public is, by nature, lazy. Humans (as a species; there are exceptions) don’t want to think any more than they have to, and only about things they want to think about. The topic’s importance is irrelevant; we want a hook to make it easy to remember which is which.

Entertainment provides a trivial example. A fellow writer, whose opinion I respect greatly, has asked me more than once what my fictional detective’s gimmick is. That’s what marketing people are looking for. The public doesn’t have time to distinguish whether the book’s good. What makes the protagonist memorable? Is he an alcoholic? A cripple? Blind? Deaf? Gay? Maybe some mental disorder that makes things difficult, but not impossible. Bipolar disorder, perhaps. PTSD is timely. Think of the heartwarming reviews that could be written if our intrepid detective overcomes his agoraphobia to find the killer on the National Mall during the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

The mainstream media love this. The public’s inability to focus on anything too complex that doesn’t involve slot receivers, blitzes, or Cover Two feeds into a growing media trend: laziness. Reporters used to investigate cases like Watergate and Love Canal; now they’ll take pretty much what’s given to them.

The current Presidential campaign is a good example. Debates are televised more often than Law and Order (if you leave out cable reruns of Criminal Intent). A perfect chance to offer fair and balanced (oops) reporting on all the candidates, possibly allowing one of the so-called second-tier hopefuls a chance to break out of the pack.

No, that would require actually keeping track of them. Better to ride two or three obvious choices and say the rest have no real chance. The best part for the media is that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t mention Chris Dodd in the same breath as Hillary, Barack, and Edwards, and people will think he’s not as important. That will keep his poll number low, which will justify calling him a second-tier (read: second-rate) candidate.

There can be no other reason for Joe Biden’s inability to get traction. Sure, he tends to talk too much. He’s also the only candidate who is willing to not only tell you what he wants to do, but how he’s going to do it. Everyone else just says Iraq isn’t their fault. Their plans for getting the troops home have no more substance than Dubya’s. Biden has a plan; has for some time. No one pays it, or him, much mind, because he’s a second-tier candidate.

Why is he second-tier? All he does is good work. He’s been a distinguished senator for going on thirty years. He’s often mentioned as a potential Secretary of State. But he has no hook. He’s not an alcoholic/cripple/gay/bipolar/amputee veteran. He just blends into the background.

Look at the front-runners. Obama’s black. (Sort of.) Hillary’s a woman. (Sort of.) Edwards’s wife has cancer, for Christ’s sake. Can’t get much more distinguishing than that, unless he gets cancer himself, which would disqualify him for health reasons. (Edwards also has nicer hair than anyone has a right to. You get what you pay for.)

The same thing happened in Tuesday’s Republic party debate. Wednesday’s Washington Post coverage spent about six paragraphs on the actual debate, then digressed into an analysis of Fred Thompson’s concurrent web event, and Thompson’s not even a candidate! (Yet.) But he’s easy to get reader traction on, because he’s the lovable, gruff District Attorney on the aforementioned Law and Order. It doesn’t matter who he is or what he says; he has a distinguishing characteristic.

So Joe Biden toils in the fields of the second tier of candidates. He’ll probably be out of the race after the New Hampshire primary. So it goes. Until then, he’s my guy, the best-qualified man for the job, in both expertise and personal conduct. Chris Dodd is also probably a better choice than any of the Big Three. If only anyone took the time to find out.