Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Becker blog.

More snow tonight, maybe a reprise of last week’s Thanksgiving Eve snow, which left two or three inches on the ground here in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. My first white Thanksgiving, and if it’s the only one I won’t mind. I think tonight’s snow might not have the stickiness that the previous one did. Just a hunch.

Time to write my appreciation for Becker. For several months now we’ve watched it in syndication two or three times a week. It runs weeknights at 9:30 on the independent WCIU, Channel 26 (see March 22, 2004 for more on that station). Last summer I also watched a couple of episodes of in a row in my hotel room, after watching two episodes of Seinfeld. After that experience, I concluded that Becker is underrated, Seinfeld overrated, though I already thought that about the latter.

Becker has its weak moments, and there’s really nothing innovative about its comedy, but on the whole it’s a combination of good writing and good acting, which is fairly rare in a network sitcom. Ted Danson is especially good as the title character, a sympathetic misanthrope. The show’s two black characters, Margaret (Hattie Winston) and Jake (Alex Désert) are also well drawn, another rarity in sitcoms (compare with just about any WB comedy). All that aside, however, the show’s usually pretty funny, the only thing that matters in comedy, after all.

I never saw Becker when it was in prime time, and I understand that it was cancelled last year, which is too bad. Then again, it had six seasons, which is long enough to build up a substantial load of episodes, and near the natural limit for a sitcom anyway. Which, using The Mary Tyler Moore Show as a yardstick, is seven seasons.

Monday, November 29, 2004

VU blog.

Somehow or other, Vanderbilt has my e-mail address, and I get monthly bulletins from the alumni office. The lead story in today’s bulletin was this following:

“The birth of a residential colleges system at Vanderbilt is one step closer to becoming a reality, with active planning under way for proposed groundbreaking in 2005 for the first phase, Freshman Commons, located on the Peabody campus. As early as the fall of 2008, for the first time in the history of Vanderbilt, the entire freshman class will live together. New construction will add five new residence halls to the five existing dormitories at Peabody to form a community of 10 houses. A new dining facility will replace the current Hill Center and provide additional spaces for social and academic programming.”

My first reaction: No! Vanderbilt needs to stay exactly as it was in 1983. This is an irrational reaction on many levels, and it faded after a minute or two, but I still had to wonder about this bit of news. No one at Vanderbilt asked me about these plans, but then again I have nothing to do with policymaking there, and have contributed a scant zero dollars to its greater glory over the years since graduation. (If I ever give money to a university, it’s going to be to Fisk anyway, which needs money in a way that Vanderbilt does not.)

Peabody, once a teacher’s college of some renown, was absorbed into Vanderbilt dominion in 1979, and soon became a place for the university to house undergraduates, particularly sophomores. I spent my sophomore year in Peabody’s East Hall, which dated from around World War I and had few modern amenities, like push-button phones or girls living in the same building.

Where are those new dorms going to go? I hope nowhere that barges in on Peabody’s sweeping main lawn, a fine open space of the collegiate sort, best used for playing frisbee or sitting around pretending to study.

And what about Branscomb Quadrangle? It’s on the Vanderbilt campus proper, right in the thick of things, as opposed to the more remote Peabody. In my day, half the freshman class (roughly speaking) lived there in double rooms, and the other half lived in singles at a different quadrangle whom name I can’t remember. Upper classmen will occupy Branscomb? It doesn’t seem right somehow.

Finally, Hill Center. Academic modernism at its blandest, but I ate some memorable grilled cheese sandwiches and hamburgers there. The new place may serve these things, but more likely Wendy’s or Krispy Kreme or some other fast food enterprise will open pods in the new building. Bad idea. Those are place students should have to leave campus to enjoy.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Dragon blog.

Vacation’s over, the Thanksgiving Eve snow has melted, the turkey has been reduced to leftovers and soup. I went for days and days without writing a single word or connecting to the Internet, which represented sorely needed down time.

I did watch some TV, of course, and I had enough free time to devise a scene for Dragon Tales that I really want to see. People without small children will probably not know this cartoon, full of happiness and color and giggles and self-esteem exercises for the whelps, but it’s enough to say that in each episode a brother and sister wish themselves into Dragonland, where they frolic with friendly dragons.

Too friendly, if you asked me. Just once I’d like to hear this:

Max (the brother): “Ord, what’s that book you’re carrying?”

Ord (the dim blue dragon): “Oh, this is a cookbook. I got it from the Dragon Library, where they have lots of wonderful books.”

Emmy (the sister): “Yeah! They do! What’s the cookbook called?”

Ord: “Uh, let’s see. To Serve Man.

At which point Ord eyes the two kids lingeringly.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Monopoly blog.

A fine Thanksgiving to all who observe the holiday, or just get days off. We need more Thursday holidays in this country. I’ll resume posting in about a week.

Lilly had her seventh birthday party today, complete with a pack of kids, cake and presents. I hope she remembers something of it, though probably whatever happened today will contribute to an amalgam of memory she’ll think of as “birthdays when I was a kid.” It’s more than likely that I’ll remember it that way, if I live long enough, under the memory file of “my kids’ birthdays, when they were kids.”

More important for Lilly, though she doesn’t know it yet and may never consciously reflect on it, she was introduced to Monopoly this weekend. On Friday, her birthday, after dinner we put together a little puzzle, and she wanted to do something else, so we looked in her closet, where puzzles and board games are kept. Monopoly is there, a set we bought second-hand a good many years ago, anticipating the time -- now, turns out -- when Lilly would be old enough to play.

She liked it a lot. Too much, in fact, since she’s insisted on a game with me every day since. But I obliged her, since it’s the board game, and I hope she’ll enjoy it. And I’ll teach her to play it my way, which means certain things, such as no one gets to buy a property without actually landing on it – the rules specify an auction for an unowned property that isn’t bought by the player landing on it, though I’ve never met anyone who plays that way. Also, none of this business of a pot of money that builds for Free Parking.

I started playing Monopoly, or really just fooling around with it, back when we lived in Denton, so that would make me about seven as well. Of course, it takes years to learn its subtleties. I’m still learning them.

Just this evening, I did some tabulations, and it seems that the Chance cards are aptly named, since the likelihood of getting a straightforward good or bad card is outnumbered by the chance of getting a card that’s either good or bad, or even indifferent, depending on your circumstance in the game. In the Community Chest card pile, most of the cards have a good or bad result, with only a handful of ambiguous ones.

Good or bad I define according to the goal of the game, namely to amass a fortune in and through real estate -- so anything that awards the player money right away is unambiguously good, anything that takes it away unambiguously bad. For example, “Your Building and Loan Matures, Collect $150 (Chance) and “Bank Error in Your Favor, Collect $200” (CC) are good, while “Pay Poor Tax of $15” (Chance) and “Pay School Tax of $150” (CC) are bad.

Chance is full of cards that move a player around the board, such as to the Reading Railroad, St. Charles Place and Boardwalk, or even “back three spaces.” These can be good (if you wanted to buy that property), bad (Boardwalk with a hotel! – and it ain’t yours), or indifferent (you move to a property you already own). Even the Go to Jail cards, I would argue, can be good or bad. Good if a trip across the board is potentially expensive, though if that’s the case you’re probably just delaying the inevitable bankruptcy. Or, perhaps, you have a Get Out of Jail Free card, and going to jail advances you closer to a property you want, or past some dangerously developed property. Even the street repairs (CC) and general repairs (Chance) cards, which demand money, I count as ambiguous, since not everyone owns houses or hotels when those cards comes up.

This was the tally: Chance has three good cards; two bad cards; and ten ambiguous cards. Community Chest, on the other hand, has ten good cards; three bad cards; and three ambiguous cards.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

VS blog.

Tomorrow is Lilly’s seventh birthday, and in honor of the day, I will skip posting, but take it up again on Sunday before taking off Thanksgiving week, when I will do no for-pay work either.

Lilly’s getting a party on Sunday, at home like last year, with a half-dozen or so little girls, some parents, a few activities, food, a Costco sheet cake (personalized) and presents. I resisted Chuck E. Cheese and its ilk.

Still warmish, with gray skies all day and rain in the evening. Winter can continue like this till March for all I care, but there would probably be a serious ecological downside to that, so I guess real winter must come.

Today I wrote an article about Limited Brands, the multifaceted retailer headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, and parent company of Victoria’s Secret. As part of the research for the article, I got to visit the VS web site on company time. Genuine research, I tell you… one of the company execs referred to the success of the new “It” bra, and I had to figure out what that was, among other things. Sometimes the retail beat has its charms.

VS is doing well, by the way. Some of the other Limited Brands’ brands, not quite as well. “It’s because,” Gail in my office said, “they decided a few years ago they wanted to sell to teenager girls.” Dangerous and cutthroat territory, that must be.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Hud Rockey blog.

A warm day! (In the 60s F.) A gift from benevolent weather gods, or prankster ones who’ll slam us real good in a few weeks or even days.

We share offices with the Midwest reps of New York magazine, and they get a lot of other NY-focused pubs in the mail, including The New York Post, the tabloid of record. It had the photo of the smoking GI as page one -- a fine piece of photojournalism. It doesn’t take much poking around the Web to find out that predictable sentiments have already emerged regarding that spike of tobacco in Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller’s mouth, pro and con. I say, nominate the photographer, Luis Sinco of the Los Angeles Times, for a Pulitzer.

During the same mail delivery, we got a bit of direct mail advertising from American Express addressed to one Hud Rockey in our building and suite. Now there’s a name in the Dash Riprock tradition of pseudonyms. We have no idea how Amex’s computers, or the computers that their computers consulted, or even more distant computers, generated this particular name for us, but I like to think that somewhere a data-entry person adds a bit of spice to her tiresome job by throwing in made-up names occasionally. But it’s probably not like that.

The ad, by the way, touts a “Business Capital Line” in big letters: $10,000 TO $100,000… NO COLLATERAL REQUIRED… 100% AVAILABLE IMMEDIATE AS CASH… Heh-heh. Off to Rio! Good thing I’m reasonably honest, but everyone ought to have a touch of fantasy-larceny in his heart, if only to add a moment of levity to the day. It's probably harder than it sounds to take advantage of something like that, too.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Popeye blog.

Even as I write, Popeye is on. We went to a certain big box electronics store over the weekend to buy a new phone, which we got. But naturally other items stick to the shopping cart in places like that, though we got out before too much financial damage was done. One of the extra items was a four-disc, 33-cartoon collection of Popeye. Well, I had to have that. A staple of my childhood. Now it’s Lilly and Ann’s turn.

A casual look around the Internet reveals that a lot of people have spent a lot of time writing about Popeye in all his many iterations, so I don’t think I’ll expound on the merits of Segar vs. Fleischer vs. King Features, Bluto as a misunderstood soul, Olive Oyl as a creature of paternalism, or even the Sailorman’s impact on spinach and the American diet.

I will put the cartoon in my context, however (this is my web log, after all). Like many of my generation, I watched Popeye after school. For years, in fact, it came on as part of Capt. Gus’ local kiddie show at 3:30 in the afternoon -– so Popeye was pretty much the first thing I watched after I got home, every day, for years, a sort of appendix to my formal grade-school education. It got us thinking, too: Popeye generated a fair amount of discussion among us children of the ’70s, and I even remember speculating about the ages of the cartoons. The ones with the sliding-hatch introductions seemed to be old beyond belief. As indeed they were.

Around about 1973, I started watching reruns of Star Trek right after school, so Popeye receded into childhood. I haven’t seen some of the cartoons on these discs for 30 years or more, which can be a strange feeling. It’s a strange collection too, because some are awful examples of the cartoon, while others are quite good, and they’re all mixed in with no theme from disc to disc, except for one that features all three of the Fleischer brothers’ two-reel cartoons from the ’30s: “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,” “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves,” and “Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor.” Those three alone are worth the price of the collection, about $11.

Miss a blog.

Had renewed DSL connectivity issues last night -- blame Earthlink or DSL technology, which someone I know called "flighty, like a rabbit"? So far Earthlink's in for my ire.

Also, I got engrossed in some Popeye DVDs we bought over the weekend. Mainly, that took up most of my evening, so blame it on the sometimes surreal Sailor-Man. More on that tonight.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Cheeseburger in blogdom.

The forces of Immunity have mostly vanquished the dread Virus Hordes, so I'm in a writing mood again.

Going into work on Friday I saw a circus train idling on a railroad siding on the northwest side of Chicago. I know from seeing bus advertisements that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is in town, and besides that every one of about 30 passenger cars and a couple of the flatbed cars had the circus’ name on it.

Other than the name, they were pretty ordinary-looking train cars, maybe even Amtrak leftovers. Someone in RBB&B’s marketing department has let the ball drop. These train cars could be sporting some pretty cool circus murals.

I’ve never been all that enthralled with circuses, though I’ve seen some good ones, particularly Cirque de Soleil in the late ’80s, before it became a fixture in Las Vegas. That troupe came to Chicago then (maybe for the first time) and pitched an enormous tent on some vacant land near the Chicago River that’s now mostly condos. I got a press pass to see one of the shows, without really knowing what I was going to see. Magnificent indeed, though as much vertical theater or airborne ballet as circus: perhaps a postmodern circus, only a cousin of the Barnum & Bailey world, as phony as it can be, and yet a spectacle anyway.

And now for something completely different. I mentioned parrotheads last week. I don’t know any myself, but my brother Jay knows someone who knew a parrothead, so maybe we’re all three degrees of separation from Jimmy Buffett’s true believers.

“The curate at St. John's, Fr. Yost, was a banker in Boston for about ten years before he joined the clergy,” Jay writes. “I can't recall how it came up -- possibly someone was playing something by Jimmy Buffett at the recent campout -- but he said that a member of his staff at the bank was an ardent parrothead. She ran the Boston-area fan newsletter and time off from work whenever Buffett was in the area. This wasn't always convenient for bank operations, he said, but he tolerated it; she would have quit if he'd refused to give her the time off.”

Well, Jimmy’s OK. His songs were on the radio enough in the 1970s to etch themselves in my memory, and I don’t mind. He did some fun songs. But part with money to see him or buy his records? No.

“Margaritaville” of course was his signature song, and grossly overplayed, but I always thought “Cheeseburger in Paradise” was more fun, a rare song that you could taste:

“I like mine with lettuce and tomato,
Heinz 57 and French-fried potatoes.
Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer,
Well, good God Almighty which way do I steer? for my

Cheeseburger in paradise…”

Thursday, November 11, 2004

'Nnoying Nose blog.

The trains were a little less crowded because of Veterans Day, but otherwise it was a normal working day. Grumble. More than that, the virus has come around to me, and I had enough of a cold affecting my nose to be annoying, but not enough to nurse at home. Busy times in the word factory, these are, so I did my shift.

My nose is still annoying, and despite over-the-counter medicines, I expect it will be that way for a day or two. So I'll pick up posting on Sunday, maybe.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Something for tomorrow, Armistice Day.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, --
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

September-October 1917

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Yuck blog.

My brother Jay, an attorney, e-mailed me about yesterday’s reference to the “Head Dude” at an Hawaiian retailer, noting that very likely he’s legally the “president” of the company, regardless of what’s on his press releases. Still, I have wonder about the other unofficial titles in that company. Maybe they have a head moolah guy (CFO) and a chief talent scout (VP of HR) and a consulting Parrothead.

Now threre’s a micro-subculture I’ve never understood.

Today, I listened to an earnings conference call – listening to such things is becoming an increasingly important part of my job – featuring Build-A-Bear, the high-priced teddy bear shop that so far Lilly hasn’t heard of, and I’ve been able to avoid. The woman who runs that particular company is called the chairman and chief executive bear. Really, that’s what the CIO called her during the conference, and there was a chief financial bear too, I think.

My old friend Lynn, who’s married to my old friend Ed, sent me the following short article from the Wall Street Journal today. If I didn’t think the WSJ had decent fact-checking, I'd think it was a hoax:

“Many Americans love Thanksgiving dinner, but not everybody loves all the tiresome chewing involved. Thanks to Jones Sodas of Seattle, Americans can now drink their Thanksgiving Dinner without having to be an astronaut or use a blender. Last year, Jones Sodas briefly graced the world with Turkey and Gravy Soda, which actually tasted like turkey and gravy, and it was such a hit that the company is producing it again for a limited time this year, along with four new companion flavors: Green Bean Casserole, Mashed Potato (redolent of butter), Cranberry and, for dessert, Fruitcake.

“Sounds delicious, yes, but they're also calorie-free, vegan and kosher. Beginning Thursday, about 15,000 packs of five 12-ounce bottles, each including one straw and one toothpick to serve as "utensils," will go on sale at selected Target stores for between $14.95 and $16.95, with proceeds going to Toys for Tots. Aside from the charity angle, Jones isn't exactly aggressively marketing the sodas. In fact, Jones's CEO recently poured himself a drink of Mashed Potato and yelled, in front of an Associated Press reporter, ‘Oh, man, I can't drink that!’ ”

Here, here. I replied (to Lynn, not the WSJ): “What's next, Crunchy Frog Soda? I'll have to forward this to my nephew Sam, who introduced me to Jones Soda some years ago. It isn't bad, and I'd drink it more often, but it costs too much for a soda. And I'm in the wrong demographic to be impressed by unorthodox bottle labels.”

Monday, November 08, 2004

Trends in retail blog.

These days I’m working on a piece about a company headquartered in Honolulu that has opened a new store in the Mall of America, the first of its kind on the mainland, after it opened a handful of others in tourist spots in Hawaii. I’ll skip the details here, but according to the press release that’s the starting-point for my writing, the top man at the company styles himself the Head Dude. Hang loose, Head Dude.

Other things I’ve learned recently on the retail beat include the fact that Subway sandwich shops expand at about a rate of 175 stores a month. At that rate… well, it boggles the mind. It’s in the same league as McDonald’s, but I don’t ever remember hearing about indignant Frenchmen vandalizing Subways in France because too many other Frenchmen acquired a taste for standardized subs. But maybe I’m out of touch with the cutting edge of cultural anti-imperialism (anti-cultural imperialism?).

In the month of September alone, no fewer than 19 Subways opened in Australia, a continent I didn’t know sported any of the sandwich purveyors. Maybe they’ve all opened since I was there more than a decade ago, or maybe I wasn’t paying attention. It’s been more than a decade since I went to a Subway myself. It wasn’t really Subway’s fault that I encountered a lunatic in one of their shops in late 1989, a fellow customer so unnervingly unhinged that he tainted the surroundings, at least for me. He was like something out of Oliver Sacks, a man whose mouth ran ceaselessly and in weird little circles, as if he were intent on reading loopy TelePrompTer no one else could see.

Somehow, after that, I never made it back to a Subway. But now I know that if I ever find myself at the BP truck stop near Adelaide, South Australia, I’ll be able to get a footlong meatball sandwich with melted cheese.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

One election ago blog.

Clear and warm for November, but sneezing and coughing have been winding their way through the family recently, so it was a little hard to enjoy the outdoors this weekend. I blame Ann’s Wednesday play group, the Virus Hour, for the outbreak. At least she’s over her round of nasal upset, which means upset for everyone. It's hard to treat her for these kinds of things, since she’s so adverse to medicine in a dropper that she’ll grab the bottle, dropper and all, and try to hide it. At her age, her hiding skills aren’t very far along, but she’s still making the effort.

Our new DSL connection at home has finally settled down, and except for occasional fluttering, which I take to be normal, it’s nice and smooth. When I mentioned the new connection to a friend of mine, he told me, “Your life will never been the same.” So far it's about the same: still in that struggle for the legal tender. Actually, I’m used to fast connections, since I get one at the office, so the new home connection is nice, but not revolutionary. It’s Lilly (especially) who benefits, since she can access various games at great speed, but her mother can access Japanese newspapers quickly too.

This year’s election naturally made me recall the one before. I spent all that day (November 7, 2000) at my New York office, and flew home that evening. The last thing I saw on a TV before I got on my flight, I remember, was soon-to-be the notorious network call of Florida for Gore.

Later, I wrote this about that evening: “On Election night, I rode a shuttle bus from Midtown Manhattan to LaGuardia. As we waited for more passengers, the driver was discussing the merits of his candidate -- Gore -- with an elderly couple on their way home to Texas. They were Bush supporters.

‘Governor Bush is a good and honest man,’ the older man said.

‘You think dat politicians don't lie sometime, you only foolin’ yourself,’ said the driver, who had a distinct Jamaican accent. He went on in this vein for a time, and finally said, ‘Well, look at the last eight years, day been great. Clinton and Gore ha' been takin' care of business.’

‘Yeah,’ said the Texan, ‘monkey business.’

That, I figure, is the election in a nutshell.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Halloween postmortem blog.

Most of November so far has looked like November, with the requisite overcast skies and drizzle, though there have been heavy rains, which I understand is unusual for this time of year. Today was clear and cool but not cold. The sunny side of November. All of the trees in our yard have gone naked for the season, leaves gone as surely as the bits of Halloween décor have returned to their crypts in the garages of the nation.

We're still feasting on Halloween candy, which Lilly and Ann collected in quantity on Sunday, about an hour before sunset. So much of it remains that Lilly and I could have the following exchange:

Me: “Give me a peanut butter eyeball.”

Her: “You get a purple one.”

The candy in question was one of the little chocolate globes with a peanut butter center wrapped in eyeball foil. In my case, the iris of the eyeball was purple. Pretty tasty.

It’s been a while since Halloween fell on a weekend, since it leaped from Friday last year to Sunday this year because of leap year. I remember one weekend Halloween when Lilly was too young to do any collecting, but stayed at home with me to distribute candy. She was not quite a year old, and had recently hoisted herself up to start walking – it was that very month, October 1998. That year, all the kids came during the day, and I have a vivid memory of two kids aged about three to five, dressed as Teletubbies in bright costumes that looked like they could have done duty on the show itself.

I think Lilly went to collect candy for the first time in 2000. You’d think I’d remember for sure, but I don’t. I know we went in 2001, on a warmish night. That was the Halloween of Osama bin Ladin and anthrax, and also the night Lilly was too tired to go on, and demanded that I carry her a few blocks home. Which I did. This wouldn’t be possible any more, except in extreme emergencies. Ann, though, still can and probably will use the services of Dad the porter. This year, I had to carry her sometimes to keep up the Lilly, who, as the Blue Fairy, went about her business with remarkable focus.

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Thursday, November 04, 2004

Brown Moose Democrat blog.

This evening I was explaining the Solid South to Yuriko, in its historic context, the century or so when the South always voted Democratic. Naturally the term "boll weevil Democrat" came up. At which point Lilly piped up and said, “Bullwinkle Democrat!” That’s my girl.

Rep. Phil Crane came up yesterday, and as it turns out word of his forced retirement impresses people something like an old star’s death notice: “He was still alive?” Or she, in the case of Fay Wray, just to use a recent example.

(I checked deadoraliveinfo.com to make sure I’d remember right about her, and learned about some other recent passings I’d missed, such as Mercury 7 astronaut Gordon Cooper and funny(ish)man Rodney Dangerfield. A fine web site.)

Re Phil Crane, my brother Jay writes: “Until I saw a report earlier today that he had been put out of office after 35 years, I had no idea that Phil Crane was still in office. I hadn't heard anything about him in years. He was very active, I remember, on the right wing of the Republican Party back in the early ’70s, when I was a student radical. He showed up regularly -- junketing even then, perhaps -- at Young Republican (YR) and Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) events around the country.

“It's possible that I saw him at one of these events, but I don't recall now. I attended the YAF southwest regional convention in Houston in 1971, and the Texas YR state conventions in 1971 and 1972, in Ft. Worth and Dallas, respectively. The 1972 meeting was my last political convention. I drank 14 Harvey Wallbangers ladled out of a galvanized iron washtub in the SMU delegation's hospitality suite and -- since it was St. Patrick's Day -- several glasses of green beer too.

“The next morning, though I felt truly awful (see Kingley Amis' Lucky Jim for a description of an comparable hangover) I was compelled to attend the Saturday morning session of the convention. Statewide officers were to be elected and the leadership of the Black Hats -- the faction in whose interest I had promised to appear -- were afraid that the delegations might be polled; everyone needed to be in place.”

Black Hats? That’s a fine name for a faction. During my sophomore year in college, Goldwaterism ascended to power in the form of Ronald Reagan, but I was happy go along with the prevailing political apathy on campus. So I never downed any Harvey Wallbangers in the service of politics, left or right. Things were different only a decade earlier, and I suppose that moment in my brother’s student career -- that St. Patrick’s Day -- could be called his time with the Tight Right.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Crane blog.

I did my little part yesterday to oust one of the more notorious members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the soon-to-be formerly Hon. Phillip Crane of the 8th district in Illinois. I moved into his district last year, and I didn’t need the state Democratic Party to tell me that he had fossilized in office, though that has been the party’s message throughout the campaign. (Also, he’s reputedly a drunk.) Anyway, it’s often a good idea to vote against incumbents, and as it happens Rep. Crane was the number-one incumbent in the House, having occupied his seat since 1969.

He was also the subject of one of the most brilliant direct-mail campaigns I’ve ever seen in politics. Almost every day for about 10 days before the election, we received a large postcard, paid for by the state Democratic Party, all featuring the same picture of Rep. Crane photoshopped onto a variety of backgrounds. Each card had a different headline, and backgrounds to match, along with Phil in the foreground in a different outfit: GREETINGS FROM COSTA RICA (tropics, him in a floral t-shirt)… SCOTLAND (golf course, him with clubs)… ROME (Coliseum, him with a camera around his neck)… etc. The point being that Rep. Crane was fond of junkets at lobbyists’ expense. “Junket King” was on several of the cards, too.

Hey, I can’t really hold that against him. That would be rank hypocrisy on my part – junket? Where to? I’ll get packed! And perhaps it was better that he was in far-flung locales, rather than making mischief on Capitol Hill. Still, it was a memorable set of mailings, and must have had some impact on the vote. As for me, voting against him was more a matter of housecleaning, cutting away the deadwood, mixing up the compost. Necessary from time to time.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Inconclusive blog.

Election night, and I think back to watching black-and-white numbers on mechanical drums on TV rotating a little like they used to do at gas pumps (but slower), tallying the state totals in the 1968 election. At seven, I had only the vaguest notion of what was going on, something like Lilly now. Later, I got the distinct impression that Mrs. Vest, one of my teachers, wasn’t too happy when she said that we would soon be saying “President Nixon” instead of “President Johnson.”

There have been breathless reports of long voting lines around the country, but here in suburban Cook County, at least my corner of it, I only had to wait about a minute to use the voting machine, this morning at about 7:30. A fair number of people were there, but not a teeming multitude eager to exercise their franchise. No one had bothered to put up campaign signs just outside x number of feet from the polling place, either. There was only a temporary sign hanging on the school door designating it a polling place.

Bedtime and still no conclusion, just like 2000, and like the elections before when – 1968? – when the nation had to wait till the next morning at least in really close races. It’s better that way, except for those that have to fill in the airtime from now till morning,

Monday, November 01, 2004

Keyes blog.

In converting to DSL at the house, I’m having some connectivity issues, so this will be short. I wasn’t planning on ranting about ATA’s poor on-time record anyway, just noting it. As far as my flights are concerned, they have a strange record – either, it seems, grossly late, or perfectly on time. Last week it was the latter, for want of a windshield wiper for the airplane. Eventually, we got another airplane, but it set us back about five hours.

Political note: I saw Alan Keyes in person pressing the flesh at Union Station this election eve. He was there with his wife (?), a volunteer staffer (?) and two guys holding Keyes for Senate signs. I don’t watch enough TV that I would have recognized him otherwise. If he had picked up a briefcase and wandered around the station, he would have blended in completely, as a natty but ordinary member of the black middle class.

I’ll say this for him -- I consider him the number-one quixotic candidate this year, more even than Ralph Nader or any libertarians or members of the Natural Law Party.