Being cooped up during a pandemic can make you do crazy things. Things like sort through your old storage unit boxes to find the last extant analog copy of an embarrassing old radio show you did 25 years ago, and then digitizing it and uploading to the Internet. Because, reasons. Also because the Internet.
Radio Theatre For the Masses was… a… thing. That happened. It was aired on the University of Richmond’s college radio station WDCE, but in retrospect I can’t remember if someone at WDCE actually asked us to do it or if we just did it and put it on the radio because we could. Possibly just because the on-air booth was never locked and the DJs were frequently absent on smoke breaks. That latter scenario would not surprise me in any way.
I don’t even remember what year we did this. 1994, maybe? 1995? Many of the UR Theatre folks at the time were involved so I can only assume that some form of intimidation or blackmail was employed. I could tell that Robert Zehner was involved when I listened to it again because he had a Macintosh Quadra AV that was the only personal computer that could do actual digital sound editing. I was absurdly jealous because I had a black and white Mac Classic II that had virtual coughing fits trying to run the “Flying Toasters” screensaver from After Dark.
I think it was part of the plan Paul Caputo and I had to somehow get rich and famous by saturating the marginal media outlets of Richmond, Virginia with comedy and somehow assuming that talent bookers for Saturday Night Live were searching the hinterlands like minor league baseball scouts. They were not.
I… I don’t remember why we did this. If you’re reading this, I can only assume that you were sent a link or you have been terribly rickrolled by someone. If you listen to it and recognize your voice, I’m sorry to have involved you. If you listen to this and were not involved, then 1.) I’m sorry you had to listen to it and 2.) I’m still sorry in general. I do still think that “Bryn MacMuffin” and exploding cats were funny, though.
Click below to listen or scroll down for more information about the guilty parties responsible:
Citizen Payne was FSP’s ultimate creation in both a chronological and qualitative sense, as well as in a “oh God I can’t believe we did that on camera please don’t let this get on to Twitter” sense. It was also, hands down, the most fun I have ever had being not very funny with my friends.
Summer 1992 was, for most of my friends and I, our first summer “home” after freshman year of college, and most of us knew that it was likely to be our last time together as a group before we gradually went our separate ways for good. With that added poignancy and urgency to spend our remaining time together in a meaningful way, we then proceeded to dick around and waste most of the summer.
Because the FSP crew were film nerds, we all had greater or lesser fascinations with Orson Welles’s 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane. As a result, we planned to use the summer to make our own epic – and storyboarded an absurdly ambitious plot that touched on Kane, Superman, Saturday Night Fever, Charlie’s Angels and everything in between. Had we actually finished it all, it would have easily run an hour long.
Neil Binkley’s house became the locus of our scattered filming efforts that took place whenever we could coordinate our schedules (in and around our summer jobs), but progress was never adequate to meet our ambitious storyline. By late July it had become clear we would never finish it in time before the end of summer. I went home one night determined to salvage the project and holed up in my parents’ basement with a six-pack of Mountain Dew and my trusty Sears typewriter.
N.B. to our younger readers: a typewriter was like a computer running a very, very old version of Google Docs that had no screen, only one font, required applying viscous fluids to delete words once typed, and couldn’t copy, paste, add images, markup text, change layout, use emojis, save versions, reply, forward or retweet. It basically represented the midpoint in human communications capabilities between cave paintings and WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS.
N.N.B. to our younger readers: DOS was ostensibly an operating system for computers in the sense that it would let you play very blocky pirated versions of SimCity if you entered the proper commands. Sears was like Amazon if Amazon sent you a 400-page book three times a year to order from; also you could drive there and be bored while your mom shopped for clothes. WordPerfect was neither a word, nor perfect; discuss.
At any rate, I emerged with a revised script where we would basically make the show an extended promo for the real Citizen Payne, showing off the bits of the original story we had filmed and adding some new “behind the scenes” features, combined with a few clips from older FSP productions, in order to flesh out our requisite 30 minute slot. We even went so far as to make a trailer for Citizen Payne that ran on Suburban cable that summer – a teaser for a show which was itself a teaser for a longer, nonexistent show. Such meta. So wow.
Click the image or the link below to view the trailer for Citizen Payne:
Just as before, our cast was made up of our friends who would work for tacos, and our prop budget was severely impacted by the overhead costs of malt liquor acquisition. The looking-at-it-30-years-later cringe factor has reached apocalyptic levels, especially due to our taking full (figurative) advantage of our attractive female friends who were willing to run around in bikinis on camera.
Some of the skits are pretty broad parody of common tropes popular in TV or movies at the time. Other parts of it make almost no sense if you aren’t familiar with Citizen Kane or the parodied source material, but pop culture solipsism is a time-honored tradition for teenagers. Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a big influence of mine at the time and a lot of the self-referential humor is cribbed from there.
We once again had the run of the Suburban Cable community access video equipment for filming and editing. The closing credits sequence took a disproportionately long time but it was assembled from clips of all the FSP films (including the “lost” Tristan and Iseult) and plenty of outtakes so it functions as a three-minute FSP “greatest hits” themed to the Beastie Boys. The version I put online is a digital transfer from a VHS copy that was recorded direct from the 3/4″ tape deck, so today you’re able to view it in something approximating the interlaced 30 fps Standard Definition glory that it once appeared in to residents of Southeast Pennsylvania (and later Richmond Virginia).
All in all, Citizen Payne was a wonderful experience and a great way to ride off into the sunset for Fearsome Symbolism Productions. By finally making it available online, I hope to introduce a whole new generation of people from all over the world to not care about it or watch it, and probably live happier, more fulfilling lives as a result.
Click the image or link below to watch Citizen Payne:
Bloggers To Be Named Later was Paul Caputo’s fabulous sports-blogging empire of the mid-2010s. My role in the enterprise was to promise to write humor articles and then not do that, or at least not remotely on time. Ultimately, after a flirtation with viral Internets fame, the site basically turned into an excuse for Paul to get free baseball tickets, which is actually about the only good reason to run a blog of any sort. After the BTBNL site wound down, I realized that I hadn’t kept local copies of most of the stories I had written, so I ended up scouring through The Internet Archive to find as many as I could in order to prevent a tragic loss to the world’s cultural canon of blog posts complaining about the Seattle Mariners. You’re welcome.
Most athletes are actually pretty smart people, despite the fact that many of them had college majors in non-subjects like “sports medicine” or “communications.” But there are a few tell-tale signs that your favorite athlete may not be a brain surgeon in their spare time:
They went to school at a fake-sounding diploma mill like “Mount Saint Ringo College,” “East North Chattahoochee Tech,” or “Miami University.”
They take retirement investment advice from Warren Sapp or handgun safety courses from Plaxico Burress
But lest you doubt its effectiveness, they have Actual Science backing up their claims, published by the independent “Society for Aqua-Metal Research.” All this can be yours for prices ranging from about $40 for a basic necklace to $230 for a pure titanium bracelet. (If you want a quick picture of what the profit margin on this is like, you can buy a non-Phiten titanium bracelet here for $35.) They also make – I am still not making this up – a line of lotions and hair care which feature “Aqua-Gold.” Because your hair needs gold … that removes ions … or something.
So what do we have here? The intersection of athletes with lots of money and not a lot of critical thinking skills. My friends, this sounds to me like what one of my business school professors called “an opportunity to make a f–k ton of money.” And frankly, it’s about time someone here at BTBNL figured out how we were going to get rich off this. I still think Paul Caputo’s business model for this site was that eventually Ryan Howard would adopt him and make him his heir.
That’s why today I am announcing availability of new sports-enhancing miracle trinkets made of a wonder metal: Redonkulin.
These may – to the untrained eye – look like cheap German-branded “My Little Pony Friendship Bracelets.” But no – they are made of 13% pure Redonkulin – a rare pseudo-metallic compound forged in the depths of Mount Doom that provide greater energy, faster reflexes and Minty Fresh Breath. I will now take some made-up questions from the audience:
Q: Redonkulin sounds awesome! But how does it work?
A: It’s a well known True Fact that all body problems are caused by excess neutrons. Neutrons are invisible particles that hate America and are responsible for things like nuclear fission and poor SAT scores. But Redonkulin creates a bio-electric necker cube of anti-neutron repagination that literally beats up neutrons and takes their lunch money. In addition, it repels dangerous chemicals like dihydrogen monoxide, shields the wearer from most asteroids, and is washable on permanent press. Best of all, it works immediately through the power of the scientifically proven and impressive-sounding placebo effect.*
Q: Those frigging neutrons! I hate them!
A: I know, right?
Q: The neutron menace must be stopped, I can feel them getting all over me right now and causing fatigue, muscle cramps and itty bitty thigh pimples. How can I buy it?
A: Cool your jets, I’m not done. Best of all, if you act RIGHT NOW we will send you a free special gift:
The amazing Twist-A-Thing bracelet! Made from a secret compound of unobtanium, the animal they made the Ribwich out of, and petrochemical by-products, it contains highly scientific unstable molecules which sound like a real thing! Bend it in any shape – and it will snap right back to its original form. Put it around your wrist – WHO KNOWS WHAT CAN HAPPEN? Maybe something good for you or something.
A: Exactly. I think we can safely say with absolutely no exaggeration that this is the most awesomest thing ever in the history of anything that has ever been awesome.
Q: I must have it now. How oh how can I purchase this marvel of “science?”
A: You can buy it TODAY through this very website! Your very own sporty Redonkulin pony-friendship-themed necklace is available for only $174.99, or purchasable in three easy installments of $129.99 each. We will include FREE SHIPPING if you just mail us your credit card, and you will get it back eventually!
So don’t delay! Emulate your favorite naive or unscrupulous celebrity athlete endorser and buy your Redonkulin bracelet and amazing Twist-A-Thing today. All our products are scientifically proven to exist by research from the independent “Redonkulin Research Council**,” and we absolutely guarantee our products to not be radioactive as far as you know.
* May cause allergies in people sensitive to ponies or love. Do not use Redonkulin if you are currently taking Benzobrist.
** This institute is my dogs Spencer and Holly wearing adorable white lab coats. I asked them if Redonkulin is awesome while waving some Bacon Bits up and down and they nodded.
Nearly ten years ago, I spent a college summer as a reporter for the county newspaper in rural Westmoreland County, Virginia. Westmoreland, nestled in the “northern neck” of Virginia between the Potomac and the Rappahannock rivers, is blessed with an enviable surplus of historical sites.
Almost anywhere, the birthplace of a president would be marked as a site of significant historical importance and tourism interest. But Westmoreland boasts the birthplaces of George Washington and Robert E. Lee (both of whom have lavish commemorative historical sites). In a county with an abundance of historical favorite sons, former President James Monroe finishes as a distant third place. In the summer of 1994, I was assigned a story about a barely-noticed granite marker and state historical signpost on a roadside, dedicated to the birthplace of perhaps the most overlooked of America’s founding fathers.
James Monroe was born on April 28, 1758 on a 505-acre plantation near what is today Colonial Beach, Virginia. He left at age 16 to attend the College of William and Mary, then quit school to join the army when the Revolutionary War broke out. Monroe facilitated the Louisiana Purchase during his time as minister plenipotentiary to France, and as minister to Spain he negotiated the purchase of the Floridas. In 1817 he was elected to the first of two terms as president, in a time that was later called “the era of good feelings.” He was the author of the “Monroe Doctorine,” which became the cornerstone of American foreign policy for generations.
We know comparatively little of James Monroe personally. He stood 6’2”, while his wife was a petite 4’8”. Thomas Jefferson called him “a man whose soul might be turned wrong-side outwards without discovering a blemish to the world.” We know that he had a fondness for waffles.
After Monroe retired from public office, he fell on financial hard times. He petitioned Congress for back pay, but President Andrew Jackson blocked the funding of his request; in 1831, he was finally given only half of what he had asked for originally. On July 4, 1831 – five years to the day after the deaths of his friends John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – James Monroe died.
Neither the man or his birthplace knew much peace after his death: Monroe was buried in New York, but was later exhumed and moved to Richmond. The owner of his birthplace site after the Civil War used the tombstones of the Monroe ancestors as weights for his harrow, and then flung them into the creek when the work was finished. Over time, the land was parceled into numerous plots and sold.
In 1941, a Monroe Birthplace Monument Association was formed, which acquired the area around Monroe’s actual birth site. An access road was built to the site, but the Association’s plans never progressed beyond that stage and in 1973 the land fell to public ownership. For years, various government and private organizations were approached about sponsoring the development of the historic site, but all refused or were unable to raise the needed funds. In 1993, several chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars were kind enough to pay for a granite marker at the site, nestled among a grove of trees along the side of State Route 205.
When I visited the site in 1994, there was a certain thrill to the lonely and solemn spot, and a feeling that the site was my little secret. With no noise or other visitors present, it was blissfully easy to envision the area as it once was – a luxury almost never available at most historical sites. But there was also a sense of vacancy, a tangible knowledge that something should be there which was not.
I returned to the site this past winter and found that the site remained just as it was a decade ago. But in the intervening years, dedicated area residents had continued to push for something to be done, and it appears now that things are at last changing for the better. Plans were drawn up for a memorial site that would include a nature trail, picnic area and historical signage, and the Westmoreland County government has been awarded a grant to begin developing the site. But the work has not yet begun, and today the site remains just as it was.
The lonely granite marker still stands there as a reminder of both the sadness of the neglect of historical sites and the hope that the work of determined and caring individuals can help to bring that neglect to an end.
Boardwatch Magazine was the place to go for Internet Service Provider industry news, opinions and gossip for much of the 1990s. It was founded by the iconoclastic and opinionated Jack Rickard in the commercial Internet’s early days, and by the time I joined it had a niche following but an influential among ISPs, particularly for its annual ranking of Tier 1 ISPs and through the ISPcon tradeshow. Writing and speaking for Boardwatch was one of my fondest memories of the first dot-com age.
Hi there, and welcome back to the industry’s 216th most influential Unix column. Over the next few months, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at each of the various Freenixes and why your ISP may want to consider them. But right now, it’s time to get familiar with the four big players. How can you tell the Freenixes apart, and which of them is right for your ISP?
BSD Unix, having grown out of work on the original AT&T Unix code at UC-Berkeley, has been around for about 20 years. Only in the early-to-mid 1990s (after a series of nasty lawsuits) was the BSD project’s code freed up for use in free Unixes. The BSD development model centered around a “core group” that handled work on the code, and the free BSD Unix movement quickly splintered into three main groups, each with a different focus.
The BSD groups tended to disdain the pseudo-Leninist rantings of Richard Stallman’s GNU/TAISR (GNU’s Not Unix/This Acronym Isn’t Self-Referential) camp, and used the “BSD” software license, which held sort of a middle ground between commercial software and free software. The BSDs attracted a following of (relatively) old-school sysadmins and hackers – the sort of people who generally disdain pine and elm as “too user friendly.” Partially as a result, development for these OSes tended towards optimizing them for server use, and neglecting support for consumer-oriented devices (like IDE drives, fancy video cards, etc.).
Meanwhile, a Finnish computer science student, Linus Torvalds … blah blah blah. I’ll skip this part, since if you haven’t heard the story of Linux already, you probably should put down Boardwatch and go pick up a copy of the Yahoo! Internet Life special edition on how to turn off your computer safely. Anyway, Linux’s development model encouraged code warriors and wackos alike to develop for the OS under the GNU Public License (GPL), and attracted the loving attention of the GNU project itself. Before long, Linux had emerged with a big stack of available software, and a large corps of devoted developers. Its more decentralized model not only encouraged people to write drivers for consumer (rather than server) oriented devices, but also bred a following of experienced admins as well as young geeks-in-training. Therein lay the difference.
These young Linux zealots were, by and large, the force that popularized Linux. They had a fanatical love for their OS that was unmatched except for Macintosh users (who, during the mid ‘90s, had largely retreated to living in caves and praying for someone to port a game to their OS besides Solitaire). Linux became cool . Zealous advocates led to press coverage, which led to more developers, which led to better code and greater device support, which led to more new and more fanatical users … leading to the Linux love-fest currently underway.
So, where were the BSDs? Generally, they quietly went about their way, still running their servers and occasionally poking their heads in on Linux-advocacy-oriented (but useful to all *nix users) news site Slashdot.org, offering “(Score 1: Insightful)” comments and not rocking the boat. FreeBSD reacted to the surge in Linux development with remarkable grace, building in a Linux binary compatibility module and sidestepping a potential war over developers. But lately, some BSD users have started agitating for more attention to the BSDs … and BSD partisans have become bolder about advocating their *nix of choice.
For the three or four of you who are still reading, let’s take a dive into each of the various Freenixes:
Linux: The World’s Most Popular Unix
Focus: Unix everywhere, for everyone, as both a server OS and a desktop OS.
Platform/CPUs: You name it. I’m surprised they don’t have an Atari 2600 port yet.
What’s Good for ISPs: If you’re relatively new to Unix, if you’re after ease of use, or if you’re looking for an Internet server platform that can run on almost any hardware and offers a wide range of cool applications, Linux is your choice.
Of all *nixes, Linux is the most oriented towards ease of use and administration. Linux has the widest user base, and the most active development community – meaning that a lot of new device drivers and third-party applications will be out for Linux first (and maybe only for Linux). Linux’s heavy consumer usage has also led to its being the *nix for cool new free graphical shells (like KDE or GNOME/Enlightenment) and administration utilities. Fruits of this wide developer base (both commercial and free) include excellent solutions for dialup authentication, webserving (including third-party ASP support, Real and QuickTime streaming, Cold Fusion, etc.), mail servers, commercial database packages, firewalls, AppleTalk or SMB networking, security tools and others. Linux is gradually joining Solaris as “the” Unix for commercial developers.
Linux has the most support options, as well. In addition to the usual free online user community support, many Linux distributions offer installation and technical support (for example, if you pay $90 for convenient Red Hat install CDs, they’ll give you 30 days of installation support and 90 days of technical support). There is an abundance of books about installing, running and administering Linux. Of all Freenixes, Linux is also the most “ready for prime time” in terms of corporate deployment: a number of companies from Red Hat to LinuxCare offer enterprise-ready tech support packages. Plus, with its press coverage, and vendors from Intel to IBM standing behind Linux, it’s closest to being the Freenix that is easiest to explain to your “cloobie” boss.
But Linux isn’t just for new users. Linux is second only to (yech) Windows NT in terms of tuning for high-end multiprocessor systems. It’s a safe bet that there will be a solid Linux for Intel’s IA-64 architecture before 64-bit NT is even in public beta. And Linux’s wide developer base makes it likely to catch up rapidly in those performance areas where it’s currently behind.
What’s Bad for ISPs: Linux may be spreading itself thin.
The more devices you try to support with an OS, the fatter (and more bug-prone) your code becomes and the more your stability is likely to suffer. Of course, the open-source, open-development nature of Linux is designed to fix these bugs quickly; but it’s still an issue. It’s relatively easy with Linux to pare down your kernel (the “core” OS software that interfaces between the hardware and applications) to support only the devices and services you need. But a default installation is likely to contain more than you need – and the inexperienced users Linux is most popular with are the least likely to be able to properly configure their OS. And the time spent by developers on writing a driver so that Linux can use 5 1/4” floppy drives is time that theoretically might have gone towards tuning it better for more common uses.
Also, the wide variety of Linux distributions can sometimes make software installation confusing. All Linux distributions are based on one of the “Linus-approved” stable kernels; but the specific kernel (and version of the code libraries to support applications) they include sometimes vary widely. Some distributions (most notably Red Hat) are more anxious to move to upgraded (and potentially less stable) versions of these libraries than others. Some Linux software is beginning to appear which is dependent upon (or at least tuned to) a specific distribution, fragmenting the Linux community.
The much-vaunted user-friendliness of Linux is also a relative term. Compared to MacOS or even Windows, Linux still has miles to go in terms of developing a fairly “idiot-proof” interface. Of course, this is a fault of all Unixes – any OS essentially written by programmers, for programmers is going to have a big gap between its developers’ idea of “user-friendly” and its actual users (who programmers refer to as “morons”).
Lastly, Linux simply lacks the time that the BSDs have had to improve the maturity of its code base. There are still plenty of things missing in Linux (like the much-lamented lack of a true multi-threaded TCP/IP stack) that the BSDs implemented long ago. As a result, if your main interest is network performance on a single-processor machine (and you aren’t dependent on any of the Linux-specific software), Linux is simply not going to be your first choice.
FreeBSD: BSD Performance for x86
Focus: The ultimate Internet server for x86 hardware – with Linux emulation for consumer/hobbyist users.
Platform/CPUs: The Intel x86 architecture, first and foremost. A port for Alpha is also available. Theoretically, Darwin (the open-source part of Mac OS X Server) is largely tied to FreeBSD for its code base, and might be considered to be a PowerPC port of the OS, running on top of the Mach Microkernel. Or maybe I’m just nitpicking.
What’s Good for ISPs: FreeBSD is the server performance-leading BSD Unix for the x86 architecture. (Note for BSDI users: BSD/OS is well-tuned for this purpose, but it’s expensive, and I’m a cheap person, so we won’t discuss BSD/OS here.)
If what you really care about is fast networking performance running Apache, Sendmail or other common apps on cheap x86 hardware, FreeBSD is your OS. End of story. The *BSD model (with a small team of experienced developers rather than a horde of free-for-all developers like Linux) tends to generate more bug-free code right out of the gate (although I wouldn’t necessarily run anything more mission-critical than Xtetris on FreeBSD-current).
FreeBSD’s TCP/IP stack is the reference code base on which so many other network stacks have been based. FreeBSD has a fairly impressive set of users, including Yahoo, Xoom, ftp.cdrom.com, some parts of Hotmail (Hey, kids! Can you say ‘failed NT conversion?’ Good.”) the IMDB and others. On top of all this, FreeBSD includes a very good Linux binary compatibility module, and they’ve been very good about supporting “Linux-first” development with it instead of igniting a Freenix developer-choice war. FreeBSD also includes compatibility modules for SCO, NetBSD, and BSD/OS.
FreeBSD’s ports collection is a fantastic way of finding new software and upgrading old versions. Also, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty (read: no GUI) and make the source updates for FreeBSD, their upgrade process is very slick and relatively painless.
What’s Bad for ISPs: All of the BSDs share some common problems. First is that they’ve fallen out of commercial favor, and they lack the third-party application support of “hip” Unixes like Linux or Solaris. The FreeBSD Linux compatibility layer is great, but isn’t a “first-choice” solution (e.g., if you depend on mission-critical software for which there is a Linux port but not one for FreeBSD, you may think twice). Add to this the problem that the *BSD development model leads to higher-quality code but slower development.
None of the BSD Unixes are an optimal choice (at least compared with Linux) for new Unix users; it’s best reserved for people who are either willing to take on its steep learning curve, or have learned Unix already. Also, finding good printed documentation on *BSD systems is like finding a network engineer with a hot blonde girlfriend.
FreeBSD (like most other *BSDs) currently suffers from an identity crisis: is it the work of part-time developers or an OS to compete with commercial *nixes? FreeBSD’s developers occasionally seem to be caught between saying “it’s enterprise-ready software you can depend on” and saying “look, we’ll fix that when we have time, what do you expect for free?” It’s excellent software, but sometimes little things (like full POSIX threads support) may get broken and not be fixed for weeks or months. FreeBSD (like the other BSDs) also isn’t as tuned for multiprocessor machines and high-end hardware as Linux is. Lastly, if you’re the corporate type looking for commercial support, your options with any free BSD are far more limited than with Linux.
NetBSD: BSD for the Masses
Focus: Bringing a solid BSD to as many platforms as possible
Platform/CPUs: x86, Alpha, Motorola m68k, PowerPC, SPARC, MIPS, ns32k, arm32, VAX (with varying degrees of stability and support)
What’s Good for ISPs: NetBSD shares the attractiveness of Linux in that you can probably pick up any old (or new) computer and get it to run. NetBSD has the advantage (and disadvantage) of sharing the other BSDs’ code maturity and development philosophy, but with the ability to run well on a wide range of platforms.
If you’re already familiar with BSD Unix and you want to use it on non-x86 hardware (or you want to standardize on one OS across multiple platforms), NetBSD is your first choice (and, depending on your target platform, maybe your only choice). If you are looking for *BSD’s proven performance with networking, and you want to use it on any platform, NetBSD is the way to go.
What’s Bad for ISPs: NetBSD’s strength is also its weakness. It sits in sort of a middle position among BSDs, being widely available but not optimized for any one task. In a way, it’s sort of a “jack of all trades, master of none.” It’s unclear, for example, whether you’d get better network performance on a PowerPC machine with NetBSD or with LinuxPPC, which has spent a great deal of time optimizing its OS for that CPU architecture. Therefore, it likely won’t be your first choice of OS for platforms which other Freenixes tune themselves to.
Also, the various NetBSD platforms are each supported to a greater or lesser degree (depending on the activeness of their development team), and you may be left at your development team’s mercy while waiting for a critical upgrade. NetBSD shares the common faults of the other BSDs as well, and its mission has left it as sort of the “forgotten” BSD among the others which are more optimized for a given task.
OpenBSD: The Bugtraq Junkies’ Choice
Focus: Unix for security junkies.
Platform/CPUs: x86, Alpha, Motorola m68k, MIPS, some PowerPC designs, SPARC (plus some other platforms which aren’t “officially” supported but for which a port exists)
What’s Good for ISPs: OpenBSD is about security: it also considers security and software quality to be one and the same. Plus, they’re based out of Canada, and can therefore bypass some of the US’s bizarre federal cryptography/security laws.
In the OpenBSD team’s view, here’s how it works. Buggy software can lead to security vulnerabilities – buffer overruns, sloppy system calls, poor management of root (administrator) privileges and so on. The OpenBSD developers started an audit (two years and still going) of the source code and found thousands of bugs. Some were security-related, or might have been exploited in combination with other bugs; but most were not. Their end goal is not only a more secure OS, but also one that’s “more reliable and trustworthy.” Of course, since the *BSD codebase is largely similar, other BSDs are able to benefit from the security fixes made by OpenBSD.
Another important aspect of security is the “secure by default” configuration as shipped on the OpenBSD CD-ROM releases and weekly snapshots. OpenBSD’s default installation doesn’t enable potentially risky protocols without the consent of the administrator. This is very important for experienced admins on a busy schedule who don’t want to play detective with netstat and ps -auxw to secure a new server; on the other hand, if you don’t know how to enable fingerd and you want it, then you’re pretty much stuck.
OpenBSD’s integrated cryptography can help an ISP that’s looking to differentiate itself through its security. First, the built-in implementation of the emerging IP Security (IPsec) standards allow you to offer virtual private networks (VPNs) to corporate clients. OpenBSD’s IPsec interoperates with implementation from major vendors. Second, ISPs can securely access remote POPs, even for root logins. Third, OpenBSD supports (among other cryptographic tools) SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) for secure https Web servers almost “out of the box.” To enable it, sysadmins just need to download one shared library file to get around the RSA patent restrictions.
What’s Bad for ISPs: While OpenBSD can incorporate the code improvements made by the other BSDs, it has a smaller full-time development team than any of the other Freenixes (the average McDonald’s has more people working on Chicken McNuggets than OpenBSD has on full-time development), and thus upgrades may come slower. Security comes at the expense of rapid development, and hardware or software may not be supported for months (if at all) after Linux or FreeBSD can.
OpenBSD of course shares the common faults of the *BSD family. Also, for experienced sysadmins who are confident that they can handle their own OS security (or simply don’t care), OpenBSD lacks both the x86 performance optimization of FreeBSD and some of the platform availability of NetBSD or the other benefits of Linux. Simply put, if you care more about performance or third-party application support than security, OpenBSD is probably not for you.
So … where does this leave this ISP looking for a free Unix? Probably, it leaves them with a headache, since it’s becoming more and more difficult to find an unbiased and rational comparison of the OSes involved. To sum up: Linux is relatively immature, but it has the most active developer community, it runs on almost any hardware, it’s the most user-friendly Unix for novices, and it has the best third-party application support. FreeBSD concentrates on optimizing BSD Unix for the x86 platform, and it shows in its networking performance. NetBSD concentrates on bringing stable BSD to a wide variety of platforms. If your primary concern is security, OpenBSD is the Freenix for you.
What do you think? Send questions, comments and lavish praise to [email protected]. Hate mail should be addressed to John Dvorak.
Odd Job was the first play I ever wrote, in 1996, at the behest of Emily Compton. I had just performed in a play in which the author had been at nearly every rehearsal and made a tremendous nuisance of himself, so I deliberately wrote the script to the play to minimize the author’s influence on how the director and cast would stage the play. As a result, Jen Nittoso and the rest of the bunch did a better job than I ever could have hoped for. They put all the songs to the tunes of “Jesus Christ, Superstar” which I had never seen and had no clue about, and it just turned out that the “songs” I wrote worked out that way and were hilarious to people who had seen the show.
I re-read this play recently, and I’m embarrassed by some of the cheesier jokes, but I still think it holds up well (even if some of the gags are oriented towards University of Richmond students at the time). To some extent, it exemplifies what I like out of comedic plays: an aim at solid comedy, with enough of a message to make you think about it between laughs. I’m very proud of it, and especially of the job (no pun intended) that the cast and crew did on it.
If you’re ever interested in performing this play, let me know. The script is available for free, and I’m not much more expensive.
The Players and Crew
Odd Jobwas first presented on March 20, 1997, at the George M. Modlin Center for the Fine Arts at the University of Richmond, with the following cast:
The Richmond State was a plucky upstart alternative newspaper (not that kind of “alternative”) that challenged the editorial might of the stodgy Hands down, our funniest column ever and maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever been involved in writing. Paul’s “INTERNATIONAL COMMUNISM IN YOUR CHIMNEY RIGHT NOW” line was fantastic. The line “with a wink and a nod and a wet, hacking cough, ‘Slippy’ would be off to the next house to spread Holiday Joy and Large Ticks” was mine, and it was just plain f***ing hilarious. Anyway, just read it.
Hi. We are Jeff and Paul. We are the Two Wise Guys, and we bring Frankincense, Myrrh, and … uh … Cool Whip.
As mayoral candidates, we face the TOUGH issues. Like Santa Claus.
Isn’t it about time we re-examined “Santa Claus,” alias “Kris Kringle,” alias “Father Christmas,” alias “Uncle Jesse?” This reputedly jolly, obviously corpulent mystery man has held a monopoly on the Christmas Mascot business for hundreds of years. And while he has been breaking and entering into millions of homes, supposedly delivering “gifts,” what do we really know about him? And why does he look so much like the late Jerry Garcia? Nobody knows who this “Santa” (if that is his real name) is, where he is from – aside from an obviously fraudulent “North Pole” P.O. Box address – or even what his motivation is. We figure he’s doing community service for an Elfnappingconviction.
And his clothes … We don’t want to alarm you, but his blatantly “red” garb seems to smack slightly of INTERNATIONAL COMMUNISM IN YOUR CHIMNEY RIGHT NOW.
Furthermore, how did he become the symbol of a holiday intended to celebrate a very serious religious event? Perhaps some people are disturbed at the thought of their children in a Olde Towne Centre Malle sitting on the lap of a Major Religious Figure. At any rate – since it is probably too demeaning to imagine Jesus having Elves instead of Apostles – Santa Claus was substituted to make the holiday seem less religious, and more oriented toward obese people and flying deer.
Santa’s record has been rocky at best. He faced bad press after breaking an Elf Strike by threatening to move the franchise from the North Pole to Baltimore. “60 Minutes” exposed his habit of feeding Rudolph only Jack Daniel’s to make his nose red and that the white cuffs on his red suit and cap are made from the fur of baby seals he clubbed himself.
Santa was almost shot down by the Canadian Air Force in 1983, when they mistook him for a flock of Soviet geese. His recent court appearance on a charge of Sleighing Under the Influence did not help matters, nor did his short-lived “TundraVision” cable network fiasco.
Santa reportedly turned to drinking after all of the water in his “Santa-Land North-Pole Water-Slide Fun-Park” froze and 38 children were encased in ice. Not long thereafter, a USA Today poll revealed – in a weather map-shaped graph – that everything west of the Missippi is a bizarre shade of orange. The poll also showed that only 3% of children believe in Santa. The kids didn’t believe in Gerald Ford either, but that didn’t help Santa’s mood any.
Also, as a White Male Oppressor who hires midgets so he can claim them as tax write-offs, Santa is blatantly Politically Incorrect. He has also drawn fire for his policy among the elves of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” This is an enlightened era and so-called-Santa’s little “Reindeer Games” are over. Please consider, Cheery Holiday State Reader, our comprehensive list of Alternate Christmas Mascots:
• Kathy Ireland in a Victoria’s Secret Mistletoe Negligeé: it would look much better on Coke glasses. We’d like to be on her “naughty” list.
• Frosty the Snowman: a longtime “Yuletide” (Swedish for “fish?” We don’t know.) favorite, he could come to the houses of good children everywhere, then melt on the carpet. Disgusting.
• Erik Estrada, the Out-of-Work Actor: well, he needs a job.
• The Easter Bunny: tired of playing second-fiddle to some tubby guy with pint-sized laborers and a stable of airborne Norwegian mammals, he steps into his own. He hops all over the world on Christmas Eve, and becomes very tired and bitter. Then he throws his eggs at people’s houses, or leaves rabbit droppings in the stockings of bad children.
• David Hasselhoff: the good German kids who bought his albums would get the best presents. Anyone who actually bought the David Hasselhoff “They Love Me In Germany” Box Set would get one of the “Baywatch” Girls with Silicone Breasts “Action” Figures.
• Mopey, the Manic-Depressive Elf: for people who think all this seasonal happiness is a bunch of crapola. Mopey would dress in black, come through the front window in his ‘63 Dodge DeSoto, completely drunk, and leave a note about how he sold the toys to pay his analyst. Then he would slip some Prozac in your stocking.
• A Big Inanimate Pile of Fruitcakes: a reminder that sometimes you don’t get what you wanted for Christmas. In fact, sometimes you get fruitcakes, which nobody likes. If fruitcakes could shoot themselves, they would.
• Creepy, the Clown Dentist: he’s not really suited to Christmas, but he would scare the HELL out of bad children.
• Waldheim, the Non-Flying Reindeer: jealous of his cousin Blitzen’s success, he would acquire Santa in a leveraged-buyout and have the other reindeer sold as Puppy Chow. Also, he’s an ex-Nazi.
• And our personal favorite, “Slippy the Christmas Weasel.” Slippy is a total degenerate. He drinks. He smokes. Furthermore, he’s a weasel. But he’s still cutesy enough for merchandising. On Christmas Eve, Slippy would lather himself up with vaseline and travel from house to house through sewage pipes, arriving at houses through toilets and shower heads, delivering sugar plums, shiny new toy trucks and oozing globs of sewer scum he picked up along the way. He would leave little puddles of Zesty Ranch Dressing in the childrens’ stockings, whether they were bad or good or whatever. He’s too drunk to care.
Imagine the joy of countless children, waiting up on Christmas Eve, staring maniacally at the chimney – only to discover “Slippy” slithering up through the drainpipes with his bag of Mutant Holiday Treats. Imagine their peals of childish laughter and joy: “AIIIEEEEEEEEEE!” Parents would greet this Bearer of Good Will, Gifts, and Infectious Diseases with a joyful “MY GOD, what is that THING?” while the young ‘uns delightedly called out, “DADDY, PLEASE SHOOT IT!!!” and “Slippy” playfully retched all over their carpet and passed out in a drunken stupor.
Then, with a wink and a nod and a wet, hacking cough, “Slippy” would be off to the next house to spread Holiday Joy and Large Ticks.
Of course, there are drawbacks: “Slippy” could not use the sleigh and traditional reindeer, because he would try to eat them. And it would be tough to replace Santa’s jolly “Ho ho ho” with “Slippy’s” irritating high-pitched squeal. Most importantly, “Slippy” is still a weasel. And that’s disgusting. But with somebody named “Newt” in congress, who will notice?
In conclusion: wake up and smell the fruitcake, America! Write your congressperson or congressweasel today and urge them to cut Santa’s federal appropriations. End this senseless holiday discrimination against vermin. Santa’s day is done; let someone – or, someTHING – else take a shot at it. Otherwise, after writing this, we’re getting coal in their stockings.
Merry Christmas, everybody.
HEY! Check out Jeff and Paul on the Internet at http://www.pluginc.com
More hyper-topical college humor! We combined our personalities into one to save time. You probably won’t get the “haircuts” joke unless you know that we had just finished the UR production of Tom Stoppard’s brilliant play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead which requires the whole cast to grow out their hair. Either way, I think it’s the best column we wrote at the University of Richmond. That’s probably not saying much, though.
We, Jeff and Paul, are busy people. Busy enough, in fact, that we recently considered merging into one person named “Puff Carpluto,” who would have more than $600 in parking tickets, to save time in our daily chores. We figured that no one would notice, since for the last three weeks we have exchanged identities anyway and each of us pretended to be the other person. Jeff’s girlfriend was reportedly unhappy, although Paul’s girlfriend was elated.
The point is that busy people like ourselves — constantly running about from class to meeting, appointment to interview, accident scene to cheap brothel, etc. — are desperate people. To prove our point, we obtained the “things to do” list for Monday of two local busy people who may sound very much like Paul and Jeff but who in fact are not Paul and Jeff, and so you should sue them and not us if you are offended.
Paul and Jeff [not their real names] are busy people. Busy enough, in fact, that they have an enormous number of things to do on their list of things to be done, which is called their “things to do” list.
Paul and Jeff’s Things to Do:
• Get haircut: This has been six months in the making. We are never acting again. All of our hats fit funny now.
• Find people with long hair, call them freaks: Hey, at UR, that’s a sport. And we can afford to make fun of people with long hair because we’re clean-cut and pleasant-looking. Plus they are, by nature, freaks.
• Kill that screaming kid on the “Sheik” Condoms commercial: This kid needs to die. That kid from the old “Encyclopedia Brittanica” commercials is next.
• Knock down Jepson school to increase parking space: We need parking. Nobody needs a leadership school. It makes sense. If we could knock down cheerleaders to make even more space, we would do that, too.
• Sign up as “Mark Ramos” for credit card offers in Commons, get free gifts: Is it possible to have too many slinkys or water bottles? We don’t think so.
• Offend last three people in school: We noticed that there were three people left at the school whom we have not offended. Those three, chosen at random, are Richard A. Munneke, J.Anderson Screws and John E. Reigle. These people are all lame. Nyah-nyah. Plus “Anderson Screws” is a funny name.
• Hoard thousands of “sporks:” This should be self-explanatory.
• Steal toilet paper from science center bathrooms: Just our way of sticking it to the man.
• Thank Pope for the brownies
• Sell Collegian equipment, pocket the money: As far as we’re concerned, the paper didn’t exist before we started writing and it won’t exist after we’re gone, [see “solipsism,” Scott Shepard, Dec. 5, 1993] so we’re selling all The Collegian’s expensive computers, photo equipment and lace doily collection–cheap— and pocketing the profits, then driving to Mexico.
• Play “Wheel of Term Papers:” We write ambiguous papers that all begin with “Knowledge is an exquisitely problematic paradox,” then pick at random which paper is for which class.
• Feed the fish
• Call “911” to report Honor Code violations
• Visit sweatshop full of underpaid illegal immigrant Norwegian joke writers in basement: Where did you think we get our jokes from?
• Sign autographs
• Call Senior Campaign, earmark our donations for construction of “Gottwald Taco Bell”
• Pay off parking tickets in new Mexican currency, the “Poncharelli”
• Eat whole quart of mayonnaise
• Join the Sirens: We do a delightful duet on “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”
• Learn “Gym-kata”
• Publish The Collected Wit and Wisdom of Jeff Waggett: Thus far, some of our favorite examples are “To thine own self be true,” “Being quasi-Greek is like being half Macedonian and half Swedish, but different,” and “The pledge of allegiance sucks.” The book is a weighty six pages, with five and a half pages for autographs from your classmates.
• Steal Senior Gift name-engraved bricks, throw them through windows: We can put threatening messages on them, and the people will blame the person whose name is on the brick.
• Get new nickname, “Sparky” : It sounds much better than Paul’s current nickname, “Pooter,” or Jeff’s nickname, “Dickweed.”
• Win lottery
• Return to NBA after 18-month hiatus
• Make Mike Nimchek honorary member of “9 Divine:” If we’re going to make fun of people, we might as well kill two birds with one stone.
• Call up registrar’s office, declare fake majors: Such as “Hasselhoff Studies,” “VCR Repair,” “Refrigeration Technology” and “Leadership.”
• Don’t be That Guy
• Solve crimes with help of a talking car
• Believe it’s not butter
• Send ransom note for Lindbergh Baby: Hopefully, with our police department, it’ll just send the money before it figures out the case was solved in 1937.
• Come up with slogans for new fine arts building: Our favorite so far is: “They really kinda suck, but Jason Roop sure looks good in tights.”
• Track down and kill people who left Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead during intermission: Don’t think we didn’t notice.
• Return frantic phone messages from King of Canada: It’s something about declaring war or something. We’ll get around to it.
• Tape Quantum Leap and watch it six times
• Go to class: Oops. Well, you can’t do everything.
(Miki Turner contributed to this column. Don’t blamehim, though, we forced him.)
Working at the Westmoreland News in 1994 was the best summer job I ever had. I worked for peanuts and had a two hour drive each way from Richmond, but I got to do it all at a small county newspaper where I was a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, layout editor and photographer (because there was nobody else to do those things). Best of all the paper’s editor, Lynn Norris, gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted – way more journalistic and comedic freedom than anyone should rightly give a know-it-all 21-year-old writing for a weekly in the deeply rural Northern Neck of Virginia.
For weeks, the messages arrived to herald the news. Royal messenger faxes rolled out of the machine, announcing his progress and later his impending arrival. He – Citizen North, Senate Subcommitte Witness North, Celebrity North, Retired Marine Lt. Col. North, “By golly, vote Ollie” North, Candidate North – Oliver North was coming to Westmoreland County.
He is perhaps the most famous public figure in Virginia. He appeared on live national television – under the gun like perhaps only two other men, Clarence Thomas and O.J. Simpson have been – and not only survived, but became a celebrity. He became a folk hero to some, a demon to others. He faced trial and conviction and then was cleared. His face has adorned the cover of national magazines and his picture burned in a Billy Joel video. He was scrutinized over innuendo concerning his secretary, Fawn Hall; he publicly challenged terrorist Abu Nidal to a one-on-one fight; and he was unceremoniously all-but disowned by several major figures of the Reagan administration and the military. But he had survived. And he had prospered. And now he was coming to Westmoreland County.
And now it is 5:10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 27, and the alarm goes off in my apartment in Richmond. I clean up, shave, and dress in an old suit, pre-rumpled to achieve journalistic credibility. It only takes me four tries to tie my tie straight. Then I drink coffee and ride off into the sunrise to meet Candidate North at his first campaign stop.
It is 7:15 a.m., and I’m standing in front of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Montross. There are only a few other people there, standing in front of the plant, and they are obviously other journalists. They wear the standard reporter uniform of rumpled, kinda-nice clothes, armed to the teeth with notepads and vests filled with extra rolls of film.
At 7:28, the Winnebago arrives. The North campaign staff calls it “Asphalt One,” and it is covered from stem to stern in North for Senate posters. The tour mascot is on board, an armadillo – North later says that it represents his tough hide, and he jokingly identifies the armadillo as the “state bird” of Texas, where he was born. North also notes that whenever he is quoted as such, newspapers get letters correcting him that the armadillo is not a bird.
And then Oliver North steps out of Asphalt One. He is dressed in a light blue button-down shirt, tan slacks, and sensible shoes. The flecks of gray in his hair and his boyish face, coupled with his outfit, make him look as if he stepped out of a local theater revival of Mister Roberts, playing the title character. Candidate North has arrived, and he is all smiles and handshakes as he proceeds into the plant.
He walks through the plant, shaking hands and talking, while the reporters circle him at a distance like moths around a porch light. They look at the crates of Coca-Cola products piled to the ceiling, they snap pictures of the employees or the bus, and they try to talk to the randomly-selected spectators for some “local color.”
North campaign’s press coordinator for this stretch of the trip, Dan McLagan, bounds out of the bus. He is accompanied by other soldiers in the cause, armed with bumper stickers and pamphlets, ready to give them to anyone and/or everyone with hair-trigger quickness. Most of the workers in the factory really don’t seem all that excited about any of this.
I wander over to McLagan – an affable character, casually dressed, who occasionally lights one of his Marlboro Lights while he’s talking to you – and he tells me
that the North crew is rested and ready, having spent a fine night in the Inn at Montross, a hundred yards away. The tour begins here, moves to a rally in Colonial Beach at the house of Jeff and Yvonne Kern, and next to the King George Fire Station on Dahlgren Road. McLagan tells me he’ll try to get me “on the bus” somewhere in between, before the tour heads over hill and dale, all over Virginia – it will be a long day for Candidate North and his retinue.
I talk to two local residents who have come out on this frosty morning to wish North well, Jim and Jean Dundas. They talk about how misrepresented and misunderstood North often is by the press, and how his sincere stances have earned him a lot of enemies.
They say it seems that his enemies are unwilling to let the matters of the Iran-Contra hearings rest, and Jim Dundas mention the Central American and Cuban ties of some of the members of the panel that grilled North. He gives me a pamphlet from North’s campaign committee about the “Four big lies about Ollie North and Iran-Contra.”
After a few minutes, the tour group packs up to head to the next destination. The North Winnebago looks like an alien mothership that has collected all its crew – only after leaving behind bumper stickers to monitor the planet while they’re gone – and left for the next solar system. The press members scurry to their cars like Air Force chase planes. I’m one of them.
It’s 8:35 a.m., and I park my car and walk towards the Kerns’ house for the rally. I suppose that Asphalt One drives much closer to a law-abiding 55 miles per hour than I do, since the Winnebago arrives about a minute after me.
There seem to be a about 100 people present, and they clap and cheer and North strides off the bus and on to the house’s porch. There are signs and banners and pamphlets and doughnuts, and the doughnuts are very good.
North ascends the porch steps and, after a mercifully brief introduction, begins his speech.
North supporters will probably disagree with you if you say this, but an impartial viewer observing one of North’s campaign speeches for the first time and knowing nothing else about him would probably conclude that Candidate North’s entire platform is anti-incumbency, anti-the current system.
He pledges to fight the “tyranny of the left.” He says that the moribund monster of the current bureaucracy must be done away with, and that you can only “cut the budget by changing the process.” North says that he doesn’t want to see the reserved congressional parking spots at National Airport in Washington, D.C. to be reserved for him or for anybody – with the possible exception, he says, of making them reserved for disabled veterans. He speaks of getting tough with the criminals that the liberal establishment has mollycoddled. “It’s time,” he says, “that we turn these career criminals into career inmates. We need to weld the doors shut.”
“Some people,” North says, “say I’m not gonna fit in. And they’re right.” North cracks that Jimmy Stewart smile of his. People around me begin to sporadically “Amen” during the rest of the speech. “I’m not going to be invited,” North says, “to the two-cocktails-before-lunch parties, or the Barbra Streisand concerts.”
North tells the flock that he decided to run on the day after the 1993 Presidential Inauguration “when we elected whatsisname.” North calls the Clinton (whatsisname) administration “so liberal it’s scary.” Ollie, being the complete anti-politician, promises to serve at most two terms in the U. S. Senate and then retire from public service.
Undaunted by such claims, a young girl standing near me is wearing a “Ollie North for President” tee-shirt.
Any film student watching this rally could immediately identify the scene: Frank Capra, directing Mr. North Goes to Washington. All political rallies have an overt element of campy super-patriotism to them, but North has pulled out all the stops. The amazing thing about him, though, is that after you talk to the man you become convinced that it isn’t just an act. Oliver North may be the Jimmy Stewart and Apple Pie candidate, for real.
North identifies his one special interest that he will bow to as the families of Virginia. He has a grin that he applies to phrases like, “I believe we’re gonna pull this off…” that makes people all warm and fuzzy inside. Some people are thrilled by his 110 percent All-American traits, and some are frightened by them. Whether he is right or wrong, he communicates an unavoidable air of sincere belief in what he is saying.
Although this seemed to many unthinkable – it still seems that way, to many – recent polls show Oliver North running neck and neck with incumbent Democrat Charles “Chuck” Robb. North has gotten an early start on the campaign, with a TV and campaign tour blitz that has left the other candidates in the dust.
I talk to one of North’s campaign team members about the competition. He says that North has the advantages of an early start and a lot of people willing to donate money to his cause. What about the renegade-Republican independent candidate Marshall Coleman? “We make more money before breakfast than he has this whole campaign,” he says.
This statement may not be all hyperbole; the weekend before the tour, a fax arrived from the Oliver North for Senate Committee, declaring that the North Campaign had broken the towering $10,000,000 mark. North proudly notes that the average contribution is under $30, showing his ties to the individual voter; opponents claim that more than half of the recent contributions have come from California, rather than Virginia.
North closes the speech by asking the crowd for three things. “First, your prayers,” he says. “They say that you can’t win a campaign these days by talking about the power of prayer … we shall see.” More “Amens” are heard from throughout the crowd, but not as many as when he was talking about budget deficit reduction. “I’m living proof of the power of prayer,” he says, and smiles earnestly.
“The second is your pledges,” he says, adding that it is the everyday voter that provides the campaign with the money and the volunteers to keep going.
“And third, I ask you,” North says, “to reach out and find five people who didn’t vote in the last election, and make sure they vote in this one.”
Having concluded his speech, North opens up the floor to questions for one of his “people’s press conferences,” where the people have a chance to ask the questions and not depend upon the “liberal media” for their information.
One woman asks how people react to his having lied to Congress. North answers – he has probably only had to answer this particular question about five thousand times – that he did not lie to congress, and that an examination of the facts will show that he stayed true to his duty and followed his orders. The ghost of Iran-Contra will be summoned forth wherever Retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North goes for a very long time.
Jeff Kern, who has been standing behind North on the porch, steps forward and announces that unfortunately the tour is behind schedule, and North will only have
limited time. And yet North manages to talk to as many people as he can, smiling and shaking hands.
I ask local resident Susan Wallcraft why she came to the rally. “I’d heard about it at the town council meeting,” she said. Is she a prospective North voter? “Yes,” she says, “we’ve pretty well decided, after we found that he really hadn’t lied to congress.”
Dan McLagan tracks me down amidst the mob leaving the rally, and leads me to Asphalt One to wait for North to finish. He offers me a coke, or some grapes, even though their refrigerator is pretty sparsely stocked. I take a Pepsi, and fumble through my notes.
And then North gets in the bus. He reaches across the aisle and shakes my hand firmly.
The Winnebago pulls away from Jeff and Yvonne Kern’s house, and Oliver North perches on a seat across from me. The lady in the front passenger seat says, “Wave to the folks, colonel,” and he turns around to the window and waves at the last few supporters who line the road.
Then it is just me and Oliver North. I work out the nervous lump that has been building in my throat and I ask a question. In fact, I ask several. Here are the results:
What is the last good book that Oliver North read? “Well, I’m still in the process of reading Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues,” he says.
How does it feel to be a celebrity? “It would be fine if I were a rock star,” he says, “but it’s not something I intended to be. I just wanted to be a marine.”
Doesn’t all the negative attention sometimes hurt, like the sharply-barbed recent jabs in the nationally-syndicated comic strip Doonesbury? “No, you just get used to it,” he says. “That Doonesbury stuff – well, some of it’s actually funny.”
What did the young Ollie want to be when he grew up? “I went through all the usual stages,” North muses, “fireman, policeman, cowboy …” But by the time he graduated high school, he knew that the service was the life for him. “I’m lucky enough,” he says, “to have been able to do something I really wanted to do for 22 years.”
Who are Oliver North’s heroes? His father, he says. Ronald Reagan is named, as is his wife Betsy. North also cites as a hero “the young machine gunner who saved my life in Vietnam.” He says that his heroes are also all the people who work hard for themselves and succeed.
What would he have to do in his life, for him to consider it – in the final accounting – to have been worthwhile? “I’ve already done it,” he says, “by being a good father and a good husband.” He says that he puts a lot of stock in the Marine motto, semper fidelis: always faithful.
Does he belong to a particular church? “Yes, we attend the Church of the Apostles, in Fairfax.” He says that he has not always been as personally religiously committed as he is today, but he was brought up in a good Christian household, and knew what he believed in.
If he could change one thing about himself, what would Oliver North change? “I’d give myself less pride in being a self-made man,” he says. “Pride leads to thick-headedness.” I think to myself that the Bible also says that “pride goeth before a tumble.”
Who came up with the “By golly, vote Ollie” slogan? “It came from a supporter,” he says. “Most of them come from clever people who just think them up themselves.” He produces a stack of bumper stickers given to him by a supporter who dreamed up a slogan and then printed it: a reminder to vote for North, or “Get Robbed.”
What is, at the heart, the essence of America? “Well,” he says, “I can’t reduce it to a bumper sticker.” But he does say that America is a nation “blessed with bounty beyond measure,” and founded around one word: “liberty.”
North praises the Bill of Rights, and says that “you get a sense, in the seminal documents of this nation, that we didn’t get these rights from the government; we were blessed with them.”
“But,” he says, “200 years later – in just the last 90 days – you can see these rights being violated.” He cites the abridgement of abortion protesters’ First Amendment right to assemble peacably. He notes the violations of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms by anti-gun legislation. North says that the Fourth Amendment protection form illegal search and seizure is not being received by poor black mothers in public housing whose houses are invaded by the police.
He cites the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that the government cannot seize property without fair recompense, and then says that the Environmental Protection Agency can come along and “declare your land a protected wetland, and the value is destroyed. You can’t build anything on it.” North warns of the danger of “environmental radicals.”
“You have to stop,” North says, “and say, ‘What happened to these amendments?’”
What about North’s recent statement that drug users should receive penalties nearly as high as those for drug dealers? Is drug use a moral wrong, or a societal wrong?
“All law is based on moral law,” North says. “There’s nothing in the Ten Commandments about the 55 mile per hour speed limit,” he says while I think ack to beating the Winnebago to the rally after it had a three-minute head start, “but the moral idea is there – you don’t go too fast, or you’ll hurt yourself or someone else.”
“There is no stigma against drug use in this country,” North says, “and there needs to be.”
How, then, does that idea relate to alcohol and tobacco? North waves this off on the grounds of alcohol and tobacco not being impairing drugs like drugs are. “There are laws,” he says, “about how much alcohol you can drink, so you’re not impaired. And tobacco is not an impairing drug.”
He cites how much more dangerous drugs are than they have been in the more permissive past: “The marijuana people are smoking today has much more HTC [Tetrahydracannabis, or THC, the active narcotic in marijuna] than it did 25 years ago.” I don’t correct him on the spelling, and the bus slows down as we approach the next rally.
“Um,” I ask, “could I get an autograph for my little brother?”
“Sure thing,” North says, and writes one: “To Matthew– very best, Oliver L. North.” I thank him and shake his hand and Oliver is gone and Candidate North is back.
At 9:28, Asphalt One’s door opens and North steps out into the light. I follow him out the door and am greeted by the sight of a rally teeming with probably 250 supporters, festooned with ribbons and bunting. From the loudspeakers, John Phillip Souza’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” booms loudly.
As North ascends the podium, the rally begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, led by a local minister. During the prayer, he adds, “Lord – let this campaign be judged by the facts, and not by the liberal media …” I notice that, as a member of the news media, nobody seems to be trying to get my vote this election.
In fact, right now, in this place, I’m probably just about the bottom man on the totem pole in the whole crowd. Being a reporter for a weekly newspaper, like the Westmoreland News, will get you about zero clout points with the other reporters. Being
a reporter at all gets me about zero love points from everyone else besides the reporters and North’s press representatives. And being 21 years old gets me about negative five credibility points with anybody – you’re less a cub reporter to them than a Cub Scout.
The rally continues with typical patriotic rally style. A retired Marine general is introduced, who speaks very favorably of North’s military reputation and his abilities. North makes a speech – quite understandably – almost exactly like the last one he gave.
I ask a reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch how he handles listening to the same speeches all day. He shrugs. He asks me if I’m getting off the tour here, and I say yes. “You won’t miss a thing,” he says. Behind us, a woman drives by the rally, scowls at the assembled throng, and waves a downturned thumb.
Dan McLagan tells me that I can climb up onto the roof of Asphalt One to get a picture if I like. I thank him and climb up, until a minute later a hefty man with a few wisps of hair in front sidles over and barks, “Get down from there!” I bleat out, like a caught third grader, “But somebody said I could just …” “I don’t care who said what,” he says. “It’s dangerous. Get down from there.” I step down the ladder and secretly wish that I slip and break my neck and boy will he be sorry.
North’s speech finishes, and he spends probably half an hour milling through the crowd, shaking hands, smiling, and answering questions. He talks on camera with a reporter from a Fredericksburg cable station. The supporters slowly begin to drift away. And then North hops back into the bus, and waves at the last 30 or so supporters.
The Winnebago backs out slowly onto the road, and Candidate North waves again. Then Asphalt One slips away and on to the rest of its day, which is only beginning. I’ve only been on the campaign trail three hours, and I’m exhausted. Oliver L. North has come and gone. It’s 10:35 a.m., and I need a cigarette badly.