As any massage therapist or crystal meth dealer will tell you, this is the time of year when folks tend to put personal luxury on the back burner. The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and it seems inconsiderate to blow one's discretionary income on petty extravagances like pedicures or a mail-order bride when, somewhere, a distant cousin has his heart set on a cheese wheel.
But leave it to the federal government to set a more up-to-date example. While the rest of us grudgingly go about our sacrifices, the ever-practical Bush administration is buying something it's always wanted for itself: positive ink in foreign newspapers. According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon is drawing fire for its policy of "paying Iraqi newspapers and journalists to plant favorable stories about the war and the rebuilding effort."
Hey, it beats a Pocket Fisherman. And unlike glazed hams, propaganda has a million and one uses. Let the Bob Cratchits of the world simmer in their delusion that true fulfillment lies in learning to value the company of others. The neocons know that learning to shill for yourself is the greatest love of all.
In that spirit, I'm reminding Orlando's power brokers that they need to act now if they want to secure fawning coverage in this column over the next 12 months. Yep, Dog is for sale to the highest bidder since when has there been a "liberal" who wasn't? But you well-connected readers who could profit from the deal are going to have to get your wallets out this very minute, before some Dixie robber baron waltzes in and sews up the vital column inches you need.
Here's a sampling of the stories that could be seeing print on this page in 2006, if the price is right!
TOPIC: Urban sprawl
THE PITCH: The more I think about it, the more I like it. Developers aren't such bad guys when you get to know them; they're kind of like birthday-party clowns, only ones who steal your Slip 'n Slide when you're not looking and then try to sell it back to you. Filling the landscape with high-rise condos is a great way to ensure that the next chapter in Orlando history gets written by the people who deserve to live here, like Eurotrash tax exiles and O.J. Simpson. And if a few thousand installation artists and social workers have to pull up stakes and move to Starke, well, boo freakin' hoo. That's not going to be me, once the check clears.
COST: $150,000, or five years' free rent and sanitation services
TOPIC: Intelligent design
THE PITCH: Our children need a full and unbiased education in the origin of the species. This means hearing both sides of the debate; the scientifically accepted side and the one that'll save your miserable soul from eternal torment. Deep-pocketed creationists can count on me to give today's impressionable youth the "straight dope," exposing carbon dating as a parlor trick and promulgating a persuasive argument that any eyes as dreamy as Stuart Townsend's couldn't have just happened. For the right consideration, I'll talk up organizations that have scored the biggest successes in introducing God's master plan into the classroom, including the South Carolina Baptist Convention and Hezbollah.
COST: Thirty pieces of silver (current Western equivalent, $655.34) or 17 lap dances at the adult establishment of my choice. No drink minimum!
TOPIC: Jeb in 2008
THE PITCH: As methods of political succession go, dynasties rank at the top of the list. One of the reasons our federal government never seems to get much done is that, every eight years (or sometimes four), we toss out a commander-in-chief and replace him with a new guy who not only has an entirely new agenda, but might not be part of the same family! Honestly, we might as well pick some random Frenchman. To present a unified image of national solidarity to the world, we need to make sure our next leader is as close to the current model as possible somebody who, having traded years of dining-table shorthand with the POTUS, will know right away that "Seen Mom lately?" is code for "The phony evidence is in the top-right dresser drawer." Jeb obviously fits that description better than anyone else alive, so I'm directing my offer of purchasable puff pieces to his campaign staff. But I'm leaving the door open to Neil, too, in case he's not under indictment when the silly season heats up.
COST: $1 mil even, plus after-school Spanish lessons for my younger relatives and a detailed description of Katherine Harris' morning grooming ritual. I'm just curious, is all.
TOPIC: The Orlando Sentinel
THE PITCH: One of the best-written, most ethically managed daily newspapers in the country.
COST: $750 flat fee, or $25 every time I favorably compare Commander Coconut to Maureen Dowd
TOPIC: Public transportation
THE PITCH: LYNX and Mears are doing everything in their power to get passengers to their destinations on time, short of working nights and weekends. The brightly painted buses that comprise the LYNX fleet are not eyesores by any definition of the term, and the company's reluctance to replace worn-out shock absorbers helps riders develop balance and agility they'd be paying far more to acquire in a standard yoga class. Area taxi dispatchers are polite, intelligent and speak fluent English; drivers, for their part, never elect to ignore calls from minority neighborhoods. If you think something similar has happened to you, you're wrong. You're probably getting confused remembering your last trip to Baltimore.
COST: New car
And that's just five topics off the top of my head. Regular visitors to this soapbox know that I touch upon far more controversies in the course of a typical year. (This time around, the total might even go up to nine.) And also be aware that I am prepared to offer volume discounts to anyone willing to spring for repeat mentions. Once a month, for example, I could state categorically that city commissioner Vicki Vargo's hydrangea bushes are the envy of her district. No subject is too trivial, no misrepresentation too baldfaced. Just no FEMA vouchers, please. I have a reputation to worry email@example.com
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