Sunday, December 28, 2008

What Do They Know?

“They” say a lot of things. You can only get mononucleosis once. Only kids get it. Here’s what I say:


I’m seventeen days in and finally showing enough energy to for a blog post. I haven’t felt sick for over a week, but I’m weaker than George Bush’s grammar, and it’s getting old.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Walk Softly and Carry a Hockey Stick

Maybe fighting and thugs aren’t quite as dead in hockey as some would have you believe. Witness the following sequence from last Saturday’s game between Minnesota and Nashville, won by The Wild 6-2.

With 6:50 gone in the second period and Minnesota leading 3-0, The Wild’s Stephane Veilleaux and Nashville’s Scott Nichol were each penalized five minutes for fighting. No shock there; the Predators were taking a beating and frustration may have bubbled over.

The ice was cleared and play resumed. At 6:53 (three seconds later), Minnesota’s Derek Boogaard and Nashville’s Wade Belak were each sent off for five minute fighting majors. The next fight didn’t erupt for three more seconds, when Craig Weller and Jordin Tootoo each got five minutes off.

The best part of the whole thing only becomes evident when checking the box score. Boogaard only had three seconds of ice time for the game, which means he came on the ice at 6:50 (when the clock was stopped for the first fight) and was gone at 6:53, when he got his penalty. He didn’t play again, even though 28 minutes remained in a blowout game after he was paroled.

A quick look at Boogaard’s record is interesting. He’s played 22 games this year, averaging a little under four minutes a game, based on his last five games, which are all I could find stats for. He’s managed to accumulate 30 penalty minutes in that brief ice time, which is an improvement over his historical norms, which show him averaging 2.26 minutes per game in the NHL, and 4.3 minutes per game in the minors.

Who says the new look NHL has no place for thugs? Seems pretty obvious Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire sent Derek over the boards at 6:50 of the second to kick some ass. Dave Schultz, Tie Domi, and Bob Probert must be so proud.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Pinnacle of Civilization

Black Friday took on a new meaning this year when shoppers at a Long Island Wal-Mart crushed an employee to death in their haste to get shopping. The employee had the unfortunate name of Jdimytai Damour, so he was probably an immigrant, which means he was probably some illegal taking that high-paying seasonal Wal-Mart job from a deserving American, maybe even one of those who stepped over—or on—his body rather than try to help him.

Hell, with a name like that he’s probably from one of them African countries, where they have flies on the kids’ faces and are always whining about baby formula and then trample the their kids trying to get at it. You’ll never see Americans rioting for food like some of them you see on the news. Here we only stampede adults—and less than Real Americans at that—who stand between us and some cheap shit made in China that might just poison our kids, who, at least, have plenty of formula.

We’re no third world country.

The Way it Should Be

The Sole Heir’s Beau is a formidable hockey player. (I have it on good authority he’s even better at lacrosse.) Thanksgiving weekend brought a tournament conveniently located at the local rink, so we took the Parental Units over to see how we spend our free time.

Friday’s game was a 5-0 win, and so much fun we went back on Saturday to watch a 3-3 tie. Mom and Dad left Sunday morning, so The Sole Heir and I went back at 12:30 to see the championship game, with the winner advancing to a tournament in Canada next January.

You couldn’t see a more entertaining game at the Olympics. The Beau scored on a partial breakaway about five minutes in. That lead held up until a scrum cost our team the lead about midway through the second period. The game was a true goalies’ duel, both teams getting multiple scoring chances only to be stoned by the opposing goaltender.

Regulation ended 1-1, but there had to be a winner, as only one team could advance. The five minute overtime ended in a tie, so a shootout was called for. The teams would take turns with just a single skater trying to beat the opposing goalie. The team with the most goals after five attempts—all by different players—would win.

The visitors (from North Carolina) scored on their third shot, and it came down to our last chance. The goalie made most of a save, but the puck trickled through his pads and came to rest no more than six inches over the line. Still tied.

Now it’s the shootout version of sudden death: if they score, we have to match. If they miss and we score, we win. It went about ten rounds. Beau had the goalie set up for the same shot he’d scored on earlier, but the puck hopped on the chippy ice and he fanned on the shot. (Just as well; him shooting the winner would have been too much like a bad movie.) About ten shots in a Montgomery County player finally beat the Carolina goalie clean.

You would have thought they’d won the Stanley Cup the way they came screaming off the bench to bury the shooter, then turn as a group to engulf the goalie who kept them in the game. As hockey tradition dictates, both teams shook hands, then lined up to be called individually to receive their trophies, and run the handshake gauntlet again. Several winning players were detained in their round by losing coaches, who were genuinely happy for them, joking and slapping backs. It was as fine a gesture of sportsmanship as I have ever seen.

I hung with the Beau’s father after the game, waiting for the kids to come out of the locker room. “I think that last goal cost me about six hundred dollars,” he said, commenting on the price of the Canada trip. Huge smile on his face.

If you ever get tired of watching millionaire athletes bitch and moan about every little thing, go find a kids’ game somewhere, preferably at a level where no one has any real expectations of playing professionally. The play just as hard, if not as well, and there are few things in life as pure as the elation that goes with winning something for its own sake.

The way it should be.

The Sole Heir Rides Again

I don’t like to put personal stuff here, unless it might be entertaining to someone other than myself. I usually bend that rule when The Sole Heir does something that demands recognition. This is one of those times.

She was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago. That received no mention here because, frankly, we knew she’d get in; I’ll be more surprised if a college doesn’t take her. This weekend’s noteworthy feat was the arrival of another letter from Pitt, awarding her a four-year, full tuition scholarship, including a $2,000 study abroad stipend, and $500 for books. She also qualifies for a full Chancellor’s Scholarship, which will cover room and board if she gets it. (Miami of Florida offered maid service. Honest to God.)

This isn’t a done deal on her part; she’s still waiting to hear from a few schools so she can compare offers. Still, having a school as prestigious as Pitt in her back pocket—sans tuition, no less—takes a lot of stress out of waiting for the other replies.

Pitt also included a certificate for the parents, in appreciation of the support required to create a student of this caliber. Thanks, but they can keep it. First, this is a parent’s job; honoring us for not being derelicts should not be required. Second, while a poor home setting can adversely affect scholarship, no home environment can create a student of the skills The Sole Heir, and some of her friends, have developed. Her mother and I each have Masters Degrees; neither of us has been able to provide material assistance to her academically since she was in eighth grade. I can take no more credit for her achievement than I can for her brown eyes. True, she inherited the tools, as I did before passing them on; no credit is due there. The work is hers alone. I only hope her own high standards don’t prevent her from being as proud as she should be over this accomplishment, whether she accepts the deal or not.

Almost as proud as I am of her. Good job, La Binque.

Something Else to be Thankful For

Thanksgiving has passed at The Home Office, as has most of the food. (We’re still good for a couple of days worth of lunch-quality leftovers.) The Parental Units came down from the ancestral home in western Pennsylvania to spend the weekend, and remind us all of a rare thing we can be thankful for: my family actually gets along.

Proof of this can be found in our activities, or lack thereof. Dinner at Famous Dave’s. Some conversation. Watch a movie. More conversation. Thanksgiving Day was football, conversation, and the annual Feast. We then relaxed by bullshitting a while, and watching some football.

We did leave the house a few times. Took Mom to Costco. Went to a high school hockey game that involved The Sole Heir’s beau and enjoyed it so much we went back the next night. (More on that in a later post.) Introduced Mom to Mello Yello. In all, about as relaxing and entertaining a three days as could be had.

The visit was only cut short when a potential storm from the northeast chased them home first thing Sunday morning. (Research indicating the Steelers-Patriots game would not be televised in the Washington metropolitan area had no bearing on this decision.) The storm petered out into a drizzling rain that lasted all day Sunday and traffic was heavier than expected, but they made it home without incident. (Mom did get to snarf another Mello Yello at a rest stop. Now that she’s hooked, I’ll have to teach her the term “jonesing.”)

We get together a handful of times a year, but this Thanksgiving visit has become the most satisfying. The day may come when they don’t feel up to the trip; then we’ll drive. People have teased me about living in the last functional family in America. Sour grapes.

One last thing. The Steeler game was televised in Washington after all; the listings were incorrect. It looked great on that fifty-inch HD screen, Dad. Stick around next time. We have room.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. For those of you who celebrate it, best wishes for a happy and comfortable day with family, friends, or whoever who choose to spend it with.

The rest of you, get back to work.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dave? Is That You, Dave?

The excellent crime fiction writers blog Working Stiffs ran this post today; the topic is the infallible ability of homeowner big ticket items to fail when you can least afford them to. This was a particularly timely post for me, as we have recently replaced our dishwasher (I mean the mechanical one; the Beloved Spousal Equivalent is secure in her position) and are looking for a toaster.

These events have made me realize appliances are smarter than we give them credit for, but not as smart as they think they are. Take our old dishwasher. We inherited it when we bought the house, and it had obviously been here a while. The BSE complained about it daily, with cause.

Earlier this month we ordered a new one. The old immediately started acting up: drying even less well than before, leaving more streaks. It knew we were talking replacement, which I thought was pretty perceptive for an inanimate object. It just didn't realize its actions were counterproductive. Not its fault; dishwashers rarely have the emotional maturity of, say, a combination washer/dryer. It can now contemplate its improper response in the Prince George’s County landfill.

Last week the toaster started burning toast even worse than usual. I pointed to the new dishwasher and said, "If I dumped a large appliance like that one, don't think I won't run your ass out of here in a heartbeat."

I haven't made toast since then. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Meanwhile, South of the Mason-Dixon Line

This is something that could not ever be made up.

If you get to wondering why there are no bestiality laws that apply, remember where this takes place. Legislators who pass laws are human beings. They have fond memories of their first loves, too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Time Out

A brief disclaimer: for those of you unaware of this, I voted enthusiastically for Barack Obama for president. View the rest of this post in that context.

I stayed up on election night only long enough to watch John McCain’s concession speech. I haven’t read any of the subsequent Obama statements, didn’t watch 60 Minutes last Sunday. When the lovely Spousal Equivalent asked why not, I explained that I’d been listening to him, and others, tell me what they’re going to do for over a year now. Voting was all I could do about it, and I did. Now I’m calling a time out until he actually does something. Then he can have my attention back.

Frankly, form what I can tell about him, I think Obama might consider that a healthy attitude.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Throw Money at It

That’s the standard Republic Party reply when Democrats come up with a program. “Those tax and spend Democrats just want to throw money at the problem.” Let’s see how well that argument holds up.

Since the Depression, Democrats have preferred government-sponsored job programs for economic stimulus. The Depression was full of them: WPA, TVA, Rural Electrification. Whatever kept people working and off welfare. Build roads, bridges, buildings. Run phone and electrical lines. Keep people busy while preparing the nation for the eventual good times, because having to play catch-up can stifle an economic rebound faster than anything.

This approach has benefits. First and foremost, the money wasn’t just flowing one way. People who are working pay taxes, as opposed to just taking in money like those collecting unemployment insurance and welfare. (Republics shouldn’t have to be reminded of this.) Same thing for the companies who get the contracts to actually do the work.

Even better, the program doesn’t have to work as well as expected in order to reap its rewards. Even if the economy doesn’t recover as much as you’d like, you’ve still fixed the roads and bridges, laid cable and fiber (the 21st Century equivalent of electric and phone lines). These are tangible benefits that will be there, ready and waiting, when things finally do get going again.

The Republic Party, on the other hand, likes to put checks in the mail, in the hope that people will spend them on goods and services. This approach, which owes much to the “trickle down” school of economics, is unreliable at best. Sometimes it’s a downright fallacy, as is so much of trickle down theory.

Let’s take this year’s example, where millions of people got $300 checks. What was the root of the economic problem? Overextension of credit. What did a lot of people do with the money? They paid bills. A worth endeavor, but hardly stimulating to the manufacturing or sales segments of the economy. Even worse, when it didn’t work, all we had to show for it was a bugger deficit.

Getting real work to take place will create a “bubble up” economy by putting the money in the hands of the people who need it most, and will be most likely to recirculate it in the desired manner, namely those who actually need it to make ends meet. Why this remains such a revolutionary concept is the real puzzler.

Putting people to work to accomplish something, or sending checks and hoping for the best. Who’s really throwing money at the problem?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not the Honeymoon, Still the Engagement

I’d hoped it would be over. I’d dreamed of a time after the election when the pundits (a Latin word for “capable of spewing excrement from multiple orifices”) would have nothing presidential to analyze and we could go back to actually getting the news.

Sometimes I wonder how I hold a job, dumb as I am.

Just because Barack Obama won the election with a comfortable, but not earthshaking, margin doesn’t mean everyone and his brother isn’t lined up to tell him what to do. It’s one thing for Republics and conservatives to do it; they lost, and a certain amount of sniping is to be expected. It’s the Democrats and others who voted for him who are crawling all over each other to let him know what he needs to do first, next, and everything after that.

Didn’t they (and I) just vote for him to lead? Did your vote at least imply that you trust his judgment? (I hope so; mine did.) True, times are tough and he needs to hit the ground running, but he seems to be a pretty sharp guy. Let’s see what he has planned.

Obama’s greatest challenge won’t be Republic Party resistance. It will be from the inevitable disappointment of his Kool-Aid-drinking supporters when they discover how much clay his feet contain. It will be that whole “woman scorned” thing, which I know quite a bit about. Oh, do I know about that.

The “feet of clay” reference was in no way an insult. Everyone has them. Obama will have them worse, if only because each of his supporters has a different idea of what they want him to do, so each will be disappointed in their own way. He can’t please them all, by definition; he’s bound to be disappointed himself from time to time.

So how about everyone just backs the fuck off for a few weeks? We’ll all feel better.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Random Political Thought

Does anyone else wonder how many of the members of the Republic Party now clamoring for Obama to begin a period of post-partisanship were also telling John McCain they’d desert him if he chose Joe Lieberman as his running mate?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

October's Movie Reviews

Doug List has posted his monthly compendium of movie reviews over at Thoughts on Film.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Suspension of Disbelief

Baseball’s abnormally good luck with weather during the World Series came to an abrupt end last night, with the first foul weather suspension of a game in World Series history. (Announcers always use such a qualifier, in case some World Series games had been suspended in Super Bowl history, or Chinese history. They’d also be right to say it was the first World Series game suspended in history, period, but that might sound presumptuous. More likely, Tim McCarver didn’t think of it.)

Baseball has no one but itself and Fox to blame for this week’s problems. (Tonight’s forecast is no better than last night’s.) Fox requested some extra days off in the playoff schedule last year, to spread the games out more and prevent Games Six and Seven from taking place on a weekend, where low general viewing (Saturday night) and pro football (Sunday night) would cut into their audience. Using the schedule in place since the inception of a third tier of playoffs in 1995, this year’s Game Seven would have been played on October 26, last Sunday. In Florida. In a dome. Hardly any weather problems there. (Why the Tampa Bay area thought a domed stadium was advisable for an area where people move to enjoy the weather is an open question.)

Next season doesn’t start until April 5, so baseball is talking to Fox about removing the open dates to keep the Series from running as late as November 5. Even Bud Selig appreciates the potential for embarrassment if Games Six and Seven were to be scheduled for the first week of November in Boston or Chicago or Cleveland or Detroit, none of which are out of the realm of possibility. Starting the season on March 29 apparently hasn’t occurred to them, even though Major League Baseball has complete control over where games are played in the beginning of the season, and none at the end.

Of course, these are guys who still insist on starting all games at 8:30 Eastern time. I appreciate the need to give West Coast viewers a chance to get home, but this start time ensures 75% of the people in the country will miss either the beginning of the game (because they’re not home yet) or the end (because they passed out in the seventh inning).

That explains the disjointed, overly parenthetical nature of this post. I’ve been up until at least midnight every night for three weeks, I’m already exhausted, and it only Tuesday.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pumpkin Time?

Has it occurred to anyone else that when the clock struck midnight Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Rays looked at eash other and said, "Oh, shit! This is the World Series! We're Tampa. We suck." Because they really haven't done too much right since then.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Orders of Magnitude

There’s been a lot of adolescent name calling in this election, even more juvenile than usual. He-said, she-said, he did it first, he’s on my side of the car, he’s touching me he’s touching me. Stuff like that. Neither side has clean hands, despite what both promised would be a lofty and elevated discussion about the relative merits of each candidacy.

Whether both are equally guilty is a question of magnitude. Let’s examine two frequent Republican complaints: who’s running more negative ads, and why Joe Biden’s verbal gaffes don’t get the same attention as Sarah Palin’s.

Negative ads first. Each side quotes statistics to buttress its point. Obama’s overwhelming fundraising advantage allows him to run so many more ads, both sides are correct, regardless of whether they’re arguing his percentage is lower than McCain’s (as Obama does), or there are so many more of them (as McCain does).

As Mark Twain said, there are three kinds of deception: lies, damned lies, and statistics; call it a wash. What’s more important is the content of the negative ads. It’s one thing to say your opponent’s tax and health care policies won’t help the average Joe, plumber or not; it’s something else to say your opponent is un-American and consorts closely with terrorists. Especially when it’s not true.

Then there are Biden’s gaffes versus Palin’s. We’re not even going to discuss the percentage issue here; Joe Biden talks so much his misstatements could fill the Bible and he’d still be 90% accurate. Once again, it’s the quality of the gaffe that matters. Saying FDR spoke on television after the stock market crash of 1929 is dumb, but it reflect on his judgment. His knowledge of media history, sure, but the point he was making is valid: Roosevelt comforted the nation during the worst parts of the Depression. He did, admittedly, get the specifics wrong. All of them.

Compare that to Governor Palin’s oft-repeated assertion that she has foreign policy expertise because she can see Russia from Alaska. To quote a national columnist (I forget which one, sorry) I can see the moon from my front yard; that doesn’t make me an astronaut. Or an astronomer. I don’t “read everything they put in front of me,” but I can tell you what I do read. Biden’s a bit of a goof whose mouth has only a dial-up connection to his brain when it needs broadband; she’s an idiot.

What’s important are what mathematicians and physicists call orders of magnitude. If I say you’re wearing an ugly sweater and you reply that I’m a wife beating, child molesting bastard, we both insulted each other once. The insults are hardly equivalent.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Behind the Scenes at The Home Office

Watching Game One of the World Series last night, the Spousal Equivalent, weary of my constant carping about Tim McCarver's "expert" analysis, finally asked if there was anything he could say that would satisfy me.

“Sure,” I said.


“My heart! My heart!”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin's Hidden Agenda

Conventional wisdom implies Sarah Palin’s recent campaign appearances indicate someone positioning herself for a presidential run in 2012 should John McCain come up short this year, which appears likely. There’s an abvious second choice no one seems to be picking up on.

Her campaign rhetoric has become even more shrill and veered rightward lately, opening differing with McCain’s to the point where he has had to specifically distance himself from her comments. Polls showing she has become a drag on his hopes with everyone except hard-core conservatives have not diminished her efforts.

Last week’s appearance on Saturday Night Live was telling. The opening was either edgy or unfunny; I lean toward edgy. Her later appearance on the Weekend Update segment was embarrassing. It’s depressing to think that a candidate for the nation’s second highest office would knowingly stand for something like that.

All of these would come back to haunt her in a future run. She might win some primary battles with her ultra-conservative base, but she is essentially unelectable when even more moderate (or even moderately thinking) Republicans start voting. She’s no more likely to become president than Michele Bachmann.

No, her recent acts, coupled with her pre-political history, argue her vision is set on a more practical goal: Fox News. Look for her to to become either a regular contributor, or get her own show, within a year of the expiration of her term as Alaska governor. If not sooner.

Go ahead. Laugh. Just remember where you heard it first.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sarah Sixpack

Sarah Palin can’t go a day without some pander to her core constituency, personified by Joe Sixpack. I’m old enough to have been around when this stereotype was created, and young enough to remember it. Joe Sixpack comes home after work, plops himself in the family La-Z-Boy and pounds a six pack of beer sitting in his wife beater while watching a ball game.

Basically, a drunk.

So Sarah is proudly identifying her core voting block as drunks.

This might be the first thing she’s been right about so far.

The Terrible Broadcasting System

I think TBS has it in their contract with Major League Baseball that they must go out of their way to make Fox look good. They missed the first twenty minutes of Saturday’s Game Six between Boston and Tampa Bay due to a technical failure in Atlanta. When they came back, Chip Caray comforted everyone with, “You haven’t missed much.”

What we missed was Coco Crisp leading off with a bunt single, then immediately getting picked off in the top of the first inning, then a long homerun by BJ Upton in the bottom of the inning.

While Caray was noteworthy for playing the house shill in a manner to make any White House press secretary proud, analyst Ron Darling wins the Tim McCarver Obvious Banality Award for stating that “two-out hits can prolong an inning.”

Al Leiter was available, guys. And Skip Caray (Chip’s dad) is retired, not dead. If you want to play in The Show, bring you’re A Game. Don’t use Fox as an example.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Like Putting Handcuffs on a Squid

Quick thoughts on the final debate:

I know why he didn’t do it, but it would have been nice to hear Obama cite examples of how McCain can safely be described as “erratic.” Also to draw a distinction between “negative” ads that point out the flaws in the opponent’s positions and policies and negative ads that call your opponent a terrorist sympathizer.

McCain really and truly doesn’t understand that the average family gets hosed by his health care plan. You’d think a Republican would get it when the US Chamber of Commerce says so; maybe he’s become so much a maverick up is now down to him.

It says a lot about the state of the campaign when Obama declines to point out Sarah Palin’s woeful inadequacy to be vice-president, but McCain spends most of his time on that question trying to convince us Joe Biden is a moron.

McCain-ian logic: I will have no litmus test for Supreme Court nominees. I will nominate only qualified jurists. No one who supports Roe v. Wade is a qualified jurist. QED.

Saying an across-the-board spending freeze will solve the budget problems is like telling someone whose feet hurt to wear the same size shows as you do, because your feet don’t hurt. Even though you’re six inches taller.

Tax cuts are the Republicans’ answer to all budget questions. By their logic, the government would have al the money it would ever need if it just did away with taxes altogether.

When Obama says he wants to spread the wealth around, it’s not like he’s going to take the money from Joe the Plumber and give it to Sam the Teacher. The money will come from John McCain and Hank Paulson and Barbra Streisand, who can all afford it.

Highlights of the evening: Bob Schieffer's repeated attempts to get something worthwhile out of these two.

Lowlights of the evening: McCain’s dismissal of the mother’s health as a ground for abortion.

Runner up: McCain declaring he didn’t want to talk about some broken down old terrorists, then spending two minutes doing exactly that.

Thank God, Allah, Vishnu, Gaia, or whoever else you might pray to that this will all be over in a few weeks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Welcome Addition to the Blogsphere

The Hollywood Correspondent has been providing entertaining and thoughtful movie reviews and com printed tabloid-sized mailings several times a year. Several writers contributed to each edition, and the articles ranged from retrospectives of actors’ or directors’ careers to analysis of types of films or films of a certain time period to comics drawn specifically for the magazine.

Final Take eventually became too expensive to maintain, and email became the medium of choice. The content changed as well. Everything was written by him, and the monthly format was more like a series of traditional movie reviews. He’d still riff on things when the spirit moved him, but there would always be a movie or two that served as the cornerstone of the comment. I don’t think a month went that his notes didn’t provoke an exchange of emails, usually resulting in me learning something.

Now he has discovered the blogsphere. Thoughts on Film contains all the monthly newsletters he’s done over the past several years. They’re well written, engaging, and should spur some nice comment threads as he builds a readership. Check him out; pick through the archives. You’ll thank me for telling you.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Yesterday Representative Michele Bachman (R-MN) blamed the current financial crisis on the Clinton-era Community Reinvestment Act for pushing “homeownership as a way to open the door for blacks and other minorities to enter the middle class.”

It’s difficult to believe even someone as conservative as Rep. Bachman could believe such a baseless canard, let alone say it for public attribution in this, the Year of Their Lord 2008.

Everyone knows the mortgage crisis was caused by the legalization of gay marriage.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bailing Out

H.L. Mencken once defined a Puritan as a person who lived his life in fear that someone, somewhere, was having a good time. A minor modification makes the statement true for all Americans, who spend an inordinate amount of time worrying that someone, somewhere, is getting over. There’s no better explanation for the failure of the economic disaster recovery bill in the House of Representatives.

The bill had flaws, as would anything whipped up in less than a week that was intended to address something as badly broken as our financial markets. It was still generally considered to be the adult thing to do, even if it meant holding one’s nose to vote for it. Reasoned, knowledgeable voices from both sides of the political spectrum agreed something had to be done, and the Paulson-Dodd-Frank plan was less offensive than any alternative likely to appear on such short notice.

Congressmen facing tough re-election campaigns walked away from their leadership’s entreaties in droves, regardless of party affiliation, though the Republican droves were proportionately twice as large as those of the Democrats. Constituents didn’t want to hear how these pinstripe suit, power suspender wearing Wall Street fat cats were going to benefit from the plan, even with the provisions for compensation reduction and taxpayer protection. They wanted an reckoning. Never mind there will be plenty of time after we keep the boat from sinking to apportion blame for who left the portholes open. The People want these guys dead, their wives raped, their children auctioned into slavery, and their pets sold to Chinese restaurants.

This is a not uncommon American reaction. Pick a social program, any social program. All it takes is Fox News to find one person in a thousand gaming the system, and there will he a hue and cry to dismantle the whole operation, no matter how many people It helps, or how good the return on our investment might be. No rational person will argue that anyone who takes unfair advantage of these programs should not be prosecuted and face serious consequences. Our national predisposition for zero tolerance provides a willingness to let nine hundred ninety-nine children to go without proper nutrition or health care because one lowlife on welfare took more than her fair share.

The entertaining irony is that no one enjoys getting over more than Americans. Maybe that’s why so many of us are worry about someone else pulling a fast one; we spend so much time thinking of doing it ourselves. Take this test: the next time someone complains about a welfare cheat or stock manipulator, ask if he claims every dollar on his taxes. Or skipped out on jury duty. Bought a hot television.

Here’s a scenario. You’re in a bar. A man comes into selling watches for twenty cents on the dollar. If you buy the watch and it works, you feel good because you got a deal. You know the watch was stolen, but it’s a victimless crime, right? The rightful owner was insured, no one hurt. Except insurance companies don’t lose money on stuff like that; they pass it along to their policyholders in the form of increased premiums, so you paid more for that watch than you think.

Scenario Two: Same bar, same guy. Except this time the watch is a knockoff and you’re the one getting screwed. Now you’re pissed, though the difference is a simple matter of whose ox got gored.

People often complain about how hard it is to know what’s the right thing to do. Doing the right thing is often hard, but it’s rarely hard to know what it is. Often what’s right isn’t in our selfish short-term interest; we pretend it’s tough so we can find an excuse for a more palatable decision. Nay-voting congressmen and are all over the airwaves today, rationalizing their decision not to do the adult thing, when it’s more clear by the hour it came down to re-election. This is how we define leadership in America.

Our capacity to rationalize ourselves into self-delusion is formidable. The other reason given for defeating the bill was, “It’s Socialism.” We hear that one all the time, too. The mere mention of a government health plan provokes “It’s Socialism” cries that roll across the landscape like thunder. Socialism is the third leg of the unholy trinity that would damn us all to hell if left unchecked, along with gay marriage and abortion. Yet the largest, most successful, and most popular government program ever created, an entitlement virtually all agree must be defended to the last dying breath, is so close to unadulterated socialism it carries the name: Social Security.

And there are those who wonder why there is no consistency in American politics.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ooh, Shiny

The United States Mint has stopped printing buffalo head gold coins. People are hoarding gold. This is the most intelligence defying act since Sarah Palin was nominated for vice president. Granted, intelligence is defied on an almost daily basis lately, but this is bad. People have been talked into hoarding gold because it is alleged to be the standard of financial systems throughout history; the only thing of true, undeniable value.


Gold is valuable because it always has been. Since the earliest recorded days of what passed for civilization, gold has been the material by which wealth has been measured. Tombs were encrusted with it. Untold hundreds of thousands have died in its search, either killed in the quest, or by those questing for it.

What is it about gold that has made it so valuable? Great medicinal power? Physical strength? Is it an aphrodisiac? (No; the wealth it implies is the aphrodisiac.) Gold became valuable to ignorant people no more than three steps removed from apes because it is shiny, and easy to make pretty jewelry with. Period. The practical uses of today's gold were undreamed of in those days. They collected it, paid dearly for it, killed and conquered for it. Because it was shiny.

Want more proof? Even today, when (most of us) will readily agree the earth is round and rotates around the sun, it is a rule of thumb for a man to spend three months' salary on an engagement diamond. The true value of this diamond is nil. Industrial diamonds have some utilitarian value, but they're not used for jewelry. Jewelry diamonds are expensive because they're shiny. They would be of more genuine use if they had remained in their previous form; at least you can heat your house with coal.

For all the talk the current crisis has inspired about what is truly valuable, few are talking about the only three things that have inherent value. Not gold, silver, or even platinum. Not uranium, stocks, or bonds. Not derivatives or real estate. In the end, those are no more valuable than tulip bulbs. The three things that have inherent value in this, and, for us, any other world, are edible food, breathable air, and potable water. That's it.

Ask someone in Somalia if he'd rather have an ounce of gold or a bushel of corn. All other measures of wealth are eventually evaluated by how well they can provide the only three we really need. Wall Street masters of the universe will die in minutes if they can't get a breath of air, no matter how much money they made on their stock options.

Much of the current crisis is due to mankind's inability to remember what is truly valuable. If we don't get a handle on our greed, we may have this lesson proven to us sooner, and more unpleasantly, than we'd like.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Only Constant is Change

Time has a way of altering the meaning of words and phrases. “Naughty” was once a much stronger term than it is now. In my musty, dusty, vaguely remembered teen days, referring to someone as a “vicious beast” would definitely be an insult. (Using those two words in conjunction seems a reach, even for the Seventies, but neither had a good connotation.) Now my daughter calls someone—me, one time—a “vicious beast” and it’s high praise.

“Bitch” meant female dog, period, until common usage made it a derogatory term for a woman. Yet to jazz musicians of my vintage, “bitch” was about the highest compliment one player could give another, second only to “monster,” which could also safely be called a pejorative under other circumstances.

This brings us to today’s lesson: “too big to fail.” When originally concocted, this term’s common usage meant a company had grown large enough, and diverse enough, that it couldn’t fail. No matter how bad one aspect of its business got, other, more successful pieces would keep it afloat. General Electric is be one example; General Motors another. (Companies with “General” in their titles were looking to achieve this status, generally speaking.)

“Too big to fail” has been evolving in meaning over time toward the definition it clearly assumed last week, with the government coming to the assistance of AIG. “Too big to fail” is now no outdated; the new term should be “to big to be allowed to fail.” Facing these new facts, the federal government probably can’t be faulted for looking for ways to prop some of these giants up. On the other hand, it might be nice to utilize some of the existing anti-trust laws—or create some new ones—so no companies can become so big we have to worry about the whole economy going down with them in the future.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Qualified No

The McCain campaign got a bump when it started limiting his exposure to the media and sent Sarah Palin to the annex of Dick Cheney’s undisclosed location, away from any potentially embarrassing questions. Maybe they should lock the whole campaign down, since its surrogates can’t seem to keep their feet off their molars, either.

McCain’s economic advisors have a special gift for this. Phil Gramm famously declared this “nation of whiners” was undergoing only a “mental” recession. Just the other day Douglas Holtz-Eakin gave McCain credit for creating the Blackberry, which isn’t even an American invention. (It’s only fair to note the McCain campaign dismissed the comment and walked away from it immediately.)

Then there’s Carly Fiorina.

Submitting to an interview for St. Louis radio station KTRS yesterday, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO was asked if she thought Gov. Palin had the experience to run HP.

“"No, I don't," said Fiorina. "But that's not what she's running for. Running a corporation is a different set of things."

Carly, a contestant for this year’s Yassir Arafat Award for Never Missing an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity, then appeared with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC to compound the error.

MITCHELL: You were asked whether Sarah Palin has the experience to run a major company ... and you said, "No, I don't, but you know what? That's not what she's running for."

FIORINA: “Well, I don't think John McCain could run a major corporation. I don't think Barack Obama could run a major corporation. I don't think Joe Biden could run a major corporation. But on the other hand, running a major corporation is not the same as being President or Vice President of the United States. It is a fallacy to suggest that the country is like a company. So, of course, to run a business you have to have a lifetime of experience in business. But that's not what John McCain, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin or Joe Biden are doing.”

The author of the Slate piece, Christopher Beam, goes on to say, “Her answer is completely natural and nondamning if you look at the entire paragraph. (Although you could take issue with the ‘fallacy’ line, since George W. Bush did suggest that business experience matters.)”

Beam misses the point. What’s damning is Fiorina’s hubris. While her Wikipedia article has received the Sarah Palin Good Housekeeping Sanitizing treatment, her tenure at HP was beneficial for anyone but her. She walked away with a $21 million severance after being asked to leave by the board. Dismissing someone with that kind of package can be interpreted less as recognition of a job well done—if so, why was she shown the door?—than as a bribe never to return. Palin, McCain, Obama, and Biden may or may not be qualified t run HP; Fiorina certainly wasn’t.

Beam also misses the validity of her “fallacy” comment. There is little comparison between running a major corporation and running the country. The president’s job is infinitely harder. A CEO’s toughest decision may be to decide how many people will lose their jobs; presidents are routinely asked to decide how many people will lose their lives. Her implication that running a company may be the more difficult job isn’t just a conceit; it’s distasteful. A successful president could sit in a CEO’s chair, hire a few niche-specific experts, and run the show as a vacation.

The truth is, all the talk about which candidate is qualified to be president is a straw man; no one is truly qualified to be president until he’s been doing it for a while. The current occupier of the billet has been there over seven years, and he still can’t do it. The best we can hope for is someone with an understanding of the terrible responsibilities of the position, and skills that can be adapted to its performance.

That is the crux of the criticism of McCain’s appointment of Palin as running mate. It’s not that she’s unqualified; we just haven’t had a chance to see if she appreciates the magnitude of the job; her comments to Charles Gibson imply she does not, or she would have at least pondered it before accepting. Nor have we had a chance to see if she has a skill set that can be adapted to doing it right. A year ago Obama was not my choice for president, for exactly that reason. I hadn’t seen him around enough to have a feel for how he’d respond to things. He’s been on the news every day since, so many of my concerns have been addressed. Sarah Palin is well short of that threshold. (In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted Joe Biden was my original choice for president.)

One thing’s for sure: Carly Fiorina would almost certainly have a key role in a McCain administration. That should be enough to give even Sarah Palin second thoughts.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The System's Broke, Now So Are You

Yesterday Lehman Brothers went underwater faster than Galveston. Merrill Lynch was helicoptered to safety at the last minute. AIG is stalled on the railroad tracks, hoping the engineer of the oncoming train isn’t text messaging anyone. All of us are riding the tiger, and we might as well wait until he gets tired; he’ll eat us if we jump off at the wrong time. (Thus ends the strained metaphor section of today’s essay.)

Free market, laissez-faire capitalism is at the heart of the American economic myth, and the country has profited from it We’re in the process of being reminded the free market ain’t free, and it’s not just those who reach for the brass ring and miss who get ground up in the wheels of its machinery.

Unfettered capitalism is based largely on the premise of self-regulating markets, and the idea of balancing risk against rewards. Theoretically, it works. We’re seeing it work now, as bubbles in housing and credit positions have burst more or less simultaneously, creating havoc across the economy. In theory, those who made mistakes are being punished financially, and those who were prudent will be rewarded. That’s not how it works in practice.

This is not the place to debate just desserts for those whose greed brought us to this place, nor to argue who should, or should not, get bailed out by the government. All we can do is to make the best of an increasingly bad situation and devise workable plans to see to it such events don’t happen again.

Which means regulation. Public policy has stripped away layers of regulation since Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981. Much of this was necessary. Government regulations created a culture of featherbedding, where no business in selected sectors—commercial airlines, telecommunications, interstate shipping—could go broke, thanks to what amounted to government price fixing. Everyone paid for that, except the shareholders of the protected industries.

The freewheeling, devil-take-the-hindmost attitude that replaced it has swung the pendulum of business too far the other way. It’s never good to see a business go bust, though some deserve to. Our current situation has evolved into a caricature of laissez-faire, where those with the most to gain had little to lose, and those who stood to benefit least may lose most.

Tax laws were made more lenient for brokers of certain investments, because their income depended to a large extent on commissions, never mind they were building their fortunes with other people’s money. Their risk was they wouldn’t get rich; their reward could be to become obscenely rich. Exorbitant bonuses were paid to executives who built short-term profits on dubious strategies, such as buying securities based on mortgages unlikely to be paid. These, and others, have been swept up in the debris of the bursting bubble, but they’ve already cashed in. Their investments will suffer, but a $10 million (or more) nest egg can take a substantial hit before its owner becomes middle class, even by John McCain’s definition.

Those who will be hurt most are those who had the least to gain. People who were in the market hoping for no more than a relaxing retirement, or to send a child to college are seeing those possibilities move farther away every time they open a newspaper. Adding insult to injury, the tightening of credit makes it harder for their kids to get student loans; the potential of getting money out of their houses diminishes with the value of the house.

These are the people who never stood to become millionaires, but who are paying the greatest real price. The nebulous “market” true capitalists reflexively genuflect before has no mechanism of concern for these people; they don’t matter. The excessive regulation of an overlarge government can be blamed for a lot of things, but we forget the uses and benefits of government at our peril. It seems America has to learn the dangers of capitalism run amuck every eighty years or so. Let’s do what we can to make it a little easier on our grandchildren.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Executive Experience

Enough with family values and small town values and pigs with lipstick. Until Sarah Palin answers actual questions about her positions and philosophies,
her record is all there is to go on; let’s look at it.

Two terms as mayor of a town with less than 10,000 inhabitants
Twenty months as governor of a 47th most populous state, with a budget that ranks 38th in the nation.

It has been pointed out she has more executive experience than both Democratic nominees combined. No argument. Let’s examine the relevance of that argument.

Wasilla, Alaska, has, by the best figures I could find, 9,780 inhabitants. Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania—my home town—has 12,159, so it can reasonably be argued that I have a similar small town upbringing. Gov. Palin and I are both college graduates; she graduated from the University of Idaho (current enrollment 11,636); my alma mater is Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with a current enrollment of approximately14,000. Granted, it’s been quite a whole since either of us was a student, but the rough comparison still holds. Our demographic backgrounds are not so dissimilar to prevent either of us from sharing basic small-town sensibilities.

Gov. Palin bases much of her qualification derived from small town values, which she seems to think are universal. Lower Burrell and Wasilla are similar in size, but there do appear to be some differences in values. The most recent available figures for registered sex offenders shows Wasilla with one per every 133 residents; Lower Burrell has one per every 4,110. For comparison purposes, Washington DC has 1,030 residents for every registered sex offender. If you drop something on a Wasilla street, leave it there.

The most recent data I could find—2002, during then-Mayor Palin’s tenure—shows 68 city employees in Wasilla. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under the chairmanship of Joe Biden, has approximately 280 staff members. Granted, Biden has people to actually make sure things get done. So does the mayor. (Alaska has approximately 15,000 state employees.) Mayor is considered to be a part-time job in Wasilla, which can reasonably be argued diminishes the intensity of the executive experience.

Her mayoral experience is a straw man; no one would argue Don Kinosz’s experience as Mayor of Lower Burrell qualifies him to run the world’s leading democracy in turbulent times. Governor of Alaska is more relevant experience. Aside from this sentence, we will leave aside Karl Rove’s August assertion that, should Obama select Virginia governor Tim Kaine as his running mate, it would prove Obama’s willingness to place politics ahead of country, due to Kaine’s lack of experience as Virginia governor, though he has governed a state with over eleven times the population of Governor Palin and a budget over three-and-a-half times that of Alaska’s, for only forty-one fewer days.

One point jumps out from the above comparison. Virginia has eleven times the people, yet spends less than four times as much to run the state. Given that Alaska has great expanses of empty land that make many economies of scale impractical, it’s still costing three times as much per capita to run Alaska than it does to keep Virginia operational. Alaska ranks second in the nation in federal aid, and has the third highest unemployment rate. It passes out subsidies of $3200 per eligible citizen from its oil revenues. How this fits with the conservative mantra of less government remains to be seen.

A reasonable person could argue she’s only been in office twenty months. Hardly time for her policies to take effect. True, but Republicans can’t logically have it both ways. (Not that they don’t try.) If her twenty months of experience is enough to qualify her to hold the missile codes, then it’s enough to measure her performance.

This is where the essential disconnect occurs in the “executive experience” argument; the term “successful executive experience” would carry much more water. No president has ever had more executive experience than George W. Bush did when elected in 2000. Little of it could be called successful up to that point, so it should not be a surprise to see his executive decisions afterward lead to several calamities. Gubernatorial experience is no indicator of a successful presidency. Reagan and Clinton were governors; so was Jimmy Carter.

A senator’s lack of “executive experience” is also hardly a disqualifier. Senators have rarely been elected in the past sixty years. The two who were, Truman and Kennedy, did all right. Lyndon Johnson was a senator when elected vice-president. His presidency is generally considered to be a failure because of Vietnam, but Johnson is woefully shortchanged when it comes to passing out credit for civil rights advances in the Sixties.

Then there’s Eisenhower, the most recent war hero to become president. As impressive as his military resume was, it was his diplomatic skills that got him the job of Supreme Allied Commander, and it was those skills that allowed him to hold together the world’s greatest and most fractious alliance. Eisenhower’s executive experience was earned under fire, literally.

Governors have no equivalent experience; their most important decisions are managerial. Education, infrastructure, budgets. All important; none are life and death. Comparing a governor’s executive experience to what’s needed to be president is like comparing a football coach to a general.

Sarah Palin’s executive experience in Alaska is inconsequential when compared the world experience of the Democratic ticket. Asking her to step in on a moment’s notice to run what is probably the world’s most important nation would be like bringing a pitcher out of the minor leagues to pitch the seventh game of the World Series. The rookie might do all right, but no one’s going to bet their house payment on it.

(Figures cited above were obtained from the web sites of the institutions, US Census data, and )

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oh, Puh-leese

Barack Obama is taking a lot of heat for allegedly referring to Sarah Palin when he made a comment about "putting lipstick on a pig" yesterday. It seems like a stretch, since he, and other politicians—mostly Republicans—have used the phrase many times in other circumstances. If the Republicans really want to take umbrage at a sexist remark, here are the

5. Put some rouge on that ho.
4. Put some eyeliner on that bitch.
3. Put some mascara on that skank.
2. Put some exfoliating cleanser on that skirt.
1. Put some trollop-ey makeup on that cunt.

Sorry. I got carried away. John McCain already used that last one when referring to his own wife. Wouldn't want the Republicans to whine about plagiarism.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Marketing Savvy

Times are tough for American automakers. While some of the blame can laid at the feet of the economy and unions who haven’t figured out the Fifties are over, management must carry the greatest burden. Short-sighted negations with the unions, and a refusal to anticipate a need for anything smaller than SUVs and trucks have led the Big Three into dire financial straits.

Their public relations and marketing don’t kick any ass, either.

Here’s an actual example, ripped from the headlines. No one will argue that GM should have to tolerate what is essentially employee fraud. To come down on employees for too liberally interpreting the employee discount within a week of making GM employee discounts available to everyone is surreal, especially considering GM—along with Ford and Chrysler—is likely to come to the federal government, hats in hand, to ask for some kind of public assistance. This kind of thing will not generate a sympathetic hearing.

Never mind about NAFTA; maybe it’s time for more of the American auto industry to be placed into the hands of people who actually know how to run a car company at a profit, while still paying American workers decent wages and benefits. Honda and Toyota come to mind.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Taking the Pledge

Remember the controversy over whether the Pledge of Allegiance should have the words "under God" in it? It was a big deal a few years ago, conservatives launching daily tirades because losing those two words would corrupt the values the Pledge was supposed to uphold. Turns out they were worried about the wrong two words. Events of the past several years have made it clear "under God" doesn't matter much one way or the other in the grand scheme of what we pledge allegiance to; the only words in the Pledge are the two that are most often forgotten today.

For all.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Mighty Like a Whale

John McCain’s acceptance speech last night once again showed the Republicans’ bizarre concepts of consistency. Last night McCain said this about workers whose jobs moved overseas:

For workers in industries that have been hard hit, we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower paid one while they receive retraining that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage.

This sounds suspiciously like the party of less government—who wants to keeps government’s filthy hands out of your pockets—coming up with another unnecessary government program. Wouldn’t it be better, and cheaper, to make it advantageous for companies to keep jobs with a “decent wage” here in the first place, and penalize those who ship those jobs overseas? Not to seem like a Neanderthal on the topic of globalization, but isn’t it in our national interest to keep at least some good, working class jobs here?

This is not just a socio-economic issue; national security is also at stake. The recent spike in oil prices produced a swell of comments about the possible consequences to globalization if transportation prices made it unfeasible to continue to transport raw materials and finished goods overseas. A war could do the same, depending on its location and scope. It is in this country’s national security interest to keep many of these jobs handy, lest we have crucial goods and services made unavailable at a time when they may be needed most.

The ultimate irony—as pointed out by Joe Klein in Time magazine online—is that John McCain has become the “standard-bearer of a failed ideology — ironically, a belief in 'me first' before country.” McCain leverages his history of personal service and sacrifice in the name of a party whose idea of “service” is to support the troops in Iraq by shopping, and thinks of “sacrifice” as not playing golf. It demeans him, and it’s sad, to hear promises of tax cuts draw greater cheers than mentions of country.

Make no mistake: Republicans are definitely the party of “me first.” Democrats are not immune to the charge, but “Republican” has become virtually synonymous with “conservative,” and Twenty-first Century conservatives are interested in conserving little aside from what’s theirs already. John McCain deserves better, as do the rest of us.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Believe Half of What You Read and None of What You Hear

Twenty-four hour cable “news” has evolved into little more than a rotating series of “experts” discussing the same two or three stories all day. And all night. And all day tomorrow, unless something more interesting comes up. Like a crotch shot of Britney Spears getting out of her car to go to family court. Or O.J. Simpson shoplifting a Ka-Bar knife.

Since there aren’t enough plausibly impartial experts to go around, political insiders have to be brought in for their “analysis.” It’s understood these folks are drinking the Kool-Aid, but since they’re being “interviewed” by “journalists” such as Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, there is at least a perception these “insiders” might actually have an opinion to offer, instead of parroting their respective philosophy’s talking points. Why else have them on, if not to provide a little insight to voters hoping to make a reasonably informed decision? (As the more astute among you may have noted, the high volume of quotation marks in this piece indicate my “high” opinion of the process.)

Alas, this is not true. (Your sense of disappointment is palpable, as is mine.) Check out the transcript of what two high-ranking Republican strategists had to say at the Republican convention when they thought the mikes were off. MSNBC knows what Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy really think, yet it provides them with a forum to pass off Republican misdirection as “insight.” This is even more despicable than Noonan and Murphy lying to the audience. MSNBC knows they’re doing it, and still provides the forum.

I try not to pay any attention to Internet rumors until I can see them verified by at least one “respectable,” traditional source. There’s too much crap on the blogsphere to take much of it seriously. Even I can write what I want and pass it off as fact, and those of you who have read this blog since it started know what a semi-informed asshole I can be. MSNBC is the offspring of a respected news organization that brought us Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Tim Russert, and many others. To see it so willfully complicit in such deception casts doubt on the entire operation’s journalistic credentials.

Not that I’m excusing Fox. They just never had any journalistic credentials to begin with.

(To see the vidoe and a longer transcript, click here.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin Comparison

When questioned about my short, yet undistinguished military career, I readily admit that I spent three years in an Army band at Ft. McPherson, GA during the height of the Cold War. During that time not a single Soviet military musical unit penetrated as far as Savannah. I’m damn proud of that, and claim at least as much credit as Sarah Palin deserves for protecting us from the imminent invasion across the Bering Strait.

* * *

It’s only a matter of time before YouTube has a video titled, “Governator: The Sarah Palin Chronicles.” We already have pictures of her with weapons.

* * *

I agree with the Republicans: families should be off-limits. That includes the entire family. Don’t whine about the media hounding the pregnant daughter, then hold up the son who’s on his way to Iraq. Either neither can be used as a reflection on their mother’s character, or both. No cherry picking. (Thanks to a caller into NPR for pointing this out.)

* * *

All this talk about McCain’s courage is true. By choosing Palin as his running mate, he’s given die-hard conservatives and one-issue “we want a woman” voters a reason not to want him to complete his term. The man must have them like grapefruit.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Question for Our Readers

The following is from today’s “White House Watch” blog on

Mark Memmott and Jill Lawrence blog for USA Today that 64 percent of those surveyed in the latest USA Today/Gallup say they are "very" or "somewhat concerned" that McCain "would pursue policies that are too similar to what George W. Bush has pursued."

This strongly implies that at least 64 percent of Americans harbor reservations about George Bush’s policies, or they would not be “very” or “somewhat concerned” whether McCain would continue them. If this sizeable majority were pleased with Bush policies, the word phrase would have been “Very or somewhat enthusiastic,” or “very or somewhat hopeful.”

So, given that a preponderance of the American people believe George Bush’s policies are something to be avoided, and are “concerned” McCain would continue these policies, why are the election poll numbers so close?

If anyone has an reasonable explanation for this other than racism, I’d love to hear it.

Sarah Palin's Family...

…will not be discussed here, now or in the future. Opinions Governor Palin has that will affect other Americans are fair game.

One question comes to mind: will conservatives now feel the need to un-demonize pregnant, unwed, teens like they un-demonized drug addicts when Rush Limbaugh turned out to be one?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Due Credit

This blog has been sharply critical of both Hillary and Bill Clinton during the primaries, and justifiably so. That being said, they both came up huge this week, stepping up for Obama with every indication of genuine enthusiasm, putting the greater good above their personal disappointments, and both deserve even more praise.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Maturity Watch

I thought the voting age was eighteen.

Allegedly thousands of Hillary Clinton supporters are still threatening to cut off their noses to spite their faces and not vote for Barack Obama in November’s election. Women who six months ago described themselves as part of Hillary’s cadre of political realists, dismissing Obama’s candidacy as pie in the sky, are now whining about party favoritism (though Clinton supporters played a large role in originally denying representation to the Florida and Michigan delegations), sexism (though Hillary herself was happy to play the victim for much of the campaign, and Geraldine Ferraro et al didn’t mind dropping a racial reminder or three), or whatever else they can think of to “prove” their candidate got jobbed.

As a free service, The Home Office is happy to say what Hillary Clinton would probably like to say and Barack Obama can’t say:

Grow the fuck up. If you’d shown ten percent of the passion for caucuses you’ve shown for whining, Hillary Clinton would be the nominee. You want to point fingers, look in a mirror.

The Beijing Olymics are Over

NBC can take its tongue out of China's ass now.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hypocrisy Watch

This just in via Paul Krugman's blog, forwarding Glenn Greenwald's commentary.

The gist of Krugman's comment is that Republicans are hypocrites for using Kerry's rich wife against him while attacking Democrats for bringing up McCain's rich wife. I realize Krugman is a Princeton economist, but he's missing the point.

McCain believes you're not rich until you make $5 million a year; using current Republican standards, you're not a gigolo unless your rich, younger wife is worth more than $500 million. Teresa Heinz checked in at about $700 million; Cindy McCain has to get by on $100 million. It's that simple.

Damn ivory tower academics.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Better to Remain Silent and..

Composer Peter Breiner is upset that the Beijing Olympics are allegedly using his orchestrations of national anthems without obtaining the rights from him. Have you heard the version of the "Star-Spangled Banner" they're using? I have, several tmes, and I don't think I'd be drawing attention to myself over it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Two Faces of a Candidate

Let's start with the disclaimer: I voted for John McCain in 2000. Twice. I crossed over and voted in the Virginia Republican primary, then wrote him in for the general election. I read his biography and loved it. I'm too cynical to get into hero worship, but he was as close as anyone, right up there with Chuck Yeager and John Glenn. It pains me to oppose his candidacy as strongly as I have come to, but the man whose honor I once considered unquestionable isn't running in 2008.

I would gladly pay $1,000 to the charity of the moderator's choice if someone had the nerve to ask him, politely, to describe why the treatment he received in North Vietnam was torture, when the exact same acts performed by the CIA against terrorists is not.

For a well reasoned and concise comparison, click here.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

One Bite at a Time

The Home Office is pleased to announce the launch of a new blog, One Bite at a Time. I'll still be here with the usual cast of correspondents and public miscreants, ranting into the ether about whatever hair has wriggled up my butt on a given day. One Bite at a Time will be devoted to writing-relating postings: ruminations, trying things out, working out how best to proceed, and, hopefully, sharing some ideas that have worked for me with other writers. Some of you who read this blog will care more than others.

(If you care at all, which should not be assumed. I occasionally rant about why anyone should care about what [fill in the celebrity/pundit/public figure of your choice] thinks about anything. Why you should care about what an employee of a small contracting company currently working at [government agency redacted] says is a question I wrestle with regularly. Of course, I eventually come down on the side of blathering onward. Get over it.)

I hope anyone who writes, enjoys writing, or has an interest in writers stops by One Bite at a Time for a visit. Leave a comment. Argue. Tell me I'm full of crap. Even better, tell me something don't know.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Coffee Break's Over, Back on My Head

Wow. That was fun.

The Sole Heir and I got back from our third Home Office Western Tour late Saturday night. This is Wednesday, and I have enough of my life put back together to start writing again.

The trip was a success by any measure. A three-day drive to Colorado (the Crazy Like Me Correspondent flew ahead) to visit the Sibling Correspondent and his family at The Home Office West. Relaxing in the pool and hot tub—he has his own little resort there, clean towels and everything; you just have to make your own bed—cooking out, seeing the mountains, getting corny Western-style sepia-tone pictures taken, letting the stress and East Coast Overload fall from us like snow off of a roof on the first warm day of spring.

Craze flew home on Sunday and the Sole Heir and I drove northwest, into Wyoming. The next five days were a fantasy vacation: Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, then driving along the Yellowstone River through Montana. (The Yellowstone is the most beautiful little river you'll ever see, which is saying something, since we saw the Wind River, too.) Little Bighorn Battlefield was much more moving than we anticipated, and the Story Pines Inn was a beautiful little gem the GPS needed a dirt road to get to. Devils Tower, Deadwood and Lead (motorcycle week at nearby Sturgis; bummer). Surrounded by burros and buffalo at Custer SD State Park. The Badlands. A drive-by of the Spam Museum. (Honest to God. We were too early to go in. We got pictures.) Wisconsin frozen custard at The Dells and Italian beefs at Portillo's. Miniature golf on the course where I taught her to play when she was three. (She routinely kicks my ass now.) Glen's frozen custard in Cheswick PA, where I learned to love it. An hour with the Ancestral Correspondents. Then home.

The statistics: 5,186.2 miles driven through fourteen states. Perfect weather, except for about twenty minutes driving through Indiana, when it rained so hard I couldn't see a hundred feet and The Sole Heir kept giggling about how she quit driving just in time. We saw prairie dogs, gophers, a golden eagle (up close), two bald eagles in flight, grizzly bears and wolves (albeit in a preserve), deer and antelope (just hanging out, not playing), the aforementioned rowdy burros, and well over five hundred buffalo, a couple as close as ten feet away. We saw hot springs and mountains covered with snow in August, which might not mean much to a Sherpa but is unheard of in Maryland. We stayed in three towns with combined populations of less than 2500, and ate a meal in the Two Bit Saloon.

And now we're back. The bills will trickle in, and they'll actually be fun to pay, because every one is a memory. By Monday afternoon I wasn't stiff anymore. Back at work two days now, still mellow, a little confused as to why everyone else thinks some of these things are so important.

Ready to go again.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Brief Hiatus

The Home Office is suspending regular operations for two weeks to make a fact-finding journey with the Sole Heir to the home of the Sibling Correspondent in Colorado, aka The Home Office West. Craze will meet us there, arriving by air a day ahead of us, as we drive through Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas.

The trip home will consist of a minor detour through Wyoming (Shoshone National Forest, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks), Montana (Yellowstone River, Little Big Horn), Wyoming again (Devil's Tower), South Dakota (Deadwood, possibly Mount Rushmore, the Badlands), before heading back through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois (again), Indiana (again), Ohio (again), Pennsylvania (again), and home to Maryland (finally).

So enjoy the time off. I'll be back, fingers well rested, with a new blog to add to The Home Office's expanding media empire. Rupert Murdoch quakes as you read this.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Giving Credit Where It's Due

I don’t know why President Bush is getting so much flak over his comments about the current financial situation. Let’s face it, as much as he’s been abused in this blog, I’ll give props where they’re due: If there’s anything about which he has detailed knowledge, it’s getting drunk and hangovers.

Monday, July 21, 2008

An American Nuremberg?

This is from Dan Froomkin’s “White House Watch” column on

Charlie Savage writes in the New York Times: "Felons are asking President Bush for pardons and commutations at historic levels as he nears his final months in office, a time when many other presidents have granted a flurry of clemency requests."

But my ears really pricked up when Savage raised this question: "Will Mr. Bush grant pre-emptive pardons to officials involved in controversial counterterrorism programs?

"Such a pardon would reduce the risk that a future administration might undertake a criminal investigation of operatives or policy makers involved in programs that administration lawyers have said were legal but that critics say violated laws regarding torture and surveillance.

"Some legal analysts said Mr. Bush might be reluctant to issue such pardons because they could be construed as an implicit admission of guilt. But several members of the conservative legal community in Washington said in interviews that they hoped Mr. Bush would issue such pardons -- whether or not anyone made a specific request for one. They said people who carried out the president's orders should not be exposed even to the risk of an investigation and expensive legal bills.

"'The president should pre-empt any long-term investigations,' said Victoria Toensing, who was a Justice Department counterterrorism official in the Reagan administration. 'If we don't protect these people who are proceeding in good faith, no one will ever take chances.'"

Overuse has rendered the four-letter N word unusable for referring to anyone but Hitler, but doesn’t Toensing’s argument sound a lot like pardoning people for “only following orders?” Haven’t we heard that somewhere before?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No, I Didn't Make This Up

Maybe he's a better candidate for the Darwin Awards than an academic enrichment camp.

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) -- A 10-year-old boy attending an academic enrichment camp at Hagerstown Community College was injured when he stuck a paper clip into a live electrical socket.

State police say the student at the College for Kids program was flown to Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. on Thursday with burned hands.

College spokeswoman Beth Stull says the boy's action during a computer class was independent of what he was doing in class.

Stull says officials would look into the incident. She says officials discussed the incident with other students and a letter is being sent home to parents.

Friday, July 11, 2008


This is my 250th blog post, submitted as proof there is way too much shit on the Internet.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Proud to be an American

Cindy McCain took Michelle Obama to task a couple of weeks ago over Ms. Obama's now-infamous comment, "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." Ms. McCain, it turns out, "always [has] been and will always be extremely proud of my country." Today must have been a particularly heart-bursting day for Cindy, as the following events were reported:

The new FISA bill passed, with immunity to telecommunications companies for the warrantless searches they performed on George W. Bush's and Alberto Gonzalez's say-so. Not only have new frontiers in warrantless surveillance been opened, there is no recourse for anyone who had their phones or emails illegally captured. Not that it mattered. In a classically Bushian Catch-22, previous suits were denied because no one could prove they'd been harmed; the personal communications illegally obtained are classified, and not available to the plaintiff. Democrats rolled over for what presidential candidate Barack Obama called a compromise; it was, if you consider it a compromise to re-position yourself so your new prison friend, Bubba the Shower Freak, doesn't have to lean over too much.

In other news, we learned the office of Vice President Dick "Prince of Darkness" Cheney excised several pages from the Congressional testimony of Centers for Disease Control Director Julie Gerberding that indicated the CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern. This, in turn, affected EPA policy that depended on the CDC's conclusions. Even that wasn't enough; the White House refused to open the email that contained the finding that would have required the EPA to take action, apparently using the principle, "If we didn't read it, it didn’t happen." This is not unlike a child plugging his ears and chanting, "lalalalalalalalalalala" when Mom tells him it's time for a bath. (The shunned email was actually reported last week, but it relevant to this story, and we should all be damned proud of it, too.)

It's not just politicians we can be proud of. The workers' paradise of Communist China raised wages to almost a buck an hour last year, and made it harder for employers to cheat people out of it. American companies doing business in China warned them against such rash actions; the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai straight-out opposed them. Now much of that business has moved to Vietnam, where the Communist government knows how to treat business, primarily by refusing to coddle its workers like those touchy-feely Chinese. Vietnam was chosen over Thailand, where wages are similar, because "Communism means more stability." As the Washington Post's Harold Meyerson points out, we have 58,000 names on a wall downtown, each one representing someone who died to keep Vietnam from becoming Communist. Our failure made their sacrifices no less significant. Only a bottom-line mentality at all costs can do that.

The presidential campaign promises to keep us bursting with pride, no matter who wins. Barack Obama and John McCain brought their kneepads with them to yesterday's separate appearances before the League of United Latin American Citizens. It was like a limbo contest for groveling: how low can you go? Obama won, mainly because he had too big a lead from his previous statement that, while immigrants should learn to speak English, we should learn to speak Spanish. He went on to say we should all learn to speak several languages; that's what the campaign will point out. It's disingenuous; his intended audience stopped listening after "make sure your child can speak Spanish."

There is a lot of good in this country. The blind fealty to the divine rights and infallibility of Americans that began with the Reagan Administration does those good things no honor through its avoidance of admitting anything less than noble. Anyone who can look you in the eye and claim to be unreservedly proud of everything done in the United States, or in its name, has a curious definition of "pride," and is someone on whom you should never turn your back.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Brief Obituary

A woman to whom I was once married—not the Sole Heir’s mother—once thought living in North Carolina would be splendid. Beaches, beautiful mountains, nice weather, fully-realized but not-too-urban cities, not as pricey as the Washington area. A good deal all around, she thought.

“I wouldn’t live there if they paid me,” I said.

She asked why.

“Because over half the people who live there keep sending Jesse Helms to the Senate.”

And that encompasses my thoughts on his passing.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Timing Is Everything

The Home Office has been hard on the federal government over the past few years. In the interests of fair play, it's time to point out one thing the Feds got right: Monday holidays.

I used to make fun of the official federal holidays, especially the ones they made up just so they always fall on a Monday: Martin Luther King Day, Presidents' Day, (the moving of) Memorial Day and Columbus Day. (Labor Day was always on a Monday, so it didn't count.) "Let the holiday be on the day it commemorates," I used to think. "January 15, May 31, October 12, whatever."

This year my favorite federal holiday, Independence Day, fell on a Friday and showed me the error of my ways. "A three-day weekend is a three-day weekend," I used to think. "It doesn't matter whether the short work week falls before or after the holiday."

Dumb ass.

Mondays are much better. It was nice to have last Friday off, plopped into my schedule much like the rain that fell off and on throughout the day. Saturday was Saturday, and the Sunday routine stayed the same. Translated: back to work tomorrow.

If the holiday fell on Monday, the weekend would go on as usual, except when I got ready for bed on Sunday night, there would be no need to set the alarm; a bonus extension of the weekend was at hand. Sweet. Even better, the upcoming workweek was only four days. With the Friday holiday, we're staring at coming right back into a regular week. (True, last week was short, but that was last week; what have you done for me lately?)

So here's a big thank you to Congress for promoting the idea of Monday holidays. Yes, it was quite a few Congresses ago, and the current Congress has done little to recommend itself to anyone other than narcoleptics. Still, it's only fair to show appreciation where it's due. Granted, Monday holidays don’t quite tip the scales when balanced against the Iraq war, torture, the erosion of civil liberties, no energy policy, an unfair tax structure, faulty levees, and the failure to provide any meaningful oversight to banks and lenders that prompted the current economic downturn, but that's me: Mr. Glass Is Half Full, the eternal optimist.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Hell Hath No Fury

It's rare to write about two perspectives of an issue and be right both times. It's happened here exactly once in three years. (That's a much better record than Robert Novak, who hasn't been right about even one side of an issue in fifty years.) Still, it's kind of fun.

Word got out a couple of years ago that Christie Brinkley was getting divorced for the fourth time. (That's as many as I have, squared.) Considering she's Christie Brinkley, I figured it must be her; any man worth being called one would fight like a rabid wolverine with a toothache to keep that deal alive.

Word came out a couple of weeks later that it was, in fact, her husband who lit the fuse, by sleeping with a nineteen-year-old coworker. Christie received the apology she was due; The Home Office is nothing if not even handed, especially to world-acknowledged Fabulous Babes.

Now we find out Christie has demanded a fully public divorce trial to air all the dirty laundry. The affair, hubby's $3,000 a month internet porn habit, everything. Maybe she deserves a more blame than we thought for all those divorces. There are kids involved here. This guy's already been humiliated worse than Larry Craig, at least in the eyes of men: he burned an unlimited season's pass to Christie Land. (This essay is living proof; I can't bring myself to type his name.) There's nothing worse she can do to him without exposing a lot of dirty undergarments adolescent boys don't need to have traced back to their own family.

Talk about a woman scorned; if she really wanted to hurt the guy, make the judge order him to look at albums of her pictures once a week. Remind him there was a time when he could exercise his Christie Brinkley fantasies and not have to worry about getting the pages stuck together. If she wants to publicly humiliate him, write a book when the kids are out of college, after he thinks it's blown over. Vengeance is a dish best served cold, and, unlike broccoli, kids can do without it.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Breaking the Code

Yesterday the head honcho at [government agency redacted] where I'm currently under contract released the typical political appointee message for a national holiday. It ended with the obligatory paean to the military:

And I also hope you’ll remember all the men and women who have sacrificed in so many different ways to build our nation, especially including those who have given or risked their lives in the armed services.

Nice, but unremarkable. Why did it irritate me so much yesterday? We've heard these on every remotely applicable occasion, since September 11, 2001. What was different this time?

I've broken the code.

Asking people to remember those who serve in the uniformed services always leaves out one part: so I don't have to. Veterans never say shit like that. Their phrasing is more to the point. None of this And I hope you'll remember… Could it be any more mealy mouthed? If it wouldn't be too much trouble? If you think of it? Don’t put yourself out, but…

Too many people praise the military now as sops to their own nascent consciences about who serves and who doesn't. Let's call a spade a spade. Just once I'd like to see someone come clean and send out one of these:

And I want to praise all those brave men and women who allow our government to place them in harm's way so I –or my kid—can pursue an MBA (or play college sports or get likkered up on weekends or work the commodities markets). Thank God we'll always have people like that. It's hard enough making the decision to send them without having to worry about going ourselves.

One last thing. Today, of all days, take a look at the paraphrase on the masthead above. The next time you're debating someone about FISA and warrants and torture and freedom, remember Benjamin Franklin said all we really need to know about the topic two hundred plus years ago: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Happy Independence Day, and many more, for as long as we deserve them.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

And They Say There's Justice

I’m depressed. Marian Hossa has left town.

For those who are not devoted puckheads, Hossa is a world-class right winger. (Hockey player, dumb ass. Grover Norquist or Karl Rove could leave town in a pine box and I’d dance like the best man at a Greek wedding.) Picked up late last season by Pittsburgh’s Penguins, he has gone to join the team that beat them in the Stanley Cup finals, the Detroit Red Wings.

It was always at least even money Hossa would leave after the season, but Detroit? He got within one game of carving his name in the cup with Pittsburgh last month; I guess seeing the Wings skate around with it made him think he could get it done there next year. Here’s a news flash: you could have got it done in Pittsburgh next year, Marian, and you wouldn’t have to live in Detroit.

The salaries were about the same, except Pittsburgh’s was for five years, and Detroit’s for just one. Taking a one-year deal with Detroit is easy to understand; pledging to spend more than one year of your life in Detroit is crazy talk, $7 million a year, or not. I’m sure Pittsburgh would have offered him a shorter deal; they thought they were doing the chump a favor.

Hossa came to the Burgh with the reputation of disappearing during the playoffs. The Pens worked with him, put him on Sidney Crosby’s line, did everything but put Kolache on his pillow at night, to help him overcome his history as a choker, and it worked. What thanks did we get? He blew town like hovno through a husa.

This is how Detroit operates; it’s a parasite. Called itself the “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War II, because it manufactured tanks and trucks and planes. Manufacturing jobs on an assembly line. Tighten this rivet. Balance a tire. Line up an engine mount. Like building one of those particle board desks you can buy at Target.

It was harder? They used steel, you say? Where did the steel come from? It came from a smaller city with broader shoulders, where brave men slaked the thirst of ravenous molds with white-hot rivers of molten steel. Detroit built its reputation on the backs of Pittsburgh’s labor. It got Grosse Pointe and Greenfield Village; we got pollution. And how do they repay us? Taking Marian Hossa.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Family Feud

It’s probably inevitable for the candidates’ families to get more air time this presidential cycle than ever before. Twenty-four hour cable news needs material to chew up round the clock, preferably something that doesn’t require any investigation or nuanced thought. Off the cuff comments by wives, politically peripheral to the campaign, are now fair game, if only because we’re down to two candidates and Barack Obama and John McCain have to sleep sometime.

Michelle Obama took her lumps in February’s run-up to the Wisconsin primary, after saying, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country.” That’s not exactly what she meant, it was timed and phrased badly, and she was promptly taken to task for three reasons: she deserved it (she should be more aware of her comments if she’s going to be First Lady, which she is); talk show hosts need things to talk about (see above), and conservatives still can’t understand that Barack Obama can’t have a wacky Christian minister and be a Muslim. Someone in that family has to be less than an upstanding American; that day it was Michelle.

This week Cindy “The Only Person With a Face Stiffer Than Mine is Joan Rivers” McCain stepped in. Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, she had a chance to take a shot and did, saying, ”Everyone has their own experience. I don’t know why she said what she said — all that I know is I’ve always been proud of my country.”

Mrs. McCain apparently believes in taking everything a public figure says literally, which must lead to some entertaining moments parsing her husband’s comments at the end of a busy day. Since The Home Office believes in allowing everyone to set their own standards of evaluation, let’s see if Mrs. McCain’s statement holds water.

Is she proud of slavery? Jim Crow? (Better than slavery, but still…) How about our treatment of the Indians? Closer to home, what about veterans? (No one should have been surprised by the Walter Reed disclosures. The lowest moment of Bob Dole’s distinguished career of public service came when he turned into Claude Rains, shocked—shocked!—over the conditions at veterans hospitals. I could have told him that twenty-five years ago.) Is she proud of McCarthyism? Torture? How about spiriting people away so others can do our torture for us, allowing us to claim we have clean hands?

America is no worse than any other country when the sum totals are weighed together, and better than many. Everyone—nations, individuals, you, and certainly me—does things in the heat of the moment, when blood is up and dangers may seem greater than they really are. We understand it, make amends as best we can, and move on. For her to say she’s always proud of this country is one of three things: disingenuous; indicative of a disturbing lack of real world knowledge; or allowing us a glimpse at the more sinister aspects of her character, where all of the above are okay with her.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Tim Russert and Francisco Franco Have in Common

I liked Tim Russert, heard him go back and forth with Don Imus on numerous occasions. He was unfailingly good-natured, informative, and gave every impression of being, as one obituary described him, “the happy warrior.”

But still…

The media coverage of his unfortunate and unexpected death last week is what we might expect if the Pope, Queen Elizabeth, the Dali Lama, and Tiger Woods were killed by Osama bin Laden using a knife made from the bones of decapitated Christian virgins, anointed with the blood of aborted fetuses and handed to him by Satan personally.

Russert was well known, well liked, and highly respected in his field. It was proper for the NBC family to set aside a segment on each of their news shows for him; no one would find fault with making Sunday’s Meet the Press into a sympathetic retrospective. In fact, NBC dedicated virtually every news show to him; coverage of the US Open golf tournament showed Russert’s visage at every station break. MSNBC committed just about every show, throughout the weekend. Other news outlets, while not as extensive as Russert’s peers at NBC, were also exhaustive in their coverage.

Tim Russert, for all his fine qualities, was never the news. He was one of many who told us about the news. He was one of the best, and had been for a long time, but he was but the lens through which important events were displayed. For the media to invest this much energy in one of their own is a disturbing insight into how they view themselves. Acting as guardians of the First Amendment isn’t enough; the media have become the story, distorting the relative importance of events through their observation.

How might things have been different if this much energy had been expended verifying the Bush Administration’s claims for going to war in Iraq? Or any number of its other policies in the aftermath of 9/11? Too controversial, most likely. Sentiment is safer.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Special Comment

And now, as threatened—er, I mean as promised—a Special Comment.

There was a time when this reporter had only two “must see” television shows: Seinfeld and the Sunday Night SportsCenter, with Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann. Olbermann left, and immediately disappeared onto the maw that was early MSNBC, only to re-appear when he caught on to George W. Bush’s sleight of hand faster than most.

While it must be admitted that many of Mr. Olbermann’s Special Comments are spot on, no one can view his delivery of these comments for long before becoming repulsed by the false and inappropriate histrionics used in their delivery.

[Turn to face other camera.]

Not content to let the words speak for themselves, your manner of speaking approaches a level of scenery chewing associated with watching William Shatner perform King Lear. Your voice trembles, your head shakes with indignation, though only moments before you concluded a segment with the words, “Today’s worst person in the worrrrrld!” after poking fun at whoever earned your daily wrath.

Those who find themselves in your crosshairs richly deserve it. It is the exaggerated venom and ire of the Special Comments that we take issue with. You may say it is entertainment, and you clearly relish your self-appointed role as the Bill O’Reilly of the Left. Yet it is you, sir, who usurp the gravitas of your betters by appropriating Huntley and Brinkley’s theme music, and Edward R. Murrow’s sign-off.

[Rustle prop pages and return to Camera One.]

Last Friday you took Hillary Clinton to task for juxtaposing comments about her will to remain a presidential candidate with the assassination of Robert Kennedy. A crude and tasteless statement, to say the least. Yet you, sir, devoted virtually seventy-five percent of your broadcast to this matter, then another [add tremor to voice] one thousand, nine hundred and nine words of personal commentary.

[Turn to other camera while spittle is removed from lens of Camera One.]

These additional words shed no light. They added little to our understanding of the matter. They served only to show your audience the depth of your self-indulgence and self-importance, running past your broadcast time into the next program because you—you, sir!­—had to ensure your loyal viewers knew how you, the only voice who felt the injury to its deserved extent, felt.

One thousand, nine hundred and nine words devoted to a fifteen second comment that may or may not have discussed the hypothetical death of a single human being. One thousand nine hundred and nine words. Yet Abraham Lincoln, a man you profess to admire at every opportunity, Abraham Lincoln required only two hundred seventy-eight words to pay eternal and sincere homage to the fifty-one thousand casualties at Gettysburg. We have no videotape of Mr. Lincoln’s address, yet we may be safe to assume it did not include the melodramatics you so regularly append to your comments like decals on a car window.

One thousand, nine hundred and nine words. The Declaration of Independence consists of but thirteen hundred and twenty-two, with no visual aids. John Kennedy’s inaugural address that inspired a generation is thirteen hundred sixty-six. Yet you needed one thousand, nine hundred and nine words to ensure that everyone watching you on Friday, May 23, 2008, one thousand, eight hundred and forty-nine days since the announcement of “Mission Accomplished,” knew the sincerity of your emotions.

[Shuffle prop papers and make obvious effort to compose yourself.]

Sincerity and depth of emotion are not measured by the number of words or accompanying theatrics, sir. Well chosen words, plainly spoken, contain all the meaning and sub-text necessary if their subject is suitably horrendous; if it is not, no quantity of vocal tremolos, or catches in the voice, will do so. Do not listen to me; view the tapes of your spiritual master, Edward R. Murrow. One will do. Watch him ask Senator Joseph McCarthy if he has no shame. Murrow did not play to the camera, nor to the baser tastes of some who were watching. He spoke truth, the unvarnished truth, sir, which has always been, and will always be, adequate to express any emotion. This is why Murrow will be remembered long after you have faded from the memory of even those who study such matters.

Good night [throw prop papers from desk with disgust] and good luck.