Fourteen delivery pizzas, three six-packs, a bottle of Makers Mark and half a pound of Gummy Bears and we’re done.
Boys and girls, if it was easy, every two-bit tool with a column would be doing it.
But as far as we know, I’m the only tool with enough confidence in the great American public to open up the Internet pipes for guest column submissions.
As loyal readers know, last week (to a great deal of fanfare) we announced the PWB Guest Column Contest.
We kicked off the game-changing event with a block party featuring local marching bands, a martini bar, face painting, the amazing balloon creations of Tubby the Funtime Clown and a performance from Henri, the county’s second best mime.
Snippets of the action are available on YouTube.
With leave canceled and pay withheld until they actually accomplished something, the interns set to work reading and sorting what turned out to be more than a few hundred, but less than a thousand, contest entries from all around the country.
We also had some international submissions, including one from Bin Laden’s trusted No. 2, Ayman Zawahiri.
Writing under his pseudonym, "Alice LeBlanc," Ayman produced a cracking piece of work he titled "How Deep Is Your Cave" in which he explored the impact of a slowing economy on the retirement hopes of an aging, blood-soaked terrorist.
While it was pithy and definitely revealed his suppressed feminine side, he failed to follow the rules, exceeding the 800-word limit and forgetting to include the PWB’s trademarked phrase "what a load of crap."
The interns were tasked with giving all entries the once-over prior to sorting them into relatively neat piles labeled "Yes," "Maybe" and "Disturbed."
All that was necessary to land in the "Yes" category was for the entry to adhere to the previously stated rules and to be coherent.
"Maybe" was reserved for coherent entries that flaunted the contest rules while the "Disturbed" pile, disconcertingly sizeable, was the landing site for psychotic ramblings.
For the record, the individual who submitted an entry that looked like it was made up of cut-out letters from pages of various magazines… creative, visually powerful but unconvincing in your theory that the Bush administration paid the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to board the crazy train and embarrass Sen. Obama.
The "Disturbed" pile, while only the third largest on the conference room table, was far and away the most entertaining.
Who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory?
Not to jump the tracks, but reading through these particular entries reminds me of one of the planks in my platform should I ever go completely crazy and run for political office.
I would insist that all Americans, at some point between their 18th and 28th birthdays, work for the federal government for one year.
Eventually, over a period of a couple of generations, this shared experience and peak behind the curtain would completely extinguish all conspiracy theories regarding how the government does any of the following:
• Secretly controls the entire planet
• Runs a secret cabal dedicated to the extermination of civil liberties
• Manipulates the price of oil to serve American political interests
• Maintains a warehouse stacked to the ceiling with captured aliens
And I have just scratched the surface of the "Disturbed" pile.
Moving on. Once the interns had delivered up the entries that made the first cut, the distinguished panel of judges retired to the judging chambers at the rear booth in the bar up the street.
While for security reasons I am proscribed from identifying the judges by name, I can say that none were family members, all had valid drivers licenses and a couple had reading skills above the eighth-grade level.
Much like Indiana, we required all judges to show a photo ID prior to taking a seat at the table.
The distinguished cast included representatives from several walks of life: government, media, business and law enforcement.
We maintained a strict shirt and shoes policy, as did the bar, and no one was allowed to get sloppy drunk until they had cast their ballot(s).
Finally, the accounting firm of Fenster, Fenwick & Grabilowicz coordinated the vote-counting and maintained control of the ballots throughout the judging process until Fenster’s 2 p.m. court appearance for indecent exposure.
By that time we had a winner, so his presence was no longer needed.
We had several entries that deserve honorable mention, including:
• Earl from Willcox, Ariz., who put together a semi-rant on the battle between Sens. Clinton and Obama…
• Kristin from the fine town of Roanoke, Va., who started off talking about Miley Cyrus’ photo indiscretion and morphed into a nice rant about the disconnect between a person’s actions and image…
• James, somewhere down in Georgia, wrote about how access to information allows us to shoot down our politicians, heroes and stars…
• Paul, middle initial A., parts unknown, had a good riff on his son’s school project and what it means to be an American…
• Gerald from Tucson, Ariz., gets the award for best use of statistics in his column on who is responsible for rising oil prices…
• Carol from Las Cruces out in New Mexico griped about the state of her daughter’s room, later deftly comparing it to Iraq.
A nice touch...
• Charlotte, middle initial H., location unclear, took the imaginary ribbon for best column title with her entry, "New Jersey Thinks You Look Fat in Those Pants," about a possible tax on fast food…
• Deb from Edgewood, N.M., wrote about our surplus of arrogance combined with shortsightedness.
Her writing was influenced by the wildfires burning just miles from her home…
• Doug from the great state of Oregon (state motto "South of Washington State, North of California, Left of Everybody") took 800 words to say absolutely nothing, which holds to the great PWB tradition, and
• Mike from "The Rock," Rockville, Md., gets a mention for simply stating in his column on the duality of man that I’m not a neo-con, knuckle-dragging, ex-CIA goon.
Another column that caught our eye came from Glen, writing to us from the state of Utah.
He wrote a moving piece about his grandmother and the way in which how she lived her life influenced his actions and character.
He impressively managed to get the beloved PWB phrase "what a load of crap" into the column, although I seriously doubt his grandmother ever uttered that phrase.
I’m actually very sure of it, since after reading the entry a couple of times, I realized Glen is actually a cousin of mine and his column was not just about his grandma, but our grandma.
Apropos of squat, I have a large extended family with several hundred cousins, second cousins, sub-cousins and assorted hangers-on, many of whom used to beat me up when I was little.
In fact, the beatings I took at family reunions eventually led me to join the CIA, vowing to become a hardened terminator who would then hunt down each thuggish cousin and beat them senseless.
Everyone has his own particular motivators.
Glen, however, has always been an excellent cousin.
Nonetheless, once we uncovered the family connection we immediately cried foul and Fenster dispensed with the offending item.
The PWB will tolerate no contest shenanigans.
Which brings us to the contest winner.
Congratulations to Don Frame from San Antonio, Texas.
Don’s column, titled simply "Election 08" was selected by the judges in a blind taste-testing and awarded the blue ribbon.
His message to politicians is printed in its entirety, so if you spot any spelling or grammatical errors, take it up with Don.
Till next week, stay safe.
God help us, another election is coming. Right now it’s all about Hillary and Obama tearing each other to shreds, like watching a dogfight. The main event will start when there is a Democratic ticket, like a little twinge turning into a migraine. There may be light moments, though. We may soon learn that McCain has a thing for dwarves, or that Hillary really is Satan. Perhaps we’ll discover that Obama never really did like that preacher and was asleep during the sermons.
And the wedding.
And the baptisms. I remember 1972. Too young to vote, I was nevertheless impassioned, and volunteered in two campaigns. Lots has happened since then, both to me and to the country. Politics in general are different now.
The confidence that Americans had in their political institutions following WWII has mostly rotted, and there is an undercurrent of despair now that wasn't there 30 years ago. By despair I mean that while we favor one candidate over the other, we realize that underneath the differences lies common core to the politicians we have to pick from… they are all politicians.
Now I suppose political service can be honorable, but I expect about the same performance from politicians that I do from my garage door opener: It works sometimes, but not often, and sometimes when it isn't supposed to, like when I'm gone. It’s refractory to repair, but costly, and I am happier when I turn the whole thing off and ignore it.
Politicians, though, can't really be ignored. I can unplug my opener. Politicians, though, run on taxes, and the IRS takes a dim view of being ignored. So, grimly, Americans again turn our attention to picking a president, knowing that it will probably be a letdown in the end.
We hope that it will lead only to minor disasters, avoiding real cataclysmic trouble. In that less-than-festive spirit, I offer whoever ends up president in '08 my advice on running the show, sort of, which is what the president seems to be for.
First, ignore the polls. Fire your spinmeisters. Flush all your handlers. Dancing bears have handlers. We expect better of the president. We expect you to know what you think and say what you mean, all by yourself.
If you need polls to know what you think, find another job — 57 percent (+/- 4 percent) of Americans will change their mind next month anyway. Lead us, and don't let polls throw you here and there. You're the top dog, not the tail.
We the People will wag back and forth, you hold still.
Second, stop dancing to whatever tune the press calls. They didn't get elected, you did, and we don't need them setting the political agenda. Take control of your press conferences. You could even talk to citizens. Perhaps citizens could even ask questions!
Make reporters report what happened, not create what will happen next.
Third, ignore your critics, sort of. That is, listen to what they say, see if there is truth to it. If there is, act accordingly. But if someone is just bellyaching, aghast that you could be so insensitive, tell them to grow up. They'll get over it, and we'll respect you for it. If we wanted sensitive and lovable, we’d vote for Barney.
Fourth, do something that Americans can really get behind. Pick something.
Maybe make Congress produce a budget that doesn't spend our grandchildren’s money, or let the government grind to a halt. We could survive a few months without the DOT and the FDA, and no one will starve.
We the People are still a neighborly bunch. If you stuck to it, I assure you that this country would rally behind you in a way that you cannot even imagine.
Show us that you really care about this country, and don't go along with the same old garbage because it seems that you have to. Get crazy. Abolish half a dozen federal agencies. Or maybe three dozen. Lead this country. That's why you're there.
We the People are ready for someone to lead us into some sort of sanity. Congressmen whine constantly about all the terrible messes that Congress has made. What a load of crap. Make them fix something. They’ll scream like Orcs getting their heads chopped off. And there will be fallout. But in the end it will all... fall out. Nothing major will go wrong.
We the People can still take care of business, and we will, too. It wasn't the government that made this country great. You can do it, and we'll follow you to the gates of you-know-where if you'll just lead on. Are you up to it?
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures and two new BBC drama series finishing production in the U.K.