Last week, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge announced a new color-coded system for terrorism alerts. We asked Deputy Under Assistant Acting Media Spokesperson Marty "Mort" Ackerman for details.

Q: No offense, but government people seem like a bunch of gray old bureaucrats.

Housing starts were up last quarter, which is good news for everyone who's been living on canned soup and sending their résumés to Monster.com. Economists say that signals the beginning of the end of the recession, which is just in time.

Filibusters

"Will the Senator yield?"

"No, I will not yield. The whole idea of a filibuster is to keep talking until everybody gives up. Didn't you take any history courses in high school?"

"You can't kill this campaign-finance-reform bill, Mitch.

Man to Man

"Grandpa, can you help me? Dad's playing golf and Mom's at kickboxing."

"Go ahead, shoot. Did I ever tell you about the time I met Wilt the Stilt?"

"It's not about sports."

"Car running okay? The internal-combustion engine is the most infuriating thing known to man, and I do mean man.

Good morning, your honor. I represent the plaintiff in this matter, Becky Lynn Gritzke."

"Very well. Proceed."

"Your honor, as you may have read in the papers, we are suing the producers of Girls Gone Wild.

Gas and Oil

"Good morning, The White House."

"Yeah, it's Ken Lay from Enron. Lemme talk to the president."

"Who?"

"Kenneth Lay. L-A-Y. I'm on a pay phone, sweetie. Chop-chop."

"I'm sorry.

"All right, let's get the meeting started. As you know, the government is ready to bring this Zacarias Moussaoui fellow to trial, and it's up to all of us in the media to make sure the American people get ratings.

It was a week before Christmas - six days, to be exact. The air had a holiday feel. There were carols on the radio, snow in the forecast. The sun was low in the afternoon sky, inching toward the winter solstice.

"Okay, how about this: 'Osama bin Lager - the light beer that brings out your dark side.'"

"I don't think so."

"'One six-pack, and you'll be hiding in caves'?"

"No."

"'The brew so bold, it's against your religion .

Sometime around my 12th birthday, I was sitting in a bedroom shared by my older cousins, trying to pick up whatever teenage-boy intelligence might be available in that closed-door setting. We were half-listening to the radio, which was tuned to a station that played what entertainment insiders still referred to as "popular" music.

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