Station Break

Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007; 1:00 PM

Heard or seen something on the pop culture landscape that appalled/delighted/enlightened you? Of course you have. That's what Station Break with Paul Farhi is here for. Local stations, cable, radio shows, commercials, pop culture -- they're all fair game.

Farhi was online Tuesday, July 31, at 1 p.m. ET.

Farhi is a reporter in the Post's Style section, writing about media and popular culture. He's been watching TV and listening to the radio since "The Monkees" were in first run and Adam West was a star. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Los Angeles, Farhi had brief stints in the movie business (as an usher at the Picwood Theater), and in the auto industry (rental-car lot guy) before devoting himself fulltime to word processing. His car has 15 radio pre-sets and his cable system has 500 channels. He vows to use all of them for good instead of evil.

A transcript follows.

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Paul Farhi: Greetings all, and welcome back...Moment of silence please: The Wall Street Journal, chronicler of all things capitalism and then some, is no more. At least as we know it. Looks like Rupert Murdoch has finally gotten his hands on this temple of journalism. Whether he is a defiler or a supplicant remains to be seen. Nevertheless, these are uncertain times in the news business (as you've probably read and are bored by now). I love the Internets but I am not optimistic about the course that journalism, at least as I have known and (tried to) practice it, is going to take on it. As I have said before, I fully expect to live long enough to see all my cherished values trashed....How's that for a sunny intro? Let's go to the phones and see who's out there...

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Anonymous: A tip of the ol' rabbit ears to Tom Snyder ... not just for what he did on TV, but also for a little Web site he kept up during his first few years in retirement. The Web was barely out of infancy when he started it, but he caught on to it pretty quickly, and his random thoughts and rants were usually quite entertaining. He stopped a few years ago when he said the novelty wore off (but also probably not long after he was diagnosed).

On TV, my favorite memory was an Oscar-night show he did while at CBS, with (IIRC) Gene Siskel, David Steinberg and Bonnie Hunt -- a quick-witted and very funny foursome. I also remember an old Tomorrow show in which he had on some guy who had changed his name to a number, who was as weird as anyone else who'd ever been on there.

washingtonpost.com: Tom Snyder Turned Television Into a Tete-a-Tete ( Post, July 31)

Paul Farhi: Ah, yes. Of course. Sorry not to have tipped to the late Mr. S myself. Mr. Shales' very fine appreciation this morning covered most of what I would want to say. Suffice to add: I always found Snyder strange and strangely watchable, and that includes when I was a kid watching him do the news (with Tom Brokaw!) on my local NBC affiliate in L.A. (KNBC).

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Death Valley: Say goodbye to The Wall Street Journal, folks! Shame on the Bancroft family for selling out to one of the worst people associated with journalism in the business. Shame on them. What a horrible move. Goodbye, Wall Street Journal! Take care! Thanks for all the years of good, honorable journalism! Hope you like your new, short life as a crappy tabloid-type scandal sheet! Thanks for the decades of good, solid business reporting! We'll always have the archives to look over. The new Journal won't last 10 years if Murdoch messes with it. Bye!

Paul Farhi: Well, I'm not hopeful, either, but I'm willing to give some benefit of the doubt. Thing is, once Murdoch started sniffing around Dow Jones, the wheels were irrevocably set in motion. If he HADN'T succeeded in buying the paper, it might even be worse because the stock would have plummeted and the demands for cost-cutting would have been ruinous, or nearly so.

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Arlington, Va.: So tonight Spike is airing a show where people investigate (and presumably try to solve) real-life murders. How does a show like this get on the air? Who in their right mind would agree to allow the death of a loved one be entertainment for the 20-something set? I may be overreacting, but this show really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Paul Farhi: I guess I could see some cathartic aspects to the loved ones' involvement in this show (cleverly called "Murder," by the way). In other words, the cops are stymied and all I have is this bottomless well of grief. So why not "take action"? As for how it got on the air, 1) it's Spike, so the bar isn't too high; and 2) it's from one of the creators of "Real World" and "Road Rules," so it had that going for it, I guess.

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Alexandria, Va.: Any word on what The Danny is planning on doing with his radio arm? On one hand I hear he's still trying to acquire stations since he has weak signals, but on the other hand, I hear he may just get out and sell his three current weaklings.

Also, what happened to the John Riggins Show simulcast on MASN? That's the only way I can hear that show.

Paul Farhi: Radio has escaped Snyder's alleged golden touch, hasn't it? It's not unreasonable to say his purchase of the three weak Triple X stations looks rather impulsive and ill-advised in hindsight. But I think he's a longterm player. Not that he's telling me anything, but I think he likes the radio business and how it fits with the Redskins. Bottom line: He's more likely to be a buyer than a seller.

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Kensington, Md.: As a new fan to talk radio I particularly enjoy WJFK's morning drive show "The Junkies" and was surprised to see them at only 14th in their timeslot. Is this just the peak of ratings in talk radio or is there room for improvement?

Paul Farhi: Yep, they finished tied for 14th among listeners 25-54 (although they might argue that their core audience is 18-34. But whatever...) I love the Junkies, but given their ratings over the past five "quarters," they may well have peaked. Sadly, they may even be past their peak...

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WSJ Subscriber: It may not be the end of the world. Murdoch didn't get to be who he was by ignoring customers. If anything, he sees a need and fills it: Fox News was a response to the left-wing CNN (less so recently) and MSNBC (just the opposite).

With more than a million subscribers paying north of $100/year, plus ad revenue targeting them, there's a lot at stake if Murdoch monkeys with the Journal.

I'll still go there first for news and business information, because I trust them. I don't pay for any other papers, but I pay for the Journal. If it stops being a good paper, I'm gone.

Paul Farhi: This is a very fair point, I think. But I remember occasionally seeing the Times of London in the 1970s, in its pre-Murdoch days. After he bought it, it was no longer the paper it had been (or at least that I remembered). It was in some ways better--less stuffy, more populist--but he kind of ripped the distinctive upper-crust British intellectualism and high-mindedness out of it, too. I certainly hope he doesn't monkey similarly with the Journal.

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Arlington, Va.: I caught the last bit of "How I Met Your Mother" last week and I noticed that the following commercial was for Polident! Does HIMYM really skew that old? What do they advertise on "60 Minutes"? Burial plots?

Paul Farhi: CBS has been trying to "age down" its audience since the days of the "Beverly Hillbillies." "How I Met..." is just another in this campaign. But they can't really fight the tape (as they say on Wall Street). CBS has a LOT of older viewers...

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Baltimore, Md.: Re Murdoch buying the WSJ: I don't like the Aussie press lord, but he's certainly no fool. The WSJ is the most prestigious brand in business journalism. Rupert Murdoch would not buy it to turn it in the New York Post Biz section. Curiously, the people who seemed most upset about the pending purchase were the ultra-conservative editorial folks, who worry that Rupert may impose his brand of situational conservatism on the Journal's ed/op-ed pages.

Paul Farhi: Well, one little (possibly obnoxious) correction: Murdoch is an AMERICAN press lord. He changed his citizenship about a decade ago to comply with the FCC's requirement that owners of TV stations must be U.S. citizens (an earlier FCC kind of forgot about this in the mid-1980s when it permitted the very-Aussie Murdoch to buy the Metromedia stations that later formed the Fox network)...Anyway. What was your question again?

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RE: The Journal: I wonder how many of the hand-wringers are actually subscribers to the Journal. That's the group Murdoch has to please. Otherwise, it's a lot of noise, signifying nothing more than the usual Fox-hating.

As a fairly regular CNBC viewer, I'm curious to see whether the WSJ writers who appear there will continue to do so after the launch of the Fox business channel. Or, will that channel suddenly boast a level of credibility that would be hard to build from the ground up?

Paul Farhi: You touch on something that I think has been largely ignored in the Murdoch-WSJ saga. Murdoch has announced that he's starting a competitor to CNBC. Which do you think sounds better, and might be more lucrative: the Fox Business Channel or the Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal Channel? I'd go with the latter. And so would Rupe. Just a theory, but I think that's what he's primarily been after all along.

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Re: Death Valley: It is one thing to impugn Rupert Murdoch's journalistic standards, about him owning tabloids and being so conservative. Last time I looked the Wall Street Journal, particularly its editorial page (as opposed to its reporting) was right in line with Murdoch's view (disclaimer: I read the Wall Street Journal). Second, Dow Jones wouldn't be in this position if the corporation's performance wasn't so anemic, losing about a quarter of its share price over the last decade before the bid.

Paul Farhi: More obnoxious correcting: As my colleague Frank Ahrens has pointed out, the WSJ's editorial page is actually worried about Murdoch. Reason: Murdoch has shifted with the political winds, as suits his many business interests. The Journal's editorial writers consider themselves pure, rock-solid conservatives.

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Bethesda, Md.:

Can you think of a recent time when we had more celebrity deaths in one day?

Bergman, Snyder, Bill Walsh was the trio I had heard most of the day and then I woke up to hear that Antonioni had also died. what a day for the obit writers.

Paul Farhi: Yes, quite a cluster. Thing about both Bergman and Antonioni: I never could understand the dialogue in any of their movies. Their actors spoke the worst English I've ever heard.

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Chantilly, Va.: Paul,

Have you seen Kill Point on SpikeTV yet? Absolutely great show, now that The Shield is on hiatus.

Paul Farhi: Not seen. General comment: I'm still amazed at how every dinky little cable network has original shows now. Yeah, many of them are cheap and crappy reality shows. But there was a time--like 1999--when there wasn't much original programming on these networks. Message to self: World has changed.

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Anonymous: Hello Paul,

I've got to weigh in on a subject that drives me nuts! Fox news in the AM, has, it seems, more commercials than actual news! It happens all the time they report on something and then break away for THREE minutes come back and report TWO stories and break away for ANOTHER 3 minutes. Is AM news that expensive that we have that many commericals? I guess I'll have to go elsewhere for news (not channel 4 -- that's what made me switch to Fox in the first place(B. Harrison should've have been purged earlier this year like others at the station!)). regards to YOU, Paul

Paul Farhi: Regards back at ya, Anon. This drives me nuts, too. TV has become like radio--loooong and frequent clusters of commercials. My biggest pet peeve is American Movie Classics. Was watching "The Dirty Dozen" for the 475th time the other night, and just as Jim Brown was about to drop those grenades---cut to commercial!

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Washington, D.C.: What's the statute of limitations on a changeover radio station referring to itself "new?" The "new" 94.7 ain't so new anymore. Mix 107.3 called itself new for eons (I don't listen anymore, so who knows if it still does). Listen up station execs: It's totally annoying!

Paul Farhi: Well, lessee: 94.7 switched it up in February, so I'd think the new is off that change. As for Mix, I'm not sure what was ever new in the first place. The "Jack" lite format they introduced (and kind of backed off from...?)

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Bergman: Now that the great Ingmar has lost the chess match, can Woody Allen go back to making funny comedies?

Paul Farhi: That's funny. But Woody was weird on Bergy: He does those comedies where he riffs on Ingy's themes and images and then he does "Interiors," which was a SERIOUS Bergman-like movie. I guess he really, really loves Bergman...

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Silver Spring, Md.:"Their actors spoke the worst English I've ever heard."

Probably better than your Swedish, no?

Not a knock, but we should recognize that the rest of the world is fluent in at least two languages. Not us good ol' boys though.

Paul Farhi: Um, I was kidding? And, yes, congratulations to the rest of the world for it's multilingualism.

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Washington, D.C.: The Junkies are 9th among adults 25-54 AQH share and 3rd with men 25-54 in the recently released Spring Arbitron.

Paul Farhi: D'oh!! My bad. My very, very bad. You are correct about the AQH share (9th). I was looking at the wrong page on my ratings cheat sheet (the numbers I gave were for the station, signon-signoff). Dumb...

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Anti-Murdoch Strategy: I'd love to see the transcripts from the strategic meetings at the WashPostCo, the NY Times, CNBC, CNN, MSNBC, Time Warner, and other dino-media:

"Okay, if we make Murdoch's deal seem like the end of the Journal, maybe we can pick up a couple of points of market share for our papers/channels."

Paul Farhi: Have we done that, though? The coverage I've seen and read (including in the Post) has been reasonably even-handed. But it would be hard NOT to note that this is the man who has taken great pride in shaking up the establishment. SkyTV, Fox TV, Fox News, etc. all ran against the incumbents as outsiders. Murdoch is quite proud of this. Why shouldn't people think he may want to overhaul the Journal in this way?

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Arlington, Va.: Ingrid Bergman died? I thought she'd died long time a go.

Paul Farhi: True. It was in all the Swedish papers.

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Re: AMC:

I still cannot get used to AMC showing commercials, even though it has probably been at least ten years.

One of the many reasons that TCM [is greater than] AMC.

Paul Farhi: Here is where I do my obligatory plug for TCM, perhaps Ted Turner's greatest gift to television!

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Bob from Bowie: The Junkies have served WJFK well since they replaced Stern: they are actually FUNNIER than Stern was in his final days. The best thing going for them is that they are professional amateurs, so I can't understand why you think they have reached their "peak." I think they are just getting started in being classic Washington radio icons (a la Don and Mike).

Paul Farhi: Again, love the Junkies. But here are the--yes--actual ratings quarterly share numbers for them since Stern left (25-54):

Spring '06: 4.0

Summer '06: 4.2

Fall '06: 4.2

Winter '07: 3.3

Spring '07: 3.4

I hope they do well, but that looks like a peak to me.

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The Dirty Dozen on AMC: What? The Godfather Saga wasn't on?

I love Michael and the boys, but enough for a while, you know?

Mad Men is kinda fun, though.

Paul Farhi: I wasn't quite sure why "Mad Men," about ad guys in the 1960s, was on AMC. But, then, all the cable networks have kind of abandoned whatever their original programming concept was supposed to be. "TLC," for example, used to be "The Learning Channel," with all kinds of edutainment-type shows. Now, it's basically The Anything That Will Get Some Ratings Channel.

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20009: I love the new Verizon commercials, especially the one where the guy lost his signal in the hotel lobby after his wife tells him she's pregnant. "Way to step up there, Rick" is my favorite new TV line.

I just wanted to let you know.

Paul Farhi: Thanks for sharing. I like those ads, too. But truth in advertising time: Is Verizon any better/clearer than the other guys. I hear complaints...

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Re: Wall Street Journal: Aren't you being a little harsh? The WSJ is THE business journal. Why would Rupert buy the journal and then ruin its credibility by changing its independent stance? It makes no sense, just as it makes no sense to bash Murdoch for this investment. The man is an incredibly shrewd business man, I just don't see why he would change all of that and ruin the WSJ. From a financial perspective (and that is all that matters for Rupert) it doesn't make sense to completely change the WSJ. Realistically, he'll be able to package the WSJ with his new Business News Channel that he is launching.

Paul Farhi: It's a fair point, as I think I've said. Whatever changes he makes, I think, will happen over a long period. The Journal won't be running Page Three Girls anytime soon.

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Arlington, Va.: Paul, have you seen the new Geico commercials, with that kid driving his cousin the Geico Nascar driver into the wall? Hilarious. I'm not saying I won't go fishing with him ...

Paul Farhi: GEICO surely wins the award for MOST TV commercials. They seem to have a dozen different ads running at the same time, and most of them quite good. Caveman, gecko, now this...

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Re: TCM: Don't get me wrong, I love TCM. But apparently their programming director is trying to attract a younger audience. Sometimes this leads to hilarious offerings like "Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill." But when they showed Mel Gibson in "The Patriot" on the 4th of July, it made me wretch. Fortunately they are not sinking so low on a regular basis.

Paul Farhi: The great thing about TCM is you can tell when they're pandering. They'll take a dumb movie like that and promote it around an event or a holiday. But day in and day out, they're just running films that no one wants to show anymore. And Robert Osbourne's intros and outros (is that a word?) really add something.

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But, then, all the cable networks have kind of abandoned whatever their original programming concept was supposed to be: I know; look at Bravo. Remember when it was high arts like ballet, classical music? Now it's reality show contests.

Paul Farhi: Yep. A&E used to be like that. Or tried for about five minutes.

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Losing their way: The other night, our PBS station had -- no joke -- a documentary about ferrets and the lonely large Midwestern women who keep them. Bravo had one of those "reality" shows. I remember when Bravo was supposed to supplement the "high-toned" programming on PBS.

Paul Farhi: Maybe someone could come up with a reality show about keeping ferrets. Possible title: "What a Weasel!"

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My Boys: So we have a new season of My Boys on TBS as of last night. I do really like the show but not being a sports fan, all the sports metaphors about life are starting to bug me. I was wondering if they bug people who are into sports or if they think its really cool?

Paul Farhi: In my experience, most people who are into sports aren't that concerned with the whole life lesson thing. They just like to bet and drink beer.

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Springfield, Va.: Why do so many local car dealers have such crappy radio ads? A group of us has decided not to shop at many of the dealerships who advertise on the local radio with such crappy ads. The thinking is, if they can't afford a decent radio ad, they're probably not that good at selling decent cars, either. Yes, yes, we know: Many of them are successful, and have been for decades. That doesn't erase the fact that their radio ads are just absolutely, positively awful. Shame on them for polluting the airwaves.

Paul Farhi: Not crappy enough, I say! I think really crummy local ads (car or otherwise) are a great, underappreciated regional art form. I want to start the Oscars or Emmys of local bad-vertising. Anyone want to suggest a clever name for these awards?

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Re: geico:

I read somewhere (maybe even in this very chat) that they have so many different kinds of commercials because they are skewed for so many demographics. Gekko for one, cavemen for another, celeb spokespeople for a third, etc.

Paul Farhi: Yes. I believe that's right. But what is the demographic distinction between the people for whom the caveman ads are intended and the people who are supposed to like the gecko?

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Columbia, Md.: Here is an idea. Since CNN just proved by firing Paula Zahn that any woman south of 40 has no value to them, and since they relentlessly cover the twentysomething celebs in legal trouble -- kill two birds with one stone, and hire Lindsay Lohan for their new show instead of Campbell Brown!

Paul Farhi: Well, let's try to put the Zahn firing in perspective. She wasn't doing so hot at 8 pm. Then again, she doesn't exactly look "old" (she's 51). Plus, I don't know what Campbell Brown (who's 38 or 39) is going to do that Paula wasn't/couldn't...

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Arlington, Va.: Those dropped-call commercials are failing to get their message across in one key respect: They're not Verizon. They're Cingular. It's not a successful ad if it makes you think only of a competitor.

Paul Farhi: Oops. I dropped that call, too...

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Dropped Call Campaign: Is for Cingular, not Verizon. Verizon ads aren't nearly as creative or well-done.

Paul Farhi: Yes. Thanks.

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Anonymous: I didn't see the PBS thing about the ferrets, but I'm guessing it was in the same ilk as the doc they showed a while back about cane toads in Australia ... quirky and tongue-in-cheek.

Paul Farhi: You'd have to hope.

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Arlington, Va.: You're going up against a chat on the "Freebirth Movement." I get a mental picture of pregnant women holding up their lighters at a concert and shouting "Freebirth!"

Paul Farhi: Hahahahaha! And that's so much better than them shouting, "Stairway!" or "More cowbell!"

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re: Awards -- Why not go for the obvious? "The CRAPPYS"

Paul Farhi: We may have a winner....

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Re: Geico: The gecko appeals to the children's market.

Paul Farhi: Good strategy. Because kids buy so much car and home insurance these days.

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Falls Church, Va.: PF: "The Journal won't be running Page Three Girls anytime soon."

How about stories about Hillary Clinton's blouse? Or Condi Rice's boots? Shame on Murdoch if he cheapens the Journal to that extent!

Paul Farhi: Grrrrrr! You think there's something wrong with considering that aspect of Hillary? It was about her judgment and style and her personal confidence, NOT her body. And when we talk about the fact that she's the first woman frontrunner of a major political party, we're supposed to stop talking about any other aspect of her gender?

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GEICO: What I want to know about GEICO is how affordable their car insurance would be if they cut back on their advertising by, say, 50 percent? It's not just TV either, they are all over radio, have flyers in the newspaper, and send out tons of junk mail.

Paul Farhi: Interesting point, but I don't think it works that way. The insurance business is about generating volume, as in premium income. If they had less advertising, they'd have fewer customers and less cash flow. It would very likely destroy their business. So the answer may be that their rates would be zero because they wouldn't exist.

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RE: Car Dealer Commercials: The award should be called, "The Mark Down Award" for Outstanding Achievement in Punny Characters and Low-Budget Advertising.

-Named after one of the characters from one of the Ford dealerships. Just horrible.

Paul Farhi: I like Mark Down! A little cheesy, yes. But cheesy is a virtue...

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GEICO: I saw in the trades that the Gecko is getting a sitcom pilot.

Maybe GEICO is like Saturday Night Live: just beat characters into the ground long enough and a movie may sprout.

Paul Farhi: The trades? The fact that the cavemen are going to be the stars of an ABC sitcom this fall has been reported by every news organization in the country. INcluding the Swedish ones.

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Anonymous:"Faster Pussycat" on TCM was for Todd Oldham night (huh?). One of his other choices was "The Loved One," the classic black comedy about the funeral industry. I hadn't watched the station in ages, but they got me to watch two movies that night. Not that they want my deomgraphic, 52-year-old females.

Paul Farhi: I would bet that 52-year-old females IS their demographic. Them, and me.

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Dropped Call Campaign: Is for Cingular, not Verizon.: So is that proof the ads don't work? I.E.: we can't remember the name of the company being advertised?

Paul Farhi: I would think that would be a basic requirement of advertising, yes. I mean, Coke isn't spending all that dough so you'll remember Pepsi when you go to the market.

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Seattle, Wash.: What Campbell Brown has going for her ... she's a little hot.

I wonder if Paula Zahn will join the stable of blondes over at Fox now.

Paul Farhi: Eh. Who isn't "a little hot" on TV? And doubtful that Paula goes back to Fox--she left there a few years ago with some real nastiness trailing behind her.

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Annandale, Va.: I think Bret Michaels might be the smartest man on TV. His 'Rock of Love' show is as if they put hidden cameras inside a MENSA meeting. Can't get enough of this atrocity!

Paul Farhi: I'm hearing great trainwreck vibes about that one. Must check it...

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Hate the Dropped Call Ads: I can't stand them. How often do you have dropped calls? It's only happened to me once. Okay, it was a bad moment for it to drop as I was in the middle of negotiating a refund on an order and the person thought I'd hung up on them. But still. once.

Paul Farhi: I dunno. Maybe it's a stand-in for "crappy overall cellphone service." Bad connections. Dropped calls. Dead spots. Etc. I've kept my home phone, in part, because I don't trust my cell phone service entirely. You wanna call 911 when you need it on a cell phone?

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RE: Car Commercials: Okay, then, Mr. Mark Down lover. How about one from your neck of the woods? "If you want to buy a car, go see Cal!"

Cal Worthington and his dog Spot!

Paul Farhi: That's in the Crap Hall of Fame. The standard to be attained. Or as the Swedish say, the ne plus ultra.

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Rockville, Md.: If the Junkies have peaked ... when did Elliot? He only posted a 3.8 P25-54 in Spring, only 0.4 better than the Junkies. They're the only 2 games in town, should he be doing much better, considering that he's been in the game for years, on the same station, with the biggest stick in D.C.?

Paul Farhi: Yes, the Junks have closed the gap nicely on Elliot. As of the last book, there really wasn't much difference in the size of their audiences. But "they're the only two games in town"? I think about 62 other stations would disagree.

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RE: Land Lines: You're onto something there. Down here in Florida, Embarq is running radio spots mentioning that 911 is one of their customers too. Pretty ominous stuff, without mentioning the word "hurricane."

Paul Farhi: Land lines seem indestructible. They always seem to work, in power outages or whatever (okay, maybe not in horror movies). But don't know how well they stand up to hurricanes.

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The lizard, not the cavemen: The Lizard is getting a pilot now -- that's what I was telling you ...

Paul Farhi: Ah. Misunderstood. Seem to be doing a lot of that today.

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Paul Farhi: Folks, we've used up our cell phone minutes on the Internet this afternoon, so we'd better sign off and go back to our lives. Well, you can stay, but I've got to return to goofing off at work. Let's try this again in a couple of weeks. By then, we should be much better at it. In the meantime, regards to all....Paul.

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