OK, now, we wanna see a good clean fight

November 27, 2005|By DAN RODRICKS

When the Baltimore City Council took a position on the war in Iraq last week, I had deja vu all over again. In the good ol' days, the council constantly took positions on a wide array of issues beyond its authority, or grasp, and the debates were rich with rhetoric. One night in the early 1980s the topic was national defense, and then-Councilman John A. Schaefer, who thought it was a good idea, stood to say: "Preparedness is the best detergent against aggression." And who could argue?

Wide of the network

I called Comcast to order the NHL Center Ice package - that is, 40 live telecasts of National Hockey league games a week, through the Stanley Cup playoffs, at a cost of about $20 a month. This was my first time ordering a Comcast "extra," and I did so because (a) the people and dogs in my house like ice hockey, and (b) if you go to an actual Washington Caps game at the MCI Center, the lower-level tickets are $75 to $90 each, and a seat on the fourth-level mezzanine side goes for $50.

So $20 bucks for a monthly marathon of hockey games seemed like a bargain. (And besides, how many times can you watch Tremors?)

Unfortunately, the Comcast sales associate had no idea what I was talking about. She insisted that I wanted hockey on a pay-per-view basis. She kept saying, "Pay per view," as if she had been hypnotized to repeat the words whenever someone mentioned hockey.

The call ended in a tie.

I called back the next night, and got a sales associate named Jared. I don't know if the conversation was recorded, but it should have been. Obviously, Jared had aced the training class titled "Messing With Our Base: How overqualified sales associates for a monopolistic cable television company can blow off steam by blowing off customers."

Here's how I remember it:

"Welcome to Comcast," Jared said, in a bored-to-death voice I've heard in desk sergeants working the graveyard shift.

"Jared," I said, "you know that NHL Center Ice package you're offering?"

"What are you asking me, sir?"

"I'm asking about the NHL Center Ice package."

"Are you asking if I am familiar with it?"

"Yeah, OK, I guess ... "

"How may I help you, sir?"

"Are you familiar with it?"

"How may I help you?"

"I'd like the NHL package."

"Do you wish to order it, sir?"

"That's why I'm calling. Am I not speaking English?"

"I can help you with that. What is your name, sir?"

"Rodricks. R-O-D-R-I-C-K-S."

"Is that a first or last name?"


Anybody got Caps tickets?

A capital suggestion

Those who scratched their heads at the sudden push to put Knight Ridder, the nation's second-largest newspaper chain, up for sale got their answer in the Wall Street Journal the other day. Bruce Sherman, chief executive of Legg Mason's Private Capital Management LP and the guy pushing for the Knight Ridder sale, gets a huge bonus if it happens. According to the Journal, Sherman and other principals in his firm get $300 million from Legg if they meet certain growth targets by August. So the sale of a profitable newspaper company would help Sherman and his associates meet their goals, and get their bonus, while Knight Ridder becomes yet another newspaper chain swallowed by some larger corporation. Money managers rule. It's a great country, no?

Side dish dissed

A guest on Ron Smith's radio show attributed part of the slow response to Hurricane Katrina to a disconnect between the media elite in New York and the American South. A great cultural divide remains, the commentator said, between those who control the media and those who actually live and die in long, wide stretches of the red states.

I think this theory is out of date, mainly because of technological advances. But institutional snootiness abounds, more attributable to class and economic divisions than anything.

There was a small but sparkling example of it in The New York Times obituary last week for Ruth M. Siems, inventor of Stove Top stuffing mix. The obituary said Siems' "campy" innovation would "make its appearance, welcome or otherwise, in millions of homes" on Thanksgiving.

"Welcome or otherwise?" Stove Top is inexpensive and fast, and it tastes pretty good. It may not be up to the standards of The Times - it's not, say, rosemary-infused chestnut stuffing with apple wood-smoked sausage - but it seems to have stuck to American ribs. "Welcome or otherwise?" Kraft Foods sells about 60 million boxes of Stove Top for Thanksgiving. I would say it's welcome.

No match for hockey

All due respect to Ted Koppel, but be honest: The last time you watched Nightline you owned a portable black-and-white TV set with rabbit ears wrapped in aluminum foil and you only got three channels.

A fine, shaggy legacy

I assume my present dogs won't read this column, so it's safe to say that Rosie, the shaggy black mix of collie and Lab who lived with us for 16 years, was my best dog, my favorite dog. She died 10 years ago and I still miss her. It was Ellen Hawks, the Pausing with Pets columnist of The Evening Sun - also gone 10 years now - who hooked us up. She found Rosie on a bone-chilling, rainy day in Baltimore, a thick rope about her neck. Ellen was always trying to find homes for abandoned pets. She walked Rosie into the Sunpapers lobby and told me I had to take her. It was the best decision someone else ever made for me. Ellen Hawks died this past week; she was 83. I'm sure I'm not the only person around here grateful for her abilities as a matchmaker. Rest in peace, sweet lady.


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