Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Happy New Year’s Eve 

Here's hoping that everyone is having a properly rowdy and safe New Year celebration. If you can't or don't want to celebrate it with anyone, there are still plenty of things which you can do all by yourself (besides that).

I've already listed some of the fights on the tube this weekend.

Here are a few of some of my other personal favorites which I recommend:

British comic Ricky Gervais has grabbed attention on both sides of the pond with his irreverent, off-the-wall, and usually intelligent comedy. He was the star of, and co-wrote, the series "Extras". This show, co-produced with the BBC, aired in the U.S. on HBO. He also did the same in his first major television venture, the BBC comedy "The Office", which is still being rerun in the U.S. on BBC America. (And I have not heard the same recommendations for its American version on NBC.)

Gervais describes his work as mainly being "a comedy of embarrassment." The stories involve everyday people messing up in a world where social niceties are too important, and where many folks too often manage to do the wrong thing at the wrong time.

With the first season of "Extras" finished and nothing clear announced about its fate as a series, Gervais has started a free podcast on the web site of the Guardian of the UK.

On the advice of a number of boxing writer colleagues, I have just started to consume Gervais's comedic works. What I have seen so far, mainly "Extras", is hilarious and sophisticated stuff. Check it out before the networks like HBO replace it with one of their many dreadful shows. (And also watch the better series, including far better boxing, on Showtime.)

The world leader in popular music, of course, is Texas music. If you've been delinquent so far about doing this, check out the modern Western swing group Asleep at the Wheel. Its leader, Ray Benson, has also been active in the campaign to elect Kinky Friedman governor of Texas.

Billy Joe Shaver is also one of the best songwriters ever, and his new album includes his version of his song, "Live Forever", whose video is still playing for free on CMT.com.

On the Yahoo group dedicated to him, Honky Tonk Heroes, I came across a link to a site for the Texas Singer Songwriters Review. Get ready to listen and learn. This site, along with its own Yahoo group, is for folks who like "Americana, Alt-Country, Texas Music, Red Dirt Music, Folk, Singers/ Songwriters, Bluegrass, Western Swing and Independent Artist(s)."

And if you are in or near Nashville, my favorites Big & Rich are joining perennial country music duo of the year Brooks & Dunn at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in a New Year's Eve show beginning at 8:00 PM CT.

Back to that lesser medium known as television. The sleeper of the night might be on Great American Country . They are having what they call a "New Year's Eve Block Party", described thusly: "Join Neal McCoy as he rings in the new year country style with all your favorite videos! Airs New Year's Eve at 9pm ET!"

And there are all sorts of marathons.

For rednecks or those who love them, CMT is showing a big helping of the "Dukes of Hazzard".

For bluebloods or those who love to mock them, BBC America is showing a marathon of Monty Python's Flying Circus..

For those who love the 60's and 70's, and real r&b before it was corrupted, AMC is showing two of America's funniest comedies: "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers"

For those who remember science fiction and fantasy before it got too geeky, the SciFi channel has reruns of the original "The Twilight Zone".

And in that other dying medium, print, and also online, for those who don't want to or can't get drunk, there is Modern Drunkard Magazine

So happy new year, y’all, and don’t try anything I wouldn’t do!

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Friday, December 30, 2005

The Fights of New Year's Weekend 

So you want to see some fighting on the tube and all the football and booze and the New Year's celebrations with the amateur partygoers are not enough for you. There are mostly repeats and taped broadcasts in the U.S. this weekend, so here's a peek.

Showtime has its year-end special "Showtime Boxing: Best of 2005" this Sat., Dec. 31, starting at 2:10 PM ET. This is a studio show about a half-hour long.

ESPN2 has another showing of the World Sumo Challenge on Friday from 10 PM ET to midnight.

The Spanish-language network Telefutura concludes the year with a special edition of its weekly "Solo Boxeo" with "Las Grandes Peleas del 2005", its year-end best-of show starting Friday at 9 PM ET. Featured will be the brawl between Johnny Tapia and Frankie Archuleta.

For mixed martial arts fans, Pride Fighting Championships, the Japanese-based mixed martial arts company with the best overall roster of fighters, has another of its monthly studio shows featuring some of its top fights of the recent past. This is on Fox Sports Net at various times around the U.S., so scour your local listings. On Fox Sports New York, it is on Friday at 10:30 PM ET for one hour.

Pride will also have its big New Year's Eve show Saturday night in Japan. That show will be broadcast live in Japan on the Fuji Network . An edited version will be shown in the U.S. on tape-delayed pay-per-view starting Sunday, Jan. 1.

Their rival group in Japan, K-1, will also have its huge New Year's Eve show which will be broadcast live on Japan's TBS network . No announcement has been made so far if there will be any broadcast of this event in the U.S.

And there are other assorted fight pay-per-views and local shows, so if you must, also check your local provider's listings.

And as mentioned previously , UFC has its year-end special also Saturday night on Spike TV.

Of course, being held captive by the inflexible schedules of these networks is becoming as passé as 2005. Tech and media guru J.D. Lasica has written extensively that we are in the midst of a personal and citizens' media revolution which is more and more empowering ordinary people and weakening corporations, bureaucracies, and governments. The way we consume media, including of course the combat sports, is changing. It is just these networks which are too slow to change, giving rise to all sorts of legal, semi-legal, and illegal viewing of these fights.

So hopefully you will get to see some fighting alongside your New Year's revelry. Just make sure that it is in the ring or on some type of screen, and not in the bars, clubs, or streets.

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BioWillie and the Boys 

One of the last places you would expect to see a lengthy article about Willie Nelson is in The New York Times. And the last place in that paper you would expect it to appear would be in its joyless business section. And if it were in that business section, you would then expect it to be about country music.

But there it is Friday, in the business section, and the article is about fuel.

Called "His Car Smelling Like French Fries, Willie Nelson Sells Biodiesel", the piece focuses on the fuel Willie himself uses in his car and sells to the public: BioWillie.

The Times explains, "BioWillie is a type of biodiesel, a fuel that can be made from any number of crops and run in a normal diesel engine." As motivation for both Willie's business and this latest crusade are his twin opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq and America's dependence on foreign oil. Plus, Willie's well-known support of America's family farmers factors into this all, since fuel made from easily grown and harvested domestic crops would give a life-saving lift to them economically.

Of course, if it were not for the various niches artificially created by the marketing suits in the music racket, we could all look at Willie's music as great American song. But it's still divide and conquer on the music rows of the world, so unfortunately some people just won't pay attention to his music or his message, maybe at least until he's gone.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Boxing vs. UFC Debate Continues 

The boxing vs. UFC debate has proved a difficult one for many in the boxing world. No holds barred fighting, known today by the sanitized moniker mixed martial arts (MMA), has always had at its base the grappling arts, and in particular Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The set of techniques which are next in line as most effective in MMA is wrestling.

Most boxing people know the same about Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling as they do haute couture, honest finances, and getting subjects and predicates to agree.

I've been part of this debate for over a decade now, doing my part to oppose the actions of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to close this sport down. I've done so both as a journalist embedded in the NHB/MMA world, and as one embedded in the boxing world.

Despite the growing acceptance of mixed martial arts by the American regulatory commissions such as Nevada, New Jersey, and in early 2006 California, there are still many in boxing who view these events as some type of wild battle royales involving barbarians and thugs found in some parking lot or bar. The MMA enthusiasts counter by rattling off the lengthy and growing roster in these events of Olympic champions in wrestling and judo, black belts in jiu-jitsu and judo, world and national wrestling champions, kickboxing world champions, and those with impressive credentials in more than one of these disciplines.

Yet these events still appeal to largely different audiences. The MMA audience is far less discriminating as far as striking technique is concerned than the boxing audience is. In MMA you will thus too often see two world-class specialists in one or another form of grappling engaging in what mainly becomes a boxing or kickboxing match. For a boxing aficionado, it can be as painful as any sports fan watching Michael Jordan play baseball, any country music fan enduring Willie Nelson being placed in duets with various pop mediocrities, and any writing fan having to plow through most of today's sportswriting, and especially the drivel and hack jobs which pollute the boxing and MMA "literature" if you can even call it that.

But the MMA fans can't get enough of this, and parry the boxing fans' barbs by stressing the intricate and artistic grappling techniques that lie at the core of their beloved sport. They also emphasize that many boxing people are still willfully ignorant of accepted martial arts techniques like chokes, which are legal in Olympic judo, for instance. And, the MMA folks argue, the boxing folks fail to realize that punching an opponent on the ground almost always gives the puncher far less leverage than if he were standing right in front of him and could sit down on his punches. Plus, they usually add, if one guy gets in trouble, the ref is there to stop the fight, which almost always happens far sooner in MMA than in boxing, or that the other fighter can tap out and quit honorably, whose equivalent in boxing is still taboo.

So who, if anyone, is right? This is not exactly like debating which tastes better, chocolate or vanilla, because what has thus far gone on in the exchanges between the two sides has focused more on the realm of fighter safety, level of athleticism, the comparative aesthetics of these two types of fighting, and the like.

The best way for the open-minded, intelligent, and sports-savvy boxing fans (and I hope there are billions and billions of you) to learn about an event like UFC is, like just about anything else, to investigate it. The best yardstick is to examine its best product to observe just what it has to offer in its fullest development.

That can now be done quite easily in the U.S. The cable network Spike TV is offering a free, three-hour telecast called "The Best of UFC: 2005" on New Year's Eve, this Saturday, December 31, from 9:00 PM to midnight ET/PT. It will also be repeated later that night at 12:30 AM ET. (For those ringing in the new year not in front of the TV, try recording it on the device of your choice and later watching it sober.)

The show features the rematch between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture at UFC 52 on April 16, 2005, which got the UFC its highest number of pay-per-view buys in a decade .

Also being shown is the much-acclaimed fight between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin on the finale of the first season of UFC's reality show "The Ultimate Fighter", as well as fights involving UFC champions Andre Arlovski, Matt Hughes, and Rich Franklin.

That should provide a fair yardstick for the boxing world's skeptics to judge an event like UFC. For the rational and perceptive people on both sides of this divide, hopefully it will engender some useful dialogue. And for the idiots on both sides of this fence, just don't get drunk on New Year's Eve in the same joints I will check out.

Finally, in the what-comes-around department, the old Tapout web site, which was a combat sports news site, and was referred to in the Phoenix New Times article on me and Johnny McCain listed above, no longer exists. Its URL was taken over by the current group of people who put out the Tapout line of mixed martial arts-related gear .

In a marketing agreement announced last week with Tapout, Bodyguard Magazine will be changing its name to Tapout Magazine, and also launching a new web site. I will continue as the magazine's senior contributing editor, writing a regular "No Holds Barred" column as well as, if our plans work out, doing a lot more. And among the topics I will write about for this new Tapout Magazine will be boxing.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Boxing Ninth Most Popular Sport in America, Says Harris Survey; Can UFC Catch Up? 

According to a nationwide survey conducted by Harris Interactive, boxing is the ninth most popular sport among adults in America. In this survey, two percent of the respondents stated that boxing was their favorite sport.

Topping the list was professional football at 33 percent, followed by baseball at 14 percent, college football at 13 percent, and auto racing at 11 percent. Also ahead of boxing were men's college basketball (5%), hockey (5%), men's pro basketball (4%), and men's golf (4%). Boxing finished ahead of men's soccer, horse racing, men's tennis, women's tennis, bowling, women's pro basketball, women's college basketball, women's soccer, track & field, and women's golf, which ranged also from two percent down to under one percent.

The survey was conducted online between December 8 and 14, 2005, among 1,961 U.S. adults, of whom 1,402 follow at least one sport. The question reported was, "If you had to choose, which ONE of these sports would you say is your favorite?" They either did not ask the respondents to rank their next choices, or else did not release that data.

(Disclosure time: I used to work for Louis Harris and Associates under its previous ownership.)

Although this question was first asked of respondents back in 1985 and the responses by sport tracked since then, boxing was only added to the list of sports offered in 2004. It also scored two percent last year, although then that placed it behind men's soccer, which had three percent last year.

A demographic breakdown for boxing fans was also not released.

As for the accuracy of this poll, according to the Harris press release, "In theory, with probability samples of this size, one could say with 95 percent certainty that the overall results have a sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points of what they would be if the entire U.S. adult population had been polled with complete accuracy."

From my own observations working in past years with polls and this company, I can conclude that this ranking for boxing is in general, as a ballpark figure, accurate enough to be considered for analysis.

What it does show is that boxing is as or more popular than many sports which receive wider coverage on both network and cable television. But boxing's level of corruption and violence has generally scared away most potential sponsors, other than beer, liquor, and gambling outfits. Thus boxing's biggest events land on premium cable channels like HBO or Showtime or even costlier pay-per-view shows, seen by a shrinking circle of people. The chance to sample for free a top boxing match is virtually non-existent in the U.S.

Also on the heels of boxing is a revived Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). These shows, though featuring real fights, are now marketed and positioned in the same cultural genre as the fake pro "wrestling" spectacles, and draw a portion of that audience.

UFC drew in the neighborhood of 200,000 to 250,000 buys for its UFC 52 show on April 16, 2005, featuring the rematch between Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, this time won by Liddell. The number of buys are not monitored by any independent company, but this report is consistent with what I have heard from reliable sources.

The 250,000 figure was the best for UFC in a decade. UFC 5, back on April 7, 1995, got between 280,000 and 300,000 buys, albeit at a time when only a fraction of the homes in the U.S. could even receive pay-per-views compared to now. That show featured a draw between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, with Dan Severn winning a tournament.

Royce's departure from UFC, a deterioration of match-ups, and intensified attacks by politicians resulting in UFC being banned from pay-per-view in the U.S., all led to its buy rates declining in subsequent years.

Now UFC is back, although it aims at a younger -- and whiter -- audience than boxing.

Besides finishing behind four WWE pay-per-views, that pay-per-view figure placed UFC 52 only behind seven boxing shows in 2005: Wright-Trinidad (520,000 buys), Tarver-Jones 3 (415,000), Taylor-Hopkins 2 (410,000), Taylor-Hopkins 1 (370,000), Mayweather-Gatti (360,000), Morales-Pacquiao 1 (340,000), and Tyson-McBride (325,000).

The next head-to-head match-up between UFC and boxing is on Sat., Feb. 4, 2006, the night before Super Bowl XL in Detroit.

Showtime will telecast, from El Paso, Texas, and on its regular network, the third fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. Their first fight is a lock for 2005 Fight of the Year.

UFC will show on pay-per-view, at the same time, the third fight between Couture and Liddell. The live show in Las Vegas is already reportedly sold out.

The question hanging over the world of combat sports is, as boxing continues to paint itself in a demographic corner, can UFC capture its fan base and surpass it in popularity?

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"No Holds Barred" Special Preview Show: World Sumo Challenge and Mayhem On Mulberry Muay Thai Events in New York 

As a prelude to the regular return of the "No Holds Barred" Internet radio show, hosted and produced by yours truly, a special preview edition of this show has just been posted. You can listen, and for free, at: http://www.ourmedia.org/node/126960 .

All that is required is a media player which plays RealPlayer.

This first special preview show -- there likely will be at least one more -- focuses primarily on the debut show of the World Sumo Challenge, which was held Oct. 22 at New York's Madison Square Garden.

As I have reported on my No Holds Barred blog, this event had two showings in the U.S. on ESPN2, the first on Dec. 24 and the second on Friday, Dec. 30, from 10 PM EST to midnight. Make sure to watch it if you have not done so already.

For "No Holds Barred" we conducted numerous interviews. Here are the people with whom we spoke:

Former yokozuna Musashimaru, who served as a color commentator and analyst on the ESPN2 telecast.

Veteran boxing trainer Tommy Gallagher, who was also working with this event.

Ken Podziba, head of the New York City Sports Commission, which assisted this event.

Noah Goldman, president and CEO of Big Boy Productions, which produced and promoted the event.

Yoshisada Yonezuka, a vice president of the International Sumo Federation and longtime judo coach, who acted as a sumo technical advisor for the event.

We also spoke with two of the participants, sumo wrestlers Ronny Allman of Norway and Sydney Carty of the Netherlands.

In addition, at the Mayhem On Mulberry 5 muay Thai event held the night before the live sumo show, we caught up with two judo legends, Teimoc Jonston-Ono and Mike Swain. We discussed the sumo event, with which they both were attending, as well as judo, mixed martial arts, muay Thai, and the combat sports in general.

Also at the muay Thai event, we caught up with two of the fighters that night, Brian Robertson, who won a decision over Marcus Antebi, and Willow Chanthavong, who lost a decision to Liz Linstrom.

As we mentioned during this special preview show, the World Sumo Challenge was highly organized, got tremendous mainstream media attention, and was very well received by the fans at Madison Square Garden. The telecast had excellent production values and the tournament format was well explained both at the live event and on TV. Plus, sumo is fairly easy for casual fans to understand, and the action on the mat was usually non-stop and had the mainly American crowd cheering throughout the tournament.

The major and perhaps only shortcoming was its inconsistency in educating the fans as to who the athletes were. For example, Torsten Scheibler, the 438.5-pound wrestler from Germany, had recently won the gold medal at the world championships in Japan. Yet he was upset in the first round by Sydney Carty, a mere 328.5 pounds. Yet this was only noted briefly after the match by Musashimaru, with Scheibler's credentials going almost unnoticed, and the huge sports story of this first-round upset not being emphasized.

Also, the event's first champion was Mitshuhiko Fukao, a 5'10", 411.5-pound wrestler from Japan. Little was known about Fukao before the event and less reported about him afterwards. There was no post-match interview with Fukao, who had become a crowd favorite, or a post-event press conference. Even though an interview with Fukao would have had to have been conducted in Japanese, there were numerous people who could have done the translating right there. Thus, Fukao is their first champion and will defend his title without much more information even to this date being provided about him.

Nonetheless, the World Sumo Challenge has to be considered overall a major success. A new professional combat sport is being born, and that is good news. Others in the combat sports world can learn a lot from how this event was organized and conducted.

If you have any comments, you can e-mail us at nhbnews@gmail.com .

Finally, for technical reasons (mainly to keep the audio file smaller and use less bandwidth), this show was posted in RealPlayer format rather than MP3 format. If enough people prefer it in MP3 want to be able to download it as a podcast, we could consider starting to do that as well.

Look for more information about the next step in the revival of "No Holds Barred", and keep checking out my blogs on Blogger and Ourmedia.org .

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Monday, December 26, 2005

With No Boxing, What To Do On Boxing Day 

Now is a time of year when many people have a little more leeway than normal to relax, explore, discover, and enjoy some new things. Internet traffic is usually way down for this week, and sports like boxing mostly take it off.

So in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, when many folks will blow their minds and budgets simultaneously, take some time, if you haven’t done so already, to check out some music with which you may not be familiar.

At the top of that list I suggest the recently-reissued classic album The Road Goes on Forever by the Highwaymen, who were Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.

This album combines the rhythmic poetry of these four with the tight, swinging music for which they were always known. Plus – as if this isn’t the norm, which of course it is not – you will want to listen to these lyrics of wisdom, compassion, and sorrow over and over again until you have mastered them yourself.

Fortunately for the world, CMT.com has a free listening party featuring all the tracks from this album.

And, as I wrote here recently, the video from the haunting classic, "Live Forever", also on this Highwaymen album, is also available for free at CMT.com.

This newer version is performed by the song’s author, Billy Joe Shaver, along with Big & Rich.

And tell 'em Eddie sent you.

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Don't Be A Dope 

Thinking about taking any of these so-called dietary supplements for health reasons or to boost your athletic performance? Make sure first to check out a couple of useful and informative articles which have appeared in recent days.

Sunday's New York Daily News had a long piece called Beating the heat detailing the mess left behind by the 1994 law, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which deregulated this diet supplement industry. The article sums up the litany of charges brought against this law and this industry, with its high-powered lobbyists:

There is nothing in DSHEA that protects the public from buying the health products of a convicted drug dealer, nothing to assure them that his "natural" supplements are healthy, safe or that they even work. The law says that you don't have to prove natural supplements are safe or effective before you market them; the government has to prove that they aren't after the fact.

The article also has a section on some of the currently popular supplements being used to replace substances like ephedra and andro, and their dubious claims of effectiveness.

The New York Daily News article did not discuss creatine, which is particularly popular in some combat sports circles. An article on the web page of the Baltimore Sun, however, does.

This piece is called The benefits and dangers of using creatine and discussed the pro and cons of creatine with Dr. John Emmett, a surgeon, bodybuilder, and author of Turning Back the Hands of Time.

Dr. Emmett concluded, "Above all, be smart. Creatine is NOT for young athletes, meaning high school students, nor is it for any athlete who may have liver, kidney, gastrointestinal or electrolyte problems. If you choose to take the supplement, use it as directed, with plenty of water, and consult your physician."

I have also heard harsher pronouncements against creatine.

So take great care when using any of these unregulated supplement products, and seek out the opinions of experts in this field who are NOT on the payroll of one of these companies selling this stuff.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Who Killed Santa Claus? 

The honky tonk was pretty empty Saturday night, as it usually is on a Christmas Eve. There were the usual regulars and locals, some stranded tourists probably from where they play country music all the time, a nosy guy there by himself who sounded like he was from Russia, and a stray blonde or two who marched right into the bathroom and a minute or two later right back out onto the street.

Gone were the Saturday night college boys and their make-believe dates, the representatives from the great state of New Jersey, the (presumably) off-duty cops and firefighters, and the sweet young thangs who know all the words to every Gretchen Wilson song.

There was one dude, however, who really looked out of place. He sat alone at a table near the men's room, thus having to evade the mixed fluids which sometimes runneth over onto the floor. No one paid much attention to this old dog, as often happens to senior citizens who venture into the self-segregated world of the young. But his long, white beard, clear spectacles, red jeans and cowboy hat, and growing collection of empty Lone Star beer longnecks suggested that he was not from around these parts, and maybe was supposed to be somewhere else.

"Hi, I'm Eddie," I offered, and he just grunted in response. "From around here?" I inquired.

"What are you, the NSA?" he shot back.

"No," I countered, "they're on that pay phone in the back."

"Now that's funny," he said, a saying I vaguely remembered hearing earlier that day somewhere.

"Listen, before you ask," he continued, "the answer is 'Yes, I'm him.' "

"Who?" I asked as if I didn't know, trying to be polite, which is unnatural for me to attempt.

"Old St. Nick. Kris Kringle. I go by a lot of names, but you probably best know me as Santa Claus."

Now, he didn't look as bookish as Edmund Gwenn and I certainly don't look like John Payne (and the remake just doesn't count), so maybe we were just having our own little miracle on 76th Street.

Though the skeptic that I am, I nonetheless decided to play along. After all, there are far worse lies told every night in this very bar.

"So Santa, what the hell are you doing here tonight of all nights? I mean, I know the jukebox is good and the beer is cheap, but it's like that every night, just more crowded. It's past midnight, so aren't you supposed to be jumping down chimneys or something by now?" I asked.

"Nobody needs me anymore," he moaned, his speech starting to become about as muddy as the leftover beer in the cans and bottles decorating most every flat surface in the joint.

"What do you mean?" asked I. "I thought that even those religious fanatics barking 'Merry Christmas or else!' wanted the stores like Wal-Mart to keep celebrating Christmas, and not make it some serious, boring holiday, for crissakes."

"That's part of the reason," he said, as he seemed ready to begin an explanation.

"Years ago, when kids wanted toys like a Red Ryder BB gun , me and all the elves had all the work that we could handle."

"So what happened? You got sued for shooting their eyes out?"

"No, it wasn't even that. Most people don't know this, but there's a lot of oil in the North Pole, so we hired some sleazy New York lawyers to settle. I think they also represent some boxing promoters," said Santa.

Now the old feller sat up a bit in his chair, and seemed ready to drop the bomb.

"It's the Internet and all this new-fangled hi-tech stuff," he said, now almost shouting over the Merle Haggard song playing on the jukebox.

"If you want a book or a dress or even some food, you can order it online. And music -- that's killing me more," he went on, his face now once again drooping onto the wet table in front of him.

"If they want music, there's nothing for me to pack and bring! How do I tell those elves to stick some dang MP3's in my gunny sack, anyway?"

He then looked straight into my Hubble Space Telescope glasses, aware that I, like everyone else, had no answer.

"We've been downsized, a bunch of the elves and even a few reindeer have been thrown out of work, and now the North Pole federal government says we may not even be able to collect our pensions," he shot out.

"Well, look," he added, suddenly in a friendlier tone. "I know this isn't any fault of yours, and you probably think it all sucks, too. So let's have a beer together and toast the holidays."

Trying to be friendly, I began to say, "Merry ....", but before I could finish he put his gnarled right index finger up to his lips.

"Nah, 'Happy holidays' is good enough for me these days," the old man stated. "It's more inclusive and besides, it gives me more opportunities to find work."

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Happy and Merry 

To those who celebrate any or all of the various Western holidays and festivals, may you, your family, and friends have a happy and merry time.

To those who don't celebrate any of these holidays and festivals, remember that you have lots of company, and you should also make sure to have a happy and merry time.

And to those who don't respect the rights of others to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as they see fit while not harming anyone else, remember that those of us who embrace tolerance still have the freedom to whip the authoritarian asses (proverbially, of course) of you and everyone else who is as ugly, ignorant, anti-science, prejudiced, devious, divisive, and reactionary as you and your co-conspirators are.

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