Archive for September, 2007

I pick, therefore I grin

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Nashville Cats, play clean as country water
Nashville Cats, play wild as mountain dew
Nashville Cats, been playin’ since they’s babies
Nashville Cats, get work before they’re two

Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two
guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants
on a Tennessee anthill

There’s thirteen hundred and fifty-two
guitar cases in Nashville
And anyone that unpacks his guitar
can play twice as better than I will

-”Nashville Cats”, by John Sebastian

We’re about to leave home to visit my brother-in-law for an extra-long 4-day weekend, and while we’re there I’ll be helping him set up some new computer equipment in his practice studio. Did I mention that my B-I-L is in a singing group? He and his buddies get together almost every weekend and sing up a storm, and about once a year they record a CD and sell copies out of the trunks of their cars. The first few years they did this, they sought out small producers around the Houston area where studio time was cheap (about fifty bucks an hour), and if they were reasonably well-prepared they could nail a dozen or so tracks in just a few hours. Add in mastering and duplication, and the total cost to make a couple of hundred CD’s came out to a pretty reasonable price. It didn’t matter to them that the result wasn’t as perfect as it might have been if they’d spent more time and/or money on it; they did it mostly just for fun.

As the years rolled by, though, they developed something of a fan base, and had a need for higher-quality production values as well as for more quantity; thus began their annual trek to Nashville. The town is called “Music City” for a very good reason; everything in the area revolves around the business of making and selling music. The best players from all over the world flock to Nashville in droves to get work, and because of the intense competition, you can get high-quality talent at a very fair cost. The life of a session player has always fascinated me; I think it’s amazing that some people go to work nine-to-five and pick guitar for a living just like some other folks might flip burgers or work a desk job. But while it might sound glamorous, in reality it’s not so much. These guys aren’t big stars with their names up in lights; they’re just average working stiffs who practice their craft with tools that just happen to be guitars, horns, and keyboards instead of hammers and saws. They’re professionals, and do their job very well.

Ray (my B-I-L) and the rest of his group are getting ready for this fall’s trip to Music City, and their producer just recently sent them first-draft demos of the music they plan to record this year. Nashville musicians and producers are extremely versatile; you can send them elaborately-annotated charts of exactly what you want, or you can just say “give me something in a 8-bar E-A progression with a couple hooks in the middle and a bucket of fish at the end.” (“Bucket of fish”, BTW, is slang lingo for that little drum hook at the end of a song; if you say “bucketafish” sort of fast, with the emphasis on the last syllable, it’s a rough approximation of a drum lick that goes “ba-ba-da-boom”. This is one of many things my BIL has taught me about recording in Nashville.) In any case, they’ll perform your composition however you want it, all you then have to do is add your vocals and your own backing musicians, if any, and voil – a complete album ready to be mastered, pressed, and released to the world.

Technology has changed many of the ways that music is produced. Not only can the average person now afford to have a computer loaded with a “virtual” studio full of recording gear and instruments that sound just like their physical counterparts (and might have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars) just a few years ago, it’s also possible to have session players located physically anywhere in the world who play together like they’re sitting in the same room. You can easily tweak mixes to your liking, which is why Ray’s producer sent him these demos. That way, any changes he might want to make can be accommodated in advance, which saves valuable studio time when they get in town next month to sing their vocals.

Ray forwarded a copy of the tracks to me to get my opinion, and I first have to confess that although Ray’s music has been getting better and better each year, I wasn’t all that into his particular style and may have been somewhat blasé about it. But this stuff blew me away, and because you, dear Wind In The Wire readers, are such an exclusive, sophisticated and fortunate bunch, I wanted to share two of these tracks with you to see what you think. Keep in mind that these are first draft demo mixes, not meant to be representative of the finished product, but rather something to convey the general “feel” of the song — no melodies, just the basic structure. But listen to these first, then I’ll hit you with a surprise.

The first track is the album opener, an uptempo number:




Whoa! This next one is my favorite, a mellow, bluesy song that sounds like it might easily be sung by someone like Bonnie Raitt. I find myself getting really drawn into the headphones when I listen to this one.



Not too shabby, eh? Now the kicker: Ray’s singing group is a gospel quartet. Surprised? These two tracks are not exactly what comes to mind when I think “southern gospel”, but Ray and his band are trying to appeal to a broader audience. When two of the members of the group retired a couple of years ago, they were replaced by singers in their early 20′s. That hasn’t made the quartet into a “boy band” by a long shot, but the new guys (in addition to being immensely talented) are not bad to look at either, which has increased their appeal with younger listeners, particularly females. I told him all they need to add is some N-Sync style choreography and flash pots and they’ll be ready for an HBO special.I might just tag along when they go to Music City next month. Even though I got to see the place about this time last year, it still would be fun, and I’d really enjoy being in the middle of all that recording technology. Who knows? They might even ask me to play a few licks. (Yeah, right.)Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Note: These tunes are © 2007 Gospel Express. All rights reserved.

Arrrrr!

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Avast, ye scurvy dogs! Today is “National Talk Like A Pirate Day“, a day scalliwags o’ all stripes ha’bn celebratin’ for many a’year now. So fly yer Jolly Roger, hoist a pint o’grog and talk like a Pirate today, matey!

Courtesy o’ them fine swashbucklers over at The Unclyclopedia, herrrrrrrrre’s some facts n’ historrrrrrry about this here special holiday:

• The Beginning – The Great FSM creates all that is, including his chosen people, the Pirates.

• 1756 – The Dread Pirate Wesley single handedly defeated the entire Spanish Armada in single combat.

• 1778 – The Continental Congress passes the first budget of the United States, budgeting 10,000 doubloons for defense, 5000 pieces of eight for social programs, and additional booty to highways.

• 1796 – George Washington makes his farewell address, saying “Aye me mateys, it were good being captain of this fine ship of state.”

• 1957 – First U.S. underground nuclear bomb test is conducted, shivering timbers as far as 500 km. away.

• 1959 – After Nikita Khrushchev is barred from visiting Disneyland, he threatens to “keel haul” a man dressed in a Goofy suit.

• 1970 – Pirates the world over rejoice at Oldsmobile’s launch of the Cutlass Supreme.

• 1982 – Feared corsair Patch-Eyed Pete posts first recorded instance of an emoticon, P-) to an online bulletin board.

• 1985 – First pirate movie released. It is rated ARRRRRRRRRRR!!!!

• 1989 – “Pirate radio” goes on the air and is fined for gratuitous use of the words “scalliwag” and “booty.”

• 1995 – First Talk Like a Pirate Day. It rapidly replaces Talk Like a Ninja Day, which involved people saying nothing so as to conceal their presence.

Now if you’ve been a landlubber fer too long to remember how t’ talk like a pirate, you might want t’ look at this Pirate Speak Translator website. And finally, ‘ere’s a little Pirate Joke t’ get ya in the mood:

A pirate walked into a bar and the bartender said, “Hey, I haven’t seen you in a while. What happened? You look terrible.”

“What do you mean?” said the pirate, “I feel fine.”

“What about the wooden leg? You didn’t have that before.”

“Well, we was in a battle and I got ‘it with a cannon ball, but I’m fine now.”

“Well, okay, but what about that hook? “What happened to your hand?”

“We was in another battle. I boarded a ship and got into a sword fight. Me ‘and was cut off. I got fitted with a ‘ook. I’m fine, really.”

“What about that eye patch?”

“One day we was out a-ridin’ the waves and a flock o’ sea gulls flew over. I looked up and one of ‘em shit in me eye.”

“You’re kidding,” said the bartender, “you couldn’t lose an eye just from some bird shit.”

“It was me first day with the ‘ook.”

Arrrrrrgh!

Podcasts

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

I’ve had a couple of requests to make my weekly radio show available in podcast format, so I decided to start recording them and putting them up on Odeo. If you like Electronic Dance Music (aka “techno” or “trance“) and/or are curious to hear what I sound like as a DJ, just click here or on the button at the bottom of this post to go to my podcast site. Each program runs about an hour and 40 minutes or so, and kicking off the mix is my annual “Burning Man” show from Labor Day weekend, which features songs about fire and a few sound clips from festival participants. As I do new shows each week, I’ll try to add them to the podcast.

If the names Van Buuren, Van Dyk, Tiesto, Oakenfold, Above & Beyond, Blank & Jones, or Solarstone are familiar to you then you’ll probably enjoy the mostly progressive mix. However, electronic dance music (which has been derisively referred to as “21st century disco”) is an acquired taste that not everyone cares for, and I certainly will understand if it’s not your cup of tea. The worst of the genre can be repetitive, boring, artificial tripe. But on the other hand, the best of it can be melodic, uplifting and euphoric — and if you’re truly able to “let go” into the rhythm, you’ll see why it’s called “trance”; under the right circumstances, the unrelenting beats topped by soaring melody lines can be hypnotic, creating what some call “mental synthscapes”. Another describes it as “a magical incantation, a journey which breaks free of all physical and spiritual bounds, diving deep into the midst of imagination where no laws apply. It is a means to a higher state of consciousness.”

Trance music is much more popular in Europe (where it originated) than here in this country, and indeed it was during my travels around the continent in 2002 that I was first exposed to it. I distinctly recall one night in Zurich, Switzerland, when I quite accidentally stumbled upon a rave being held in a huge warehouse near my hotel as I was returning for the evening. I decided to check it out, and was awestruck by the sight of thousands of people dancing wildly to flashing strobe lights and throbbing beats which you could quite literally feel in your gut; I’ve been fascinated with the music ever since.

“Trance music in Morocco is magical in origin and purpose, concerned with the evocation and control of spiritual forces. In Morocco musicians are magicians. Gnauoa music is used to drive out evil spirits. The music of Jajouka evokes the God Pan, God of Panic, representing the real magical forces that sweep away the spurious. It is to be remembered that the origin of all arts — music, painting, and writing — is magical and evocative, and that magic is always used to obtain some definite result.”
~ W. S. Burroughs
My Odeo Podcast

Holiday shopping, already?

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Judging by the many catalogs that have begun arriving in our mailbox over the last couple of weeks, retailers are going straight from “Back To School” to “Christmas”. The official holiday shopping season now apparently starts immediately after Labor Day, with Halloween and Thanksgiving only minor diversions on the path to rampant consumerism.

So as a public service to any Wind In The Wire readers who might like to get a jump start on their holiday gift-buying, I’ve decided to present a few suggestions straight from the latest catalog I received, one of those stores that specializes in “As Seen On TV” items. The products and pictures are real, but I’ve taken some, er, “creative liberties” with the descriptions. Enjoy.

Note: To make this interesting, one of the items below is the actual, honest-to-goodness, un-retouched description of the product pictured. Can you guess which one?

AUTOMATIC CLOTHES WRINKLER

Who needs crisp, pressed clothes? The button-down look is “out” and the casual “rumpled” look is “in”. You can easily add that crinkly look to your outfit with these special vacuum bags that suck out all the air and leave shirts, dresses and suits looking like they’ve been slept in for a week, but they’re still clean! Clothes can also be conveniently frozen for later use.

OLD FART PHONE

Losing your hearing and eyesight? Welcome to the 21st century, Grandma! But with this special amplified phone with extra-big buttons you can still call the Home Shopping Channel any time you like without having to put in your hearing aid. Now only $19.98, marked down drastically from the former price ($20.02).

FRIENDLY SLIME MONSTER!

Distant relative to the “Tribble” of Star Trek fame, this critter lives in your bathroom and eats slime for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You may never have to clean your sink again. Loves people too, in fact will occasionally jump out of the sink and attach itself to your foot (right photo), but a couple of good smacks will send it back where it belongs. Can also be trained to fetch your paper, pipe, and slippers if you have a lot of patience and are into that sort of thing.

TUBE O’ TOILET GOO

What a hilarious prank, makes a great holiday gift. Comes in a 32 oz. tube with handy applicator plunger. Squeezes out easily and hardens to a black, rubber-like consistency, guaranteed to clog any commode ever made. Marked down 25%, so get one for all your friends!

DIM BULB

Say hello to Fred, our idiot brother-in-law. He’s not too smart and doesn’t have a job, so we’re trying to find him a home. (He used to be an electrician, but lost his license because the last house he worked on burned down, so that’s why there’s “no wiring”). As the illustration shows, he doesn’t require much; just shove him in your closet, cabinet, or attic and feed him every now and then.

SUPER GEEKY GLASSES!

Have you heard? The “Geek Chic” look is IN this season, and if you think regular glasses make you look nerdy, wait until you slip on a pair of these extra-large coke bottles. You won’t be just “four-eyes” any more; with interchangeable and stackable lenses, you can go all the way up to “twelve-eyes”! Special headlight included to find your way around dark basements or while holed up in the computer closet.

BRAIN ZAPPER!

Too smart for your own good? Use our patented Brain Zapper to kill off brain cells faster than drugs or alcohol, with none of the needless expense or vomiting. Will lower IQ by at least one point for each zap. Successfully tested on executives of large corporations like Enron, as well as many current members of the Bush administration.

HUNGRY FREAKIN’ DOG

Grocery bill not high enough? Get this huge but lovable hungry freakin’ dog! This monster will tear through a 40-pound bag of dog chow every day (left photo), scratch your door to smithereens trying to get out (right photo), and then poop all over your lawn (not shown). Quantities limited, order today!

AUTOMATIC TREE ALARM

Never worry about a tree jumping out into the road and biting your car again with our exclusive Tree Alarm. Simply install the receiver unit in your auto, place a transmitter on each tree you wish to avoid running into, and you’ll be alerted whenever you’re within 400 feet of it. Also works great with telephone poles, parking meters, and elderly persons. One 9-volt battery per tree (sold separately) required. Last chance, so stock up!

THE ORGAZMATRON

Husband often out of town on business? Boyfriend too busy watching football to call you? Who needs him when you’ve got the “Rock-N-Go” (formerly known as the “Rock-N-Come”)! Here’s just a few of the many, many reasons why this product is much better than a man:

• Always there only for your pleasure
• Won’t ask you to bring it a beer
• Easy to turn on or off
• Won’t get you pregnant, give you a disease, or make you watch NASCAR
• Your mother will never ask you what it does for a living
• Doesn’t snore, belch, or fart
• Won’t cheat on you or flirt with your friends
• Understands if you’re not in the mood

Order The Orgazmatron today – “satisfaction” guaranteed!

FAKE BEARD LASER PEN

For the guy who wants the sporty look of a beard but is “facially challenged”, here’s just the thing: the Hercules Hook Beard Marker™. Throughout history, men with beards have been ascribed various attributes such as wisdom, sexual virility, or high status, and some religious groups actually require one. With our patented laser pen, you’ll be a dapper dan in mere seconds! Semi-permanent, but can be removed with ordinary household battery acid.

UP YOUR NOSE WITH A RUBBER HOSE!

Tired of carrying pails of water around your house? Use this nifty product instead. It’s easy!! Just …

1. Haul it from the garage, pantry, or wherever you store it
2. Unroll the hose, taking care to get all the kinks out
3. Remove your kitchen sink faucet and attach the hose adapter with a 9/16″ crescent wrench
4. Attach the hose to the adapter with a dual-spanner Phizzer valve (not included)
5. Turn on the water and check for leaks, re-tighten all connections
6. Water your plants (right)
7. Shut off the water at the sink and remove the Phizzer valve, taking care not to strip the threads
8. Roll up the hose, taking care to not kink it
9. Clean up the water from inside the hose that you spilled all over the kitchen floor in step #8
9. Store the hose back away again
10. Re-attach your kitchen faucet

Now, wasn’t that easier than carrying a pail of water all of three feet from the sink to your plants?

KITCHEN BRICK SLICER

For those who might need a little more fiber in their diet, try a tasty brick for dinner with some flava beans and a nice chianti. Special Tungsten Carbide blade quickly cuts bricks into thin easy-to-serve slices with no muss or fuss. Also works well on overcooked meat loaf and holiday fruitcake. Makes a great gift!

GIANT POSTERBOARD

Get a jump on that next school or craft project with this huge 6′ x 6′ poster board. Can be stored under the mattress until needed. 25% off! (Extra shipping charges may apply.)

BRITNEY SPEARS WORKOUT VIDEO!

Yes, you too can have the Britney Spears “look”, as seen on the recent MTV Video Music Awards! This video details all the steps necessary, including gum-smacking, partying until dawn, shaving your head, and flashing your private parts for the camera. Special cheese-puff and margarita diet guarantees fast results!

TATER MITTS

Tough-skin mitts remove a very thin outer layer of potato so there’s more for everyone to enjoy! Peels a potato in eight seconds! Thick, waterproof rubber gloves are safe to use and won’t result in nicks or cuts.

CURFEW ENFORCER

If you have a child who’s been “grounded” but sometimes sneaks out of his room, you need this item! Keeps the door locked securely so he can’t get out, and will sound a loud alarm and jolt him with a 120-volt shock of electricity if he tries to grab the doorknob. For complete protection, all you need to do is board up the windows. Also indispensable for keeping your teenage daughter away from that nasty thug of a boyfriend she hangs out with.

WORLD’S SMALLEST PERSONAL MP3 PLAYER!

MP3 players keep getting smaller, and this one’s so tiny it fits right into your ear. Huge 128 byte “giga-memory” will store portions of many of your favorite songs! Buy two for stereo.

GLADYS, OUR NOSY NEIGHBOR

Unique one-of-a-kind item, and what a bargain too! You’ll save 60 percent when you order Gladys, our annoying next-door neighbor who thinks it’s OK to just “pop in” anytime she feels like it as long as she brings a couple of glasses of her lousy watered-down iced tea. She’ll yack and yack and won’t shut up, and is harder to get rid of than a toenail fungus. But we’ll be more than happy to stuff the old bat into a box and send her to whoever ponies up $14.98. First come, first served!

COFFEE SPRAYER

Mornings can be hectic, and often you’re in such a rush to get to work that you don’t even have time to drink your coffee. Instead, just plug in this Good Housekeeping coffee sprayer, and in seconds you’ll have a fine mist of 100% Arabica coffee ready to inhale the caffeine directly into your lungs. Ladies, give your man a quick snort o’ Joe as he runs out the door on the way to the office, just like in the photo. Also perfect for college students! Now 20% off!

PATIO BODY TRUNK

Can’t figure out how to get rid of that pesky mother-in-law or irritating co-worker? There’ll be nothing left but her hat and shoes (first photo, right) when you stuff her into the Patio Body Trunk. Patented secret chemical formula speeds decomposition with no messy dismembering (second photo) required. Note: offer void where prohibited.

“DANGEROUS” LINT SUCKER!

Spontaneous combustion, nasal blockage, toxic contamination, ultrasonic radiation … who knew ordinary dryer lint could be so dangerous? You don’t want to touch that shit with a ten-foot pole, so here’s the next best thing: a 3-foot vacuum attachment that sucks lint and swallows too! Can also be used to remove chrome from trailer hitches! Only $9.98!

So which one do you think is “real” … hard to tell, isn’t it?

All about Librarians

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Librarians hoard the wisdom of humanity. They are the keepers of all knowledge, the guardians at the temples of understanding, and devoted protectors of the sanctuary in the midst of uneducated anarchy. Plus, they are often aware of very cheap places to dine alone with books. Let us not mince words: as Stephen Colbert so profoundly stated, “librarians are hiding something”.™ A group of librarians is also known as a shoosh.

Super Powers

Most librarians’ super powers are relegated to mind reading, reference and collection development. Some librarians have heightened awareness for cataloging and categorization. Most enjoy fining patrons for late and or damaged materials.

Years spent in the quiet environment of the library have also heightened their awareness of movement within the library. This, coupled with the powers of mind-reading, gives them much knowledge as to the whereabouts and activities of patrons. Both of these combined with the heightened awareness for cataloguing and categorization provide fair warning when a patron is about to re-shelve a book on their own, which is the bane of library organization, and the librarian can inform the patron to “Please leave all unwanted materials on top of the shelves, on tables, or on provided stands. Direct spontaneous combustion may occur otherwise.”

They often know the answer to a reference question prior to being asked. This super-power is heightened when it being asked by a college student with a hangover. The answer is always “Our collection of government documents related to drunk driving laws are located over here.”

Additionally, librarians can identify the enemies of the library system by smell: thieves, small children, politicians, tax payers, homeless people, teenagers, porn addicts, and the elusive library masturbator. These enemies are vanquished typically with the famous “Shhh” or the newer phrase “I’m calling the police.”

Cats

All real librarians have cats, however some deviant librarians also have dogs. Librarians who lack cats and or corrective lenses should not be trusted as they are abnormal to the species and should be destroyed.

Hobbies

Librarians can often be seen reading for recreation. Some enjoy sniffing book spines to ascertain the age of books in a competition known as “Guess how old this is.” Master librarians can even smell a book’s ISBN. (This skill prevents librarians from enjoying the delicate art of kitten snarfling.) They also frequently knit, play scrabble, and do crossword puzzles when they’re not out rampaging with their motorcycle gangs and getting awesome tattoos.

Attire

All librarian attire is loose, layered and comfortable. Librarian clothes may be slept in for several days prior to wearing outside of the home. Cat fur is always present on pant cuffs and typically on sleeves as well. Elbow patches, bow ties and pipes are optional for men as well as women, though it should be noted that pipes are never smoked in the presence of books as the tobacco may damage them. It is also not unusual to find the color worn away from one knee of a librarian’s pants, created by frequent kneeling to shelve items on the lower shelves.

Knitting paraphernalia is often used as an accessory, in addition to:

  • Pens
  • Keys
  • The Jolly Roger
  • Paperclips
  • Barcodes
  • Ponies
  • Date Stamps and Pads
  • Rules of Conduct
  • Tote bags

The Book Love

In a recent scientific study librarians were reported to love books. Book love is described in the DSM-IV under Delirium, Dementia, and Amnestic and Other Cognitive Disorders as:

  1. The presence of book love as manifested by motoric immobility, excessive motor activity (that is apparently purposeless and not influenced by external stimuli), extreme negativism or mutism, peculiarities of voluntary movement, or echolalia or echopraxia.
  2. There is evidence from the history, physical examination, or laboratory findings that the disturbance is the direct physiological consequence of reading.
  3. The disturbance is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g., a Manic Episode).
  4. The disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of a Delirium.

Average people only like books, and should not be trusted with books for more than 21 days in a row without incurring a daily fine of no less than ten cents per day for each day after 21 days, however this fine should not to exceed the replacement cost of the item.

How to Vanquish a Librarian

TIP! Vanquishing Librarians is most effective in non-book environments.

Repeat the following incantation three times “Your field is obsolete and you will be replaced with improved content and slicker GUI interfacia from Google.” This should be sufficient to destroy the non-technical librarian.

A geekier librarian may be resistant to this incantation and should simply be bludgeoned with the first volume of the OED or a similarly large reference book.

Trivia

A widely publicized gesture in which a female librarian unfastens her hair and shakes it loose is an ancient code used among male and female librarians to signal each other. Though the action was long believed to be a mating zritual it was later discovered to be a call to an unrelated ritual in which the male implants seeds of doubt, which the female then destroys by conducting further research.

Source: The Uncylopedia

See Fred. See Fred run.

Monday, September 10th, 2007

I’m annoyed by the recent announcement that Fred Dalton Thompson has officially entered the 2008 presidential race. Many conservatives were positively orgasmic about Thompson, believing him to be the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, but a lot of them — particularly the religious right — are starting to have second thoughts now that he’s officially a candidate, so this is a point in his favor for me. Still, even though he seems like an affable sort of guy (at least for a Republican), I disagree with his stance on most of the issues.

But that’s not what annoys me. No, I’m pissed that I won’t be able to watch any more episodes of my favorite TV show, “Law & Order”, in which Thompson appears. Federal campaign law requires broadcasters to give all candidates equal time on the airwaves, a rule which even applies to entertainment programs like L&O. TV stations that run the show would be required to give other GOP candidates a like amount of prime-time exposure, a move which would be prohibitively expensive.

“As a practical matter, they (the television stations) would in all likelihood have to pull all of the Fred Thompson shows for the duration of his candidacy,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the non-profit telecommunications law firm Media Access Project.

The L&O hiatus would not be without precedent; stations also dropped “Bedtime for Bonzo” and other Ronald Reagan movies during his campaigns for governor and president, and TV stations in California pulled movies starring Ahhhnold when he also ran for governor of the state in 2003.

There is some hope for me; the FCC has — yet — never applied the equal-time provision to cable TV channels, where most of the L&O reruns appear. However, several legal experts said cable often abides by voluntary equal-time guidelines in the hopes of avoiding a legal case that would set a precedent, and Thompson’s situation could spark just such a case. If TNT continues to hold all-day marathons of episodes featuring Thompson, as it often does now, one of his rivals could seek to apply the equal-time rule to cable as well as over-the-air TV.

The L&O episodes featuring Thompson as tough-talking NYC District Attorney Arthur Branch are some of my favorites of the entire series. He portrays his character as a straight shooter, a no-nonsense kind of guy who says what he means and means what he says. It’s an image that I’m certain Thompson would like to present in real life as well, but as with many other cases, reality isn’t nearly as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. While his hardscrabble small-town-boy-makes-good story reverberates with the public (not to mention sympathy for the loss of his daughter Betsy in 2002), the “real” Fred Thompson has not accomplished very much in public life. The ex-senator’s legislative record reveals little in the way of a compelling legacy, and he is known more for his TV personae than for being a champion of the people.

Nevertheless, his entry into the race has injected a little extra interest and excitement into the 2008 campaign, and I can’t wait for someone to post a mash-up video on YouTube of clips from Thompson’s L&O scenes rearranged into a faux “press conference” parody of him as president. (You know someone’s got to be working on that at this very moment.)

I am further going to be so bold as to predict that Thompson will eventually win the Republican nomination. He will choose Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander as his running mate, and they will face off against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, with whom she will make up and choose as her running mate. Who will prevail in the end? The crystal ball’s still a little foggy there, but a Clinton/Obama ticket would be formidable, and a win-win for the Democrats; I doubt that Obama has the strength or experience to take the nomination away from Hillary at the convention, but VP experience would give him a virtual lock on the White House in 2012 or 2016.

It bothers me to think that some people might vote for Thompson simply on the basis of his TV popularity — but then, there’s the Ronald Reagan factor again. I am equally troubled that millions of people might vote for Barak Obama for no other reason than he’s been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. What does it say about our society when celebrities and entertainers become our leaders? Are we really a nation of sheep? I am not alone in thinking that if Oprah herself ran for president, she would probably win by a landslide.

But what’s the alternative? After all, this is a country that has now twice elected a dimwit for president — so anything is possible. God help us.