You know, they say since the millionaire show was put on television, there's a renewed thirst for knowledge in this country. It's kind of unfortunate though, that Regis Philbin turns out to be the one who leads us to drink from the fountain of wisdom rather than some of the incredibly dedicated teachers in this country.

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but I think we have a problem when the people we hire to be guards at the schools are making more money than the teachers we pay to educate our kids. I think it speaks volumes about how little we value basic education in America that only one of the "three Rs" actually begins with the letter "R."

Hey, you know who I think deserve more respect? The gym teachers of the world. Sure, English teachers have to grade 50 essay papers over a weekend, but putting the volleyballs into that big mesh bag and stacking the traffic cones used in relay races? Not as easy as it looks. The gym teachers make it look easy, but that's just because they're good.

Now I love my kids' teachers, but sometimes, parent/teacher conferences can have a nuclear-weapons-summit level of intensity, because every problem Junior has can be blamed on someone in that room. That's why I always go to my conferences wearing army fatigues that I soaked in gin the night before. That way, the teacher thinks my kids are doing pretty damn good, considering.

Teachers are said to have a high rate of stress and often burn out. If you are a teacher, there are signs that you may be at risk. For example, if rather than trying remember the names of your individual students, you refer to them all as, "Fucko." More than once a week you find yourself saying, "Try me, dipshit." Or you've invented a new game for your class called, "Throw the scissors hard."

Of course, not all teachers are burnouts, but many are predictable. In fact, nearly every high-school teacher falls into one of a handful of basic categories.

There's Tough But Fair, who is universally feared and respected by the freaks and the straights alike. Tough But Fair doesn't give much homework because he can't be bothered grading it, but at the start of each term assigns a reading list that would make Susan Sontag cry. Every few years, a student inevitably asks him why he's never written a book, whereupon the classroom grows uncomfortably silent while Tough But Fair clenches his jaw muscles and stares out the window for a long time, then mutters, "Guess I just never got around to it", and gives a surprise quiz on the complete works of Thomas Pynchon. Nobody ever asks him a personal question again.

The next teacher type is Best Friend. Best Friend insists that you call her by her first name, and addresses the class as "People". She's everyone's favorite teacher, for the obvious reason that her total lack of authority makes her an easy mark, and also because her insistence that everyone move their chairs into a circle at the start of class is good for wasting at least half a period. If Best Friend knew what her students said about her behind her back, she would never stop crying.

My favorite teacher by far, though, was Tenure Jockey. Old, cranky and shuffling, Tenure Jockey is permanently stooped, ground down by serving under decades of monolithic academic bureaucracy. He wears the same tweed jacket with suede patches at the elbows every single day and smells like cherry pipe tobacco and defeat. His Xeroxed handouts are always missing the top or bottom third of the page, and he hasn't altered his lesson plan since Huey Long was shot. And you know what the really frightening part is? When I was in Tenure Jockey's class and he seemed so ancient and decrepit, he was probably younger than I am right now.

But whatever type of teacher we're talking about, they all have one thing in common: they are grossly underpaid. Somehow, we must convince all Americans that paying teachers what they deserve is as good an investment in our future as, say, building more prisons. OK, maybe right now, compensating teachers fairly is out of the question, because society realizes that we've got them by the short hairs. They need to be teachers, and as is often the case in this country, when we know somebody loves to do something, we fuck them over on their paycheck, because we figure they're going to do it anyway. But at least let them keep what little we're giving them. I believe that a teacher's income should not be taxed. I know I wouldn't be where I am if it weren't for dedicated teachers honing my mind to a keen edge, and I say they should pay no taxes. Because if you're a math teacher grossing \$28,000 a year, and you have to pay 0 percent in taxes, that means, your take home pay is...is...uhhh...well, whatever it is, it's good, and so are teachers.

Bottom line: being a teacher today is more challenging than doing bikini waxes on Russian women. Think about it. You enter your place of employment by passing through a metal detector that's beeping like the Road Runner with Tourette's Syndrome, and then spend six hours a day trying to drill even a subatomic-sized kernel of knowledge into the DAWSON'S CREEK- and Sega-Playstation-addled noggins of two dozen eye-rolling, world-weary, body-pierced felons-in-training who regard you with all the respect that they would a stewardess on a spring break charter flight to Cancun. And you know something? When you're not teaching kindergarten, it's even worse.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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The Dark Side of Human Nature

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but let's face it--we all have a dark side. Of course, some people are more inherently evil than others. For lack of a better word, let's just call them Germans. But deep down we know that every single one of us is capable of going ballistic given the right set of emotional launch codes.

And this is a particularly apropos time for a discussion about the dark side of human nature, because this weekend, many of you will be filling out your tax forms and will face many ethical crises along the way. And in the end, most of us will mail in a 1040 that has more bad lies than Ray Charles playing in the Masters with a set of borrowed clubs.

The urge to cheat, steal and kill is a holdover from a time when we lived by the anything-goes Darwinian law of survival. Remember, it's only since 1972 that we started telling each other to have a nice day.

Man is at constant odds with his demons. But you can't beat a demon, because demons don't fight fair. The only way to keep a demon at bay is to love your demon. Take your demon out to lunch, get your demon a little tipsy, cop a feel off your demon, and then go back to the demon office and tell all the other demons around the demon cooler that your demon puts out like a demon.

The network news broadcasts tales from the dark side every night for hours, in living color. How can we allow ourselves to derive morbid pleasure from watching NATO airstrikes, with the Dow Jones industrial average scrolling across the bottom of the screen, no less? It must be the same switch in our brain that we can turn off when we boil a lobster, or worse yet, tell a lobster that the yellow twist-ties on its claws mean that it's Mardi Gras.

Unfortunately, evil is perversely compelling. It always has been. Let's face it, the Bible is duller than operating instructions for a hinge, until the snake shows up.

We are all embroiled in a daily struggle against the darker forces in our lives, like greed, selfishness and dishonesty. I'm no exception. I'm a slave to my own interests. Like, the other day, I'm downtown washing the feet of the homeless like I do every Wednesday, and suddenly I remember that it's my turn to bake cookies for the guys over at the firehouse, but I also promised the schoolbus driver Maddie that I'd fill in for her that afternoon so she could take her kid to the doctor. So, double-quick I rinse off Big Rudy, check his bunion and hurry home. But there's a squirrel in my driveway and he's unconscious and his leg's broken, so I have to give him mouth-to mouth and make him a splint, and then there's no time to bake my famous truffled chocolate-macadamia bars from scratch, so I cut corners and I use a mix--and to make matters even worse, I lie and tell the firemen that I did make them from scratch. See? I'm a bad, bad man.

Hey, I'm not saying we should all strip naked and smear ourselves with goat's blood while running for the presidency on the Reform Party ticket. But it is liberating--indeed, even therapeutic--to occasionally dip your little toe ever so slightly into the bracing waters of the verboten. The purveyors of mass culture understand this, and provide us with a neverending stream of reasonably safe thrills to give our sometimes humdrum lives a sanitary, socially acceptable jolt. Slasher movies, Clive Barker novels, a backstage camera at the VH-1 "Divas Live" concert--all are the mental equivalent of a temporary Hell's Angels tattoo: a round-trip ticket allowing us a noncommital sortie into the realm of the aberrant. And all the colored girls go, "Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo ..."

Look, the truth that nobody wants to admit is, we need the concept of evil because it makes good look so much more attractive by contrast. It's the same reason jewelers always show diamonds against black velvet. You can't have heroes if you don't have villains. Without Hitler, there is no Churchill. Without Saddam Hussein, there is no Colin Powell. Without Crabtree, there is no Evelyn. And without Darth Vader, well, Luke Skywalker's just another hotshot rocketsled jockey in white jammies hitting on his sister.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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The Penis

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but you may have heard the penis called many things: the flesh crank, one-eyed monster, peacemaker, schwantz, third leg, rumpleforeskin. Or if you're like me, you've simply heard it called "the munchkin log."

I love my penis. Not "love" as in, "I love THE SOPRANOS," but "love" as in "I love air." Dick, prick, prong, dong. Call it what you will, it is my locus, my focus, my wand of hocus pocus, the petals on my crocus--be careful! It might soak us! See? What other organ can make a man leap into giddy rhyme like that? None. Because for a man, the penis is the wellspring of his joy. Remember, two thirds of happiness is "piness."

Mankind has always been obsessed with the penis. Sigmund Freud is the father of modern penis thought. He invented the phrase "phallic symbol." Before Freud, people would look at a tower or a pine tree and say, "I love it. I wish I knew why."

Guys, enjoy your penis while you can, because eventually, you'll summon it to the center ring and it will remain docile in its cage. Any guy who thinks lost erections are the only penile dysfunctions coming down the pike hasn't stood at a urinal in a public restroom next to some old guy who's shaking it like he's rolling dice to spare the life of a loved one.

I felt pretty good when they said the average penis is about six inches. Then I found out that in coming up with that figure, they factored in women. Among just men, it turns out the average penis is 16 inches long. Ouch.

But size is less important to women than we tend to think it is. As visually stimulating as it may be, I don't think the average gal wants to risk pelvic injury with some two-liter Pepsi bottle-sized freak whose idea of foreplay is hooking up an extra quart of blood to his arm so he can get hard without passing out. So if women don't care, why do guys obsess about size? The fact is, guys like easily quantifiable measurements like length or girth, while women treasure more abstract qualities, like emotional maturity or kindness. Admittedly, I'm generalizing here. Some guys do value maturity and kindness. They're called "guys with tiny ***** ."

I guess it's not surprising, but penis enlargement surgery is rapidly growing in popularity. For about \$6000, you can gain about an inch in length. That seems ridiculous to me. I mean, for \$5 you can just get condoms with vertical stripes.

My advice, if you're considering penile lengthening, is this: Take your time, and put some thought into it. Pick a reputable doctor from the ads in the sports section of your town's second-best newspaper. On the off chance you think your penis is too big, you needn't suffer. Just grow your pubic hair extra long and bushy so that your penis looks smaller. I rub a bottle of Rogaine into my pubic hair every night and now my genitals look like Gene Shalit smoking a Tiparillo.

Honestly, I usually don't talk about this because I don't like to brag, but I have four penises. One for each season of the year. Sometimes to make things exciting I whip the salmon-colored one out before Labor Day. It's so wrong, but it really drives my wife crazy!

The happiest I ever was with my penis was in the years leading up to the 11th grade, when I had the misfortune of having gym class with Duncan Loomis.

Duncan Loomis was a pimply kid about 5-6, 137 pounds--37 pounds of which was pure cock. Now, Duncan Loomis was a lousy athlete, so he'd spend the entire gym class asking, "Is it time to hit the showers now, Coach?" Because the showers is where Duncan Loomis was the king. Trust me, I had the locker next to his, and when he took off his jock strap--which, by the way, his mother had reinforced with the webbing used on outdoor patio furniture--I swear to God there was an audible whoosh as he flopped it out and a discernible gust of wind capable of blowing all our hair back. And quite frankly, when you stood him next to me, we were like a before-and-never advertisement. Then he'd wrap a towel around his waist in such a way that his massive tool was nudging through the opening like an elephant's trunk searching out peanuts from the back of a circus tent, and saunter through the locker room like Gulliver surveying the sad crop of Lilliputian nubs on the poor cursed mortals before him as he laughed and started bellowing, "Behold the glory of Duncan Loomis!"

By the way, I saw Duncan Loomis at my last high school reunion, and his wife had a tired smile and a funny walk.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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Gore vs Bush

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but this election presents us with a very important decision. There are grave issues facing this country: gun control, campaign finance reform and the very real threat that Kathie Lee might now try her hand at a sitcom.

So let's compare Al Gore with his opponent, Not Al Gore. What do we know about Gore? Well, he opposed the Vietnam war, but served over there anyway so as not to jeopardize his father's re-election bid for the Senate. And there, in a nutshell, is a shining example of Al Gore's heroic willingness to die for his complete lack of core beliefs.

Now maybe when you're actually in the same room with Gore you're bowled over by his personal magnetism and you completely forget that on television he comes across as the slightly desperate manager of a Kinney shoe store in a dying shopping mall, laughing loudly at things that aren't funny, starting every sentence with your first name and trying to convince you that your size-10 foot might actually fit into a size-7 shoe because that brand "runs big."

As for George W. Bush, his number-one priority is overcoming the perception that he is not intelligent. This is difficult, because it's true. George W. gets Dan Quayle to help him do his taxes. So I don't think he should even fight the battle. Turn in the direction of the skid and embrace your dimness, George. Voters like dumb. They're comfortable with dumb. They think dumb is smart.

Supporters point to Governor Bush's education record in Texas, where school test scores have actually risen. But did they really, or did they just hit bottom so hard that they bounced?

But I do like Bush's wife. While Tipper Gore reminds me of the first girl that Carrie killed at the prom, I get the feeling that Laura Bush doesn't really care about George's campaign, and I find that appealing. On the rare occasion she does show up at a public event, she stands at his side like they're at a cocktail party she's been ready to leave for 45 minutes, just far enough away not to interrupt the conversation he's having, but close enough for him to hear her clear her throat and jiggle the car keys in her pocket.

With America humming along so smoothly, it's difficult for either candidate to seize on a burning issue. My prediction is that they'll go personal. Each will attack the other with the ferocity of a fat man eating a lobster when he knows no one's looking. And if Bush brings up all the questionable fund-raising stuff, Gore can fire back with speculation that 10 years ago, Bush was carving more white powder than Picabo Street.

Now everyone thinks Gore is the smarter of the two, but did you know that Bush had the higher SAT scores? And true, while that was 30 years ago, it does say a lot about the man, in that he was obviously able to get a smarter guy to take the test for him than Gore did.

When you boil it down, Gore is the goody-goody. He was the guy in college who could only have sex with a co-ed if he pretended they were already married. He's the Gallant, Bush is the Goofus--the free-riding product of the upper class who's been bailed out more than a submarine with a sunroof.

The truth is that come November 7, we'll have a choice between twin sons of different ideological mothers. Both were raised in powerful political families. Both received Ivy League educations. Both served in non-combat capacities during the Vietnam War. And both possess the finely honed edge of a butter knife in a mental hospital cafeteria.

So how do I pick a president? Much the same way I choose a driver to the airport. Which one will cost me the least and not get me killed? Look, since everything is going so well right now, Bush vs. Gore is not a referendum on the future of our country. Whichever man wins is going to be more of a caretaker than anything else, so vote for the shmoe you think is less likely to send the stock market into a death spiral, and less likely to pander to the more dangerous elements of our society or toil under the illusion that he can and should make a difference. I know that's not exactly a stirring endorsement of our democracy, but if you want happy, go see a fucking musical.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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Boy, when you see the people in Taiwan--or anywhere else--having free elections, it makes you proud that we invented modern democracy. God, I love this country.

Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but while I am cynical toward politics and government in general, I am, at the end of the day, a patriot through and through. I love this country for several reasons, not the least of which is that I know I'm allowed to hate it if I want to.

And I've been patriotic for a long time. I wasn't quite old enough to be drafted into the army during the Vietnam War, but had I been, you can rest assured that I would have used an American rifle to shoot myself in the foot.

You know, I hate it when foreigners come to America and start badmouthing this place. Because that's my job, and I'm getting really sick of everyone moving here and trying to take work away from us.

Some people may wonder why we are doing a show on patriotism when it's not the 4th of July. Well, I'll tell you why. Because we are a nation that celebrates our Independence Day by barbecuing ourselves into a hot-link kielbasa coma. And patriotism, my fellow Americans, should be an around-the-clock, 12-months-a-year job. That's why we are doing this show tonight. And besides that, we couldn't get any of the nominated actors or actresses to come on and talk about the Oscars, because the votes are all in and they don't need to kiss ass any more.

Some people deeply believe that a country is not just a collection of buildings and laws--it's a living, breathing thing with a mind and a soul. It demands and deserves your love and obedience, and occasionally even requires that you kill to protect it. Of course, if you feel that way about your country, it's patriotism, but for some reason, if you feel the same way about your neighbor's dog, well, you're crazy. What is that about?

When it comes to fostering patriotism, we have always depended on the unkindness of strangers--countries like Germany, Russia and Iran. And trust me--we need our enemies. I mean, without Bluto, Popeye's just a vegetarian sailor who likes anorexic chicks.

So who's the big red menace nowadays? Cuba. That's it? I'm sorry, but it's hard to whip up any "us against them" nationalist fervor about a country whose principal export is citizens who can swim.

My problem with patriotism is that often it's all too easy. Where's the challenge in saying that you're proud to be an American? Of course you love this place. It's like Tom Hanks--what's not to love? The real challenge is living in some shithole like Burma and getting teary-eyed when the radio starts blaring the Burmese National Anthem--which, if I'm not mistaken, this week happens to be Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You."

You tell me the worst thing that ever happened to this country and I'll tell you how it actually made America greater. The Great Depression? Taught us that if we really put our mind to it America can overcome any hurdle. Pearl Harbor? Led to the expanse of our form of democracy all over the globe. The oil crisis back in the mid '70s? Forced Detroit to start designing cars that required less fuel, so that whenever OPEC raises oil prices, it has absolutely no effect on us.

Hey, all you have to do is watch the nightly news to thank the risen Lord that we don't live anywhere else. We should be flying the stars and stripes every day just for not living in a country with barefoot soldiers, insane heat, flat breads, giant banners with a pockmarked beret-wearing leader's picture on them, or women who are so covered up they look like they're checking you out for a password before letting you into a speakeasy.

It's unfortunate that so many people these days are reluctant to take pride in being American. Hey, you want to dwell on this country's fuckups? Be my guest, but while you're going through that undeniably thick dossier, you might want to remember that when you stomped into CIA Headquarters waving your Freedom of Information Act permission slip, you were not summarily hustled into a damp sub-basement where some jackbooted sadist with one eyebrow and tinted aviators that Elvis wouldn't wear is smoking unfiltered cigarettes that smell like a skunk getting a perm, as he clamps jumper cables on your nipples and starts humming the love theme from "Midnight Express." God bless America! And God bless the Caymans, where I have most of my offshore accounts.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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Boy, what ever happened to the separation of church and hate? Everybody take it easy. I'm pretty sure God's registered as an independent.
Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but it's amazing how, in an election year, God's name gets thrown around like the drunken dwarf at a biker rally. Personally, when I try to picture what God looks like, I always see some guy wearing a white robe and frantically working a huge panel of switches and knobs while answering prayers like a hopped-up Larry King taking phone calls. Columbia, South Carolina, go ahead--how many times do I have to tell you, take that Goddamn flag down. Now!

Every religion has its own concept of God, and every religion is wrong. They have to be. We're talking about the ultimate totality here, and no one creed can have absolute dominion over its definition. Man, I wish I'd said that sophomore year when I was trying to do Brenda Wilkins. I had Dark Side Of The Moon playing, we were splitting a bottle of Mateus, talking existentialism. If I had this pseudo-philosophical [bleep!] down back then, I would have gotten laid like Mothra's egg.

Western religions tend to imagine God as either a burning bush or Wilford Brimley with a beard and dreadlocks. In the East, you get a little more leeway: one God is a bare-breasted woman with six arms, another is a man with the head of an elephant. There is no doubt in my mind as to who has the better weed.

What happens to gods when people cease to worship them? Do they sit lonely on Mount Olympus wondering what the [bleep!] Harry Hamlin was doing in Clash Of The Titans, or do they simply fade away? Or do they instead descend to earth and take jobs as wisecracking hosts of live late-night cable talk shows? Whoops, I've saideth too much.

The concept of God lets us imagine there's something more, that when you die you stumble out of this demented funhouse and there's someone there to explain what the hell you just went through, like the epilogue on a Quinn Martin show. That's all I want--I want everything clarified, you hear me Lord? Everything. I want a perfectly logical reason for all the wars, shootings, tortures, rapes, murders, cruelty and pain. And when You're done with that, can you please explain the frogs in MAGNOLIA to me?

You know what else I've realized about God? Even though Jesus once admonished, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," God and commerce do frequently overlap. Did you ever notice the phrase "In God We Trust" only appears on the lesser denominations of our currency? You get up around the \$1000 bill, and it just says "God, I Think I Can Take It From Here."

I don't think there's any doubt that people often yell, "Oh God" during sex because He wants to be appreciated for his best invention. If you don't shout His name when smelling a rose, well, that's OK. Not really bowled over by the sight of a glorious sunset? Fair enough. But if you don't give Him props for orgasms that make your toes curl like frying bacon, well, you're about to feel the awesome wrath of the Almighty's lightning-bolt enema.

Yes, some of God's handiwork is flawed. There are rivers that overflow, volcanoes that aren't quite sealed and tectonic plates that tend to crack over time. But isn't it comforting to know that even God has trouble finding a reliable contractor?

And for someone who is so great and all-powerful, Yahweh's got an awful lot of people talking for him these days, doesn't he? God's got more phonies claiming to know His will than Howard Hughes. Jerry Falwell says homosexuality and abortion are sins. Yeah, well, so is gluttony, Jerry. So why don't you drop about 50 or so and then talk to me about what people should or shouldn't be doing with their bodies. OK?

Don't get me wrong. People are certainly entitled to worship as they see fit, but don't go using God as a convenient template for your petty, bigoted views. If you want to ban interracial dating at your college because your father once caught you masturbating to a picture of Pam Grier and punished you by making you paint the house, and now every time you smell wet DuPont Latex Exterior it makes you think of Foxy Brown and you get all confused and horny and humiliated at the same time, and you want to make someone pay, just [bleep!] say so. Don't put it on God, OK Jonesy?

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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The Republican Primaries

I think the primaries this year, especially on the Republican side, have been kind of riveting. Here it is early March, and already the Republican primaries have had more high drama than a drag queen returning a pair of shoes without a receipt.

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but far from the lockstep snoozefest most of us were expecting, the GOP run for the presidency has grabbed our attention like Jennifer Lopez uttering the words: "Would you help me with this brooch?"

C'mon, the primary process is ridiculous. We're the most powerful country in the world and we're choosing our leaders based on how they interact with people in diners. You're running for president, so you wake up at five in the morning and head over to Jimmy Rae's Gravy-on-Everything Luncheonette to talk to the locals, many of whom appear to be missing fingers.

And then you have to order the house special, which consists of a sausage link the size of a dozing sea-lion and an order of home fries that Tenzig Norgay wouldn't attempt to climb without supplemental oxygen, all washed down with a cup of coffee that's thicker than the hairclog in Ziggy Marley's shower drain. Then some trucker, whose breath is so bad you wish he would fart, leans in on you and starts bitching about how he can't find a trailer park that'll give him an extra plumbing hookup for his crystal-meth lab. Then it's off to the factory where they make those plastic bags that 12-packs of tube socks come in, and you have to look like you give a shit, all the while promising yourself that if you are indeed elected president, you won't come within a million miles of any of this freakery for at least another four years.

And this has been a particularly tough race. Look at the Republicans who have given up already.

Gary Bauer: a wee bit of a lizard-man whose sole platform was right to life, probably because he is just about the size of a fetus. Bauer caught a break when Dorothy's house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East, freeing his people from her tyrannical rule.

Steve Forbes: Hmm. For some reason, a goofy, unblinking multimillionaire whose principal campaign position was that he ought to pay less taxes failed to ignite the passion of the American people. Odd.

As for Alan Keyes, you have to admire him for sticking it out. But I'm sorry to say a black Republican has about as much chance of winning the presidential nomination as a black Democrat.

And that leaves us with the big two: Bush and McCain. George W. Bush doesn't stand for anything other than wanting to be president. It just kills me when Bush says he's not a Washington insider. He always has that same tone of voice as Calista Flockhart when she tells Steve Kmetko that she just has a fast metabolism.

And let's face it. George W. is not exactly somebody you'd wanna use as a lifeline on WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE. Bush is so stupid he thinks the W in his name stands for Arthur.

But despite all his limitations, it appears the block-letter crayon writing is on the wall, and that Bush will, in fact, be the Republican nominee, simply because the Republican Party FOOTLOOSE elders want him to be the nominee. For example, take California on Super Tuesday. McCain could win the popular vote, yet Bush could get all the Republican delegates. Hey, who set this one up, Don King?

So where do I stand? Well, if you judge a man by the quality of his enemies, you have to go with McCain, because the entire Republican establishment hates him. These are the "Contract With America" guys, the sellout whores like that master of the dry look Trent Lott, the same folks who shot down gun control, stubbed out the tobacco bill and parrot the intolerant bleatings of the increasingly strident religious right. If nothing else, a McCain victory would put the fear of God into all those overly judgmental zealots who insist on screening God's calls.

As much as I admire McCain, I think I'm more in love with the idea of John McCain than I am with John McCain himself. Yeah, I know he's got flaws, but that's what gets me marching in his parade. Is it contradictory for a guy who champions campaign finance reform to have been one of the Keating 5? Absolutely. Is it a contradiction when a guy who unashamedly uses the term "gooks" pushes for re-establishing diplomatic ties with Vietnam? Without a doubt. But for all his contradictions, for all the hints that there is a suppressed magma of rage bubbling just beneath the surface of Mount St. McCain, there is something about the man that is undeniably real.

We are so sick and tired of the parade of robots, demagogic zombies and slimy half-men who have lurched through the Oval Office on their way to becoming minor footnotes in 99-cent-bin history books, we are starving for a president who is an actual, genuine, cuts-his-own-toenails, rightfully-holds-a-grudge, equally-prone-to-fuckups-and-glory, human goddamn being.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but revenge has been a basic human motivation ever since Noah sailed his ark past the drowning jerks who always picked him last in high school phys ed, and yelled, "Good luck on the swim team, fuckers."

Life as we know it is completely based on revenge. It all started with Adam and Eve being expelled from Paradise for eating an apple. Does that not reveal to you a vengeful God? God likes vengeance. God encourages it. He's kicking people out of paradise for eating apples. Turns out God is a touchy cosmic Korean grocer. Oh, and by the way, for those of you who are not of the Judeo-Christian persuasion, just think of revenge as "induced karma."

My general rule of thumb when it comes to revenge is to not give in to my first impulse to throw a punch. Now, primarily, that's because the only guy I can beat up on this planet just had his birthday announced by Willard Scott.

But sometimes, enough is enough. The other day I'm at Denny's, and I order two eggs and three silver dollar pancakes. The waitress serves me three eggs and two silver dollar pancakes. So I very calmly whipped out a can of lighter fluid and torched the entire establishment, all the while whistling the tune "Disco Inferno." On the way home, of course, my wife says I overreacted. Of course she'd say that. They got her order right.

And it's not just me. Everybody's life is chock-a-block full of opportunities for retribution. The workplace, for instance, with all its shifting alliances and power plays, is a ripe setting for revenge. I myself have never peed in the boss' coffee pot, but I have suggested that the coffee tastes salty and just winked at him on occasion.

And I guess the death penalty is society's ultimate revenge, especially if you fake the guy out and make like you hear the phone ringing just before you throw the switch.

And even in what's passing today for our leaders, the urge for revenge festers like a clamhouse dumpster on an August afternoon. Texas Governor Bush's entire presidential campaign is built on settling a score. His father lost to Bill Clinton in '92, and he's still pissed. For eight years, George Senior has been seething over his loss to that smirking, two-timing two-termer, while he sits at home writing his memoirs, thinking up euphemisms for "sushi vomit." Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Bush Senior showed up on the parapet of the Texas Governor's Mansion like the ghost in HAMLET, screaming, "Avenge me, Dubya! Avenge me!"

Paybacks are also why, after the Michigan and Arizona primaries, the nation of Vietnam began sweating like Roger Ebert in a tae-bo class. Now, sure, Senator John McCain parrots reconciliation with our former enemy--that is, when he's not screaming the word "gook" at the top of his lungs. But because McCain has a blast furnace of a temper, if he wins, you just know he's gonna crank up Air Force One, fly it over Hanoi, and start dropping a million leaflets that say, "It's on again, Charlie."

I think our goal shouldn't be eradicating human beings' need for revenge as much as it should be refining it. Be creative. Ladies, you really want to get back at a man for dumping you? It's very simple: Get his new girlfriend drunk and go to bed with her, then call him up and tell him how great she was. He will simultaneously be so pissed off and insanely turned on that you'll short circuit his brain and his dick in one vengeful masterstroke. By the way, if you do try this method, please submit to me a meticulously detailed report on how it all turned out and a comprehensive video tape in the SP mode. Remember, that's the SP mode, not SLP. SP. All right? Good luck!

So, summing up, just think of revenge as an indispensible release valve for an increasingly pseudocivilized society. These days, Americans feel they have only two options when someone has harmed them. They can beat the shit out of that person or they can hire a lawyer. Hey, I got a better idea. Let's kill two birds with one stone. Next time somebody does you wrong, go beat the shit out of a lawyer. Everybody's happy.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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Bad Jobs

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but aside from gravity and how good it feels to put a Q-tip too far into your ear, nothing quite unites mankind like the fact that at one time or another, just about all of us have had lousy jobs.

You know, my grandfather always used to say, "Dennis," and around five minutes later I'd say, "Yes, grampa?" And then he'd say, "Dennis, always do something you love, and you never work a day in your life." Of course, my grandfather operated the hoof-grinder at a Hormel plant and was extremely sarcastic.

You would think that, in this economy, nobody would have to settle for a bad job. Why, then, would someone willingly subject themselves to an environment where they are constantly humiliated, degraded and debased? Well, the answer is quite simple: my writers have no green cards.

There are many ways to know that you have a bad job. For instance, if you have to carry out the body of the guy whose place you are taking. If you're employed at a Post Office next to a co-worker who's constantly muttering under his breath, and the only word you can ever make out is your first name. And most importantly, you never want to be the bathroom attendant at an Indian restaurant.

You know, the problem with bad jobs is that often, they make you dress the part. Every time I go to the food court at a mall and I see those girls at that lemonade and corn-dog place wearing the red-hot pants and the multicolored hats, I have to bite my tongue to keep from screaming, "Sell your blood."

I once worked as an usher in a movie theater when I was a teenager. I had to wear black tuxedo pants, a white ruffled shirt and a black bow tie, all topped off with a burgundy polyester jacket with the company crest over my left breast. Christ, I looked like a prom narc. You know, you wanna be wearing formal attire when the guy whose dick you're shining a flashlight on looks up at you and says, "Pray for me?"

As a matter of fact, I've had lots of bad jobs. There was the Fotomat gig where a lady got testy because her pictures weren't there in 24 hours as promised. I tried to keep it together, but when she called me an incompetent minimum-wage slug, I told her I had to send her order back to the lab because the photographs of her ass wouldn't fit in the booth.

I have several friends who have, in my opinion, the worst jobs anyone could possibly imagine. But they are either fucking with my head or completely insane, because they think they've got life by the balls. My friend Joey works cleaning out the small-object filter screen at a major urban sewage-treatment plant. He calls himself a "flow facilitation engineer," insists the job has many perks and often winks at me as he makes large purchases with buckets full of damp, stinky, loose change.

For 25 years my friend Cliff has scooped dead animals off country roads for a living. Cliff fancies himself a "pelt wrangler." He also insists that the rewards of his job go beyond the paycheck, as he casts a proud glance toward his fur-lined den, out of which he operates his all-natural, eyes-are-still-in-'em toupee business.

And then there's Lindell, who puts electronic-surveillance ankle bracelets on people who've been put under house arrest. Lindell loves being part of the criminal justice system because he feels that too many people are immoral and unethical and besides, from time to time a hooker will give him a hand job for loosening the bracelet a notch.

The point I'm making is that if your self esteem, your sense of who you are, is entirely wrapped up in what you do for a living, then I feel sorry for you. Because there is so much more to who a person is than how he collects a check. There's family. There's friends. There's hobbies. And above all, there's going down to your local Subway shop and staring through the window at the guy your age in the canary-yellow "sandwich artist" polo shirt, sweating over a provolone and salami hoagie like he's defusing a bomb, and thanking God that you are not him.

In closing, I think the biggest mistake we make vis-a-vis our jobs is always determining the value of the job solely by how much it pays. Take Regis Philbin, for example. Sure, he's making a lot of money, but come on, he has to punctuate stupid questions and moronic answers with insipid banter, all the while sitting across from some mindless idiot who doesn't even belong on television in the first place. And now, he's got that new game show on, too.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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Alternative Medicine

For those of you who don't know what yohimbe is, join the club. I'm only familiar with ginkgo biloba, which I believe is the name of that city in Spain with the weird new art museum.

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but is alternative medicine really the key to understanding the human body, or is it just a chance to get scammed by some loser who had to go into the herbal remedy business because he wasn't smart enough to snag the hair-scrunchy franchise at the local mall?

Well, one major tenet of alternative medicine is "natural is good," while "synthetic is bad." This kind of thinking is more simplistic than the B plot on an episode of "Nash Bridges". Come on, if you've got nonspecific urethritis, isn't it better to just take some Tetracycline than it is to stick your penis in a hornet's nest? While I don't believe that traditional medicine has all the answers, it must be pretty frustrating for a Harvard-trained M.D. to be losing customers to a guy whose sole medical credentials consist of preferring to sit on the floor. As for me, I divide medical practitioners into two camps: Those who will give me a prescription for Vicodin over the phone, and those who won't.

I have to admit that as cynical and untrusting by nature as I might be, I am becoming more open to experimenting with alternative medicines. I don't mean taking them myself, I mean pretending I've taken them with great success and recommending them to friends and neighbors so they'll take them, and I can see if they really do work.

Sure, in college, my roommates and I experimented with alternative medicines--one guy would say, "Howzabout some aromatherapy?" and then fart, and the other guy would say, "Howzabout some reflexology?" and give him the finger. And trust me, all the chicks really dug it when we'd wink and ask them if they'd like to come up to our dorm room for a little "cock-u-pressure."

Since then, I've learned there are many different kinds of alternative medicine, each based on different theories. For example, there's acupuncture, which works on the principle of distraction. You're not going to feel the arthritis in your knee when someone's ramming a butterfly specimen needle into the nape of your neck. It's the same reason your nose never itches when your ankle is caught in a bear trap.

Another theory says that the key to good health is colonic irrigation. You know what a colonic is. It's when a trained professional puts eight quarters into the coin slot of a car-wash pressure wand and details your interior. I decided I would give it a try, but then my wife came home early and caught me power-squatting over her bidet like an orang-utan with osteoporosis, and I had to sleep downstairs in the rec room until she got that picture out of her head.

Anyway, maybe that's all made me a tad skeptical about alternative medicine. If I'm seeking treatment for something, I want documentation of my improvement. I want a guy in a lab coat showing me before-and-after x-rays and test results charted on graph paper. What I don't want is my specialist basing his conclusion that I'm cured on the fact that his step-cousin, Bobby Wasabi, saw two doves fucking in a dream.

Like I said, I don't think that Western culture has all the answers, but it sure does seem like people in India flock to the Red Cross in droves whenever that tent pops up. Hey, maybe that's their alternative medicine (wink, wink). Sorry folks, the understated stuff hasn't been working lately. Had to go to the Buford Pusser stick with you.

Bottom line, the human body is a mysterious thing, my friends, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with exploring all the options available. Just remember, every once in a while, the untutored maverick whom the medical establishment assumes doesn't know what he's talking about actually doesn't know what he's talking about.

Look, we're Americans: optimistic, addicted to the quick fix, constantly on the hunt for the new and exotic. It's much easier for us to accept a guy with a big white beard hawking his own custom blend of saw palmetto and squirrel dandruff than it is to hear a real doctor telling us to lay off the Big Macs, get off our fat asses and take a walk every decade or so.

If alternative medicine is so much better than mainstream science, then tell me this, Nick Natural: Where is your alternative medicine's magical tincture that allows me to stroll through a pollen-laden field of dandelions and still feel like I'm walking on sunshine? Where's your shark cartilage that allows me to start each morning with a stick of butter, a half dozen cinnabons and a pot of espresso, without four o'clock rollin' around and me trying to figure out if I've just got gas or if it really is checkout time? And where's your enchanted cedar bark that makes my dick harder than a lasting Middle East peace? Well, I'll tell you where it is, Vishnu. Traditional, mainstream, corporate-funded, evil Western medicine, that's where the fuck it is.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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