Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What You Should Have Been Watching: Jericho

Once upon a time, a plucky little show with a rabid cult following was cancelled by a big, mean, uncaring broadcast network. Indeed, this is a familiar story, one you've heard twice before as you read The Common Man's take on Firefly and Veronica Mars. However, this time something strange happened. After Jericho was cancelled, its fans organized, protesting CBS's decision and sending studio executives more than 20 tons of peanuts. Their efforts were rewarded when the president of CBS Entertainment sent fans of the show an open letter, saying "You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard. As a result, CBS has ordered seven episodes of "Jericho" for mid-season next year."

It was an impressive victory, but shortlived. Hurt by the writers' strike and by continued middling ratings, Jericho was not renewed again this year, meaning that the show is likely dead. While producers and fans are hoping for a revival on another network, the sad truth is that it's likely that you've seen the last of Jericho on prime time TV. That said, there are plenty of opportunities to see all 29 episodes, since the show is now being run on the SciFi network and all the episodes are available for online viewing on Netflix, at CBS.com, and Hulu.com.

Jericho begins with perhaps the most shocking opening sequence in television history, as nuclear bombs wipe out many of America's great cities. Washington, Dallas, Chicago, Philly, Atlanta, Denver, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Twin Cities, and several others were destroyed. The series deals with the struggles of one small Kansas town, Jericho, to recover in the aftermath of this attack, and of its central role in the rebuilding process. The town is filled with several stock characters, including the prodigal son of the town mayor. He has a mysterious past and shows up on the day of the bombings; so too does another man with questionable motives and a dangerous secret.

The show does have a strong father figure in Gerald McRainey, the mayor of Jericho, who spends much of the first season battling health problems and an ill-timed election campaign, and trying to figure out what's wrong with his sons. Skeet Ulrich, who plays the prodigal son, quickly sheds his shiftless and irresponsible image to become a driving force in the town's recovery, taking on additional responsibilities and roles when necessary. Indeed, the show is a celebration of the American small-town spirit, and every character seems designed to reflect the quality of middle-America.

What makes the show most interesting (beyond the constant desire to know what exactly happened and who set off those bombs), is how the show seemingly transplants the Iraq war to American soil. It deals with insurgency and insurrection. Infighting and town-on-town conflict. And, more than any other show before or since, explores the relationship between the Federal government and private industry, particularly the private security corporations (private armies) the U.S. uses to do a great deal of its dirty work. Indeed, Jericho is not shy in its depiction of Jennings and Rall, a Blackwater-esque company that benefits tremendously from the attacks, becoming the biggest supplier of goods and services (and security) in the Western U.S. The cozy relationship between private business and public government is explored extensively and seems remarkably relevant to this era of corruption and greed at the highest levels.

The acting, at times, is hammy, and characters have the frustrating tendency to disappear (sometimes for episodes at a time, sometimes forever). And some of the plot developments begin bordering on the overly convenient and/or absurd. And it can get complicated at times. Yet, in a world where Jay Mohr can get a sitcom and Two and a Half Men can shluff along for six lazy seasons worth of the same jokes, and ER and Law & Order, dammit, are still on the air, surely there should have been a place for a plucky, convoluted, genuine, timely, and intriguing show like Jericho, that isn't shy about its critique of the American system of government.

And there is still room for it, too. In your heart. The Common Man urges you to check out the first episode, and if you're not hooked he will send you his apologies and a nurse to see if you still have a pulse.

Monday, September 29, 2008


The Common Man set forth this past weekend to the northernmost woods, sure that the financial crisis was being averted and that, as John McCain mentioned in the first debate between he and Barak Obama (which The Common Man and The Uncommon Wife listened to in the car on the way north, and both agreed that Obama at least held serve against and perhaps gained ground on his rival), that "a deal had been reached." Sadly, this was not to be.

Instead, after a weekend of fishing, boating, and playing with The Boy and his grandparents in the relatively unspoiled beauty of Lake Muskellunge, The Common Man returned home to find headlines like "Lawmakers point fingers as bailout fails" and "Backers scramble after bailout failure hits stocks." Indeed, all hell has broken loose on the floors of Congress and Wall Street. Investors are running for cover, and House Republicans are just running. The shift in tone from last week (worried) to this (panicked out of their gourd) was palpable.

The Common Man won't pretend to understand the ins and outs of the rescue plan, nor to know with any certainty whether it will succeed or fail. But he does know that, if you want to know whether any radical plan is a good idea, it's best to look at the actions of disinterested parties, those who have no outside reason to want the plan to succeed or fail outside of their own good nature.

After all, The Common Man believes that most politicians are cowards, more concerned with keeping their jobs than with actually improving the country. And, sure enough, when you look at the Congressional voting record, you find that Congressmen who are not running for reelection overwhelmingly support the bill. According to fivethirtyeight.com, "among 26 congressmen NOT running for re-election (almost all of whom are Republicans), 23 voted in favor of the bill, as opposed to 2 against and one abstaining." Meanwhile, among the 38 Congressmen in tight elections, 30 voted against the measure, a development that is less surprising given how poorly the issue has been framed in the popular media and its resultant unpopularity.

So, it seems clear, Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to act in the best interests of this nation (as did 40% of Democrats), fearing for their political lives. That's the definition of unmanly, and The Common Man is disgusted with this Dewmocracy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Beacon of Manhood: Undecided

The Common Man is totally lost this afternoon. He has to pick a becon of manhood this week and doesn't know who it's going to. So, while The Common Man and The Uncommon Wife take a couple of days off to take The Boy up to the family cabin for the first time, he's going to leave you with a homework assignment over the weekend. The Common Man will lay out the case for each of the candidates for this week's beacon, and will ask you to make the decision in the poll on the right.

Rep. Mary Kaptur

The Common Man was all set to, for the first time, give a Beacon to someone not of the male persuasion. Kaptur, as you can see in the video below, clearly and effectively calls out Wall Street for its shiftiness, and advocates for a solution that will insulate taxpayers, have consequences for investment firms, and prevent future offenses of this kind.

It was exactly the kind of concise, useful, personable, and clear rhetoric that is often so lacking in Congressional debate and is as riveting as a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives is likely to get. For her manly speechmaking and wisdom, The Common Man was all set to close up shop. Until...

Benjamin Franklin

The long-dead founding father was The Common Man's next choice. According to many sources, it was Franklin and a group of associates, in 1731, who created the first public library in the United States. This is significant to The Common Man this week in particular, since he was able to get several DVDs, books on CD, Springsteen albums, and books for this trip. Even if the weather doesn't cooperate, The Common Man and family will not be hurting for entertainment this weekend, even during a five hour car ride. And that wouldn't be possible without the foresight of Mr. Franklin. Indeed, it is that manly foresight that makes him more than worthy of this week's beacon, despite not drawing a breath for 218 years. Plus he did some other stuff with the Constitution, being an ambassador, harnessing electricity, printing newspapers, starting a fire company, and some other stuff. Go read a book. The Common Man recommends David McCollough's biography.

Also, The Common Man found 100 bucks today. So that was awesome.

Alexi Casilla

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
--Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, sc ii

Contrary to popular opinion, Shakespeare's actually saying that while a rose is a rose, the names that we give something have great power. Indeed, it's the name that dooms Romeo and Juliet. If he were Romeo Jones, he and Juliet would have tons of little babies who looked like crosses between Claire Daines and Leo DiCaprio. So, since names are so significant, The Common Man is in awe of the Minnesota Twins' second baseman. Saddled with the name Alexi, he has nevertheless thrived this season, hitting .286/.335/.384 while playing excellent defense at the keystone spot. His crowning moment, however, came last night when Casilla singled home Nick Punto with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat the Chicago White Sox and overtake them for 1st place in the AL Central. Casilla has made The Common Man giddy with joy today, as he has visions of underdogs winning the World Series dancing through his head. And for that, and for doing so in spite of being cursed with a girl's name, demonstrates some manly fortitude and excellence that deserves to be rewarded.

David Letterman

In response to the economic crisis, John McCain has "officially suspended" his presidential campaign, claiming he needed the time to help hammer out the Wall Street bailout that his Republican colleagues have, to this point, short circuited. To this end, he tried to get tonight's debate against Barak Obama rescheduled and left the campaign trail (including cancelling an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Leaving aside the important question of whether a sitting President should have the ability to multi-task, McCain's decision to cancel on Letterman may have been a poor one. Indeed, not only did McCain cancel, but told Dave he was "running to catch a plane" to Washington. Meanwhile, Dave, who (as someone with a national forum every night in which he's expected to poke fun and political figures) has a disproportionate influence on the American consciousness, finds out that McCain has instead chosen to skip his show to do an interview with Katie Couric for CBS News. Offended and angry, Dave called McCain out on his questionable strategy and his deception on the show (see the clip below).

For using manly wisdom to recognize the political stunt and gamesmanship McCain is using, and for having the guts to call him on it, Dave deserves a beacon.

So that's it. Go vote. Help your friendly, neighborhood Common Man. Meanwhile, he'll catch a fish and drink a beer in your honor.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Working the Bilge

The Common Man's longstanding position on the war in Iraq is a blanket "you break it, you buy it" policy. As a nation, the UnitedStates chose to elect George Bush in 2000 (please, The Common Man doesn't want to hear about Florida, regardless of how valid your complaints may or may not be. Rutherford B. Hayes won the 1876 election in the House of Representatives by promising to end Reconstruction. John Kennedy won in 1960 (in part) because of rampant voter fraud.) and to reelect him in 2004. He (and his advisers), using the authority the American people gave him, invaded Iraq in 2003. Anything that President Bush did or ordered done, any failure by the Commander-in-Chief is shared, in part, by the populace that elected him (and that chooses to live in a political system that elected him. And so, in essence, the Iraq folly can be traced back directly to the American voters, and they need to bear responsibility for that.

So, while The Common Man doesn't like the war and how that war impeded and impedes the U.S.'s ability to fight in Afghanistan, the U.S. has a moral commitment to maintain a significant presence in Iraq until that nation is secure enough to stand on its own, and not crumble from attacks from within and without. The U.S. broke down the system that held the country together, it has an obligation to stay there until a new framework will hold (and will guarantee freedoms for its citizens). Whoever is elected president, The Common Man feels confident that a stark, unfiltered, and realistic assessment of the Iraq situation with generals on the ground in that country will be the deciding factor as to what the U.S. role is from here on out. The desire to protect America's international integrity and reputation in future foreign relations and international actions will trump any and all campaign promises. So while it's good to have a plan to offer potential solutions, it's important that the candidates be flexible to the reality of Iraq and mindful of the commitments the U.S has made, and the responsibilities it bears.

When The Common Man tries to apply the same principle to the recently proposed mortgage bailout, he has mixed feelings. The Common Man strongly believes that individual entities need to endure the consequences for their actions. When you bet on red, and the roulette wheel stops on black, you shouldn't get to get your chips back just because you bet your rent check. Institutions should not be rewarded for their irresponsibility.

The Common Man is also struck by how angry the situation makes him, and how, impulsively, he wants to see these Wall Street types suffer for the mess they made. It's part of a collective schadenfreude that The Common Man is starting to see among normal Americans who just want to punish the guilty and feel better again about their country and their prospects. As though the collapse of a major financial institution and the layoff of all of its employees will somehow make their lives better. The Common Man definitely sympathizes with that viewpoint.

But does that mean that the U.S. should simply let these companies fail? Not necessarily. Think about this crisis from a father's perspective. When your child misbehaves, and engages in risky behavior, parents will often let their child suffer the consequences of their actions, if those consequences are minor. The Common Man, for instance, will allow The Boy to climb up on a footstool, or swing on the big kid swings, or climb the ladder to his treehouse. If he falls, he will be scared, and may have a bruise. He'll cry because he's not even two years old yet. But he'll learn. And The Common Man is there to make sure that nothing too serious befalls him and to catch him if it looks like he's in real danger.

However, just because The Common Man wants his son to learn a lesson about taking care and being thoughtful about his actions, doesn't mean The Common Man wants The Boy to run into the street or to ride his little car down the stairs or stick a paper clip in the light socket. That kind of behavior carries with it unacceptable risk of permanent, life-altering damage. Sure, if he survives he has learned a valuable lesson, but c'mon...

Anyway, when you look at the current bailout of mortgage market, try to look at it from a father's perspective. Yes, you want these companies to learn a valuable lesson about their actions. And you want them to never do something this stupid and risky again. But you (presumably) don't want them to wind up permanently disfigured or dead if their role in the larger economy is such that the economy is better off with them in it.

In that light, several of the proposals in the bailout package being offered by the federal government make sense. CEOs who condoned (or who stood by while others condoned) this behavior should not get to profit from their resignations. The companies themselves should not escape in better shape than they were in before they started these irresponsible lending practices. They should have to bear some of the losses, and should have to pay for the privilege of being bailed out. U.S. taxpayers should be on the hook for as little of the bailout as possible, and the government should be allowed to benefit from any future profit from these companies until its investment is paid off.

In America, it's a cliche to say that the punishment should fit the crime. But having a strong and meaningful punishment that will deter future bad behavior (the real goal of fatherly discipline) does not require the deaths of American financial institutions. Instead, the U.S. government needs to implement policies that force companies like Bear Stearns and AIG and Lehman Brothers to reap consequences for their actions and take responsibility for what they've done, while providing them a way forward into a better, more socially and economically responsible means of doing business, while continuing to provide the proper oversight and guidance that any good father would give his child. And it sounds as though that's what Congress is trying to do. The Common Man hopes so.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Book Review: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As The Common Man sits watching the Twins/White Sox grudge match, and praying to the baseball gods for another big win, he figures it's a good time to review Chris Aschburner's new book, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Minnesota Twins History. After all, The Common Man is one of the world's biggest Twins fans, and figures that nothing could be more exciting than to simultaneously write about and watch his favorite team. However, The Common Man has a hard time being excited about Aschburner's book, as he made the single subject that interests The Common Man most uninteresting, redundant, and trivial.

The most important word, it turns out, in Aschburner's title is "moments." Aschburner comes from a newspaper background and it shows as he reduces 47 years of Minnesota Twins history to a series of vignettes, the majority of which seem to deal with the 1987 and 1991 teams. What's more, the vignettes are out of order and splattered throughout the book under various headings that seem incredibly arbitrary ("The Good," for instance, includes only Kirby Puckett, the '87 Champions, and the '91 Champs; "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" includes short articles on Calvin Griffith, the '76 batting title that Rod Carew narrowly lost, Minnesota all stars, and interesting HR in Twins history). It's like reading a collection of newspaper articles strung together in haphazard, nonsensical fashion, so that there's no sense of a narrative.

For any Twins fan without a thorough background on the Twins and their history, the book's stories feel disconnected with the larger Twins history, and impossible to place. It's less a history and more a "here's stuff I remember about the team I covered forever." Also, there's a strange discussion of the old Senators team that discusses great old players from the Washington days, but that feels entirely out of place in a book that spends the rest of its time hyper-focused on the Twins.

More disappointing, however, is that Aschburner gives short shrift to the Twins pennant winning team in 1965, and the strong clubs in the late '60s and early '70s. Yes, he covers players like Killebrew, Oliva, Carew, Chance, Hall, and Blyleven, and discusses the old Metropolitan Stadium, but Aschburner refuses to go into depth about any of those teams, and how their success helped solidify baseball in Minnesota for the next 30 years. To exclude them is criminal, particularly because far more Twins fans are familiar with the teams since the late-80s and need a primer on the early years.

Aschburner also hits all the safe high notes, championing the inductions of Bert Blyleven, Tony Oliva, Jack Morris to the Hall of Fame, rips on what it's safe to rip on (the Metrodome, Ron Davis, Terry Felton), and undersells such egregious parts of Twins history as their treatment of Jim Eisenreich, the potential racism of Calvin Griffith that led (in part) to the trade of Rod Carew, the cheapness and rat-finkery of Carl Pohlad (Aschburner almost omits the contraction saga entirely), and the struggles of Tom Kelly to adapt to young players toward the end of his managerial career (amazingly, in a book of notes about famous Twins faces, there's no section that highlights the man who guided them to two world championships and led and personified them for 15 seasons. He gets 3/4 of a paragraph.).

So, what Aschburner presents here is a book that's too familiar for the informed fan but too scant for the casual fan. And it's worth neither of their time and effort. Because, and The Common Man says this as someone inherently interested in all things Twins, it's freaking boring. The book jumps around too much to build any kind of momentum and ends abruptly on a section called "Pain and Suffering." Indeed, in a strange book, perhaps its strangest moment is the closing line, in which Jim Eisenreich brags "if I had been able to play, Kirby would've been in right field when he came up." And perhaps that strange comment out of left field (or center, as it were) is the best way to sum up a book full of such random disjointedness. And the best way to end this review, except to say "don't buy this book." And "if The Common Man was born in 1940 and was any good at playing baseball, Harmon Killebrew wouldn't have had a chance."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Quick Hits

--The Common Man rewatched Jon Stewart's interview with former British P.M. Tony Blair last night, and came away just as disappointed in the interview as he was the first time. Stewart, though a comedic genious, seems to have a pathalogical need to extort some kind of apology or admission from every single person connected in any way to The Bush Administration or the Iraq war.

While The Common Man sympathizes with Stewart's frustration and shares his view that invading Iraq was a terrible decision and that the prosecution of the war was unforgivably bungled, it serves no real purpose at this point, in front of a friendly audience (in studio and at home), all of whom agree with Stewart, to browbeat these former officials for the positions they held and to try to get them admit they were wrong. They know they were wrong, and 90 percent of America knows they were wrong. It seems to be a psychological need for victory that Stewart can never quite satisfy, an itch in the small of his back he cannot scratch.

Rather than pursue a line of questioning that could lead to actual insight from a man who has apparently has a close relationship with this President, his decision making, and his administration (particularly the intriguing question of exactly why Tony Blair likes our President so much and wondering about how Blair's newly acquired Catholicism has informed or would inform his decision-making, and what role religion does or should have in a democracy). The Common Man will embed the interview below so you can make up your own mind, but as much as The Common Man loves his work, he thinks Jon Stewart has bought into his own bull a little too much.

--After all, why focus on what the Bush Administration has done in the past, when you could talk about what they're doing right now to screw over this country. According to an NPR report this morning, the banking bailout proposed by the Bush Administration represents "the largest transfer of power from Congress to the administration that [Jon Macey, a professor and deputy dean of Yale Law School] has ever seen." The legislation gives the Secretary of the Treasury virtually unchecked power over any matter regarded to the bailout. In particular, the section that reads "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency" is particularly troubling, as it freezes out oversight from any regulartory agency or legal action that would prevent the Department of the Treasury from taking action. Such a clause, it is The Common Man's understanding, could also allow the Treasury Department to withhold documents and evidence related to its decision-making that would shed light on any potential illegal or unethical behavior.

Considering this administration's close ties to business interests, their consistent attempts to grab more and more power for the executive branch (see Charlie Savage's book, Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy), and their obsession with secrecy, you can bet that the last few months of the Bush Presidency (and potentially all the months of a McCain or Obama presidency) will leave this country criminally underinformed and its investors vulnerable. If you are at all a fan of smaller government, you cannot support this bailout as currently proposed.

--Last night's episode of Heroes was exhilerating. After a disappointing and convoluted second season, The Common Man is glad to see the fighting and the adventure and the crazy powers taking center stage again. The Common Man loves angst in his TV, but when it gets in the way of moving the story forward it simply becomes angst for angst's sake and the endless handwringing is most unmanly and boring. Do something already.

--Tonight begins the last stand of the Minnesota Twins, as they face off against the first-place Chicago White Sox in a three-game series to decide the American League Central. Two-and-a-half games back, it's likely the Twins will need to win all three games in order to have a shot at the division. The series is being played in Minnesota, and the Twins excel at home and the Sox struggle on the road. So there's at least a decent chance for the sweep. As always, The Common Man clings to hope until they have been mathematically eliminated. Good luck, boys. The Common Man will be watching in his Joe Mauer jersey tonight.

--And, finally, The Common Man would like to welcome Return To Manliness back to the blogging fold. Kevin was on hiatus for a while there, and The Common Man missed his insight and his visits to this neck of the blogosphere greatly. He's back writing and has a new layout (ooh, pretty!). So check him out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Shooting From the...Hip?

There he was, minding his own business, trying to play a game of Scrabble on Facebook, when The Common Man was contacted by a friend he hadn't talked to in a couple years. Back in the heady days of his youth, The Common Man and this friend had been poker buddies, and The Common Man still, probably, owes him five bucks or something. Figuring his friend was reconnecting in order to collect, The Common Man did the honorable thing and responded.

No, it seems the friend had forgotten about the bad debt, and was simply interested in saying "hey" and talking about where life had taken the two of them. This friend, it seems, is expecting his second child with his lovely wife and, while he's excited about the upcoming addition, is also somewhat frightened. Apparently both children have been a surprise to the happy couple, and this friend is actively considering the radical solution of a vasectomy to insure that no other little surprises befall them.

And, so, that's basically where the conversation ends up. After all, what do you say to an old buddy who shows up out of the blue and tells you he's considering a vasectomy? After a few more minutes of banter and exposition (with The Common Man telling his life story), The Common Man and his friend parted online ways and vowed to stay in better touch in the future (as old friends who randomly reconnect invariably do).

At this point, though, The Common Man is a little taken aback. He's had to face his own mortality a few times this year. Tearing up his knee, feeling various new aches and pains (what's that dull ache in The Common Man's knuckles as he types?), and turning 30 have conspired to make The Common Man acutely aware of the passage of time and his gradual push toward the old. Now, on top of that, The Common Man is surprised to learn about the first of his contemporaries to (soon) have themselves snipped. To actively decide to have no more kids and to take steps to make it happen. As The Common Man and The Uncommon Wife move forward, they both feel strongly that they'd like to have more than just The Boy, and can't imagine deciding, at this juncture, that they're ready to start the process of stopping being a parent. It's simply unfathomable to them. But there it is, a smart and thoughtful friend from out of the blue has shattered The Common Man's perception of life and of time and has informed him that, indeed, it's ok to start thinking about getting the Big V someday and has caused him to contemplate its interaction.

The Common Man, for all his manliness, simply is not sure how he would handle that kind of decision, when the day comes. Frankly, The Common Man values his intactness and is unsure he wants to lose that. And the prospect of asking someone to take away his potency seems simply unbecoming of a real man. Indeed, if he were to lose said potency carrying several elderly people out of a burning rest home, he would probably be ok with it. But choosing to lose an essential part of his manhood? That seems like the wrong choice when he has plenty of other options for making sure that life springs forth not from his loins.

Also, scalpels near that part of the male anatomy is the one fear that's ok for real men to wince at and run from. Especially since the procedure is typically done with a local anesthetic and you are awake throughout. No thanks.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Stupid Man Tricks

Perhaps The Common Man's greatest fear is that he'll someday find a food too spicy for him to tackle. For a moment, it seemed as though he had found it. The Fire-In-the-Hole style wings of The Common Man's former haunt definitely are a challenge for any real man, and their spiciness tend to overshadow the flavor of the wing and its sauce. That said, any man wanting to prove his testicular fortitude could do no better.

It was with great pride that The Common Man conquered the Fire-In-the-Hole, not because he enjoyed them, but because he enjoyed the knowledge that he could handle the spicy. The Common Man only points this out because a) he hasn't had decent buffalo wings since he got to Wisconsin and is suffering from withdrawal and b) he can totally understand the mindset that causes so many young men to prove themselves through the ingestion of one of God's spiciest creations, the Habanero Pepper. The habanero, typically between 100,000 and 350,000 units on the Scoville scale, represents a true challenge for men everywhere, and is the best and most readily available option for those who want to test their manhood.

But beware, for the Habanero is not for all men. For instance, this young man was full of confidence and bravado, but was chased from the field by the heat.

And as these Morman Missionaries demonstrate, not even the power of prayer is enough to help you escape the heat. Perhaps men are simply lacking the necessary equipment for the job. Indeed, if women can endure the pain of childbirth and the pain of dealing with their menfolk on a regular basis (The Common Wife included), it may simply be best if men left the Habanero eating to their better halfs. Indeed, if this video is any indication, they seem to be better at handling it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday Beer Review: Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat

When The Common Man was but The Common Boy, he and his brother, The Dentist, would always order the same drink, Cherry Seven-Up with extra cherries. You see, it was important that the beverage not taste like Seven-Up, but like bubbly cherry juice. And the extra maraschino cherries skewered by a plastic sword made for excellent hors d'oerves. Slowly, as their tastes matured, the brothers moved on to Cherry Coke (preferably with the cherries), until it was no longer socially acceptable to order a cherry-flavored drink with extra cherries. And, indeed, soon the appeal of the cherry-flavored beverage was squelched altogether.

When The Common Man first sipped Sam Adams' Cherry Wheat this evening, he was magically transported back to those days when extra grenadine and extra cherries were an integral part of any beverage. The cherries are frighteningly strong, and really overshadow the rest of the beer. Though it may have been exciting when The Common Man was still nine, sadly the overabundance of cherry goodness was a real turnoff to someone who was looking forward to a good beer. Instead, The Common Man got a bubbly mouthful of cherry. A cherry bomb. A veritable explosion of cherries.

This is surprising, since the Samuel Adams website claims that "The sweet fruitiness of the cherries is balanced against the crisp, cereal note from the malted wheat and the subtle citrus flavor from the Noble hops." Phooey, The Common Man says. This beer has the balance of a drunken Ohio State fan after a crushing and depressing defeat to USC. Or the balance of an inebriated Penn State backer revelling in another blowout win over a creampuff non-conference opponent. Just look at the logo there. Sam is surrounded by cherries. Like a football player (not a kicker) dragged to the ballet by his girlfriend, Sam just seems out of place. A real man surrounded by girliness. Baffled by a world he didn't make, and that has moved on without him.

And it's not like it's impossible to make a good cherry beer. Friend of the blog, Godfather to The Boy, and The Common Man's private brewmaster, The Deacon, has perfected a Cherry Porter that has a decent-sized cherry flavor but still tastes like a beer. Indeed, it's one of very few fruity-tasting beers manly enough for The Common Man. It may be, along with The Deacon's Drubble, The Common Man's favorite on a cold morning of tailgating, before the scrambled eggs and toast have been grilled on the barbecue and the Porembas have broken out the Taco Ring.

So, as wonderful as Sam Adams tends to be, the Cherry Wheat is a sad failure for them. Terribly disappointing for a beer that knows how to please a man. You might like it, you know, if you're a girl. Or if you don't like beer with your beer. If the latter's the case, you're not welcome at The Common Man's tailgate. If it's the former, feel free to stop by. The Common Man always has a fru-fru beer in the cooler for emergencies.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Crappy Job

The first and best role model any boy can have is his father, of course. From watching dad, boys can learn how to treat a woman, how to raise a family, and what constitutes responsible behavior. However, because no one really wants to become their father, boys are forced to look elsewhere for additional examples of manhood. They look to their teachers and their friends. They look to popular culture and they look to history. And, perhaps above all, they look to professional sports. Most sports are traditionally masculine to some degree, teaching competitiveness and camaraderie, sportsmanship and fairness. And a healthy respect for following and breaking the rules. And with their impressive skills and physiques, athletes look the part of the man, usually far more so than a boy's father. It's easy to understand why boys look up to them.

And so, millions of boys in every generation aspire not just to be athletes like their heroes, but to be their heroes. But no one, at that age, really has any idea what their heroes are like when they aren't in the public eye. And so, those knowledge gaps are filled with versions of their idols conforming to whatever ideal of manhood the boy has, forgetting that many of their idols are in their early 20s (barely men themselves) and (by the nature of the environment they inhabit and how they've been treated) are essentially overgrown adolescents anyway.

Indeed, it is impossible for any generation to truly know its idols (at least until the biopic comes out. Not Mohammad Ali, not Mickey Mantle. Not Evel Knievil, not Reggie Jackson. Not Michael Jordan, not Kirby Puckett. Not Albert Pujols, Greg Maddux, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, or Michael Phelps. Indeed, except for very brief moments, you don't get to see the man behind the athlete's curtain. Unless you can walk a mile in their shoes, you'll never know exactly what kind of men they are/were.

And, it turns out, you may not want to walk a mile in their shoes. In a delightfully candid moment, Hall of Fame 3B George Brett pulled back the magic curtain that separates Brett the man from Brett the ballplayer, and you find out what George Brett does to his shoes (and his pants). The results are not safe for work (though they are relatively quiet). (note: the embedded video has been repaired)

(h/t to Shysterball)

Thousands of 30-40 year olds in Kansas City are weeping openly today as The Common Man writes this. Perhaps that curtain is best left where it is.

Now, who's the pitcher for this game?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kicked Out of Bed By 31 Lbs of Chuck Norris

The Common Man has been totally out of it today, to the point that he fell asleep in his chair more than once this afternoon. Last night, after he and The Uncommon Wife decided, for reasons that defy logic, to stay up late, their minutes-old sleep was interupted by the concerned and forlorn cries of "daddy?" and "mommy?" eminating from the next room. The Boy, it would seem, would no longer brook being left in his crib while everyone else got to snuggle.

And so, The Common Man rose from his slumber, and like any responsible parent, brought the product of his loins back to his bed, to nestle between his mother and father. However, rebel that he is, The Boy refused to stay nestled. He twisted. He pushed. He flipped. He climbed. And, ultimately, he kicked (like a baby Chuck Norris, except that Chuck Norris emerged from the womb fully-formed: 200-odd lbs of ass-whuppin'). It was a grueling 45 minutes of the boy refusing to sleep or to let his parents sleep. And so, when at the end of his rope, and wanting to make sure The Uncommon Wife (who is suffering from some day-care-born mega-virus) was able to get some sleep, The Common Man returned The Boy to his crib, where he (The Boy, not The Common Man) began to wail incessently, at least until he realized that his father was getting himself a blanket and was planning to camp out on the floor.

Satisfied that he would no longer have to sleep alone, and that his best (non-verbal) efforts could no longer prevent the slumber of his parents, The Boy settled down at about 2:30. However, before finally shutting his eyes for the night, The Boy did kindly throw an extra blanket and a couple stuffed animals down to his father, so that he wouldn't get lonely or cold. And as The Common Man rested his weary crown on the head of The Boy's bear rug, listened to The Boy talk to his stuffed animals and then begin to snore, and folded himself for warmth under a fleece blanket meant for a two year-old, The Common Man thought, "well, this isn't so bad."

Obviously, he was delirious.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beacon of Manhood: Scott Adams

In the mid-nineties, if you were paying anything that resembled attention, you learned to appreciate the genius that was Dilbert. Capitolizing on the growing cubicle-discontent that also spawned the terrific Office Space and eventually led to today's British and American versions of The Office, Dilbert-creator Scott Adams poked fun at corporate culture, management incompetence (not that, as The Common Man peruses today's financial news, any of them has learned a damn thing since then), consumer greediness, and the willful ignorance of the masses. Dilbert's popularity culminated in a two-season run on the UPN as an animated series (which, The Common Man supposes, qualifies it as a success on that network), voiced by Daniel Stern, Chris Elliot, and Kathy Griffin, from 1999-2000. Dilbert motors on today, enjoying slightly less cultural cache, but still earning its creator millions upon millions of dollars. The lucky and talented bastard.

But Adams, to his credit, is not content to simply swim through his cash a la Scrooge McDuck. Partly out of curiosity, and partly out of frustration, Adams has put his money to work for the rest of America. In a commentary for CNN.com, Adams writes, "This summer I found myself wishing someone would give voters useful and unbiased information about which candidate has the best plans for the economy. Then I realized that I am someone, which is both inconvenient and expensive. So for once I asked not what my country could do for me." And so, Adams privately funded his own survey of (500) economists at the non-partisan American Economic Association to see who economists believe has the better plan for restoring the American economy to its former strength and vitality.

Like any good political surveyer, Adams is up front and honest about his biases, claiming that he leans libertarian on many social issues, won't vote for candidates who promise to raise taxes in his income bracket, and is uninspired by John McCain. His findings are intersting. Economists tend to break down on party lines in their answers, with 88 percent of Democrats supporting Obama's policies, and 80 percent of Republicans supporting McCain's. Economists who identify themselves as independents (27 percent of the total), break for Obama by 46 percent to 39 percent (presumably with 23 percent claiming there would be no substantive difference between the candidate's plans, as far as the future of the U.S. economy is concerned). The most important economic issues facing the U.S. going forward, according to these 500 economists, are (in order) education, health care, international trade, and energy.

So, are these economists right? As Adams points out, it probably impossible for them to predict, with any degree of certainty, just what will happen to the U.S. economy in coming years, let alone six months. "In my view," he writes, "if an economist uses a complicated model to predict just about anything, you can ignore it." However, just because uncertainty is an inherent part of any model doesn't mean that economists' suggestions and opinions aren't important. Indeed, as Adams puts it, "if a doctor tells you to eat less and exercise more, that's good advice even if you later get hit by a bus."

So, thanks are in order to Scott Adams for his efforts. His survey results may have faults (for instance, there's no way to tell from the data exactly what the degree of bias is of the economists, or how their choice of profession informs their beliefs), and may not be an accurate prediction of what will if Obama or McCain is elected this November, but his results are interesting, easy to comprehend, and show a remarkable dedication to public service and self-sacrifice. Scott Adams did what many Americans don't do: what he can. Simply because he can do more than others doesn't make his contributions any more or less impressive. They are impressive on their own. So, this week, The Common Man awards his Beacon of Manhood to Scott Adams and, again, thanks him for his efforts and for providing an excellent example to the rest of the country.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Here's Mud In Your Eye

Sometimes timing is everything. And sometimes, the week after Barak Obama's spokesman said that John McCain is "cynically running the sleaziest and least honorable campaign in modern presidential campaign history," The Common Man finally gets around to finishing Anything for a Vote, Joseph Cummins reader-friendly guide to dirty Presidential politics. So is Obama's spokesman right? Where would this election cycle rank on Cummins "Sleaze-o-meter?" And is this book worth your time?

Cummins argues that dirty politics is an American tradition, and ingrained within the American populace, the nation's psyche, and the political process. "Without smears, innuendo, and thievery tainting our electoral system," he writes, "what would we have to connect us to our quickly vanishing past?... We're Americans, after all. A nice, dirty election runs in our blood." It's a provacative statement, and one that Cummins backs up by systematically examining every single election since 1789. Indeed, he concludes that "probably the only clean election in American history was the first one...in which George Washington ran unopposed." Since then, there have been a steady progression of dirty tricks and ugly accusations in Presidential races, including Davy Crockett's claim that Martin Van Buren dressed in ladies' corsets, Hoover supporters asserting that the Holland Tunnel led straight to the Vatican (as Hoover's opponent, Al Smith, was a practicing Catholic), and Rutherford B. Hayes supporters claiming his opponent, Samuel Tilden, "had contracted syphilis some years earlier from an Irish whore on the Bowery, and that his venerial disease not only affected his actions, but made him susceptible to blackmail."

In all, Cummins does demonstrate that running for President has invited mud and smears, and that candidates knew what they were in for. But, while dirty politics may have been part of the game since the bitter 1800 election between Jefferson and Adams, he gives his highest "sleaze" ratings to elections in 1960, 1964, 1972, 1988, 1992, and 2000 (and with the second highest rating to 2004). Prior to that run, only 3 elections reached the pinnacle of sleaze, the aforementioned 1800 election, 1879 (Hayes v. Tildon), and 1928 (Hoover v. Smith). So while the dirty pool is nothing new, the intensity seems to have ratcheted up in recent years, and become increasingly vindictive. So it's entirely plausible that this year's cycle will see the most vitriolic, ugly, and disgusting attacks in campaign history. And it validates the idea that, in bygone days, politics wasn't so rancorous and off-putting as it is now, and that when Obama and McCain talked about getting back to a more civil style of politics they weren't idealizing and romanticizing the past.

So far, The Common Man would put this election cycle up at a 8 or so on Cummins' "sleaze-o-meter." News networks have openly speculated that Barak Obama is Muslim (a similar charge dogged unsuccessful 1856 candidate John Fremont, who was accused of being a secret Catholic), and one blatantly false McCain ad has suggested that he wants kindergarters to have "comprehensive sex education." He's also been drug through the mud because of his tangential associations with Reverand Wright, Father Pflager, and William Ayers. And he and his wife have openly had their patriotism questioned because sometimes he chooses not to wear an American flag pin and his wife has been honest enough to bring up that life in America is often more difficult for people of color, particularly if those people are women.

Of course, Obama's not alone as a target, nor is he entirely innocent of the mudslinging. Obama's campaign has lampooned John McCain for being unable to use a computer, when it's possible that his POW injuries won't allow him to sit at a desk and use a keyboard. Hilary Clinton was called shrill, a harpy, and the epitome of a bitchy feminism. Sarah Palin has been accused of faking a pregnancy to cover up her daughter's illegitamate child, and now it seems that daughter has a baby on the way. In all, it's an impressive list. The Common Man was tempted to give it a 10 so far (and someday, when books are written on this election, it might rank that high), but there are still a couple of months to go and The Common Man wants the candidates and their supporters to have a notion to shoot for (perhaps this election will go to 11).

Cummins's book itself is a fun read, and, as The Common Man mentioned, very reader friendly. And it's a very informative, quick, and breezy run through American history. It is not, however, a serious work of political science or scholarly research. There are no footnotes, nothing to suggest Cummins's sources. And his politics seem to come through in his recounting of the 2000 and 2004 elections (but really, who doesn't think that those didn't go well for this country?). Casual fans of politics will find it right up their alleys.