Saturday, August 29, 2009


Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit down at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of democracy.

---Ted Kennedy, on the floor of the Senate, in a speech about Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court, 7/1/87

I don't know if you know this or not, but one of his favorite topics of humor was indeed Chappaquiddick itself. And he would ask people, "Have you heard any new jokes about Chappaquiddick?" That is just the most amazing thing. It's not that he didn't feel remorse about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, but that he still always saw the other side of everything and the ridiculous side of things, too.

--Ed Klein, former editor, NYT Magazine (on Diane Rehm’s radio show), 8/28/09

We don't know how much Kennedy was affected by her death, or what she'd have thought about arguably being a catalyst for the most successful Senate career in history. What we don't know, as always, could fill a Metrodome.

Still, ignorance doesn't preclude a right to wonder. So it doesn't automatically make someone (aka, me) a Limbaugh-loving, aerial-wolf-hunting NRA troll for asking what Mary Jo Kopechne would have had to say about Ted's death, and what she'd have thought of the life and career that are being (rightfully) heralded.

Who knows — maybe she'd feel it was worth it.

---Melissa Lafsky, Huffington Post, 8/27/09

Like all figures in history - and like those in the Bible, for that matter - Kennedy came with flaws. Moses had a temper. Peter betrayed Jesus. Kennedy had Chappaquiddick, a moment of tremendous moral collapse.

---Joan Vennechi, Boston Globe, 8/27/09

Both a plane crash in Massachusetts in 1964 and the ugly automobile accident on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969 almost cost him his life, and the Chappaquiddick incident ultimately ended his bright prospects for still higher office.

---Ted Sorenson, Time Magazine, 8/26/09

It is after midnight and Kennedy and [Senator Chris] Dodd are just finishing up a long dinner in a private room on the first floor of the restaurant’s annex. They are drunk. Their dates, two very young blondes, leave the table to go to the bathroom. (The dates are drunk too. “They’d always get their girls very, very drunk,” says a former Brasserie waitress.) Betty Loh, who served the foursome, also leaves the room. Raymond Campet, the co-owner of La Brasserie, tells Gaviglio the senators want to see her.

As Gaviglio enters the room, the six-foot-two, 225-plus-pound Kennedy grabs the five-foot-three, 103-pound waitress and throws her on the table. She lands on her back, scattering crystal, plates and cutlery and the lit candles. Several glasses and a crystal candlestick are broken. Kennedy then picks her up from the table and throws her on Dodd, who is sprawled in a chair. With Gaviglio on Dodd’s lap, Kennedy jumps on top and begins rubbing his genital area against hers, supporting his weight on the arms of the chair. As he is doing this, Loh enters the room. She and Gaviglio both scream, drawing one or two dishwashers. Startled, Kennedy leaps up. He laughs. Bruised, shaken and angry over what she considered a sexual assault, Gaviglio runs from the room. Kennedy, Dodd and their dates leave shortly thereafter, following a friendly argument between the senators over the check.

---Michael Kelly, GQ, February, 1990

If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.

---Charles Pierce, Boston Globe, 1/5/03

Monday, August 24, 2009


I don’t know anyone who has returned their season tickets to the Eagles or anyone who has been protesting at training camp, and I don’t know anybody who will be picketing at the stadium when the regular season opens. There are such people. There just aren’t a large number of them and I don’t personally know any.

But I do know people who feel the way I do. I’ve talked to a few, and I suspect there are a lot of them. These are people who don’t carry signs or make a spectacle of themselves, but they’re done with the team. They just don’t care anymore. They cannot be entertained by a football team with Michael Vick on it. Maybe they will adopt another NFL team or maybe they will follow the league in a general way or maybe they will just take the season off, but they won’t be Eagles fans, at least not this year.

So here’s what will happen. Eagles games will still be sold out, as they have been for years, but all the ancillary measures of the team’s popularity will be down. Local and national TV ratings will be down and memorabilia sales will plummet. Also, the team (perhaps after an initial flurry of interest), will be less likely to be chosen for national TV games. It’s even possible that local ad rates for Eagles broadcasts will go down. At least, I hope they do.


Friday, August 21, 2009


Tex and I keep records on our Scrabble games---the results, the scores, the bingos. We’ve been doing it for about two years. He wins three-quarters of the games. I’m good enough to give him competition, which is why he continues to play me, but there’s no question about who is better.

The games I win are almost always those where I get a little bit lucky. I’ll get the s’s, the blanks and other good stuff, while Tex has to look at racks with five n’s on them. And I’ll win those games by 40 or 50 points. When the situation is reversed, and Tex has the luck, he thrashes me by 100 or more. My wins are by relatively small margins; his wins are often blow-outs. If you review our records, and look only at games decided by 100 points or more, Tex wins 95% of them. In other words, his record in blowouts is better than his overall record.

It’s the same in any sport.

In baseball and football and basketball, you always hear a lot of “expert” opinion about the importance of one-run games or games decided by a field goal or less. It’s hooey. It’s always hooey. Of course, it’s never a bad thing to have a great field goal kicker or a 96mph closer (or LeBron with two seconds left), but a team’s record in close games is not a reliable measure of whether that team can win a championship. The St. Louis Cardinals, for example, have a 13-12 record in one-run games so far, but if you think the Cubs are going to catch them in the NL Central, please call me tomorrow and get your money down. The Padres are dreadful this year, at 49-66, but they have a .500 record in one-run games. Close games are often decided by luck---a grounder squirts through the infield, a kick hits the left upright, or Iverson bounces the ball off his foot.

When one team beats another by a large margin, however, it usually means they’re a better team. We tend to remember the huge upset, of course, but what almost always happens when Duke plays St. Leo’s is that Duke wins by 40. The Bengals get clobbered by the Patriots. The Yankees sweep the Royals.

In every sport, championships are most often won by teams with great records in blowouts rather than teams with great records in close games. Usually (like Tex), a good team will have a better record in blowouts than its overall record. A team with a lower winning percentage in blowouts than its overall record makes you wonder whether they’re good, or just temporarily lucky. This simple fact is what allows us, in mid-August, to look at the pennant races and make observations about who is for real and who ain’t. (Note: “blowout” is here defined as a win by five or more runs. All numbers are as of 8-16-09.)

And, of course, my primary concern in all this is my beloved Phillies. And I’m concerned. I thought I was concerned about the Florida Marlins because they’re young and just learning how to win and they’re pretty good already, but now I’m concerned about Atlanta because they have the best record in the NL (21-10) in blowouts. The Marlins are only 15-14 in those games. As for the Phillies, they are 20-17 (.541) in blowouts, which is worse than their overall record of 65-48 (.575). This is not generally a good sign. Last year, the Phillies were 92-70 for a winning percentage of .568; their percentage in blowouts, however, was .600. Teams with worse records in blowouts than their overall record will often fizzle in the playoffs. Last year, the only two playoff teams like that were Milwaukee and the Angels, both of whom lost in the first round. The Angels were especially disappointing since they had the best record in baseball during the regular season.

Concerning the rest of the NL, I’m calling the NL Central for St. Louis. Their lead is only four games, but their record in blowouts is 21-16, while the Cubs’ record in blowouts is only 14-16. That race is over.

I am not as quick to anoint the Dodgers, however. Though they lead the NL West by 4 ½ games, and even though they have a 20-10 record in blowouts, Colorado is 22-12 in blowouts, and is a serious contender. (SF is only a game behind Colorado, but their record in blowouts is only 15-14; I’m discarding them.)

Turning to the AL, one looks first for a reason to doubt the Yankees, but since they have a 20-10 record in blowouts, I don’t see any. Those of you in RedSoxNation, however, have every reason to expect your team to be in the playoffs as well. Boston’s 21-11 (.656) record in laughers is much better than that of Tampa (22-16, .579) and Texas (18-14, .563).

In the West, the Angels may be for real this year, at 22-12 in blowouts.

In the other race, Detroit is leading the weakest division in baseball with a 61-54 record, with 12-18 mark in games decided by 5 or more. Chicago and Minnesota are only .500 teams in those games, but somebody has to win that division, and it’s not going to be the Tigers.

My predictions:

Division winners: Philly, St. Louis, LA, NYY, Chicago, LAA

Wildcards: Colorado, Boston


Saturday, August 15, 2009


I am not an Eagles season-ticket holder, and over the years, I’ve only been to a handful of games. I’ve been a fan, however. I watch every game on TV, and read all the stats in the paper, and I like to listen to the local sports-talk-radio station when Ray Didinger is on because he knows more about pro football, and the Eagles, than anyone on the planet. I have had long discussions with friends in anticipation of an Eagles playoff game.

That’s all over now. The Eagles are dead to me. I stopped caring last night about 9:00 when I learned they had signed Michael Vick. I don’t want to watch Michael Vick play football. I don’t even want to see him on the sidelines. The sight of Michael Vick makes my stomach churn.

Do you remember Peewee Herman (nee Paul Rubens)? He created two successful movies, and his Saturday-morning kids’ show, “Peewee’s Playhouse,” was so clever and innovative that it garnered a large adult audience, including me. Then, in 1991, he was caught performing an act of self-gratification in a porno theater in Florida.

Rubens was the same brilliant, creative guy the day after his arrest as he had been the day before, but his meteoric career came to an abrupt end. There was no blacklist or conspiracy involved, but it was immediately understood by everyone in show business that parents would no longer allow their children to be entertained by Peewee Herman. The idea of him doing another show for kids was just too creepy.

That’s pretty much the way I feel about Mr. Vick. I don’t doubt he can run fast and throw passes and even catch them, but I have zero desire to see him do it. In fact, I will go out of my way to avoid watching him play football.

Please understand me. I am not outrageously outraged. I am not engaged in a one-man boycott. I just can’t care about the team anymore. I have followed the Eagles, and their wins and losses, and their injuries, and the deals they made, and the internal team strife, and the travails of Andy Reid, and the saga of Terrell Owens, and I invested a fair amount of time and emotion in the team because it was entertaining. It was fun. That’s what sports are---entertainment---and the Eagles have entertained me for many years. Now, they simply can’t entertain me anymore, so I’m done.

There are many people who do not share my sense of revulsion, and I’ve heard some of them on radio and TV. Many fans will remain fans; some people even like the idea of signing Vick because they envision wonderful possibilities for the Eagles offense. And that’s fine with me. I’m used to being a minority voice. Some of the justifications offered for the Vick signing, however, are almost as offensive as Vick himself.

1) It’s time to move on.

Sorry, I can’t move on. I’m not ready. And why should I? For six years, the man made dogs kill each other in the fighting ring, then electrocuted some, or drowned them, or strangled them. These are the acts of a man steeped in evil, and I recoil at what he did. Decent people must condemn evil---when you refuse to embrace the moral relativism of our age, your view of evil doesn’t get any more complicated than that.

2) He has shown remorse, so we must forgive.

Has he? At his trial, he appeared to accept responsibility for his actions, including those he did with his own hands. Now, he says he was “naïve” and that he should have put a stop to things other people were doing. Well, which is it, Mike?

He also describes his behavior as “mistakes.” Are you as sick of this as I am? To me, leaving your car keys in the freezer is a “mistake.” Calling your intentional immoral acts “mistakes” is merely a pitiful attempt to blur the link between those acts and your responsibility for them. It’s a form of denial, a fashionable variety of denial, but denial nonetheless. Acknowledgement of one’s deeds is the first step toward rehabilitation, but there is scant evidence Vick has taken even that first step.

Besides, what if it’s true? What if he is truly remorseful? Well, that would be a good thing, but it’s really a matter between Vick and his God. It has nothing to do with me. I don’t have to forgive him, and I certainly have no obligation, moral or otherwise, to watch him play football. In addition, I reject the idea that even genuine remorse would entitle him to reinstatement. I don’t see the connection between the two. Remorse can be good for the soul, but it does not erase the crime.

3) Everybody should get a second chance.

Yes, of course. All men can be redeemed, and should have a chance to prove themselves. And I would be fine with Michael Vick getting a job selling cars or working at Wal-Mart or maybe running the Michael Vick Football Camp For Troubled Teens. But the NFL? What theory of redemption is it that requires us to place a man back in the same exalted position he once occupied when he has fallen from that perch because of his own disgraceful acts? In his later years, Nixon was reported to have many regrets about Watergate, but nobody wanted to make him President again. And if Bernie Madoff ever gets out of jail, do you think we should let him start a hedge fund? I sincerely hope Michael Vick becomes a decent human being, and I think it’s possible he can do that. But that will happen, or not, depending on the kind of person Vick is. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM PLAYING FOOTBALL.

4) Three cops killed a black guy and didn’t get punished at all.

(I heard this argument at work today.) Of course, this can be used to excuse anything. There’s always somebody worse, unless you actually happen to be Joseph Stalin.

I don’t think you ever heard this argument thirty years ago, when it was accepted that justice resided in meting out punishment to an individual because of the deeds that individual committed. “Let the punishment fit the crime” was how it was expressed. Now, the argument goes, the act and the actor don’t matter so much. What matters is the background of the actor, or his nationality or skin color, or some other factor completely extraneous to the crime.

For example, there was a time, not long ago, when a man who broke into the home of an elderly couple, and robbed and killed them, would be convicted of murder and executed. Today, however, whenever such a criminal is a member of a minority group, the argument is made that it is unfair to execute him because at various times and in various places, a white man who committed a different heinous crime may not have been sentenced to death. The individual’s responsibility for monstrous acts, in other words, doesn’t matter nearly as much as his status as a representative of some demographic group. The act is the same, as is the depraved heart that committed it, and the elderly couple is still laying there in a pool of blood. And we are never told exactly why we must know the sex or race of the criminal before we can condemn his act.

The idea that justice resides somewhere other than in the relationship between the act and the actor is not really a new one---a thousand years ago, the crimes of noblemen were viewed very differently from the crimes of peasants---but it is odd that such an archaic, primitive notion can gain so much support in a modern Western democracy.

Down this road lies barbarism, a state in which no one can distinguish between right and wrong. As Natan Sharansky wrote, “The challenge in the Soviet Union was finding a way to fight evil; in the West, the challenge is to recognize it.”

5) It’s a cultural thing.

This is what the bad guys always say, isn’t it? It’s how white Southerners defended segregation. “It’s our culture; you just don’t understand.” In fact, it’s how slave-owners defended slavery; us Northerners just didn’t see how happy everybody was. “Culture” is why Muslims keep their women in bags, and why they mutilate the sex organs of little girls. It’s why the Bosnian War happened: “Hey, back off! We’ve been killing Muslims for 700 years---it’s our culture!”

Culture indeed! I think it was Blaise Cendrars who wrote, “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my revolver.” If you paint Easter eggs with intricate patterns, that’s a cultural thing. If you drink a pint of Guiness on St. Patty’s Day, that’s a cultural thing. If you paint hex signs on your barn, that’s a cultural thing too. But if you torture dogs for pleasure, and you call it your culture, then there’s something seriously sick about your culture and maybe you need a different one.


Sunday, August 9, 2009


Apparently, there are a lot of us out here in America who don’t accept every word Obama says about his healthcare scheme as the absolute literal truth, and the White House has decided to do something about it. This week, Macon Phillips, Obama’s Director of New Media, told the American people that if they see anything “fishy” on the web, or even in “casual conversation,” they should drop an email to

Imagine, just for fun, what the harvest would have been if George Bush had suggested something like this. (“Now if any of you out there have a friend or neighbor who you’ve heard misunderestimating the effectiveness of the ‘surge’ in Iraq, I want you all to send that person’s name to my pal at”) Picture your favorite liberal commentators---Olberman, Matthews, Maddow…. Now picture the tops of their heads flying off in rage.

I assume most of you have already reported me for my July 23 article entitled HEALTHCARE NOW!!!! (which was full of rumors and innuendo and other fishy stuff), but if you haven’t yet, it’s OK because I reported it myself. I urge you to do the same. Turn yourself in. Even if you’ve never said anything fishy about Obamacare, confess anyway. Every decent American who remembers we were once governed by the Constitution belongs on that list.


Thursday, August 6, 2009


Milton Friedman, the Nobel-Prize-winning economist, made a wonderful two-minute video (available here), in which he describes how the magic of the price system makes it possible to produce the pencil he holds in his hand. “No one individual could make this pencil,” he begins. The wood itself is cut in the state of Washington, but before that can happen, there must be a saw and someone has to make that saw from steel, and that steel must come from iron ore, which someone else will mine. Then there’s the eraser, which is made from rubber (probably from Malaysia), and the brass ferrule to hold the eraser, and the yellow paint and the black paint and the graphite from India. Thousands of people, he explains, are involved in the production of the pencil, though they don’t know each other, they speak different languages, they have different religions, and they might hate each other if they were ever to meet. Yet they all cooperate, without any commissar directing them, to produce a pencil that can then be purchased by anyone for a trifling sum.

My own capitalist epiphany occurred as I opened a case containing twelve one-pound bags of frozen brussel sprouts and began to arrange them neatly in a display case. This case had been delivered to our back room less than an hour before, one of dozens of cases of frozen food on a pallet rushed to us in a refrigerated trailer from a warehouse hundreds of miles away. Prior to that, the sprouts had been flash-frozen and bagged at a different facility before being transported, still frozen, to our warehouse. And before any of that happened, someone had to buy the seeds, plant them, water and cultivate the plants, harvest them at the proper time, and arrange for their shipment to the processing plant. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people involved in some tiny way in getting these one-pound bags of brussel sprouts into a freezer case at Argus, where each bag sells for just $1.12.

And I thought it was wonderful. I was amazed, just imagining the process by which all these strangers cooperated in getting these bags into my hands and into the display cases. And we do it, we cooperate, not because any of us have a particular love of brussel sprouts or feeding the masses or serving society, but because each of us is getting a penny or two, or maybe a fraction of a penny, for each bag that someone will voluntarily choose to purchase. For me, it was Milton Friedman’s pencil all over again, only better, because unlike pencils, brussel sprouts can be sautéed with garlic.

These thoughts persist for a while. Then other, darker ones, begin to intrude.

Every big-box store gets products on the shelves in basically the same fashion. There is a computerized inventory system linking the cash registers, the backroom storage areas, managers on the sales floor, and the central (or regional) warehouse. The system tracks every item sold along with goods that are removed from the system because they are damaged or because nobody wants to buy them. When the backroom guys see that a product has been sold, they throw some more in a cart to replenish the shelves. When the warehouse sees the backroom is running low on something, it ships more. Some actual physical counting still occurs, but it is kept to a minimum.

I am a “pusher,” the last link in the chain that may start in a Peruvian mine or a factory in the Philippines. I take carts full of merchandise from the backroom, push them out onto the floor, and place each item in its proper location. When I have finished a cart, I get another one, and then another, and then another. There are always more carts, full of pillows, Milk Duds, bookcases, diapers, can openers and Advil. I am shoving a boulder up the mountain of American consumerism and I will never get to the top.

After a couple of shifts of this, you stop marveling at the magic of Milton Friedman’s pencil and you begin to wonder just how many different types of sippy cups America really needs. I mean, there’s Spongebob and Cars and Thumbelina, and every Sesame Street character you can remember and Mickey and the royal princesses Sleeping Beauty, Belle and Cinderella (either by themselves or shoulder-to-shoulder with the others) and an endless array of unnamed cartoon kitties and puppies and clams and bunnies and monkeys and fish and bears and squid, and each one is available in five or six or seven different colors. About the only thing you can’t get in a sippy cup is PBA because, well, I don’t know why and I don’t know what PBA is, but it’s obviously something you don’t want your baba sucking on because along the entire sippy cup aisle at Argus, you can’t find one that doesn’t say PBA FREE or CONTAINS NO PBA or some variation thereof.

Another thing you wonder about, given current trends, is how long it will be before every commercial food product, including Oscar Mayer Wieners, is flavored with either green tea or pomegranate.

Then there are the deodorants. Now I suppose I’m like most guys where such things are concerned. When the old one runs out, I stroll through the deodorant section and grab a Speed Stick or a Mennen product, figuring that this makes me about as debonair and hygienic as any guy who’s not named George Clooney really needs to be. If you spend an entire afternoon in the deodorant aisle at Argus, however, as I have, you find there are deodorants designed for the darkest corners of the human psyche, though you wonder whether even the most powerful roll-on, applied to the armpit, can penetrate that deeply.

A 1.7 ounce stick of Dove Clinical Protection, for example, sells for $8.39, as does the 1.6 ounce size of Secret Clinical Strength. I paused as I loaded them into their slots. Who buys these? Who would spend that kind of money, I wondered. The word “clinical,” though, is what really scared me, since it suggests there are people so smelly they require a doctor’s care rather than, say, a bath. Are there such people, with a stink rooted in pathology? Or Satan? And do they shop at Argus? Without orders from a physician, I think I would be afraid to use these products. I mean, what happens when Dove Clinical Protection gets applied to a normal sort of armpit? Is there an explosion?

Degree Absolute Protection is another high-end item, though since it is for men, and men will not spend eight bucks on deodorant, it was a bit cheaper. Again, the name seems unnecessarily intimidating, though I guess the “absolute” is really just a bit of sales puffery. It won’t protect you from an asteroid, for example. What troubled me more was the claim under the brand name; there, the customer is informed that Degree Absolute Protection “RESPONDS TO ADRENALIN.” Well, OK, I thought. Fine. It’s a scientific breakthrough and all. But to what end? Are there really people who are concerned that their deodorant will fail them as they are pursued by a lion across the veldt? Or, closer to home, when the mugger puts the barrel of a .38 behind your ear and cocks the hammer, is your first thought going to be, “Gosh, I wonder if my Right Guard can handle this.”?

And finally, let’s discuss Hannah Montana for a moment, because if you ever hear this humble, right-wing, free-market narrator say, “You know, that Noam Chomsky guy has some interesting ideas,” or “Maybe we should pay more attention to what Fidel has to say,” it will be because pushing Hannah Montana products (which I do every single day of my working life) has finally turned me into a communist. The last time I looked, there were over 200 Hannah Montana items at Argus, and there were more than 500 around Christmastime. Hannah Montana, the character played by Miley Cyrus on the most valuable TV show Disney has ever produced, is on shoes, drapes, chewing gum, tents, skateboards, TVs, guitar picks, fishing rods, shower curtains, waffles, washcloths, sleeping bags, chairs, DVD players, hats, toothbrush holders, body mist, folding stools, backpacks, dolls, dinnerware, video games, shirts, soap dishes, roller skates, dollhouses, sheets, handbags, camcorders, rain slickers, cosmetics, dance mats, board games, band-aids, towels, hair accessories, MP3 players, lunchboxes, karaoke machines, thermos bottles, white boards, bath gel, comforters, sandals, digital cameras, photo cubes, chairs, and swim floats, just to name a few. A pusher like me works alone, interrupted only by the occasional inquiry regarding the whereabouts of ironing board covers (answer: section B24), and there is plenty of time for an initial amusement and wonder at the Hannah phenomenon to morph into a spiritual malaise, and eventually into a festering madness and a world of fantasy in which Hannah, I, and a case of her signature Eggo frozen waffles are locked in a room from which only I, ultimately, emerge.

One entertains these thoughts and asks these questions as one feeds, endlessly, the gaping maw of the American consumer.

But of course, when the shift is over and sanity returns, I realize I wouldn’t have it any other way. The one thing we all must admit about Hannah Montana products and sippy cups and deodorants is that people want them. They really want them. They may not say they want them, they may even say they don’t want them, but in fact, they want them so much they drive to Argus, grab them, and take money out of their pockets to pay for them. If people did not want them, they would not be on the shelves because Argus is utterly heartless where non-selling products are concerned. We don’t sell lima beans, for example. I wondered about that for a while, suspecting that some Argus executive had a secret hatred of lima beans based in some horrific childhood incident. (We do sell brussel sprouts, which are far less popular, generally, than lima beans.) But when I asked about it, I was told we used to offer lima beans but they were pulled when nobody bought them. Other Argus stores sell lima beans. Philadelphians, however, don’t like lima beans very much. So they’re not on our shelves.

But we do sell dozens of sippy cups and dozens of deodorants and hundreds of Hannah products, and the only reason we do is that people want them. Don’t ask me why, but they do. They could spend their money on shrimp cocktails or tank tops or a high-priced prostitute, but instead they spend it on a Dora the Explorer sippy cup. And I say God bless them, and long may they wave. Because the alternative to having individuals choose what they buy is to have somebody else choose what they buy. Those are the only two alternatives, and I come down strongly in favor of the former.

People in our government are now engaged in deciding what kind of car you can drive, and they are using your money and mine to implement their choices. Why? Why can’t I pick the car I want, as I always have? And why, if somebody else is going to choose the car I drive, is it always the last person I would choose to make that decision? In the Soviet Union, it was some anonymous apparatchik in a gray suit who didn’t know much about cars and what people liked to do in them, and who didn’t care what anybody else thought. Here, it’s people like Joe Biden, who thinks we all watched TV in the 1920’s, and Nancy Pelosi, who thinks natural gas is a renewable resource, like wind. Or it’s Barney Frank, who---well, never mind. Even left-wingers view these people as little more than clowns. They don’t even drive cars very often; they usually get driven around by others.

If somebody gets to decide what kind of car we all have to drive, why can’t it be somebody cool? Why can’t it be Charles Barkley, or Eminem, or Sean Connery? I could accept any of them because all of them are way cooler than I am. Not that any of them would get it right, of course---nobody on earth can come up with a car that would satisfy everybody---but at least they drive cars and have probably used them for a variety of fun activities that do NOT include transport to the Select Subcommittee On Pacific Salmon Fisheries And Global Warming. But we never get cool people to make these decisions, do we? We never get Sean Connery. No, it’s always a bunch of power-drunk dullards who have never had a regular job and wouldn’t know how to fornicate in the back seat of a Malibu if you planted Pamela Anderson there with a bottle of tequila.

There are many theories about the fall of the Soviet communism, but I’ve always thought that, unlike at Argus, there just weren’t enough sippy cups. In a centrally-planned economy, there is simply no mechanism to determine what people want, and therefore, people never get what they want, and eventually they grow bitter about it. In a market economy that depends on a price system, the only things that are offered for sale are things that people seek and are willing to pay for. At Argus, if something sells, I put more of that item on the shelf; if it doesn’t, we throw that item in the dumpster. The information contained in the choices of consumers is what makes Argus money and gives me a job (and satisfies consumers). Without that information, there is no way to find out what people want.

The example I like to use comes from Bill James, noted sabermetrician and consultant to the Boston Red Sox. James points out that many people criticize the practice of paying millions or tens of millions to baseball players. Think what we could do with that money if we could devote it to cancer research instead, say the critics. All of us have heard some form of this argument at one time or another.

If you’re honest about it, there’s really only one explanation for this use of society’s resources---we want good baseball players more than we want a cure for cancer. It’s simply a fact. Personally, I think about cancer about once a month, or maybe a bit more frequently if I have some unexplained pain in my gut. But I think about the Phillies every day of my life. I think about them on January 8th and I think about them on Superbowl Sunday. I think about the Phillies on Christmas morning and on Cinco de Mayo, and I think about them constantly in late September. And there is nothing unusual about me. Overall, America wants good baseball more than it wants a cure for cancer, and we know that because baseball is where America spends its money.

This autonomic, amoral aspect of free markets is the central feature of capitalism. It gives people what they want, what they really want, rather than what they say they want or what they feel they should want or what some political group thinks would be best for all of us. And it is this feature, more than any other, that separates liberals from conservatives. For a right-winger like me, the price system is a wonder of nature in its ability, without any outside supervision, to provide happiness for millions of individuals who want millions of different things. This is especially so when you look at alternative systems, like communism, which fail so miserably to provide even the most basic goods. But what I love about it, that it gives people what they want, is exactly the same thing the left hates. For collectivists, a system that satisfies the multitudinous desires of individuals is wasteful, and selfish, and inefficient. They would prefer to settle on something that’s good for everybody and not worry so much about whether a particular individual gets exactly the sippy cup he wants.

And of course, I can’t make an argument that America needs all its sippy cups or deodorants or Hannah products. Nobody can make that argument. I don’t even know what “need” means in this context. What I can say is that if Sally really wants a box of Hannah Montana frozen waffles, I want Sally to get those waffles because I want a lot of things that other people disapprove of too, but I want them anyway. If Sally doesn’t get her Hannah waffles, I may not get my beer or my potato chips, and Barney Frank will certainly decide, in all his wisdom, that my 1992 Tercel just isn’t green enough to stay on the streets.